5Qs: Anne E. McMills On 3D Printing

Lighting designer, professor, and author of The Assistant Lighting Designer's Toolkit, Anne E. McMills has written a new book: 3D Printing Basics for Entertainment Design. Captivated by this burgeoning technology that is popping up in many different entertainment design disciplines, McMills shares her thoughts on the subjects of 3D printing with Live Design.

1. How did you get interested in the area of 3D printing?

I discovered 3D printing while researching textbooks for the one-and-only scenic design class I was ever asked to teach. As the head of design at that university, I was always looking for ways to expand the use of cutting-edge technology in the design classroom, and 3D printing seemed like the perfect match! Once I discovered it, I fell instantly in love with its magic, and I’ve been studying and teaching it ever since.

2. What made you decide to write the book on the subject?

When I finally got my first 3D printer for that school, it took a lot to learn how to use it—how to optimize it—if it was broken or just acting up, etc. It was a whole new world for me. I spent a lot of time digging through various forums and Internet searches and tech support calls just to figure out what was going on. The more I learned, the more I thought how nice it would be if all of that knowledge was in one resource. That was the seed for this book. I also wanted more information on how designers and technicians were using it in entertainment design so that I could broaden my horizons on its many uses. Not a lot of that information is really ‘out there.’ Eventually, these two ideas merged into one book— half ‘how-to’ for beginners and half industry stories of uses within the field.

3. In what ways is 3D printing a game-changer for the entertainment design industry?

It truly is amazing how many designers and technicians are using 3D printing and 3D scanning, and in how many sectors of the entertainment industry! It’s being used for so many things. The book covers theatre, television and film, stop-motion animation, museum displays, puppetry, animatronics, and holiday window displays. It has become a method for artisans to speed up their processes in so many different ways, whether it is printing a mold for a prosthetic makeup appliance or printing a complete marionette. It is being used both as steps within a process and as end-use creations.

4. Can you share a personal anecdote on using 3D printing to solve a specific problem?

I think my favorite time I have used 3D printing for a show was during a production of Bless Cricket, Crest Toothpaste, and Tommy Tune. I was the lighting designer. There is a scene where Cricket—a young girl—is supposed to be giving a biographical speech in her classroom about Marie Curie. At the end of the speech, she pretends to have a piece of glowing uranium to show the class. After talking a lot about how that could be made in pre-production, I offered to 3D print it. I used a 3D scan of a real rock and printed it nearly hollow with translucent neon green filament.  During the performance, the character used a small flashlight to light through the prop. It lit her face perfectly with an eerie green light from below.

5. Do you teach courses in 3D printing, and what is the future of this technology?

Yes, I teach a class at San Diego State University every spring called “3D Fabrication for Entertainment Design.” We focus on learning the technology and discover ways it can be used in theatre and other entertainment fields. It’s becoming as necessary to teach this as teaching computer drafting. From all of my interviews with Broadway professionals and other giants in the industry, they all seem to agree that knowing how to 3D model, print, and scan are necessary tools for every graduate’s toolbox in the entertainment arts.

Read an excerpt from 3D Printing Basics For Entertainment Design!