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Print the Legend: SXSW Review

Print the Legend SXSW Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Infinite Film LLC

The Bottom Line

Lively and informative doc focuses on corporate case studies instead of broad assessment of the field

Venue

South By Southwest Film Festival, Documentary Competition

Directors

Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

Luis Lopez and Clay Tweel look at two rival startups in the new 3D printing field.

AUSTIN —  Luis Lopez and Clay Tweel take a snapshot of a nascent but outrageously promising industry in Print the Legend, focusing on the potentials of 3D printing itself only long enough to see how it motivates two rival startups. Full of interpersonal drama and touching on the bigger perils of growing from a small partnership into a huge company in a handful of years, the doc should entertain tech-industry auds (even if it teaches them little) and attract outsiders looking to see a possibly world-changing field being born.

The companies in question are MakerBot Industries, whose CEO Bre Pettis hopes to be the Steve Jobs of his field — taking a technology formerly available only to huge corporations and putting it on individuals' desktops — and Formlabs, whose frontman Max Lobovsky intends to offer a higher-quality "prosumer" home unit.

The two men have wholly different personalities: Former teacher Pettis is a goofy-looking glad-hander with a cocked grin; kid-genius Lobovsky is a poor communicator who can seem arrogant to those around him. And neither is the sole founder of his company, which turns out to be a big focus here: Lopez and Tweel observe how each firm started as three friends with complementary gifts, then evolved, with business pressures and ego clashes weeding co-founders and key early employees out.

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The transformation is most extreme, and most poignant, at MakerBot, which began as an idealistic champion of open-source hardware: That is, all the technology within the desktop printer was public information, allowing others to improve it so long as their innovations were also public. That changed suddenly in 2012, as rapid growth encouraged those in charge to nail down ways to make money. Suddenly the device ran on proprietary technology, leaving a legion of early adopters feeling betrayed.

Pettis becomes the doc's most puzzling subject: a man who early on radiated utopian optimism now looks sad, avoiding certain subjects uncomfortably, and is accused by former supporters of cruelty and capriciousness in firing many of those who built the company. Meanwhile, Formlabs suffers major, reputation-damaging delays in getting its highly anticipated product ready to ship.

Many viewers with only a casual awareness of 3D printing will be expecting more about the possibilities of these technologies and a broader assessment of the state of the art — much is being done in the field beyond making plastic trinkets in machines that can fit on a desk chair. One use gets some screen time, as we visit a bit with the loathsome self-promoter rushing to enable the world to make 3D-printed guns at home. But that example, and the film's one look at industrial-scale 3D printing, are only here to illuminate the many non-technical challenges faced by new companies trying to become the Apple or Microsoft of 3D printing.

 

Production Companies: AUDAX Films

Directors-Directors of Photography-Editors: Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

Screenwriters: Steven Klein, Luis Lopez, Clay Tweel

Producers: Seth Gordon, Dan O'Meara, Chad Troutwine, Steven Klein

Executive producers: Walter Kortschak, Mary Rohlich

Music: Noah Wall

Sales: Liesl Copland, WME

No rating, 96 minutes