Jing Boran & Wuba
When’s it’s one that moves!
(And is made out of silicone). That’s right. In 2017/18 we were tasked to create Madame Tussauds’ first intelligent wax figure. Not just one that moves, but one that senses people, and changes behaviour based on its surroundings. Enter Chinese Superstar Jing Boran, who plays Song in the blockbuster Monster Hunt & Monster Hunt 2. Along for the ride comes Song’s mischievous monster friend Wuba. The Madame Tussauds team worked their magic, taking all of their reference photos, measurements and body scanning. From there they produced a traditional Madame Tussauds clay sculpt of Jing’s bust. Once created, we then set about creating a fully operational robot that looks just like a Madame Tussauds waxwork, but that moves and interacts with people. For this, we used a groundbreaking package of technology, we call Mesmer.
Solving the Problem of Unique Individual Human Morphology
Strangely enough, we didn’t have any Jing Boran skulls in stock. We did, however, have the Madame Tussauds sculpt. But by itself, no good for designing parts that fit inside his unique shape. What we needed was an accurate virtual 3D model to allow our CAD engineers to place & design unique components that allow all design briefs to be met. This included smooth, expressive and resilient movement, alongside being an absolute doppelganger to Jing. To solve the problem, we took the sculpt and scanned it using a technique called photogrammetry. Which basically uses lots of photos of the same subject taken from different angles to create a 3D model. The accuracy of the scan was imperative, as it informed the rest of the design and manufacture process.
Our in-house photogrammetry rig
Internal CAD based on Jing’s Scan
Beautiful on the Inside and Out
Jing’s “waxwork” features a complex and elegant recreation of the human neck. A standard mesmer design, that we specifically customised to fit Jing’s dimensions. Featuring vertebrae, squidgy discs, and state of the art motor drives, it’s what provided Jing with smooth human-like motion. Being a standard mesmer design, it interfaces with any mesmer robotic head, via a quick-release system. It 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
Subtlety was key in this installation. Meaning, as people approached Jing, he would look like a normal waxwork. Then all of a sudden, the eyes start following you around the room. Eyeball and eyelid movement’s needed to be realistic, so both were powered by silent high torque, high-speed motors, so ensure he felt like a real person.
3D Printed Skull Unique to Jing
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 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.
Light Weight & Rugged Body Shell
There were many areas of Jing that were covered in clothing. So we used our lightweight, rugged & modular body shell, to ensure his body shape, was maintained accurately and affordably. This shell is attached to a metal framework and base that allows for a stable and safe figure. Even in a public environment
Silicon(e) Valley meets the Uncanny Valley
The traditional way of creating Madame Tussauds’ doppelgangers is by using wax. We knew that it wouldn’t be possible to animate wax. So we decided that silicone was the best material for the job. Flexible, moldable, soft like skin & hard wearing. The silicone had to look perfect from the outside and had to interface with the internal components flawlessly. To make this happen we had to go through lots of moulding, scanning, remoulding and adaption stages. The internal core had to match the dimensions and shape of the 3D printed skull. The skin also had remain securely adhered to the skull whilst still being super quick to change and remove.
This was achieved by a combination of magnets in both the skin and skull along with an embedded zipper at the back. You can see the magnet locations on the core image on the right. A combination of automated and manual processes was used to create the core and outer moulds. Once a successful silicone skin was produced, it was sent to Madame Tussauds for their usual painting and adding hair. The level of detail went as far as individually adding hair one by one.
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. Featuring 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.
What about Wuba?
Wuba posed different challenges to Jing. First of all, he is totally fictional and has only ever existed in a CGI context. Where rules of the physics, mechanics and biology don’t really exist. He is also a much smaller package than Jing. Meaning we had to achieve similar levels of articulation within far smaller confines. Wuba features no neck movement, however, he does include eye and lids movement, ear wiggles along with jaw and smile control.
Wuba has eyes that are much larger than humans. And and a “non-standard” orange colour to them. Naturally, we did not have these particular eyes in stock. Because we make all of our eyes in-house, we were able to create movie accurate eyes that mechanically mesh with our custom designed eye mechanics.
3D Printing has the Answer
As well the internal shells of Wuba, we also 3D printed the mould and core of Wuba, in-house. This meant were able to quickly and accurately design and manufacture Wuba, without having to outsource any of that process. This allowed for a much more rapid prototype, development stage, providing designers with an almost instant access to new parts. It also allowed production of parts that just aren’t possible to make with traditional subtractive manufacturing processes. All of this maximises what is technically possible whilst simultaneously reducing the final cost to the customer.
Jing & Wuba use a combination of Lidar and 3d Stereoscopic camera sensors to perceive the world around them. From this, they are able to maintain eye contact with visitors. Trigger movements and routines depending on who and how many people are in front of them. Featuring software that estimates gender age and mood of people, Wuba & Jing’s behaviour can adapt depending on changes to those inputs. It’s these things that make them truly a work of Robotics, not just animatronics.