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Oscar win for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio spotlights 3D printing innovation

13 March 2023

The puppet used in the Oscar-winning animation Pinocchio (2022) is the first to have been made using 3D printing, thanks to support from Made Smarter.

The puppet-maker behind Pinocchio has praised the transformative impact of Made Smarter’s technology adoption programme.

Mackinnon & Saunders, based in Altrincham, collaborated with Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro to manufacture the miniature stars of the hit Netflix stop-motion animation.

Pinocchio is the first puppet that has been made using 3D-printed stainless steel.

The innovation was made possible through the Made Smarter North West adoption programme, a government-funded initiative to help SME manufacturers digitalise, decarbonise and drive growth through new technologies and skills.

Funding support and impartial expert advice enabled Mackinnon & Saunders to test and trial brand-new 3D techniques with Laser Prototype Europe (LPE), a rapid prototyping service bureau based in Belfast. 

Last night (Sunday, March 12), Pinocchio followed up its incredible clutch of awards, including a BAFTA and Golden Globe, with the Oscar for ‘best animated feature’.

Commenting on the success Peter Saunders, Co-founder of Mackinnon & Saunders, said: “We are thrilled to have played a part in creating such a successful film which has been watched and loved by so many.

“It means the world to our team to have worked on an Oscar-winning film. It is also testament to what can be achieved through programmes like Made Smarter, who gave us such valuable technical support and facilitated our exploration of this game-changing technology. 

“That support has kept us ahead of the game and given us great confidence to focus on the next big potential Oscar-winning productions.”

Founded by puppeteers Peter Saunders and Ian Mackinnon 30 years ago, Mackinnon & Saunders have brought to life some of children’s most beloved TV characters, including Bob the Builder, Postman Pat and the new Clangers. 

The company has built a global reputation through collaboration with Hollywood directors Tim Burton on Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride; and Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The team of sculptors, costume makers, metal workers and painters have found success blending traditional skills with new technology and processes. 

Saunders explained: “We have developed a lot of knowledge about 3D printing over the years. All that sum of knowledge gathered up was put into Pinocchio. 

“Made Smarter arrived at the perfect time. We were able to access funding and advice to trial the latest development in the metal printing machines. 

“Our collaborators LPE really understood what we were striving for and pushed their machines to the absolute maximum to achieve fine metal printing work to retain the details, while ensuring the parts fit together to create a moving puppet.

“The animators who used Pinnochio were delighted with the outcome, because it was a very delicate puppet, but it was indestructible.”

The success of Pinnochio has cemented Mackinnon & Saunders’ position at the top of their game.

But for Peter Saunders, none of it would have been possible without programmes like Made Smarter.

“We’ve built a team of over 100 very creative, innovative and brilliant people. But we work in a highly competitive industry. We're a minnow in comparison to some of our rivals.

“Without the support of Made Smarter we would never have been able to achieve what we have with Pinnochio. Made Smarter has really helped us keep ahead of the game.”

Launched in the North West in 2019 to help businesses digitalise, decarbonise and drive growth, Made Smarter has supported more than 2,500 businesses offering fully funded support, including expert, impartial technology advice, digital road-mapping workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps to transform their business, and skills development.

Made Smarter has also helped 250 manufacturers invest £18 million in technologies which enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes, others are now using 3D printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

By adopting cutting-edge technologies, these businesses are benefiting from improved productivity and revenue, increased exports and job creation, an upskilled workforce, lower energy bills, and a reduced carbon footprint.

Almost 1,300 new jobs are forecast to be created, 2,400 existing roles upskilled, and an additional £209 million in GVA for the North West economy over the next three years.

Commenting on Mackinnon & Saunders’ achievement, Donna Edwards, director of the North West adoption programme, said: “I congratulate Mackinnon & Saunders on their role in making Pinnochio such a success. 

“The company’s attitude and approach towards adopting technology perfectly encapsulates the ethos of Made Smarter. I am delighted that they were able to tap into our expertise and invest in technologies which have put them on the world stage.

“I would encourage any North West manufacturers who are wondering where to go next with technology to help manage their business more efficiently and sustainably to get in touch with the Made Smarter team.”

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