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James Cameron Uses 3D Printing

February 5, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 15:15

About a year ago, entertainer Jay Leno presented the use of laser scanning and 3D printing in a video clip on the Jay Leno’s Garage website. I learned this week that it has become the most popular video on the website. Perhaps it will take celebrities, such as Leno, to help create the awareness that these technologies deserve to become more broadly adopted.

On Tuesday of this week, I listened to inspiring anecdotes from film maker James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, at SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, California. SolidWorks co-founder Jon Hirschtick interviewed him in front of more than 5,000 engineers, designers, and others interested in SolidWorks. I was surprised and glad to hear him say that he uses 3D printing to help bring some of his creations to life. What’s more, he envisions a day when the technology will be used to print parts and products on Mars rather than transporting them from earth.

I was one of the lucky few to meet Cameron and have a short conversation with him. We talked about 3D printing and he agreed that there’s indeed a future market for an ultra-inexpensive version targeted at children for entertainment. I said to him, “You and I grew up with the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker, but the 21st Century “thing maker” will be an inexpensive 3D printer.” He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with enthusiasm, although maybe he was only being kind. I gave him my business card, mildly hinting that it’s a project we could work on together, knowing clearly that the odds of it are slim, at best.

I found Cameron to be a nice guy and very down to earth. It’s no secret that he started his career as a machinist. He’s a hands-on guy that fully understands the value of getting your hands dirty and making stuff. During his interview with Hirschtick, he explained how he and his team designed and built a 12.7 kg (28 lb) stereoscopic camera used to shoot much of Avatar. Previous generation stereoscopic cameras were as large and heavy as refrigerators. Cameron surprised many by discussing everything from the use of tools for finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics to deep sea exploration and space travel.

Avatar has received nine Academy Award nominations and broke box office records. Cameron also produced Titanic, the Terminator movies, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, and many television documentaries. It’s good to know that people like Leno and Cameron are not only familiar with 3D printing, but they’re also using it and telling others about it.