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ROBOCOP

About The Visual Effects
For the film's visual effects, the filmmakers turned to visual effects supervisor James E. Price, who says that the scope of work on RoboCop fell into three main categories: 1) the robots - chiefly the EM-208s, the ED-209s, and RoboCop himself; 2) futurization of the environment; and 3) graphics and displays, including RoboCop's point of view.

The design of the robots began in the art department, but the artists soon began a close collaboration with the visual effects team that would be animating their designs. "The goal for the 209 was to make it look as real as possible - like it was a real, heavy, menacing robot," says Price. "The design is very unique, with a backwards knee and a very large mass to its head, so the challenge was to give it an interesting, mechanical performance that felt like it didn't defy physics - that it could balance and walk appropriately and be menacing without looking awkward."

For the 208s - Whist's "foot soldiers" - Price says that the challenges took on a different dimension. "The 208s have a humanoid design, so we wanted them to have a way of moving that reflected their humanoid joints. But they couldn't be too human; there had to be a mechanical quality to the way that they walked and moved. For us, that was about precision and speed. When a person points from one direction to another very rapidly, their finger and hand might move around a little bit at the end of that move - they are compensating for the mass of their arm as they swing it around. But a robot doesn't have that issue - it has a very finite control over the way it moves its joints. We started by doing motion capture of humans and removing more and more of the overshoot, the bobble and the drift that you saw in the human performance."

For RoboCop himself, all of these aspects and more came into play. "There were a whole spectrum of techniques we used to bring RoboCop to life," Price continues. "We started with a performer in a suit - either Joel or a stuntman. In some cases, we replaced portions of the suit - we'd keep only Joel's head and face and replace the rest of the body for a very complex move. And if RoboCop had to complete an action that a human couldn't perform - moving faster or jumping farther - we went to an all-digital version of RoboCop. When we animated RoboCop in those situations, we based the animation on how Joel would move and then we added that extra power or maneuverability or flexibility that only a robot could do."

When it came to futurization, it was important to take a subtle approach and a gentle hand. "If you look out the window, you see cars that are one year old and twenty years old and everything in between. Same thing with buildings - in fact, you'll see buildings that are 50 or 100 years old," Price notes. "So we didn't want to beat the audience over the head - we wanted to create a subtle evolution of where we are today."

The team's chief challenge in futurization was to change the Detroit skyline. "We added the very prominent OmniCorp headquarters," Price notes. "The top half of the building, the skyscraper, was designed by the art department; the bottom half was modeled on the Vancouver Convention Center, which was where we shot a portion of our finale. For the skyscraper, I went to Detroit and shot aerial background plates of the current Detroit skyline. We had picked a spot in Detroit where the building would be - just south of the Renaissance Center, the classic building with the GM logo on it. There's a park and a plaza area just south of there that was wide open. So we got in a helicopter and hovered in place at that location and we shot a series of stills, making a panorama. We used the gyro stabilized camera and shot a 360-degree view of Detroit from two slightly different altitudes - one that would represent Sellars' office, and another slightly higher that would be the roof, where the helipad is. In post, we used those static frames to create one big, moving panorama."

As a result, the view of Detroit seen from Sellars' windows and from the roof is exactly what one would see if there really were a building on that spot.

The final elements were the graphics and displays - a key part of how RoboCop's point of view would be conveyed to the audience. "There's a lot of information there - about RoboCop's status, how he monitors his environment, how he assesses things."

Pulling that off began with the way the filmmakers shot RoboCop's point of view. "We had a special camera rig that the camera department nicknamed Robo-vision. It was a clever rig - it was a stabilized head mounted on a Steadicam. It enabled you to get a very fluid, Steadicam walking move - something the audience would traditionally associate with a POV shot - but with the remote-controlled head, it got the kind of very precise panning and tilting that we wanted, to add that robotic feel. When you're looking through RoboCop's eyes, you're walking similarly to the way a human would walk, but your attention is able to focus on something and then whip very quickly and precisely over to something else. On top of that, we added a lot of graphics, text, and readouts that would show RoboCop's analysis of what he was looking at."

Price and his team also created the virtual set for the political commentary show, hosted by Pat Novak - played by Samuel L. Jackson. "We shot Sam in a 240-degree green screen; his background is entirely animated," says Price. "Those scenes had to have their own unique look, so we worked with a company in Los Angeles to design that show package and the look of his sets. Fortunately, Sam has a lot of experience working in that kind of environment, so he knew exactly what to expect."

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