We were asked by a London based PR agency to create a Mesmer robot to help promote the launch of popular TV series. The robot “Fred”, would be let loose on the unsuspecting public inside a specially rigged English pub. Fred needed to not only look human, it needed to behave in a human way. A perfect opportunity for our Mesmer system.
The Brief in Brief
The promotional robot had some very specific hoops to jump through. First of all, he had to physically match a real person (in step willing model Tedroy). Not only this, he had to be able to communicate and interact with the public in a human way, to shock and fascinate people. Even more, it needed to be operated by the chap the robot was emulating. Tedroy is an actor and voice-over artist and has no prior experience or expertise in roboteering. The software had to be intuitive, so he could focus on what he does best – being Tedroy. Oh, and we had just over 8 weeks, to scan our model, design, manufacture a unique shape, skin, assemble, test, integrate software, animate, skin and add facial hair one by one. Easy right?
Our in-house photogrammetry rig
Internal CAD based on Tedroy’s Scan
Speed, Speed, Speed
With such a short turn around time on this project, we had to scan our subject straight away. So 2 days after accepting the project, we went to Pinewood studios to scan Tedroy, using 2 very high-resolution photogrammetry rigs. One for Ted’s body, and one for his face/head. For the head alone, we used 60 DSLR cameras, and for the body… a staggering 180! Below is a view of the head scan captured by 3D systems.
Once captured and cleaned up by our 3D artist, we were able to use the model in a two-pronged approach. We used Ted’s physical dimensions to start designing the mechanical elements of Fred, whilst simultaneously 3D printing the moulds and cores, ready for making the skins of the head, neck and forearms. This is a deviation from traditional mould-making, which involves many more stages and results in a much quicker mould making process. A traditional problem of 3D printing is low resolution, with visible layering. In this case that would be totally unacceptable. Instead, we were able to take advantage of very high-resolution printing, to achieve a flawless result.
Beautiful on the Inside and Out
Tedroy’s robotic double features a complex and elegant recreation of the human neck. A standard Mesmer design, featuring vertebrae, squidgy discs, and state of the art motor drives, it’s what provided Ted with smooth human-like motion. Being a standard Mesmer design, it interfaces with any Mesmer robotic head, via a quick-release system. This means it’s very easy to unzip the skin, unclip the head and replace with a new one. Designed for ease of use, for any level technical competence.
Articulated Eyes and Eyelids
Most of Tedroy’s facial articulation comes from eyeball and eyelid movement. They need to move like a human’s, and behave like it. So we included lots of micro movements, spells of eye contact. They needed to be realistic, so both eyes were powered by silent high torque, high-speed motors, to ensure he felt like a real person.
To ensure he looked true to life on the outside, his head shape needed to be true to life on the inside. We designed skull parts based on the Tedroy scan results, then 3D printed them in-house to ensure a perfect fit. This provided a visually accurate exterior and a mechanically sound connection to the internal components too.
Painstakingly Crafted Skin & Hair
To make a truly lifelike exterior, not only does the skin need to be the right shape, colour, texture, flexibility, it also needs to have hair. We’re talking eyebrows, stubble, eyelashes, and of course the hair on top of his head. How many realistic wigs have you seen? And could you buy an exact wig to match your current hairdo? Probably not. So we punched every single strand into his face for ultra-realistic hair.
Animated Using Virtual Robot
Virtual Robot is the most intuitive and powerful robot performance software on the market. In a browser, simply drag the body parts around, add a keyframe, find the next point in time and repeat. It features automated lip sync to allow you to concentrate on the fun stuff. Because Virtual Robot is browser-based, with no install required, it is totally OS agnostic. The real beauty of the software means it is very easy for the end user to create engaging content, quickly and easily. Without the cost of sending an idea back to robot makers.
Fred was ready for his time in the sun. Packed away and en route with our team from Cornwall to London. The shoot was set in a London pub, and the robot was installed with a wired internet connection. Which was handy, as it meant the team at Engineered Arts HQ were able to send over new content to the robot, on the fly. Ted knew he was having a robot being built to resemble him, but up until this point, he had not been introduced to his digital doppelganger. To say he was pleased with the result is putting it mildly.
Tedroy got to the grips with the software on the shooting day, without any practice beforehand. One person from the shooting day said “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” High praise indeed.
We knew the shoot was a high-pressure situation, so we had remote engineers on standby in case there were any technical issues. However, the robot was just as reliable as any human on the set.
“Be the Robot… Be the Robot…”
Who knows how to be Ted better than Ted? Certainly not us. To make sure interaction was seamless as possible, we let Ted loose controlling the robot through our state of the art telepresence software “TinMan”. From a computer, Ted can see & hear what Fred does. Talk through the robot, control his motion and trigger preloaded content. At the same time as the robot performing automated behaviours, like maintaining eye contact with people, and small neck and facial movements to keep the robot looking ‘alive’. All done automatically, so Ted can focus on the fun stuff. Being Ted!