How 'Colony's Alien Exoskeleton Was Created Using A 3D Printer

Practical effects studio Legacy Effects didn't just build an alien exoskeleton -- they printed it.

MakerBot / Legacy Effects

Last week, we saw the finale of Colony, USA Network’s show about survival and family dynamics in near-future occupied Los Angeles.

We also saw aliens. Or, at least, we think we did. We definitely saw an alien suit, though. And that’s what we’re here to talk about, because it was created using a 3D printer.

Legacy Effects deals in practical effects, which is just what its name suggests. Rather than relying on computer-generated effects, Legacy uses physical techniques. This means that the company often fabricates things like talking rat heads, prop suits, robots and puppets. You’ve seen Legacy’s work if you’ve seen Pacific Rim, Thor, Captain America: Winter Solider, The Avengers or Avatar.

For the alien suit in the finale of Colony, though, Legacy used a 3D printer. More specifically, the MakerBot Replicator Z18.

“Alan [Scott, Legacy’s co-owner] showed me some character sketches,” says Lead Systems Engineer Jason Lopes, “and I said, ‘I think we can do this 100% on a MakerBot Z18.”

MakerBot / Legacy Effects

After the initial pieces withstood the appropriate strength tests, that’s exactly what he did. In about two weeks’ time, Lopes used the 3D printer to bring all of the components of the exoskeleton suit from computer-rendered images to a physical object, built from layered PLA, or Polylactic Acid, a budget-friendly biodegradable plastic polymer that uses corn starch and other renewable resources.

It’s not just a matter of printing the suit and shipping it off to the set, though.

“We’ll never get rid of the artistry behind it,” says Scott. “Even the direct manufacturer parts still require hand work, and that’s the artists that we have here.”

Once the pieces themselves were printed, artists set to work painting, polishing and finishing the suit, taking it from a bunch of gray plastic pieces to a finished alien exoskeleton with a menacing, shiny black visor and fabric components.

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