Finally, this technology is applied to the world of anime figures: doujin figures are born. You may be familiar with the rapidly developing technologies of personal fabrication, where “3D printing” allows objects to be cheaply fabricated from 3D models created on computer. You may also be familiar with the intriguing and highly innovative company, FigurePrints, offering 3D prints of your World of Warcraft characters (though with a huge waiting list) – I must admit it occurred to me on seeing those that they would make a essential addition to the world of anime figurines, and it seems that this development has finally taken place, provided by Tsukulus.
The company in question is offering figure prints using the ZPrinter 450; the process involves laminating powder onto a plaster base, with the printer of course using the 3D model as guide. The printer then applies colour to the model using the mapped texture as a guide. The figures being offered here are up to about 20cm high, but it is possible to fabricate parts of larger figures; they say any shape is possible, though there can be certain limitations imposed by weight and gravity, if the figure is not to break.
Currently the price depends on volume and size, with a 10cm figure costing a rather reasonable ¥9,000. The 3D data required is .obj, etc. – basically a copy of 3ds Max will likely suffice for all your needs. Detailed instructions are on their site.
In case you would like your own Zprinter, the ones in question are currently in the $40-50,000 range, so you had better be prepared to start a business around it. It is not exactly bank breaking however, so expect some healthy competition as things mature. Also, there’s no particular reason you can’t get any company with such a device (anywhere) to make your figures, although I suspect this will flourish in Akihabara.
Expect traditional figure manufacturers to die a gradual death, or at the very least suffer stiff competition (although I think it perhaps more likely they will just buy some of the printers and hire some 3D artists), as these sort of 3D printers lower in price and increase in quality – imagine the possibilities of being able to download, make, or modify your own 3D rendered figure, then print/fabricate the model on your desktop.
Of course, this is still some way off, but it is a most interesting development. The same kind of development is also progressing well in the field of industrial parts fabrication, with perhaps more dramatic, though less moe, consequences.
Links: Tsukulus have a detailed site, but Nezumi-tan (ねず美) seems conspicuously absent. There are plenty more photos of the robot transformer thing on the creators’s site. Finally, you can read a general English report here.