Sunday, 28 June 2015

Talking Chappie with the WETA team

Talking Chappie with the WETA team


Chappie, the movie is out on DVD now - and to celebrate the release of the film we've managed to get some time with the talented guys at WETA who were involved in the digital FX wizardry that you see on screen.

Rob Gillies, Workshop Supervisor
Where did you look to for inspiration with the Chappie Robot?
On the workshop floor we looked for inspiration for Chappie a wide variety of places from existing robot technology through to racing bikes and military technology.

What were the challenges with coming up with the creation?
On the workshop floor the challenges were mainly in 3D. Deciding where to split the model apart and how to break the robot down for printing and milling to make the process as efficient as possible whist making the droid as cool and believable as possible.

How much feedback did Neill have and what was the collaborative process like given you guys have all worked together before? Did it make it easier to work that way?
Neil always gives a lot of feedback on 3D models, model made components, paint finishes etc. We had an established a pipeline from previous Neil films so we had a very efficient process for feedback that Neil tied into and that we could respond to.

What was the trickiest part of the process?
Probably the trickiest part of the process was the detailing, although this is also one of the more fun parts of the process. This is when the props etc really come alive.

What’s the one moment in Chappie that stands out for you for your creation and why?

The Moose and Chappie fight. Just seeing all the time, energy and hard work come together to work in an amazing action sequence was a big stand out moment for me.

What else would you have liked to have done with the robot – there’s so much personality that appears to have come from Sharlto and the script, was it hard to put your own touches on Chappie?
It would have been great to be able to automate Chappie a little bit more. Beyond just lights and screens but actually give him some limb movement.

Was there anything that Sharlto brought to the performance that affected your execution of the robot? No all of Shalto's work came after we had delivered the practical robots

If you had a robot like
 Chappie
, what would you do with him and why?
If I had a robot like
 Chappie I would make a movie about him.

Christian Pearce, Conceptual designer

Where did you look to for inspiration with the Chappie Robot?
We went back to Neill's original Tetra Vaal short, there's so much good stuff to steal from in that. It still looks great today. Chappie has the same basic proportions and concept as the robot in that film.
For detailing, functionality and materials I looked at real-world robotics: Boston Dynamic's Big Dog and PETMAN, Honda's ASIMO, assembly line ABB robots and many others. When designing a fantastical characters like this I find it important to reference as many real, existing and functional examples as possible.

What were the challenges with coming up with the creation?
Just making such an advanced, currently impossible machine seem real and believable. Studying those other robots I mentioned earlier helped ground Chappie in reality and hopefully make the leap of belief a short one

How much feedback did Neill have and what was the collaborative process like given you guys have all worked together before? Did it make it easier to work that way?
Neill was hugely involved right from the first day. He's a very talented artist, if he more time he wouldn't need any of us! Luckily for us he wastes all his time behind the camera and telling actors what to do.

How far back into Tetra Vaal did you go into? Ie how feasible was what Neill Blomkamp had envisioned in the past and how easy was it to update?
We referenced Neill's original film right from the start but he wanted to take it in a slightly different direction. Instead of the robot being a prototype, maybe even a one-off, he wanted the scout droids in Chappie to be hardy, resilient and common. They were mass produced and tough as opposed to rare and fragile, kinda cheap and heavy, emphasis on toughness and ease of production. 

What’s the one moment in
 Chappie that stands out for you for your creation and why?
My most memorable part was watching the full-scale Moose come together here at Weta Workshop. Each day that monstrous thing would become more and more impressive as different parts would come together from all over the 'shop, when it came down to the last week of assembly I decided to stop checking in on progress so I could take it all in with fresh eyes at the end. That thing was amazing! Really had a commanding presence, definitely one of the best things we've ever built I reckon

Was there anything that Sharlto brought to the performance that affected your execution of the robot?
I personally loved what Sharlto brought to Chappie. The design doesn't really have that much room for expression of emotion yet he conveyed so much through subtle movements. Added such an organic element to an otherwise simple and mechanical character.

If you had a robot like Chappie, what would you do with him and why?
Program him to master the art of burrito-making and beer-fetching.


Lans Hans, HOD 3D
Where did you look to for inspiration with the Chappie Robot?When 3d modelling components we were typically drawing inspiration from Christian Pearce’ illustrations. For finer details and subtle finishes we also looked to industrial car-assembly robots and some of the robots coming out of DARPA’s research

What were the challenges with coming up with the creation?Image Engine in Vancouver did the primary 3d modelling of the droid for their animation requirements, incorporating a huge number of complex joints to mimic the freedom of motion of a human body. One of the biggest challenges we faced was how to turn this incredibly complex 3d model into a physical object that would meet all the on-set requirements - such as ‘ragdoll’ motion - while still looking visually identical.  We ultimately designed in 44 working pivot joints and two ball and socket joints to replicate the effect. Due to the complexity of the build, and the sheer number of interlocking parts we made the call to 3d print the entire droid and assemble the molded rubber parts around a laser-cut aluminium chassis. The 3d printing technology was relatively slow and very expensive, but enabled us to capture all the detail of the Image engine model while making components which snapped together straight off the printer.  

