Prototyping Darth Vader's face

Millions of movie-goers will see a Darth Vader...

The latest Star Wars movie features the first symmetrical Darth Vader mask.

The symmetry of Darth Vader's mask is the result of subtractive rapid prototyping. Industrial Light & Magic used a special prototyping device capable of both scanning and milling to create the movie prop.

Millions of movie-goers will see a Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. But relatively few will know the character's menacing mask is the result of a prototyping technology called subtractive rapid prototyping (SRP).

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), San Rafael, Calif., prototyped the mask using an MDX-20 desktop milling device from Roland Advanced Solutions Division, which is based in Lake Forest, Calif. According to the studio, the mask was made specifically for actor Hayden Christiansen's head and has better fit and symmetry than any previous versions.

"This is the first time we've ever seen a symmetrical Darth Vader," says Ivo Coveney, ILM Studio costume-props supervisor.

Capable of 3D scanning and milling, the MDX-20 helped ILM in several ways. After the studio created a life-size mold of Christiansen's head, it fitted the desktop device with its touch-probe sensor and scanned one side of the face. ILM personnel created the other side by reversing the digital file in the software. Then they attached the MDX-20's spindle tip to mill both the right and left sides of the mask.

Roland ASD reports that SRP has several advantages over traditional additive rapid prototyping. The company claims SRP devices cost significantly less, produce prototypes out of a wider variety of nonproprietary materials, and ensure greater precision and better surface finish.

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