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
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
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
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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