The Making of “Robocop’s” Suits and Motorcycle
Even if Columbia Pictures‘ new action-thriller “RoboCop” has an existential element, there’s still plenty of cool factor. For the filmmakers, dabbling in robot technology was like an open playground. “One of the most exciting things to us – as filmmakers but also fans – was to create all the robots,” says producer Eric Newman.
Production designer Martin Whist, who designed the various iterations of RoboCop says that even as they let their imaginations run wild, the truth was right there to back them up. “Every idea we had for something RoboCop could do, it turns out, somebody is researching it now, in real life,” he says. “For example, there are people out there right now in the lab, who have sensors on their brains that allow them to move a robotic hand with their thoughts. We had this idea for a high-powered Taser gun – and it turns out that it’s being developed. Everything in the movie is based in reality.”
RoboCop himself has two separate and very different suits in the film. “The first suit was intentionally a tip of the hat to the original film and the original design,” Whist explains. “I wanted to stay with the coloration of the original design; the overall impression is silver, but – just like they did on the first film – we used a technique where there were multiple colors in it: there are magentas and deep blues in it. It’s a little less sophisticated than the second suit, a little boxier, a little less agile, and that was intentional to show the evolution from one RoboCop to the next.”
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 vehicles in the film, including 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.”
“RoboCop” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.