Hey guys, I was just curious. Would it be possible to create armature parts using a 3d printer?

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Not if you're talking about a metal balljoint armature.The metal used by those printers isn't really metal (unless there's been some kind of quantum leap in technology that I haven't heard of) - it's either plastic or paper that's infused with metal particles so it looks like metal and can be polished up like metal. But it has no structural strength. And for balljoint armatures you need a lot of structural strength. 

I know people do print up parts for action figures using 3d printers, but I think that's just prototypes that get cleaned up and then sent on for production in traditional molds so they can use a much stronger plastic. I'm not totally sure on this one - if anybody knows different then please correct me! 

Austin Taylor printed his puppets with joints and animated them. I am trying to do some tests but so far all have failed. Mostly because I can't get he plastic smooth enough for fluid motion but I could see somebody with a better skillset than me may get a workable armature. Austin's looked pretty good.

The link to his film and views of his files are on another thread on this board.

I tried a search of the board for Austin Taylor and all that came up is this thread - any idea where we could see that? 

I know most action figures aren't suitable for serious animation - the joints will hold in certain positions but when you move them suddenly they're too weak and just collapse. Even a lot of metal armatures won't allow you to tighten the screws enough to apply proper tension to the joints. If the resins used in 3D printing are that strong now then I'm seriously impressed!! 

Ok, must be this Austin Taylor:

He's definitely using 3D printed puppets! It looks like he must be inserting metal rods into the balls though, I imagine a piece of plastic that thin wouldn't take the stress. Wonder how he's binding the rods and balls? Glue of some kind? Intriguing. 

It's possible that he's machining the sockets and possibly even using steel balls? But then I definitely saw balls being modeled. For puppets like that it might actually be easier and more cost-efficient (don't know for sue, just a suggestion) to just make the joints by standard brazing and drilling, and just make the outer 'shell' parts from plastic. I'm thinking it would also produce a much stronger puppet. 


EDIT -

Here's a very clear shot - the rods are definitely metal. balls seem to be plastic, and fingers have wires in them:

Sorry to triple post, but I want to add that I think this kind of design is good for robot puppets where the armature is the puppet, but I think the joints require too much bulk to work as an armature going inside a puppet and surrounded by foam and rubber etc. Maybe just some thin padding covered with clothes would work though. 

Sorry Strider I should have posted a link. Taylor says that the balls are about 1/4 inch in his puppets. My printer cost me $1999 and a roll of filament costs $48, each ball joint with plates, I print comes to about 2 cents worth of material. My problem is with getting something so small so smooth. I am purchasing a vibrator/tumbler to help with the smoothing process. PLA can't be smoothed very well with acetone. I doubt plastic armatures will ever replace metal ones for serious films but for me I think they will work fine. I did not purchase my printer for stop-mo but I wanted to test it to see what it could do. It is a filament printer unlike the expensive powder printers used on Paranorman.

Here was version 3 of my t-rex skull. The ball is about 5mm and the skull is around 2 inches. These are printed solid at 100 micron resolution.

Okay just curious! I noticed that the armature Ray Harryhausen's cyclops had ball-socket fingers, and i didn't think i could make ball joints that tiny. Then I remembered 3d printing.

I reprinted my sandwich plates making them half the thickness so they flex more. It is working and I shot a few frames with it but it is still way to loose and I am sure it is because of the horrible sanding job I did on the ball. It was nice to measure and just print the sections like that cross beam for the jaw that is all one piece but without a smooth ball I feel it is set up for failure. I don't really have a ball and socket joint. Still testing and having fun.

Why print the balls? You could use acrylic balls - just drill through and glue them onto steel rods or something? Or just do the standard steel balls brazed onto rod. Or you could use the tongue studs that screw onto threaded rods. Of course you'll run into problems with anything that relies on adhesives - generally they can't withstand the high torsion; the side-to-side twisting action that joints are subject to in animation. It seems only brazing is strong enough to deal with that. 

I agree, why print the balls if you are going to attach them to steel rods.

But I suspect it is the plates that really need to be stronger than plastic, to take the tension.

The usual rule is that the ball should be harder than the socket, so if there is any wear, it makes the socket rounder, rather than the socket making it less round. However, I have a robot puppet that has hip joints made from ball joints that came from 2 interior car mirrors and they have black plastic balls.  (Seen in its original form in my Tiedowns video.)  But they fit into 2 triangular bits of sheet metal that have had round sockets pressed into them, so they are very smooth with no sharp edges to dig into the ball.  Around the outside of the socket the metal curves gently into the flat plane.   The outer plate does have a hole through the middle where the shaft attached to the ball comes out, but the edges of that hole are also slightly pressed out.  There are 3 tension screws near the points of the triangle.  They have worked well for years.  I don't think those balls would work for long in open-hole metal plates, the edges of the hole would dig in, especially with a twisting motion they would probably cut a groove around the ball.  

Paul Howell at StopmotionPro recently made a film using a life sized stop motion puppet with round plastic handles for the balls.  For the sockets, he had a metal structure that could take the tension, but built up a socket in epoxy putty so the ball didn't rub against metal.  Since the socket was made over the surface of the ball, it was a perfect fit.  This could be applied to smaller armatures as well I think, so acrylic balls running in metal plates with a bit of putty to build up the socket could work.

On the whole I think printed plastic joints would work well for bare armature robots or insects, much like the Stikfas toys, but probably not so good with rubber trying to pull the limb back into it's original sculpted shape.  

^ I also don't think it would work well for really tiny joints, like for fingers. Notice even in the robot puppets in the linked video, the fingers are made with wire, they don't have ball joints in them. Very few stopmotion puppets have ever had machined finger joints, because it's just incredibly difficult to make something that precise and that tiny that needs to be able to hold against so much tension. 

In fact most stopmotion puppets use full wire armatures. Even in those movies where the main puppets have machined armatures, the background puppets are usually built on wire armatures, because t's a lot easier, a lot cheaper, and a lot faster, and it works. A well-made wire armature in fact works a lot better than a poorly-made balljoint armature. 

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