3D Printing a Century Old Cartoon

El Apostol, the world’s first animated feature directed by Quirino Cristiani, hit movie theaters in Argentina more than hundred years ago. To celebrate the anniversary, Massimo Rossi and Simone Rasetti, founders of 949 Creative Studio, a design firm based in Padua, Italy, put the Zortrax M300 and our dedicated materials through their paces to bring the century-old story back to life.

Grandpa of Cartoons

Quirino Cristiani was four years old when his family moved from Santa Giuletta, Italy, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1900. He grew up in Puerto Madero, a waterfront district of the Argentinian capital, where he got hooked into drawing which eventually became his lifelong passion. At the age of 20, Quirino had his first shot at animation. Intervention in the Province of Buenos Aires, a one-minute long political satire on Hipólito Yrigoyen, the then president of Argentina, came out in 1916. But Quirino, a talented young man hired off the street, had already been working on something way bigger. Yrigoyen, a radical relentlessly taunted by the press, was to become the central character in Quirino’s pioneering project- El Apostol.Using cardboard cutouts, Quirino strung together around 58,000 frames with characters designed by newspaper cartoonist Diógenes Taborda, which added up to 70 minutes of runtime at 14 frames per second- a staggering amount of work that’d never been done before. The satire premiered on November 9 1917 and, for a novelty, it was received surprisingly well. Despite the success, the cartoon hadn’t been preserved for posterity. A fire destroyed the film studio where the only known copy of El Apostol had been stored. Quirino, seemingly unfazed, continued on making cartoons, carefully navigating through Argentinian politics- a fate of nearly all political cartoonists of the era. As an old man, though, at the age of 85, Quirino returned to his old country, to Italy. On November 1981, In Santa Giuletta, he met a four-year-old Massimo Rossi. “Vague memories, but I remember him as fascinating. We called him nonnino of cartoons, a warm Italian word for grandpa”, says Rossi.

Passing the Baton

Rossi apparently caught a bit of Quirino’s knack for political satire. Years after they met, he launched 949 Creative Studio, a project co-founded with Rasetti, making caricatures of all kinds of people, including widely known politicians and celebrities. With Rossi as the head of the company, and Rasetti responsible for the technical side of things, the studio went about designing and 3D printing figurines with exaggerated, cartoonish features. Rossi had never forgotten about the world’s first animated feature and its creator, though. Moreover, he found out Quirino was quite famous in Argentina and decided to write about their encounter in Santa Giuletta on one of the webpages covering Quirino’s work. Suddenly, in 2011, Rossi received an unusual email.”It was from Hector Cristiani, Quirino’s grandson”, says Rossi.

Hector Cristiani on the left and Massimo Rossi on the right.

Hector insisted on Rossi telling him the story of the meeting with his grandfather. Times they are a’changing, both gentlemen became friends on Facebook. The very first time they saw each other came six years later in 2017. Hector was invited to Padua to take part in a conference on animation held to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the world’s first feature length cartoon. Rossi arranged for a meeting and a visit to Santa Giuletta, but he wanted to make this a little bit more than just a sentimental trip. El Apostol had been lost forever, but the memory remained. Rossi, having Zortrax Ecosystem‘s precision coupled with Rasetti’s technical prowess at his disposal, decided to bring at least a part of the old story back to life. What he and Rasetti had in mind, was the exact 3D-printed replica of Yrigoyen’s caricature Quirino animated hundred years ago.

Yrigoyen Goes 3D

The caricature’s 3D model was made with a special kind of software simulating modeling in clay. “Some think it’s a gimmick but I find it a more artistic experience”, says Rasetti. Having the Quirino’s depiction of Yrigoyen in full 3D, Rasetti went about dividing the model down into several parts, a step taken to reduce surface artifacts. It then got uploaded to Z-SUITE, converted into .zcode, and the M300 could start to work its magic. With lots of various post-processing steps on the agenda, Rasetti’s material of choice was Z-ULTRAT. “The 3D printing done, we glued all the parts together and proceeded to make the infill of the model, we basically stuffed the Yrigoyen with the same kind of plastic he’d been 3D printed with- Z-ULTRAT”, says Rasetti. To pull it off, he took the material off the spool, put it inside the figurine, and melted the material with a heated metal tool. “Same thing with more demanding parts, especially those arranged horizontally”, says Rasetti. Such parts were smoothed and honed with a heated metal stem. Surfaces got finished with abrasive sponges and epoxy resin with thixotropic properties.The final look of the caricature- stained brass or gold, depending how you look at it- was obtained in a few consecutive steps. “First, the primer was used as a base”, explains Rasetti. Then, the model got painted with metallic paint. “The final steps was to use patina and various acids to make the stains look natural. “To hint at an old age of the caricature, we had to make it look a little bit eroded. Think it all worked out pretty well”, says Rasetti. At the conference in Padua, the perfected model was handed over to the caricature’s rightful heir- Hector Cristiani. “He was pleased with it for sure”, says Rossi. But this was just as far as 949 Creative Studio could go in resurrecting El Apostol. While some say there are copies of the cartoon still to be found somewhere in the vast archives of the Argentinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossi dismisses all such claims. “We talked about that with Hector. He assured me there were no copies left. Simple as that”, says Rossi, “Quirino’s ideas live on, but El Apostol is lost forever”.

If you want to learn more about post-processing techniques, you may be interested in our post-processing workshops. You can also find out how 3D printing technology can reshape making dolls and figurines in our stories about Laurette Debrichy and Nickis Fabbrocile.