From Animated Character to 3D Printed Figurine with Bill Plympton

Posted by in Interview

This spring we were thrilled to welcome animation legend Bill Plympton to the Shapeways community. Bill is an Oscar nominated animator whose studio, Plymptoons, is based in New York City. He draws all of his work by hand, but was intrigued by the possibility that 3D printing offered to enable him to bring his characters to life. Bill teamed up with 3D animator and modeler Andrew Thomas to realize the The Dog, the “most loyal dog in the world,” and the main character from his hit 2005 animated short of “Guard Dog” and subsequent shorts such as “Guide Dog” and “Hot Dog” as a figurine for sale in his Shapeways shop.

I talked with Bill about his process of bringing The Dog from animation to desktop sculpture and the possibility that 3D printing holds for animators.

Eleanor: How did you get the idea to transform The Dog into a 3D printed sculpture?

Bill: Andrew proposed the idea to me and I thought it was a great idea. I’d always wanted to do a 3D sculpture of The Dog, but the price was too high. The process of getting it made in China, having that inventory, merchandising and promoting it and getting it shipped to stores was too expensive and too much work for me. I’m not a product developer, or a merchandiser, I’m an animator.
Eleanor: What was the design process like and what was it like to hold the The Dog for the first time? 

Bill: We made an earlier prototype, but there were a couple of elements that weren’t right. The new version, with the big tongue and the happy smile, fits The Dog to a “T.” For so long it’s been a 2D character and to be actually able to turn it around and hold it in my hand look at it from all sides was magic.

Eleanor: How was the 3D design process different from your creative process as an animator?
Bill: For my films I do all the work – the design and the drawing. It’s cheaper, I’m the one who knows what it looks like and it’s just faster. To create the The Dog figurine it was great to work with Andrew because he had seen the films, had a great understanding, and got a sense of what The Dog was like and how the figurine should look and feel.
Eleanor: Do you have any words of wisdom for other animators interested in turning their creations into 3D models?
Bill: Give it a shot, try it! I go to these comicons and there’s so many people selling little sculptures and statues of characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. In a way, in making a figurine like this, I’m just carrying on a tradition started by Walt Disney eighty years ago.
If you are an animator and you are curious about 3D printing, check out our page just for animators that will guide you through getting started. We have also developed a tutorial that will walk you through the process of preparing your render or 3D animation model for 3D printing. Are you an animator who has made the leap to 3D printing? What was the process like for you?