Mr. Roboto - Work by Eight VFX Makes a Robot Almost Human
July 18, 2011

Mr. Roboto - Work by Eight VFX Makes a Robot Almost Human

In six short years since founding their Santa Monica-based studio Eight VFX, Baptiste Andrieux and Jean-Marc Demmer have built an industrywide reputation for inspired work across the commercials, film and TV space. Recently, the collective put their gift for artistic innovation in the service of the new Carl's Jr (Hardee's) spot, titled “Robot,” via David & Goliath, slated for a late June launch on TV, radio, cinema, OOH/Guerilla, and in-store. The spot which encompasses 60-, 30-, and 15-second versions, tells a simple, comedic story with a great twist: A robot comes home from work, feeds his goldfish, and then sits down to eat dinner, the delicious-looking Carl's Jr (Hardee's) new hand-breaded chicken fillet sandwich. Having no mouth to eat it with, the robot becomes increasingly frustrated, smashing the sandwich into its metal face, leading to some unexpected consequences. The clever tagline? “Machines can't eat it, machines shouldn't make it — and that's just the way it is.”

The spot came to Eight VFX after director Rocky Morton and the agency "saw our reel and thought we'd be a good fit for the job," says EP Shira Boardman. "We did a smaller job with David & Goliath last year, so we were excited to get onboard with them again on this one to really showcase our full range of talents."

Creatively, Eight VFX was involved from the start of the process. "From the start, both Rocky and the agency wanted to use a robot, and shoot a man in a suit — Rocky felt that was the best way to get the acting and animation that he wanted," explains Andrieux. "So we began following the design of the robot, as we had to make sure it could be animated in CG. Legacy Effects designed the robot along with Rocky and the agency, so we had a lot of meetings with everyone to make sure we got all the elements to be able to rebuild all the parts that were missing. And comedy's always a little tricky to pull off well."

The team ultimately spent a month designing and developing the robot concept. "Our big technical challenge was to capture the exact movements of the robot, so we could replace the missing parts and stay very close to the acting that Rocky wanted to keep," Andrieux reports. Adds effects supervisor Fred Hopp, "Once Legacy was done with their design, right after the shoot and during the edit, we rebuilt every single part in CG, so we had a virtual clone." 


According to Hopp, the team used photogrammetry to rebuild the robot, a process that's been defined as recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of recorded radiant electromagnetic energy and other phenomena. "Basically, you can either Lidar scan an object to remodel it or use pictures to reconstruct it in 3D geometry." notes Boardman." Adds Hopp, "Everything was based on pictures. You take pictures from every single angle, and then with the help of our software, we rebuilt the robot to within an 1/8th-inch precision, so we had a complete clone and could then swap any part we wanted."

Andrieux reports that Legacy actually built two robots; "One robot, that we called 'The Puppet,' which could be puppeteered and could move its head and its body a little bit, but it couldn't walk or hold or grab anything. That's the robot we copied in CG. There was also an actor in a suit who walked and grabbed the burger, and acted out the story. So for some of the shots that were extreme close-ups, we used the puppet. But in all the other shots we needed to replace the neck, the elbows, the hands and so on, as you could see it was a man in a suit."

To complete all the CG work took a team of 12. "It was pretty intensive," adds Andrieux. "The original methodology was a good one. What Rocky wanted to do, to really capture the robot moving in the environment, really worked well. It was very tedious work to do all the 3D roto match moving, where you have to match all the movements in 3D, and then do all the 2D roto for all the cleanup to match the suit, to be able to replace what you were not seeing."

Summing up, Andrieux notes that, "This was a very complex job. Some jobs mean you have to come up with a whole environment and world to design. But here, it was more just a highly technical challenge."

Adds Boardman, "David & Goliath are in the process of creating this whole new identity for Carl's Jr (Hardee's). So it's exciting for us to work with them to refresh a brand and launch a new product. And we appreciated that on this big CG job we did a lot of compositing and all the finishing. We do the nuts and bolts as well as all the fancy high end stuff."

Check out the commercial in our video center!