Jana Obermueller January 14, 2019

To commemorate the iconic mouse’s 90th birthday in style, Disney reached out to Materialise to create three 3D-printed sculptures of Mickey. These statues were then featured in events marking the big birthday in a pop-up venue in Brussels, Belgium, and included collaborations with artists who used the 3D-printed statues as blank canvases, allowing them to reinterpret and play on the character’s emblematic look.

From Mammoth to Mouse

Not only would he ultimately come to represent the Disney brand’s core values – likeability, imagination, quality – the beloved figure also helped write the success story of an emerging technology that remains a cornerstone of children’s entertainment to this day: the art of animation. So it’s only fitting that for Mickey’s 90th anniversary, Disney would opt for another innovative technology to help celebrate the iconic character: 3D printing!

In 2018, Materialise took on a mammoth of an undertaking — we created a 3D-printed replica of the skeleton of a long-extinct giant: the woolly mammoth. This fascinating project called for lots of fresh thinking, problem-solving abilities, and inspired, innovative, and detail-oriented expertise and craftsmanship.

With our extensive capabilities in the domains of 3D printing design and production, we were able to apply the learnings gained from the Mammoth of Lier and many other large-scale as well as art projects when working with Disney on creating custom Mickey Mouse statues, for which Stereolithography (SLA) was a natural choice. The Materialise Mammoth SLA machine allowed us to print the three Mickeys – each statue sized +- 60 cm/1’12” – in one go, which helped save time. Our many years of experience in additive manufacturing and our cutting-edge production facilities have allowed us to merge the capability to produce oversized pieces with the quality standards of precision work required for detail-sensitive, artisanal projects.

Making a 3D-Printed Mickey Mouse

“For his 90th, Disney were looking to give Mickey a cool image and work with innovative techniques that deviate from more classic approaches of thinking and doing. We were already familiar with Materialise’s reputation and wanted to work with the best. 3D printing as a technique felt the most in line with the messaging behind this project, built around digital and street art mainly, and involving a lot of young, cool artists. Materialise has the DNA that we were looking for: fresh, technically on point, and high quality.”
Digizik for Disney

Materialise worked closely with Disney via Brussels-based agency Digizik, providing guidance and insights into the process so as to arrive at an end product that respects and reflects client expectations to a T. Initial kinks were resolved early on in the manufacturing process by our design engineers, such as rectifying an issue with low res areas and artefacts around the statue’s facial features and fine detail areas, such as the iconic ears. Seeing as the print resolution at Materialise was higher than that of the Mickey model that had been provided, a certain amount of engineering work had to be done so as to optimize the model and arrive at a nice, crisp result.

“Because the model we were working with was already an STL, we couldn’t go back to CAD directly, we had to work on model-level — something our design engineering team excels at,” Louis Vanpraet, the project manager who oversaw the project, explains.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into things that our clients are not even aware of… It’s a bit of our own magic that materializes through the combined effort and care of everyone involved, from design, through production, finishing, and shipment.”
Louis Vanpraet

For this art project, achieving a smooth surface was key so as to afford the artists with a highly versatile base to work on. SLA technology can achieve this level of homogenous surface texture whilst also delivering rapid results. For the Mickeys, an epoxy resin was the best choice: very high quality, but also a budget-friendly option.

Creative Collaboration

Throughout the co-creation process, Materialise was able to provide counsel and guidance for navigating the many options in 3D printing technology whilst also bearing the balancing act of quality and cost in mind. While having options galore to choose from can be a powerful advantage, without the right guidance a multitude of options in additive manufacturing can also become overwhelming. Materialise was on hand to take the client through the entire process, offering invaluable advice along the way and working with them so as to figure out which options and services were a best fit for the project at hand.

The printed result is one of high quality, and one that Disney were proud to display. Belgian artists Oli-B and Louves each used the Mickey statues as canvases, creating colorful, pop and monochromatic, graphic incarnations of the iconic mouse, respectively. The third sculpture was handed over to the public who were invited to co-create on a collaborative Mickey — a fresh spin on old-school coloring books. Having an object that fans could really interact with was a central element to the project, and we at Materialise were pleased we could help make the celebration a success.

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