3D printing speeds action-figure design

Nov. 3, 2022
Aspiring toymaker partners with 3DChimera to bring his office-inspired '9 to 5 Warriors' to life.

Problem: Development of a toy line was slowed by the need to test and tweak models. 

Solution: 3D scanning and printing services offered by 3DChimera bring new iterations to life quickly. 

By Karen Hanna 

Children playing with plastic figurines punctuate their action heroes’ movements with exclamations of “Bang” and “Kablooey!” But, for one man creating his own set of characters, the ability to land blows or catapult from danger starts with lifelike joints, plotted and formed with the latest 3D scanning and printing technologies. 

The potential of additive manufacturing (AM) processes to produce rapid iterations is evident in the partnership prospective toymaker Brandon Braswell has formed with 3DChimera, said Alex Hussain, the 3D printing company’s CEO and co-founder. 

“Our role was to take those figures and digitize those, so we 3D scanned them using our technology, and then we worked with him to ... take that data and create the articulating joints and features that allowed it to come together,” Hussain said.  

Braswell’s toy story began in 2012 at a vintage toy shop, where he whiled away some time waiting for a crowded restaurant next door to seat him. He was gobsmacked by the feelings of nostalgia that washed over him. 

“I work in the production world and post-production primarily, so I know how impactful and powerful it is to convey emotion like that through video,” said Braswell, who’s 36. “And I never experienced that through a tangible product. So, from that moment on, I was like, ‘I really want to make a toy.’ There’s something magical about that.” 

A marketing and video guru who has built a career telling the stories of businesses and destination hotspots, Braswell wondered if he could recapture the feeling from that store. He focused on what he’s good at — spinning a yarn and creating characters, inspired in part by the overmuscled mutants of Saturday morning cartoons. 

The result is 9 to 5 Warriors — a zany story of the Watercooler Commandos, a group of office supplies who have come to life and are locked in eternal conflict with office leftovers known as the Break Room Bandits. Leaders of the two sides include Major Eraser — a character that shoots projectiles from a paper clip — and Commodore Crisps — a carton of potato chips that spill out to serve as individual soldiers when fighting commences. 

“It has that traditional Saturday morning cartoon flair of ... randomness,” Braswell said. “Somehow things come to life, and it makes sense.” 

Braswell knows what the characters should look like, and, over the years, he’s found artists through the internet who could bring them to life on trading cards, comic books and stickers. He even found an animator in Ukraine to develop a promo for a TV show that doesn’t yet exist. 

Making three-dimensional representations of the characters proved harder, however. 

Braswell tried hiring sculptors, but didn’t like their work. He then moved on to 3D printing and scanning models himself. 

“Without any knowledge, I just printed them on a whim. I was like, ‘All right, let’s try to fix them.’ I spent like $800, or something insane. At the time, for me, it was kind of pricey to experiment. And I got the prints, and they’re basically useless. They weren’t properly made for a toy. They weren’t sculpted with that in mind.” 

He almost gave up. 

“Creating an action figure is complicated and crazy expensive. I didn’t know if I could do it. So why try?” he recounts in a video about the process. “For seven years, everything collected dust in boxes. I lost hope.” 

But then he met one of the sculptors behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures and with that, Pow! He’d found a way to bring his story to life.  

His contact sculpted Braswell’s figurines, and, with knowledge he gleaned from Google, Braswell approached 3DChimera, hoping to develop iterations that would give his characters the freedom of movement they’d need to duke it out. One step in the process involves a Polyga H3 3D scanner that projects a two-dimensional pattern on Braswell’s models and interprets any deviations from that 2D pattern to create a perfect three-dimensional topography. As part of the project, 3DChimera also uses a Phrozen Sonic Mega 8K 3D stereolithography (SLA) printer. 

“We selected this printer because its large build platform allowed us to print several parts at the same time.  Generally, we chose SLA technology because we needed parts with an extremely high-resolution finish,” Hussain said. 

Printing — which takes only a day or so — provides creators, like Braswell, with a way to make changes quickly, Hussain said. 

“We take basically a static figurine with all the body parts in place. It has very minor articulation, so we lock it in a particular point. And then we 3D scan it from all angles to fully digitize it, and then [Braswell’s] 3D artists will take that and split it up and design the mechanics of how that joint works. And then, once they think they’ve got that dialed in, they’ll send that back to us, and then we’ll print it,” Hussain said. 

The process illustrates the benefits of AM for other industries, he said. 3DChimera, for instance, has also worked on medical parts, as well as parts for the aviation and automotive industries.  

“The technologies we use, they’re really universally applicable to virtually every industry. It just takes a creative eye looking at the application to identify the best tool to solve the problem. The sky’s the limit on what you can really accomplish with it,” Hussain said. 

Armed with figurines with action-oriented joints, Braswell is now looking for molders overseas, and eagerly anticipating how the 9 to 5 Warriors universe will continue to evolve. 

“It was a good point ... of refining that digital sculpt and making it ready for production. And I got a really good end result with that. So, I was able to take that model, give it to a new 3D sculptor that refined it, popped in the right articulation models, and then from there, I got the proper quotes from China,” he said. 

After a decade of playing around with the idea for 9 to 5 Warriors, the next episode in Braswell’s journey is about to drop — rollout of mass-produced 9 to 5 Warriors could take place by mid- to late-spring next year, he said. Sales are expected to begin in November.  

Inspired by the process, he’s also busy collecting action figurines of his own, gathering up many of the heroes that made his Saturday mornings special. In doing so, Braswell, who so far has spent a decade in the 9 to 5 Warriors universe, has found that joints and range of motion aren’t what really brings toys to life. 

It’s the story behind them. 

“What’s funny is I started collecting them after this. And once I got them in my hand, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I thought this bent here. I thought this had more articulation.’ ... Because I could have sworn I was doing backflips with them, sending them in all different poses,” he said. “But in reality, that’s the magic of imagination. I got a very basic toy, and I made it [do] everything.” 


3DChimera, Miami, 786-701-0700, www.3dchimera.com  

To find more information about the 9 to 5 Warriors, or to order the toys, visit www.bigbadtoystore.com/lists?listid=61.

Karen Hanna, senior staff reporter

[email protected]

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.