Real Steel | Visual Effects with John Rosengrant and Erik Nash #RealSteel

A movie like Real Steel becomes believable because the actors are really saying their lines to a larger than life robot rather than a tennis ball on a stick. This was especially important for the two main actors, Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo, who play Charlie and Max Kenton. The actual robots served as great models for the CGI team as well.

“These were made…from sketches and designs; we modeled all of these parts in the computer. And I think on the average there’s about three hundred and fifty parts to every one of these robots. And when these parts were modeled, you had ‘em modeled every bit and piece in detail, and they all had to fit together,” John Rosengrant shared with us.

At the presentation, we were able to see two of the full scale robots used in Real Steel, Noisy Boy and Atom. “One of ‘em’s not here today. He’s…out on tour elsewhere. But it’s Ambush, the big blue one,” Rosengrant said. Ambush is Charlie Kenton’s first robot that is destroyed by a bull at a county fair.

John Rosengrant also worked on all of the Jurassic Park movies and told us that the dinosaurs and the robots of Real Steel used the same inner workings to create their movement. “A lot of the interaction, you know, is done with this hydraulic unit… we specially designed a package of a very small hydraulic pump that we could wheel in with a smaller sized hose.”

The robots way surprisingly less than I would have thought, too; each robot with their hydraulics system in place weighs about 250 lbs. John Rosengrant told us why the robots weighed less than one would expect. “All of these parts on here…look metal, they’re actually not…All this is done with lightweight urethane castings, or fiberglass. And then the guys worked out a nice paint treatment on there so it looks like metal. Each one has a lot of personality in its paint and coloring too.”

A team of around 70 was responsible for creating the robots. “The first probably five weeks was all computer modeling and these parts set up for rapid prototyping. And then when those came back, each one had to get finished off by hand and molded,” Rosengrant told us.

We also got the opportunity to talk with Erik Nash, who was the visual effects supervisor for Real Steel, and previously worked on movies such as Titanic and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

“The other robots like Zeus and Midas and Twin Cities didn’t exist in, in physical form. And that makes our job much harder because we don’t have that real world thing to, to compare it with,” Nash told us about the benefits of having a physical robot to model from for the CGI bits. “With Adam and Ambush and Noisy Boy. It was invaluable to have photographic images that we can then put our CG robot next to…when you don’t have that real world robot to compare to, it opens the door up for, well what is that material and how shiny should it be? And, well that doesn’t look real, but I don’t know why.”

The technology used in Avatar was extremely beneficial to the Real Steel CGI team. “It all starts with motion capture. So these are our, our boxing performers. These are the guys that Sugar Ray worked with. And they’re wearing these motion caption suits that have all these little gray markers on ‘em. And those markers are seen by about sixty cameras that cir-, that, uh, and circle this ring. Those cameras feed into a computer, which allows us to take that motion and apply it to digital versions of the robots. So this video game quality render is the first iteration in our process.And you see Shawn here in the bottom corner holding our virtual camera tool. And what that allows him to do it is once the, the boxing, um, motion is captured, he can then photograph the sequence in, in the virtual realm in its entirety before we, uh, even go to Detroit to shoot the movie. So this, this becomes our template for the sequence months before actually starting photography, so what we know what the shots are, how long the shots are, what happens in every shot.” Nash walked us through the steps on a computer screen, explaining each detail along the way.

I enjoyed their presentation, and hope that they film something similar to what we saw for the DVD and Blu-ray release of Real Steel. Is this something you would enjoy seeing, too?

*Disney/DreamWorks provided me with an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for an advance screening of Real Steel and the opportunity to meet with cast and talent of the film. All opinions expressed are my own.*


Jen currently lives in Utah with her family, and enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. She is active on popular book websites including paperbackswap.com, Goodreads.com, and luxuryreading.com.

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