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3D printing used to design Oscar-winning costumes

18 February 2019

Belgian 3D printing service provider Materialise has played a part in an Oscar win at the 91st Academy Awards, for its collaboration with designer Julia Körner on the film Black Panther.

An Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design – a conversation with designer of the 3D printed costume Julia Körner

Taking place in Los Angeles on 24th February, American costume designer Ruth E. Carter won the Oscar for Best costume design for her work in Black Panther. Carter utilized 3D printed designs made in collaboration with 3D printing wearable specialist Julia Körner and Materialise.

Materialise and Körner made further collaborations that utilized 3D printing, creating intricate, 3D printed pieces designed specifically for Carter to wear.

A landmark for 3D printing in fashion

Materialise was contacted by Julia Koerner to help 3D print a mantel and crown for the character Queen Ramonda in Black Panther, played by Julia Bassett. The 3D printed pieces played a part in one of the highest-grossing films of the year, which has now been recognized by the Academy for its excellent costume design.

The pieces were made using SLS 3D printing, designed so that they were supple enough to be comfortably worn on set, whilst stiff enough to maintain their shape.

Having won the Oscar, Koerner explains that technologies like 3D printing played an important part in creating the intricate designs required for the film.

Ruth E. Carter also asked Koerner to design a statement piece paying homage to the Black Panther film that she could wear to the 21st Costume Designers Guild Awards and the Vanity Fair Oscars Party. Koerner made further use of 3D printing for the piece, collaborating with Materialise once more to create a neck accessory for Carter, highlighting the use of 3D printing in couture and fashion.

The neck accessory was 3D printed by Materialise in PA 12 using SLS. Koerner customized the design entirely for Carter with a 3D scan of her head and shoulders. The pattern was inspired by African designs and motifs, as well as gala dresses by Balenciaga from the 1950’s and the work of Malian photographer Seydou Keïta. The piece also featured hand-embellished Swarovski crystals in order to create a sparkle when viewed at particular angles.

“The crystals intensify, even more, the detail of the piece. This was also the first time that this process of trickling crystals was performed on a 3D-printed piece: it’s a great combination of digital and traditional craftsmanship,” explains Koerner.


Julia Körner works interdisciplinary in the fields of architecture, product and fashion design and has distinctive expertise in digital manufacturing methods and 3D printing. She has already worked for renowned fashion houses such as Chanel and Iris van Herpen. In 2016, Körner was contacted by Ruth Carter, who had noticed her at the Haute Couture Shows in Paris. Carter was responsible at the Marvel Studios for the costume design of Black Panther.

Körner was to design costumes for a film. The order ran under the code name Motherland. The title was not mentioned. Körner only realized its dimension when she saw the costume on the screen and the sales figures became known.

Körner in an exclusive interview:

What was the client’s expectation – why did she want a 3D print design?

Körner: “With this costume, she wanted to embody the Afro-Futurism of film – and create a symbiosis between African aesthetics and state-of-the-art technology. It was about the design of two crowns and a shoulder cape. In 3D technology, she saw the possibility of creating complex structures that could not be created with manual methods”.

You worked on the costumes for four months. What was the technical challenge?

“One of the challenges was to establish a working process previously unknown in the film industry; to bring together traditional and innovative manufacturing processes. All my designs are created with special programs on the computer. I model on a virtual body whose mass I determine in advance. Once my designs are printed, it is difficult to make adjustments or changes. That makes the work complicated.”

The costume was printed in Europe – at Materialise, a printing company in Belgium. What influenced this choice?

“I’ve been working with Materialise for over ten years. We have already realized several 3D printing projects that have won awards. The company is very reliable, works with industry specialists and offers exceptional service.”

The 3D printing was based on powder and laser, which melts the powder into shape layer by layer. What are the criteria for material and technology?

“For fashion projects, I work with the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technique, which prints with PA12. A material made of polyamide, which allows flexibility, strength and detail accuracy.”

Do you think that Black Panther has sparked interest in 3D printing costumes in the film industry?

“Not only do I think that, I know it. In March, costumes of mine will already be shown on the cinema screen. I am sure that there will be a lot more to come. Because with this technology it is possible to create innovative and detailed costumes.”

Why are architects constructing 3D fashion design?

“3D printing is mainly used in architecture and not in fashion. You need knowledge about digital manufacturing processes and three-dimensional computer design. This is not taught in fashion education. I learned from Ross Lovegrove how 3D printing is used in product manufacturing. Since then, I have been fascinated by the realization of digital designs in 1:1 scale.

Fashion is the smallest scale of architecture – the space that directly surrounds our body, the smallest form of a second skin. On this scale, 3D printing can be used one-to-one as a product and work with complex structures.”

They work with special computer programs with which they model a virtual body and write codes. Which software do you use?

“I model in 3D in various architectural programs and also use visual programming software.”

Source: Materialise/Innovation Origins

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