Stephanie Benoit June 8, 2018

Art and technology are blended together seamlessly in Belgian theater auteur Stijn Devillé’s upcoming play, Gesprek met de Regen (or “Conversation with the Rain”). The play tells the story of a grieving couple trying to come to terms with the loss of their daughter, with the monsoon rains of Singapore as the backdrop. To bring this to life in the play, the theater company Het Nieuwstedelijk collaborated together with KU Leuven and Materialise to create a very special kind of rain machine – a complex bit of stage magic which involves 3D Printing, programming and lots of water.

Sara Vertongen and Tom Van Bauwel in "Gesprek met de regen" | © Katrijn Van Giel
Sara Vertongen and Tom Van Bauwel in "Gesprek met de regen" | © Katrijn Van Giel

Designed and realized by Arne Broeders for his Master’s thesis on Industrial Engineering: Electronics and ICT at KU Leuven, the rain machine is almost 8.5 meters long and spans the length of the stage. More accurately called a “rain printer”, it mimics rainfall – but can release the water in such a way that the rain curtain creates patterns, images and even words. Arne not only had to design the entire structure and mechanism – he also had to develop a basic software program which could program the patterns in the rain curtain.

The rain printer in action | © Katrijn Van Giel
The rain printer in action | © Katrijn Van Giel

Het Nieuwstedelijk and Arne needed to construct the machine in a way that would keep it light and easy to move from venue to venue. Conventional production techniques like milling would have resulted in a structure that would have been way too heavy to hang up in a theater, not to mention expensive to produce. On the other hand, 3D Printing would allow Arne to produce the rain printer with the internal channels integrated into the design, making efficient use of the material and also saving the time that would be required for post-machining. Having chosen 3D Printing, that’s where Materialise came in.

The initial design for the rain printer needed a few alterations before it was ready to print. Our engineers advised Arne on the optimal 3D printing technology, choosing Laser Sintering due to its capacity to print highly complex designs at affordable costs.

Our Design & Engineering team also helped Arne with a couple of design changes which resulted in a more open structure, thereby reducing material costs and allowing for a more thorough removal of unused powder. Finally, the heavy file was prepared for printing in our Magics software, to ensure that it would print without errors.

The rain printer in action | © Katrijn Van Giel

Arne told us,

“After a few test prints on the campus, we realized we had to move towards larger entities which were completely sealed, which wasn’t possible with FDM. That’s how we ended up with Materialise, the only company around Leuven capable of printing plastic on an industrial scale. They advised us about using the Laser Sintering technique and the results were amazing; the entire structure was watertight and our valves were easily able to operate the nozzles.”

The finished piece won the Leuven MindGate Crossover Contest – and will now be going on tour with the play across Europe! We’re sure that audiences won’t fail to be dazzled by the technical stage magic at work, as well as the profound message of the play concerning loss and acceptance.

Gesprek met de Regen will première on the 30th of May in Genk, but will be touring extensively. Check out one of the performances, or read more about our other 3D printing projects in the cultural sector!

Sara Vertongen in "Gesprek met de regen" | © Katrijn Van Giel