Sculpting Costumes with 3D Printers is 'the Way Theater Is Headed,' Theatre Arts Chair Says of Baylor's New Technology

October 8, 2014

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WACO, Texas (Oct. 8, 2014) — Three-dimensional printers, already churning out toys, jewelry and prosthetic limbs, are taking the stage — literally — in another arena: live theater.
Synthetic beans and mushrooms — accessories for the cursed, hump-backed witch in Baylor University's recent performances of the musical "Into the Woods" — have emerged from a little machine tucked away in a corner of the costume shop in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. And that's only the beginning for the new printer, says former Disneyland costume designer/wardrobe coordinator Joe Kucharski, creator of the witchy wardrobe and a new assistant professor of theatre arts at Baylor.

VIDEO: Joe Kucharski, assistant professor of theatre arts at Baylor, discusses the growing use of 3D printers in theatrical design for greater speed and flexibility.
Using the software for digital sculpting, Kucharski was able to move the computer mouse to tug, flatten and pinch a digital "ball of clay" into the desired shape, in this case two dozen button "beans" and a dozen mushrooms to be attached to the witch's dress. That done, the printer heated and spun plastic cord into delicate thread to create the costume elements.
Depending on the size and how complicated a design is, 3D printing may take 20 minutes to a couple of hours.
"You can set a few buttons and walk away during printing," Kucharski said. "You can customize and print multiples, and you can use colors that are the whole range of the rainbow."
The 3D printers have been used in film and fashion, and "it's a great application for scenic design in theater, too," he said. "You can use miniatures created on a small-scale model and save time instead of carving little details.
"Designers are always thinking, 'How can we design quickly but keep it adjustable so we're ready if the director says, 'Well, we're kinda there. . .'? We can go back and tweak quickly."
The 3D printer is rapidly becoming part of the "designer tool bag," so it's important to integrate the technology into theatre arts curriculum for costume and prop design, Kucharski said.
Students still need to learn traditional drawing, building and creating, but 3D skills give them an edge in the job market.
Stan Denman, Ph.D., chair and professor of theatre arts, says the use of 3D printers is "the way theatre is going . . . This allows us to create items that are no longer being produced — like brooches or hatpins — for period plays. Otherwise, because those things are antiques, the cost is prohibitive," Denman said.
"This also can be helpful if you have an item that has to be broken in a scene," he said. "You can have multiple items to replace it for repeat performances."


Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University's oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 24 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.