Just in case you didn’t know it yet, 3D printing is a thing! It is in fact a very big thing, showing up everywhere from toys to jewelry. It’s even in your pocket, in the form of coins that were originally sculpted digitally. And it’s showing up on TV.
To give us more insight into this development, we went to Tommy Keiser, Head of 3D Printing and Digital Design at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. They’re the Emmy Award-winning team that brought us Robot Chicken, Super Mansion and much more.
How has 3D printing transformed the world of stop-motion animation? How has ZBrush transformed 3D printing? Read on to find out!
What projects has Stoopid Buddy previously worked on and what is in store for us next?
In these four short years, our studio has had the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting projects. There is a unique aesthetic for each project so it keeps things fresh and challenges the artists in different ways.
Our most well-known show is Robot Chicken, now entering its 8th season! The studio also produces web series for Lego, Bratz and WWE, as well as commercial spots for clients like EA Sports, Denny’s and Ubisoft. Most recently we debuted Super Mansion, our newest show on Crackle which is voiced by a stellar cast led by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”, and “Malcolm in the Middle”). That’s just the tip of the iceberg, we have many other exciting projects currently in development.
How did Stoopid Buddy come to be?
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios is the result of two great companies merging: Stoopid Monkey (Seth Green & Matt Senreich) and Buddy System (Eric Towner & John Harvatine). Hence the name: Stoopid Buddy Stoodios. The four founders have a love for animation with a deep understanding of the art of stop-motion. It’s a lot of fun working closely with them on projects. We especially love to nerd out with Seth over how detailed we can get our digital sculpts despite having such a small scale. This is particularly true for Robot Chicken, which centers around a world built on a toy scale.
How and when did digital sculpting and ZBrush become a part of your pipeline?
We have been using ZBrush here at Stoopid Buddy from the beginning. I had been using the software for years prior to joining the crew, working on other stop-motion productions. It has proven to be incredibly effective for our purposes; particularly in improving approval processes. It cuts design time dramatically and allows us to quickly iterate on our designs so we can deliver the best functioning parts to fabricators and animators.
As for 3D printing, at first we were sending many of our parts to vendors because we couldn’t quite justify purchasing a machine. With the introduction of Super Mansion we were producing parts at such high volumes that we quickly saw the benefits of having a machine in-house. It is such an incredible feeling to hold a printed part in your hand that you have just sculpted in ZBrush. To see your hard work realized with the most intricate details visible in just a matter of hours.
How has your team dealt with the transition from practical to digital sculpting? Do you think growth of the studio would be possible without it?
It has quickly become an integral part of our growth as a company, although this process has not been without its growing pains. Like many companies bridging this divide, we are still working to find that perfect balance between traditional/practical fabrication and digitally sculpted assets. It’s a matter of learning when to utilize the technology for rapid prototyping and quick design iteration versus when to leverage our experienced fabrication team to produce an elegant hand crafted aesthetic.
Every digital designer on our team followed a very different journey to join us but they have all picked up our process lightning-quick. We all find the ZBrush user experience to be very well designed. It’s intuitive and most importantly, fun. ZBrush has given us the ability to quickly build a vast library of assets which we can pull from to rapidly produce new parts. This library is crucial in building characters on short deadlines, with each having their own set of custom-fitted accessories. It has also been a gateway to dipping our toes into 3D animation.
How has the implementation of ZBrush and 3D printing affected your production in terms of quality and turnaround time?
Our production quality has increased significantly across all of our shows with the introduction of ZBrush and 3D Printing. Character design and creation have become far more streamlined. We now have the ability to create very complex characters in a short amount of time, with each enhanced by small details like costume elements and fitted accessories to create a more dynamic character.
Another prime example of 3D printing benefits is character hand kits. Each character gets a hand kit with a variety of different poses for the animator to interchange. ZBrush allows us to quickly build and pose hands using Layers and Morph Targets to produce a very detailed hand kit, personalized to each character.
The 3D printed parts are durable enough that we can send them directly to fabrication and then to the animation stages, skipping the molding and casting process. 3D printing has given us the ability to mass produce these parts without creating molds, and without the time consuming and tedious process of casting thousands of hands. This also means we are reducing both waste and the storage of hundreds of molds.
To date, we have printed over 2,500 hands for Super Mansion in a very short span of five months. That is on top of all the other parts we printed for the characters including heads, shoes, armor and accessories.
What do you think sets Stoopid Buddy apart from other studios and has allowed you to strike a chord with the public?
Our shows cater to a variety of audiences, from shows with adult humor to shows that are family friendly. We have a talented team of artists who bring a unique style to each project. We also specialize in stop-motion and strive to really push the tactile qualities of each show.
Stoopid Buddy has defined a very unique style and personality through their work. What qualities do you look for in an artist when seeking new talent?
The aesthetic is always changing from project to project, so we look for someone that has a very well rounded portfolio. We like to see cartoons and caricatures of celebrities, along with realistic likenesses.
One skill that is definitely a plus when it comes to producing stop-motion puppets is a basic understanding of mechanical engineering. Some of our artists come from a toy design background and that has been an incredible asset to our production process. It brings a skilled understanding of joints, tolerances and movement that we incorporate into specific characters.
A sense of humor is a must! This is the environment of the studio and the nature of our work. We take our comedy seriously here. We are a small, close-knit team, looking for energetic candidates to complement our existing skill set and contribute a unique perspective to our design process.
Please join us in thanking Tommy and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios for making this interview possible!