Connect with us

Putting the Steel in Real Steel

Putting the Steel in Real Steel

Articles - Moviemaking

In Real Steel, Hugh Jackman plays ex-boxer Charlie Kenton who, along with his estranged 11-year-old son, enters into the world of robotic boxing, now the standard after human boxing has been outlawed. Though Kenton starts off as a promoter for the new sport, he is faced with the additional challenges of scrounging up parts at junkyards to create his own robot—not the best way to create a quality end product.

Many of the robots and robotic components for the film were designed and fabricated by San Fernando, California-based Legacy Effects, which creates live-action effects for films, commercials and television. For Legacy, no product is too small or too large.

“We built all the robots for the film, which included six ‘Hero’ or close-up robots, one partially destroyed robot called Axelrod and twenty background level robots,” says John Rosengrant, a partner at Legacy and a member of its engineering team. “A few specific ones included Atom, who is 7-feet, 6-inches tall; Noisy Boy, who stands 8-feet, 6-inches; and Ambush who is 8-feet, 2-inches tall.” Legacy created 19 animatronic robot fighters for the production, allowing the film to utilize a mixture of real-life and computer-generated action. As a result, some of the film’s fighting sequences would have to involve motion-capture animation.


Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) prepares Ambush for a fight.
©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Real Steel‘s production designer, Tom Meyer, worked with his team to create the look of the robots; Legacy Effects then took those designs and fleshed out how the end product would function, all the while maintaining the integrity of the original look. Each robotic component was sculpted digitally using the programs Maya, ZBrush and Adobe MAX 2010 and were then downloaded as STL files for rapid prototyping. “All of our files were shared with Digital Domain, who was the team heading up the CGI versions of the robots,” adds Rosengrant.

Using the structured material ID Light™—an SLA (Stereolithography) product manufactured using a process developed by California-based company Solid Concepts Inc.—Legacy created the basic shapes for the tooling masters needed for many of the robot pieces that make up the robots seen in the movie. “It’s a great material and holds sharp tolerances and accurate form,” says Rosengrant of ID Light. “Best of all, it’s a very lightweight material, and we use it all the time for tooling masters, as well as for static displays or props, when appropriate.”


Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), Bailey Tallet (Evangeline Lilly), and Max
(Dakota Goyo) bring Noisy Boy to life. ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co.,
LLC. All Rights Reserved.

In making the models, a thin outer shell (only 0.030” to 0.040” thick) was used to serve a casing for a drainable, rigid inner scaffolding-like matrix, which makes parts manufactured using ID Light between 80 and 92 percent lighter than standard SLA parts. In addition, parts made from ID Light can also be created faster than their standard SLA counterparts.

Once ID Light was used to create tooling masters, the final robots were fabricated using lightweight fiberglass and various grades of urethane. Because they were to be used in live-action segments of Real Steel, the robots needed to have up to 18 articulated joints. To accomplish this, components were either bolted together or attached to each other using a urethane glue. For many joints, Legacy used custom actuator hydraulics components from Fluid Group, which allowed the robots a range of movement. “Speed of movement is always helpful, but we were more interested in precision control and ease of controlling such large characters,” says Rosengrant. “That’s why we turned to hydraulics.”

By putting together a great team of designers, the right technologies, the right materials and proprietary processes, Legacy Effects is able to create the ultimate in flexibility and capability, resulting in movies—like Real Steel—that look more real than ever before.


Atom prepares to fight Zeus, the greatest robot boxer of all time.
©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

To find out more about the companies that created the robots of Real Steel, visit www.legacyefx.com, www.solidconcepts.com, digitaldomain.com and www.fluidgroupllc.com.

Terry Persun is a technical journalist who holds a Bachelor of Science as well as an MA in creative writing. He has worked as both an engineer and a marketing consultant and is also the author of six published novels, the latest of which, Cathedral of Dreams, is a science fiction story set in the near future.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Articles - Moviemaking

To Top