3D Printers Revolutionize Work of Broadway Scenic Designers

By Robert Simonson
02 Mar 2014

"I don't feel guilty asking for 24 lamp posts, and then asking for two more," he added.

A chair takes about 15 minutes to produce. For Outside Mullingar, however, Hultgren didn't limit herself to just individual pieces of furniture, but cranked out large sections of the entire set instead. This was possible because technology has improved in just the two-plus years since Hultgren bought her initial printer. The first printer could produce an object four and one half inches on all all sides. Her new one can create a piece six by five by 11 inches at a much faster rate. 

"At first, we only 3D-printed small pieces, like furniture and window frames, incorporated with traditional modeling materials like matte board and bass wood," stated Beatty. "Now, the desktop printers we use are larger, and we can print entire scenic units in scale.

"I printed the complete sets and walls in one chunk," she said of Mullingar. "That took a day."

All these great advancements in set creation are not necessarily noticed by the people set designers need to please, such as directors. "I think for the most part most people look at them and don't really know that they're 3D-printed," observed Hultgren. "They're more interested in the design information in the model. The 3D printing kind of blends into the background."

But director obliviousness won't stop the march of progress. Beatty predicts 3D printers will become more common in the theatre in the years to come.

"We may eventually be building the full scale scenery with a 3D printer," he theorized. "In fact, in a pinch, we've been able to manufacture small pieces of the finished scenery with a 3D printer now. The stove hardware in Outside Mullinger was 3D-printed. And this past summer, when we worked on the Public's Shakespeare in the Park production of Comedy of Errors, we 3D-printed oversized finials when the supplier failed to deliver in time."