I'm trying to think of a way in which I can construct a robotic mech or exo suit for stop motion animation. I'm casting my eye toward Phil Tippet's work on Robocop and the AT-At's from the Empire Strikes Back.
I have only ever made puppets with wire armatures, and I feel at this time that I may need to outgrow that for this project.
I highly doubt a latex build up will convincingly portray the mechanical look I need. My current thought it to purchase a basic ball-joint armature and build up from there- metal on metal- soldering, gluing, epoxy putty, etc. If anyone has experience making puppets like this or perhaps advice (articles, interviews, or tutorials would be great!) I would be very appreciative.
If anyone knows what Phil Tippet actually USED on these robotic puppets then I'd love to hear it :)
Yes, for a robot you would probably start with joints, and add on parts made in a hard material.
They don't necessarily need to be metal, they can include things like plastic parts from toys or model kits, parts of actual machines or household objects, shapes cut and sanded from MDF and painted, or parts cast in resin.
For the Star Wars and Robocop machines, Tippetts crew would most likely have sculpted all the main surface parts and either cast them in resin or vac-formed them, to fit a very specific design. This would be attached to the metal skeleton. Without their budget for making everything from scratch, I tend to design around the interesting bits I find, so I make up the basic shapes but incorporate found objects where they fit my general overall shape.
ILM also used "kit bashing" - small plastic parts from model kits - to add lots of fine detail on spaceships, and may have done some of that on robots as well.
In my old tiedowns video is an example of a walking machine I made, using a mix of materials, and recycled objects. Originally the jointed legs were going to be used in a dinosaur armature, but I ended up using wire for that. The hip joints are made from the mounts of two car mirrors I picked up at a charity shop (like a Goodwill store in the US). The knee and ankle joints use balls from a carburettor linkage, with plates made from aluminium. But a readymade armature could also be used for this part.
Then I built it up with 3mm MDF shapes on the legs. They can be attached with screws, epoxy glue, or by simply having a block between the plates that is jammed in when the tension screws are tightened.
The body is mostly 6mm MDF. The arm that unfolds is 3mm MDF. The round abdomen is a plastic jar that once held hair gel or face cream, something like that, with the rounded lid. also being used. Little plastic toy binoculars sit on top. The paint job visually ties all the different materials together so they look like one thing.
Looking at the old ILM Art of Special Effects book, it appears that many of their models had vac-form panels forming the surface, no doubt to keep the weight down (p.50). This may well apply to the walkers. I know that one of the chicken walkers had the vac formed styrene cabin metal plated, then the styrene was dissolved away, leaving a thin metal shell that could be crushed by 2 logs slamming together (on Endor).
Casting in resin isn't quite as lightweight as vac forming, but you can make pretty thin layers using 1 coat of gelcoat and then backing it up with resin and fine fibreglass reinforcing. And generally you get better detailing by casting in silicone moulds.
I don't have the Cinefex issue for the original Robocop, so I don't know if there is anything useful in there on how Ed209 is made. The issue with Robocop 2, which is one of the earliest I have, wasn't any help on making robot parts.
Just remembered - I have done one flying robot that used a mostly wire armature - not ideal, but I was able to conceal the wire joints well enough for the wide shots it mostly appeared in. The hip, spine and neck wires were inside flexible hose so it looked mechanical. I used metal hinge joints at the knees. Wire was joined onto the wood, metal, and plastic parts by drilling holes and epoxy glueing the wire in. It can be seen in a brief test here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-lvWb0lFFs
So it's not completely impossible to make a robot over a wire armature.
Thanks for the tips.
At this time some things like silicone casting and the use of resin is beyond my budget. However, I feel confident with using MDF, fomacore, and pieces from other models "kitbashing."
Going this route I think the puppet will match the world feel of a sci fi project I'm working on. The main character's ship will be a product of kitbashing, so I'll probably have spare parts.
I have thought of a way to possibly use a wire armature, but it will take some clever concealment. I'll post a design photo.
You can make lots of stuff using plasticard, which is pretty tough in thicker sizes. I have formed this using a two part plaster mould, to make a shovel, just by heating it up in an oven and slamming the mould halves together.
Also there are great tutorials from cosplay armour makers, showing how to coat foam with resin to make armour. This would be lightweight, as I fear that if you use too much MDF it gets heavy quite quickly. James Bruton has made lots of videos on this subject e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dy9tAhweeU
although they are in 1:1 scale!