Move Over, Stratasys: Carbon3D's CLIP Tech Used for 3D Printing Hollywood Special Effects

Carbon3D's CLIP 3D printing tech was used to produce special effects for the movie "Terminator Genisys" and a TV commercial. How does this affect the company's place in the 3D printing industry?

Beth McKenna
Beth McKenna
Jun 21, 2015 at 10:00AM

Carbon3D announced last week that top special-effects shop Legacy Effects used its CLIP 3D printing technology in the production of a Progressive insurance commercial and the movie Terminator Genisys.

This could potentially mean rougher seas ahead for Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) in the entertainment 3D printing space. Currently, the leading 3D printing company's Polyjet technology is a favored 3D printing tech among special-effects studios for creating prototypes and special effects for Hollywood films and other end uses.

Here's what 3D printing investors and followers of the industry should know.

Who's Carbon3D?

Source: Carbon3D.

Carbon3D is a start-up that made a splash in the technology world in March, when co-founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone unveiled and demonstrated the company's seemingly game-changing 3D printing technology, Continuous Liquid Interface Production, or CLIP, at the TED 2015 conference.

Briefly, CLIP harnesses UV light and oxygen to "grow" polymer parts continuously at speeds reportedly 25 to 100 times faster than the leading 3D printing technologies. Beyond Carbon3D's claims of such speeds based upon independent tests, DeSimone's live demonstration left no doubt that CLIP is super-fast, at least when it comes to printing certain objects. Additionally, Carbon3D claims that CLIP can produce 3D-printed objects that have smoother surface finishes than conventionally 3D-printed parts and structural integrities on par with injection-molded objects.

CLIP's generating much buzz because it has the potential to disrupt the manufacturing sector, as speed, surface quality, structural integrity, and materials capabilities are the key hurdles that have been holding 3D printing back from moving beyond prototyping and select, short-run production applications into a greater array of manufacturing applications.

Carbon3D is slated to bring its first product to market in 2016.

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Legacy Effects gives Carbon3D's CLIP a starring 3D printing role

Legacy Effects' studio. Source: Carbon3D.

Los Angeles-based Legacy Effects was formed by the four supervisors at the legendary Stan Winston special-effects shop after Winston passed away in 2008. It's worked on such movies as Avatar, the Iron Man series, Pacific Rim, and RoboCop; TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy; and video games such as Halo. Given such high-profile projects, it's a coup for Carbon3D that lead system engineer Jason Lopes -- who heads the shop's 3D printing efforts -- was pleased with CLIP's performance: "Having CLIP technology -- being able to print at these speeds, without the quality suffering -- it's a game-changer," Lopes says in Carbon3D's press release.

Lopes has been using Stratasys' Polyjet and fused deposition modeling technologies for several years -- and is on record as saying positive things about his experiences, particularly with Polyjet Connex multimaterial technology. In fact, he used Stratasys' technology on all the blockbuster movies previously mentioned. Lopes came across Carbon3D's CLIP technology in 2014 at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group conference, and the company offered him a chance to take a prototype back to his studio and join its early access program. Over the past year, Legacy Effects has used CLIP for at least two projects. The first was a Progressive commercial -- see below -- which called for more than 30 intricately detailed parts to be produced under an extremely tight deadline. Legacy reportedly deemed CLIP a great fit for the project because of its speed coupled with its ability to produce finely detailed parts.

In a twist of fate -- with, I'd guess, perhaps some encouragement from Carbon3D, as it makes for great PR -- CLIP was also used to produce special effects for Terminator Genisys, scheduled to roll out to movie theaters on July 1. Carbon3D's founders were reportedly inspired by the movie Terminator 2 to develop CLIP: They wanted to have the 3D-printed part rise out of a pool of liquid resin, just like the robot T-1000 rises out of pool of liquid metal to assume the form of any person or object.

T-800 in Terminator Genisys. Source: Paramount Pictures.

Carbon3D didn't specify what effects in Terminator Genisys were created using CLIP; I've reached out to the company for details. It's of little matter, though, as the bottom line is that Legacy Effects' 3D printing head honcho seems happy with CLIP, which likely means that others in the same business will be more apt to give the newcomer in the 3D printing tech world an audition. 

Let's print a wrap ...
It's too early to determine whether and to what degree Carbon3D's entrance into the entertainment industry 3D printing realm will affect Stratasys' marquee status in this space. The same holds true with fellow industry bigwig 3D Systems, which is also involved in the entertainment field. 

Investors shouldn't give Carbon3D too much star power, as, after all, it doesn't even have a commercial product on the market yet. That said, investors shouldn't underestimate it, either, as the company is well-funded and its CLIP technology seems very impressive.