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ROBOCOP

About The Design
To achieve the futuristic look of RoboCop, the filmmakers turned to production designer Martin Whist. Though a production designer's stock in trade are typically a film's sets - and indeed Whist was responsible for these - he also designed several other aspects of the film, including the RoboCop suits, the bikes and cars, the weapons, and the VFX robots: the ED-209 and EM-208. "It's the first time I was involved with designing elements that would animate in the visual effects world," he explains. "There were a lot of new challenges that were very engaging and I enjoyed a lot - from cars to bikes to suits to weapons. And that was all on top of the sets!"

Whist says that he was able to achieve such a wide scope of work on RoboCop because of the expertise of his team. "Of course, my strengths are my village. I had great people working with me and amazing designers working on the different aspects: certain people on guns, two guys working a lot on the robots," he explains. "That enabled me to design by approval or scrutiny - I was tweaking, rather than lifting it off the ground. We got the experts doing it, and we let them bring their ideas and talent to the table. We were guiding and editing."

In designing RoboCop's suits, Whist says that the second suit - the black suit - got the bulk of the attention from the designers. "The second suit was black, more visually sleek, designed, thought out, and a little more elegant and aggressive."

To build the physical RoboCop suits, Whist worked with the team at Legacy Effects, one of Hollywood's go-to sources for making visions become a reality as the creators of the Iron Man suit and other effects work.

RoboCop has two main weapons: a high-powered Taser that comes out of his thigh (again, a nod to the original film) and a gun that deploys from his forearm. Whist says that it was important to him to maintain a certain level of verisimilitude, even though he was obviously working in the realm of science fiction. "When we designed the Taser, I wanted it to truly make sense how it would come out, how it would deploy, how it would fit, and how that would translate to a real gun in his hand. We wanted it to seem real, to have a logic to it. It had to be a certain size - after all, it had to fit in the leg. And then we had to figure out how it would deploy in a cool way that he could grab onto."

In designing a futuristic Taser, Whist wanted a design that would not involve a cord. "The Taser gun fires pellets, little flat discs. When you fire, the discs extend like a camping cup, and little fins come out as it propels through the air. When the pellet strikes something, it recompresses, and that compression pushes out a spike. The whole thing is an advanced battery that gives the victim a shock. It was a lot of fun figuring out the mechanics of how it would work."

RoboCop's other main weapon is a more traditional pistol that comes out of his forearm. "His arm plate flips open into a gun - it has a brace that goes onto his forearm, near his elbow, and then the gun goes into his hand - the idea is that when the gun recoils, it wasn't putting all that pressure on his wrist. When I design things like that, I like to be as practical as possible, even though what I'm designing is far from practical. I want it to fit into the world - even though a high-powered Taser gun that pops out of a robot's leg is a crazy idea, it should have some logic to it."

Whist also designed the two robots in the film - the ED-209 and the EM-208. "For the 209, we again made a nod to the original," Whist explains. "We kept it similar in that it's bipedal, has a big head, and has heavy artillery on it. Still, we wanted to update everything - so we made it more advanced and agile, more dexterous, with heavier guns and more range."

The EM-208 is a new robot for this film. "If the 209 is like a tank - they blast ahead or clean up afterwards - the 208 was meant to be lighter and quicker," he explains. "I called them foot soldiers. They can go in and get into smaller places."

In designing these robots, Whist coordinated closely with the visual effects team. "I designed the 209 as a static image," he explains. "Once they started animating it and making it move, we had to modify the design. Even though it's a visual effect, there are still real-world physics that have to take place to make it appear to move properly; for example, a joint on a leg would have to be at a certain point so he could lift his leg or swivel a gun."

Whist also designed the vehicles in the film. In one more nod to the original, the police cars are based on the new model of Ford Taurus - just as the first-generation Taurus had taken a starring role in the original film. "Luckily, the latest model of the Taurus had a cool look to it!" Whist says. "I was really happy with the police cars, they came out great."

Whist took a decidedly different turn for RoboCop's motorcycle. Based on a Kawasaki 1000, the design team made major modifications. "We modified the frame, extending the wheel base. It's quite a bit longer than a normal bike, because I wanted RoboCop to take a leaning forward attack position when he's on the bike. He's quite big, and the normal bike looked too small under him. Then, we reclad the whole bike in armor, similar to the suit. He merges with the bike when he's riding it - it looks like one unit. And finally, we redid all the lights and graphics, of course."

Of course, Whist was also responsible for the sets - including Dr. Norton's lab. "I wanted to keep that set very sterile, rectilinear," says Whist. "We had a subtext reference of Francis Bacon, who was concerned with the man and the psyche trapped within the constructs of society; in Sellars' office, he has a triptych of Bacons behind him. That's a very strong metaphor for the RoboCop story, so it was also our starting point - and with the design of the lab, it was almost square, 90 degree angles, extremely sterile, glossy reflective white, everything. The walls have cupboards that pull out and the mechanics are integrated into the walls and floors. There are contact points for hoses and machinery integrated into the walls, ceiling, and floor. And then in the middle - and as a stark contrast - is a very organic, curvilinear, mounting bed for RoboCop himself. That's where he uploads and downloads, cycles blood - it's his docking station."

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