Could practical movie effects make a comeback thanks to 3-D printing?

The Ender's Game movie includes a lot of props that were created via 3-D printer... and this could be the wave of the future. Ars Technica speculates that 3-D printing could make model-creation cheap enough, and easy enough, to give CG a run for its money.

Ars Technica links to an interview in LiveScience with Andrew Clement, the owner of effects shop Creative Character Engineering in Van Nuys, CA, in which Clement says that 3-D printing is "an extremely fast way of sculpting and doing concepts."

And then Ars Technica adds:

These concepts for special effects are normally created out of a clay material and then shown to a film’s decision-makers. But if the model is not ideal and needs some tweaks, that often means starting over from scratch. 3D printing allows Clement to keep a model in digital form, make any needed changes in a CAD program, and then reprint it, turning intensive work into hands-off time.

Clement said that when his studio had to create a smaller model of a spider for a Harry Potter film, the larger model was scanned and 3D-printed. Another example is 3D printing's use in Iron Man 2: the special effects studio scanned Robert Downey Jr.'s hands and printed models of his appendages to make a more comfortable version of his Iron Man suit. 3D printers are also being used to create props and set pieces for the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy. 3D printing stands to get a more central role in films themselves, Clement said, if studios could start printing entire costume pieces like monster heads.

Could animatronic creatures be making a comeback? Or could we see more practical models again, because 3-D printing allows for quick customization? Let's hope so. [Ars Technica]