This article has been contributed by Wes McDowell giving an honest, insightful review of Netflix’s original documentary, Print the Legend.
Every new technology has its share of names. Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Nolan Bushnell brought us home computing. Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, and Elon Musk turned e-commerce into a massive part of our daily lives. Johannes Gutenberg took the printing press and forever changed how we get our information.
Rarely, however, are the stories of these personalities — and the forces that drive them (or the demons that haunt them) — caught in the full, messy glory of real-time.
Netflix’s original documentary, Print the Legend, does just that. Bringing us right up to the line these pioneers of a new, startlingly important, technology are about to cross, Print the Legend follows them through the ups and downs of creation and exploitation.
For those who don’t know, 3D printing is a technique where man-made materials are printed in layers. Actual, real, physical forms are created a layer at a time, and in the end you have a statue or chess piece or action figure.
The technology we are talking about is new stuff, at least at the consumer level. While industrial-level 3D printing has been around since the 1980’s (just one amazing fact I learned from Print the Legend), there was no chance of you every even seeing these machines. A few years ago desktop 3D printing didn’t exist. Now you have a selection to choose from.
Now, these things aren’t affordable yet. Not for the bulk of us anyway. Certainly not to produce little toys and plastic gadgets. A decent machine capable of replicating 3D objects accurately and error free is still a few grand. But we all know that it’s only a matter of time before Walmart is selling 3D printers on Black Friday. And as the printed materials become more complex and durable, it won’t be long before we are printing household goods on the computer desk.
Such a crazy explosion of a technology into the market means no shortage of interesting stories and powerful (i.e. flawed) personalities at the forefront, pushing this new thing into the public light.
Print the Legend focuses on a number of these personalities: The well known gurus at MakerBot, the Kickstarter powered startup Formlabs, and the controversial figure who is trying his hardest to weaponize the technology by printing guns.
It was a fascinating ride. I went in blind, knowing nothing of the epic people and projects behind 3D printing. Netflix has a touch with these things. They get in, keep filming, and let us see all the little things that go on behind the scenes. Never seeming to have an agenda, Print the Legend is full of twists and turns, every few minutes throwing yet another angle at you, making you reevaluate who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are of each individual story.
And this may be the most important lesson one can take from Print the Legend: Nothing is as it seems when you are building a business. You could almost hear Mulder of X-Files whispering “trust no one” as personal issues dissolve partnerships, production problems plague promised products (that could be a children’s rhyme for tiny capitalists), and large billion dollar corporations swoop down to swallow and sue the fledgling startups.
Many of us know these pains personally. Scraping together the means and the time to build something from nothing is hard — made even harder by misunderstandings, personal responsibilities, and the ever wavering dollar.
But the folks at MakerBot and Formlabs were not only building companies from scratch, but the very technology of the industry itself. A double-whammy package of chaotic struggle and personal pain. It takes a special kind of person to pull this off — the most famous of the last few decades being Steve Jobs. And while everyone wants to be the next Mr. Jobs, few would want to have known him.
And the pain is personal for these people. An example is the frontman for MakerBot, Bre Pettis. The slightly awkward rockstar of the early 3D printing movement, Bre seems a very personable guy. Likable, friendly, open… But sometimes, just for a second, Print the Legend shows us his mask slipping when he forgets about the cameras — the pain and stress of the job, of being a sort of all singing all dancing mascot for his young industry, flashes over his features just before he manages to bottle it back up. It’s amazing, and I felt for him the entire time, even as he wandered from the path and made questionable decisions.
And decisions are at the core of Print the Legend. To merge or not to merge. To fight an unfair lawsuit, or to settle. To let go of your cofounder and best friend, or to stay the course in the toughest of times.
Netflix pulls you along, mouth agape at the insane things that happen behind closed doors. Print the Legend peels back the wallpaper and points to the dried glue behind, saying, “There is what holds it all together. Now watch it come apart.”
Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, Print the Legend was both entertaining and informative, exposing what happens when creativity and business merge on the frontier of new technologies. Technologies that may well put some new names into future history books, right next to Mr. Gutenberg.
Print the Legend can be streamed from Netflix to you favorite device, and has an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars. View Trailer on YouTube.
About The Author: Wes McDowell works as Creative Director for The Deep End Web Design in Chicago. In addition, he co-hosts a popular graphic and web design related podcast called “The Deeply Graphic DesignCast.”