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3D Printing of Game Characters

December 21, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 11:35

The idea has been discussed in the past and now it’s a reality. Ed Fries, former vice president of Microsoft’s video games business, rolled out FigurePrints last week. The 9.3 million subscribers of World of Warcraft (WoW) can now order a 100 mm (4-inch) tall model of their personalized character from the online game. The models are manufactured on a 3D color printer from Z Corp. Fries was inspired by an Electronic Arts’ exhibit at the E3 show last year. The exhibit included 3D printed figures from EA’s new Spore game.
 
Fries has partnered with Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of WoW. Blizzard is expected to promote the FigurePrints service inside the game. The cost for a model of a character: $100 plus $15 for shipping.

Due to demand and other factors, the service is not rapid. Delivery takes 1-2 months from the time an order is placed. Even so, this exciting new application of additive fabrication (AF) will introduce 3D printing to millions of people. Until now, the estimated 2.3 million commercial CAD installations worldwide have been the source of data for 99 percent of the parts produced by AF technology.

FigurePrints is facing technical challenges that could adversely impact a high volume, low margin business, such as this. For example, the polygonal mesh resolution of a game character is typically not good and the mesh is often not a closed, “water tight” volume, a requirement of AF. Normally, these problems require a trained individual to review and revise the data to make it suitable for fabrication. FigurePrints will need to streamline and automate as much of it as possible and I’m sure that Ed Fries and his staff are working diligently on it.

Will the manufacturing of video game characters become a sizeable business? Yes. How quickly will it take off? FigurePrints/Blizzard and Electronic Arts (likely next year) will motivate Microsoft, Sony, LucasArts, Ubisoft, Activision, Nintendo, and others to follow. In the short term, the challenge will be to fine-tune the file processing and part finishing steps, and then build capacity. And, FigurePrints will need to turn the jobs more quickly. I suspect that many customers will not wait 30-60 days.

A Ball that Snowballed

December 7, 2007

Filed under: life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:21

In early November, my wife and I stayed three nights in a rustic lodge outside of Livingston, Zambia, Africa. We discovered that a group of kids from a small village nearby wanted a soccer ball, but could not afford one. So, we went looking for a soccer ball in downtown Livingstone. After visiting at least a half dozen shops, and asking where we might find one, we stumbled across a very small place that sold everything from notebook paper and inkjet cartridges to snacks and soccer balls.

Three teenage foster boys that lived at the lodge took us to the village. It was a 10-minute walk along a narrow footpath through the brush. Upon arriving, we quickly saw that the standard of living at the village was very basic, as expected. Most of the homes were a single room constructed of mud/clay walls and thatched roofs. The death rate there is high, with malaria being the primary cause and AIDS being the second. Every day, 3,000 children in Africa die from malaria. One of the boys told us that the village was given mosquito bed nets from the government.

I later learned that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supplied mosquito nets for all of Zambia. The foundation has teamed with the Nothing But Nets campaign initiated by Sport Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly. One insecticide-coated net costs $10 and can last a family for four years. As of mid-September, the campaign had raised $16 million to purchase mosquito nets for Africa, with the Gates Foundation matching it dollar for dollar.

When we arrived at the school, we were overwhelmed by the excitement of the children. They treated us like rock stars and we had never experienced anything quite like it. We presented the schoolmaster and children with the new ball on behalf of our daughter’s soccer team. It was our understanding that he would share it with a local church and they will use it as an incentive to get the kids to come to school and church.

The next day, we summarized our experience in an email to our daughter’s team, parents, coaches, and managers and sent pictures. When talking with the three boys, we discovered an interest in team uniforms, but we knew it was not an option for them. We passed this along to the team and they decided to send uniforms from a Fort Collins high school, additional balls, and soccer shoes to the foster boys and village. Two boxes of gear was shipped to them on December 1. What started with a single ball snowballed into equipping the boys at the lodge and many children at the nearby village with a lot of gear. We hope this holiday season is a special one for them.