The use of stereolithography continues in the entertainment industry. Here’s a closer look at how the boxing robots in the movie Real Steel were made.
by Terry Persun
The movie Real Steel is about a father and his estranged 11-year-old son who enter the world of robotic boxing, once human boxing has become outlawed. But, professional boxers are still needed because the 2000-pound steel robots are human-trained. Hugh Jackman plays an ex-fighter who decides to become a promoter for the new sport, but is faced with having to scrounge up robot parts, which is not a good way to create the best end product.
Many of the robots and robot components were designed and fabricated by Legacy Effects, San Fernando, CA. Legacy Effects partners respond to the needs and the desires for live-action effects in films, commercials, and television. For Legacy, no project is too small or too large, which is why they were strategically and dynamically involved with Real Steel.
According to John Rosengrant, one of the partners as well as part of the engineering team at Legacy, “We built all the robots for the film, which included six “Hero” or close-up robots, one partially destroyed robot called Axelrod, and twenty background level robots. A few specific ones included Atom, who is 7-feet, 6-inches tall; Noisy Boy, who stands 8-feet, 6-inches; and Ambush who is 8-feet, 2-inches tall.” The company created 19 real-life animatronic robot fighters for the production so that the movie could use a mixture of real and computer generated action. This meant that some of the fighting sequences would involve motion-capture animation.
Tom Meyer and his production design team created the look of the robots and Legacy Effects took those designs and fleshed out how they would function, all the while maintaining the integrity of the approved look. Each part was sculpted digitally in a variety of programs Maya, Z Brush, and Max 2010, and all were downloaded as STL files for rapid prototyping. John added that, “All of our files were shared with Digital Domain who was the team heading up the CGI versions of the robots.”
Legacy used a structured material, ID Light™, which was manufactured using a proprietary process developed by Solid Concepts Inc., Valencia, CA, originally to create large Appearance Models that were lightweight. Legacy used the ID Light parts to generate basic shapes for the tooling masters needed for many of the robot pieces used to create the final robots for the movie. “It’s a great material and holds sharp tolerances and accurate form,” John said. “Best of all, it’s a lightweight material, and we use it all the time for tooling masters as well as for static displays or props when appropriate.”
ID Light is an SLA 3d printer product that is created using a proprietary laser-scanning pattern and post-processing methods, ideal for large appearance models. Solid Concepts is the only company that offers the trademarked technology. A thin outer shell (0.030 to 0.040-inch) is fabricated to encase a drainable rigid inner scaffolding-like matrix, which makes parts manufactured using ID Light between 80 and 92% lighter than solid SLA parts depending on geometry. ID Light parts also build faster than standard SLA parts.
After creating masters, the final robots were fabricated using various shore hardness grades of urethane with some lightweight fiberglass parts. Because of the live-action segments of their use, the robots needed to have up to 18 articulated joints. So, components were attached to one another by either bolting them together or attached using a urethane glue. For between six and ten of the joints, Legacy used custom actuator hydraulics components from Fluid Group to make them move. “Speed of movement is always helpful, but we were more interested in precision control and ease of controlling such large characters. That’s why we turned to hydraulics,” John said.
Putting together a great team of designers, the right technologies, the right materials, and proprietary processes, creates the ultimate in flexibility and capability to the movie industry. This is why movies are being made that look more real than ever before. Real Steel is one of those movies.
Solid Concepts ID Light
Filed Under: Actuators, Make Parts Fast, Hydraulic equipment + components, Robotics • robotic grippers • end effectors