How Framestore redesigned RoboCop for the 21st century

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 183. Every shot ended up being its own mix of techniques; we wonder if you could spot which. Putting the man in the machine
Framestore’s key task was to embellish the practical suit from Legacy FXInitially all eyes were on RoboCop himself. Key task
Framestore’s key task was to embellish the practical suit from Legacy FX and bring the iconic main character to life. Perhaps we could top up the live-action street with CG, then a few 2.5D angles beyond? It was our job to pick up the baton as the main vendor on the show and get everything post-production-ready and bring the concepts to the big screen. Just big enough to make your pipeline crew question the use of the character pipeline, too small and art directed to consider the overhead of a crowd pipeline. Early rushes of swooping cameras flying well past the end of the live-action set meant we needed a fully CG street. Our VFX supervisor Rob Duncan strategised the whole project and supervised the shoot, while as CG supervisor I worked with the Framestore pipeline and RD departments to standardise tools and workflows hot on the heels of Gravity. Framestore opted to build a fully CG streetWhere is the line between CG and digital matte painting was the first question? Director José Padilha had been working with the studio, MGM, VFX supervisor Jamie Price, Legacy Effects, Mr X and a great concept team to produce a large body of physical props, animation tests and artwork ready for the imminent shoot in Toronto, Canada. Several locations also required post work, including turning a backlot in Toronto into a sprawling future Tehran. As a CG supervisor that’s an awkward number. Creating an awkward number of robots
We knew we would need a lot of robots in some shots, around 160 in the heaviest shot. Mechanised keyframe cycles and animation were used to create the right robotic feelInstancing and level of detail were next on the agenda, but these items evaporated after Arnold crunched through 160 high-resolution robots without blinking twice. The environment team ran with it and it became apparent Arnold is perfect for sunny architectural scenes. With one CG street, you may as well reuse the assets to make a few hundred blocks. RoboCop arrived on Framestore’s doorstep as a very well developed pre-production. Each shot ended up being its own mix of techniquesIt was a revelation that the uncanny valley is a lot less deep when you only see a chin. Meanwhile the much-loved ED-209 had received a new design alongside a new EM-208 robot and both needed to be created fully in CG. Again it chewed through the geo, I’m sure render times actually got faster from early tests with cubes to final geo (albeit with instancing). How many robots is a street full?Testing the character pipeline to destruction was the chosen way forwards. With a few tweaks to loaders and animation-scene-wrangling tools, all was running smoothly. Framestore’s work included CG augmentation of RoboCop’s traditional silver suit and its new black incarnationQuickly it became apparent that rather than track the whole body to replace the abdomen and limb linkages, it would be quicker and more successful to track just the head and spend our time creating a convincing CG body and/or head, even in close up shots. Arnold coped well with the highly complex scenesIt’s amazing how quickly CG raytraced rendering has matured. 01.

Updated: 13.11.2014 — 05:07