Developing 3D Foam Sculptures – Our Process

When it comes to designing 3D foam sculptures the process follows our VFX Foam Imagination Process. This process is designed to deliver the highest quality prop while following a structured process that keeps the project on time and on budget.

Discovery Meeting/Concept
This step of the process is the most important as it helps us to understand what you want your prop or themed environment to ultimately convey to your own customers/visitors.  We typically will sit down with clients and develop concept art, sketches, digital representations of layouts and a whole lot more. The goal is to get to a place where the client says ‘that’s it, that’ what I’m wanting!’. 

3D Modelling
After the concepting phase wraps up we have to then develop 3D models. Most of our 3D models are created in applications like Rhino, 3DS Max and even Blender.  These models are used for not only communicating an accurate idea of what a prop will look like but are most often times imported into our special software programs that manage how our CNC machines operate. 

Foam Cutting/Wire Cutter
Our foam comes in large 4x4x8 ft blocks. They’re huge and way to big to fit on a regular CNC mill so we have to cut them down to size. The best and most efficient way to do this is to use our wire cutter. The wire cutter is capable of cutting out large, intricate shapes using electrical current traveling through a long wire between two large computer controlled posts. The wire heats up and melts away the foam (it doesn’t actually touch the foam which most people think).

When an item gets cut out on a CNC mill or our 7-axis robot it first needs to be toolpathed. Toolpathing is the process of importing in a 3D model into special CNC software where the robot is then simulated on the computer. The simulation shows how the item will be cut and if there will be any major issues. Most sculptures on a robot can go through dozens of toolpasses which can take days of computer processing power! Once the toolpathing is complete though, the job can begin to be cut out on the CNC machines.

Milling (7-axis robot or 4-axis flat bed)
We have two large CNC machines here in our studio. The 4-axis flat bed mill and our large 7-axis advanced robot. The attention usually is put on our large 7-axis robot since she (her name is ‘Zoe’) can cut pieces as tall as 14 ft and as wide as 12 ft….the scope is massive! The accuracy of the robot is unmatched and allows us to produce some truly amazing complex pieces.

Once all the pieces have been either hand carved or pulled off of our CNC machines they’ll be assembled. Sometimes this includes adding large armatures while other times it includes adding LED lighting. Whatever the finished piece requires this is where all the pieces come together before it goes into hard coating.

Hard Coating
The hard coating process is where the delicate foam is encapsulated with our hard coating products. We have a few different options when it comes to a coating, it can be smooth or have an orange peel texture. It can have a fire rated (FR) additives applied meeting building codes and much more. The result is a foam prop that is rock solid that can last various types of abuse.

After the item comes out of hard coating it’s sent to our painting department. There we’ll apply a special primer coating and base paint coats, air brush detail and much more. The result is an amazing product that feels 3D but also looks the part!

Clear Coating
We apply multiple layers of clear coat that help to lock in the paint creating an amazingly strong, protective surface. Once the clear coating is applied everything is ‘locked in’.

Final Assembly
With the items having been painted we’ll do a final test fit with armatures, stands, etc to ensure it will work correctly once it arrives onsite at a clients location.

After the prop has been created the next step is being sure it arrives safely at it’s destination. This is where our shipping team gets to work. 

This process is where the large crate is wheeled into the loading docks here in the studio, loaded into the back of a large truck, and sent off to the client.