Current Hollywood blockbuster Gravity, stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as surviving astronauts from a damaged space shuttle. The movie, which is receiving universal acclaim, required the invention of a new set of tools in order to create the film, according to director Alfonso Cuarón, since it depends almost entirely on computer-generated animation. Another aspect of the film was the accurate, or at least realistic-looking, depiction of space weightlessness.
Enter the robots.
Cuarón and team contacted a company out of San Francisco called Bot & Dolly, which redeployed robotic arms originally designed for factory automation assembly line tasks such as automotive welding and painting. The robots, called IRIS, wielded cameras, lights, props, and Clooney and Bullock themselves, throughout the filming process. These reliable, “robotic cameramen” enabled the crew to surpass previous motion-control setups, which did not have the consistency or ease of use of the robots, according to Popular Mechanics.
Autodesk’s Maya animation software was used to control the robots, and a custom computer interface translated the previsualized CG animation shots into physical camera moves on the set that captured the actor’s faces in the proper alignment.
Now, I have yet to see the movie (I plan on it) to attest to the success of this innovative technique, but again, if reviews are any indication, then it would seem that Cuarón and his crew have flourished. What’s interesting here, though, is the fact that the robots used in this particular application were adapted from industrial models. It’s not the first time that robots have been used in Hollywood filmmaking, but the manner in which they were used here is a new development. It will be interesting to see if more directors start using similar techniques in the future.
Factory automation meets Hollywood, who would have known?