Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Ok, its been a while, life throwing too many tomatoes my way, but lots of good things happening too, and more to tell you about. We are very close to moving into the Skatedog studio now, in fact we should be in there next week with a little luck- the build will begin in earnest then, setting up intelligent responses to lighting rigs and staging- so we're very excited about that. It's going to revolutionise what we can accomplish...
But mostly I have to begin telling you about the robots...this is what I've been sitting on for a while, trying to get the ideas and design together enough to feel it is worth sharing- We have been working on and off on the robots for about a year now, when other projects subsided- and we're getting fairly close now....We wanted to experiment with new joints we had discovered, and it seemed obvious after a little while that it would be useful to start experimenting with these kinds of puppets without immediately having to 'skin' them with Latex or Silicone- so, doubtlessly inspired by equal parts of the 'Terminator' puppet and Preston, the robot dog puppet from Aardman's 'A Close Shave'- in that exposed joints could be used as detailing. They were built from scratch using mostly found resources, coupled with a variety of ball and socket joints. We have tried many different aspects to the design as different resources have been found. There are three of them- they are all different, and have particular personalities...In this 'reveal', I'm going to be very elusive about plot details- You'll have to wait and see what they get up to, but I'll go so far as to say it is black comedy...I wanted there to be a 'found' aesthetic to them, and also pay homage slightly to the robot designs in classic British sci-fi comic 2000AD- particularly the ABC Warriors strip. I guess there's a bit of Star Wars running through this too.
There is a link to the video test sequences over on vimeo here:
if you want to get straight on to seeing them come to life...
Anyway, I'll introduce them one at a time: This is ROD- this is an early shot of him under construction. His eyes don't have pupils yet, and his upper lip is unfinished here. He also seems to have just one heavy duty magnetic eyebrow, a design I shifted away from later. His shouldering is also very exposed here.
This is a little later- you can see he has his new riveted eyebrows, and his shoulders are growing in padding- also his blue eyes are lit here- i quite liked this design but felt his eyes were too malign here for the character I had in mind.

Another shot with a little red lighting- it really changes the colour of his eyes...The head holds 2 led lights, which have wires than run down to his waist- we can do red eyes or blue, and they also combine to create a purple quite close to what you see here...His head is built out of recycled materials, including washers, aluminium lighting fixtures, lighter tops, and other metal bits and pieces- His jaw is built from hinges taken off telescopic radio aerials. The front of his face is attached magnetically, and allows access to the mechanics below.

The current design- his eyes now have the washer 'pupils' which diffuses the lights better, and his upper jaw has come forward. Again, shoulder detail is also being added. Beneath the surface detailing he is basically built from animationsupplies armature components- although the spine in these puppets has now been replaced with heavy duty loc-line- they were getting so heavy with all the detailing, that a heavy duty spine seemed the best course of action.
The puppet with various surfacing facias applied- notably about the hip joints- again these attach magnetically and can be removed for access to the allen key sockets used at the hips. You can also see the LED cabling in this shot trailing out at the bottom. I guess you also see the hands here, which were built from scratch, and are essentially mini sandwich plates using the smallest nuts and bolts I could find, and the smallest brand of body piercing bar bells, cold welded into place. This has been a case of trial and error, but these hands are now holding up well, and are very expressive. They have hinged joints at the wrist, again sourced from radio aerials...

I reckon these hands can be improved on significantly once we get into the studio and start being able to machine metal properly- these were very much built on a kitchen bench, but they are holding up nicely...but we can improve them loads more yet.

Rod also has replacement eyes so he can appear to blink, and toe sections built from a furniture catch that include a threaded tie down cavity.

He also has rigging sections hidden in the shoulder area of his back, though these are currently having an overhaul!

We'll let him enjoy a little lie down and move on to his companion, who for now is called RIG.

RIG started life as a spotlight lamp body, and was likewise built from scratch from mostly found materials, his head was the starting point, and then the lamp waist added as a torso. His head was built from similar parts as ROD, but he has a very different character.
This was the basis of his torso as the character was put together- this was an early design in which we were using a simpler hip design- it looked a little too phallic though, and was slightly too narrow at the hips.
A close up of RIG's face- he has a similar hinged jaw, and much simpler cavity eyes- again, these are lit with either red or blue LED's fixed inside.
Rig's torso - a loc line spine section, fixed with lilliput to the hip joint, which again uses allen key joints- culled from remote control cars- the knees are animationsupplies standard joint sandwich plates, the feet once again are built from those catches culled from a television stand. Pretty much everything you see here except the loc line and the sandwich plates was found- most of this on the 'street of plenty'...
Rig has a weapon arm, and a normal arm- the weapon arm was built out of a section from a dead lamp, and was immediately pleasing- to me at least! The hip detail here is built from modified sections taken from a LED head torch. It is attached by magnetic panels epoxy glued to  the hip block, and the hip detailing.
 He now has all this extra detailing on the chest section, including these ribs, and the shoulder pads.
I've been running tests with RIG lately, and he has had issues with both his shoulders and his arms- so I've removed the current arms and I am looking at redeveloping these to a superior design- they need superior joints and a better design concept- He also needs fully armatured shoulders like ROD has- so he can shrug, and get in more expressive poitions. RIG's hand is not as reliable as ROD's, so we are going to build him a better hand in the immediate future. We also want to develop thigh detailing for this puppet, as we feel he is too thin in the leg area presently.
One area of RIG that has worked well so far has been his rigging point- he walked quite well in the early tests.
The last robot is SPARK- he is a wheeled robot, and a lot more basic- although he is clearly a very comic character...
He is still in development really, but we've been very pleased with his acting ability in the test footage- it is quite surprising how a puppet can begin to act in ways you don't anticipate as the designer to a certain extent- they DO have a strange personality of their own that only emerges as they start to move...
Right, that will have to do us for now- I'll come back to SPARK in more detail in future...very shortly. But I hope you like the robots! Go and see the test footage, if you haven't already.

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