Ok, so out of the blue I’ve been thrown in to the Lion’s Den…(do Lion’s have dens?)…
A group of final years approached me and have asked me to produce some concept art for their final animation. I am completely blown away, and I feel a little intimidated but also excited that they’ve asked me! Apparently Alec told them that I was good at this sort of thing which is only half true… Concept Art? Can’t get enough of it. Robots? …oh jeez..
Usually I struggle with anything mechanical and prefer more organic designs which took this a little outside my comfort zone but I was still willing to give it a shot.
My challenge was to create a robot design that was:
- Humanoid in Appearance
- Able to emote without traditional facial features (eyebrows etc.)
- Appeared like it worked in a factory-type industry.
James Dalton began by showing me an animated short rendered in Unity called ‘Adam’.
It looked awesome; absolutely insane. I loved the design work behind the robots within it. James had said they were focusing on something close to the main robots, which look like this:
So the challenge was to emulate this without blatantly ripping it off, essentially. The team were kind enough to include a few mood boards to point me in the direction they were looking which I will spam here:
Art by James Dalton
From the looks of the mask ideas they were sending me, they were inclined to go without certain key facial features so as to perhaps take away the human feeling of the face while still allowing it to linger. I started throwing together a chassis to house this worker robot just to have a base to work from. Along the way I started fiddling with a head idea. This was the first round of sketches I came up with, the first taking a few minutes and the second a little longer as I played around with design.
Initial body silhouette scribbles.
While drawing these designs I looked at different sources of machinery and humanoid robotics to understand how it would kind of work “under the hood”. The head design could be used to emote by way of a small triangle that can reposition and project symbols on a screen to show basic mannerisms to portray emotion. A bit of feedback was that the body was too “bodybuilder” and not enough “athlete swimmer” so I slimmed it down slightly as seen above.
I looked at examples of robotic arms so as to understand how the head would move. As for the tarp that covered up this machinery on the neck, I had remembered about a video by Marc Brunet at Cubebrush.com that I watched a few years back and decided to revisit it.
The head design with the emotive screen was inspired by ‘Zer0’ from Borderlands 2, a Japanese assassin who speaks only in Haiku and hides his face behind a hologram projecting helmet.
‘Zer0’, Borderlands 2
The team seemed to like the ideas and thought it was going along the right path. James liked the head idea, but felt it was slightly too simple for their story and had suggested I take a more humanoid approach. Professor Maguire later informed me this was due to it being easier to do motion-capture when the design resembled a model.
So with this feedback I went and did a bunch of sketches with different bits of inspiration flaring in every so often. The team had asked that I put more of a focus on the head design as that’s the part the audience would be focusing on. They were pretty happy with the torso so far, so I made a few variations.
With the base design hammered down I was able to duplicate and tweak to come up with a few different ideas for the team:
After getting a few good and bad ideas down I took them back for another round of review. The head shape they were most interested in was the top-right (The most human-shaped) and so I decideed to run with that. I produced an alternate design along the same shape but cleaned it up a little and decided to explore emotion and function. Around this time the team informed me that they had modified their plot so that the robots would now work with partners in the story and so I drew up a partner design that coupled with the original.
I looked at exploring function within the design