How much feedback did Neill have and what was the collaborative process like given you guys have all worked together before? Did it make it easier to work that way?
Neil’s input was largely added during Image Engines 3d modelling, so the process at our end was relatively simple.  
What’s the one moment in
 Chappie that stands out for you for your creation and why?
Image engine did a spectacular job with the animated droids, but there are a lot of scenes where our ragdoll droids feature heavily. Its always rewarding seeing things you have put a lot of time and thought into working so well on-screen; In one scene Chappie has a full arm switched out for a new one which snaps securely into place – a challenge we overcame using a camera ballhead and quick-release plates.

Leri Greer, Conceptual designer
Where did you look to for inspiration with the Chappie Robot?
Neill wanted the robots in CHAPPiE to feel grounded in reality as much as possible, so we looked primarily at existing industrial robots for things like materials and moving parts. We also looked at the original source material, Neill's short film TETRA VAAL, using that as sort of a jumping off point... sort of like the robot in TETRA VAAL was an early test prototype, which eventually went on to become the police robots in CHAPPiE.

What were the challenges with coming up with the creation?
Things like making sure his joints functioned in a way that an human actor could move, so that he could be animated properly. Finding ways for Chappie to express emotion, so things like wireless attenae that could act as ears, protective bars surrounding his sensor array on his face to act as eyebrows, and a faceplate that could display information but also act as an eyeline for the other actors to focus on when talking with Chappie.

How much feedback did Neill have and what was the collaborative process like given you guys have all worked together before? Did it make it easier to work that way?
We have worked with Neill for close to 10 years on all of his feature films, as well as many of his smaller projects, so yes we have a very close working relationship with a ton of back and forth. He is an extremely accomplished artists in his own right, and could probably design the whole film himself if time allowed, so in many ways we speak the same language, and share many of the same interests.

How far back into Tetra Vaal did you go into? Ie how feasible was what Neill Blomkamp had envisioned in the past and how easy was it to update?
Yes we just extrapolated forward from the fictional time of TETRA VAAL, and as a mental exercise imagined the robot in that short film to be a very early plastics and carbon fiber prototype version, sent into the field for testing before mass production of the later stronger materials versions. It was a natural stepping off point, especially since that short film is so strong, and the design from it communicates many things already about functionality, and human endeavor around how robots are built and what their purposes might be in the future.

What was the trickiest part of the process?
There were many tricky parts, but primarily it was making sure that all the physical parts of the robots that we manufactured at WETA WORKSHOP matched exactly with all the CGI models made by IMAGE ENGINE. We worked very closely back and forth to make sure everything matched as closely as possible, which can get tricky when a robot is being shot, blown up, scratched, dented, stickered, spray painted, and parts replaced over the course of the film. It's a continuity and logistical nightmare in many respects, but fun at the same time because it's like a big puzzle that has to be figured out.

What’s the one moment in Chappie that stands out for you for your creation and why?
I think I can safely say that for most film workers it's just very satisfying seeing your work make it up onto the big screen. It's sort of a weird, proud deja vu moment where you are simultaneously experiencing the film, while at the same time recalling all the blood, sweat, tears, and laughs you experienced during the months and months of hard work in trying to make something the best that it can be.

What else would you have liked to have done with the robot – there’s so much personality that appears to have come from Sharlto and the script, was it hard to put your own touches on Chappie?
Yes and no. For every idea or design touch that makes it onto screen there was probably 20 more thrown away, and some of the thrown away ones you may have really liked, but in the end the most important thing is that every detail is in service to what the script and story needs to convey, and as professionals designing for film, we understand that it's less about a personal vanity project and getting our own touches on something and more about making sure the sum of the parts feels correct as a whole. This is especially true of everyone at WETA WORKSHOP. It takes hundreds of people working together, and if anything can be called a team effort it's a feature film. I'm just lucky to be surrounded by so many passionate and talented people whose love of film as an art form makes them want to honor the medium above and beyond just a paycheck.

Was there anything that Sharlto brought to the performance that affected your execution of the robot?
It was probably the other way around. Because Chappie's chest and shoulders were very different from a human, we had to build a physical device to restrict Sharlto's movements a bit, and to bulk him up in areas where the robot would be bulked up. This was so Sharlto while acting didn't bring his arms too far across his chest, or lean against something in the real world that would cause the motion capture or animation to "clip". In my experience actors like some restrictions anyways, they usually like to know the parameters of their character both physically as well as psychologically, which helps them find the best performance within those restrictions. I think Sharlto is the same way, he likes that challenge, as most great actors do.

If you had a robot like Chappie, what would you do with him and why?
Make him walk my dog sometimes, especially when I'm tired from work and it's really cold outside.

Chappie is out now on DVD and Blu Ray from Sony Home Entertainment.

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