Bot & Dolly’s Robotic Cameramen Rewrite the Script in Hollywood

4/1/13Follow @wroush

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Michigan-based FANUC Robotics and other manufacturers, Sherman says.

Soon word of Linnell’s project spread to Hollywood, where a big studio was looking for help filming movie scenes set in a zero-gravity environment. “This film was going to require a new level of technical filmmaking,” says Sherman. “We pitched the idea of using four industrial robots for props, actors, lights, and cameras to create the effect of zero gravity by not only moving the actors around the set, but by moving the environment around the actors.” (Sherman wouldn’t discuss the name of the film or other details, but it’s been disclosed elsewhere that it’s a Warner Brothers film called Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and directed by Alfonso Cuarón; the movie is due in theaters this fall.)

Sherman says Bot & Dolly put a year of R&D into the project, which finished four months of shooting last October. “We came out the other side with a very powerful platform for motion control and cinematic automation more generally, and one with applications to a lot of other areas beside cinematography,” he says. One designer, for example, programmed a Bot & Dolly robot to assemble a sinuous, curvilinear room divider from thousands of wooden slats.

Anything you can visualize in a 3D modeling program can, in essence, be turned into instructions to run one of Bot & Dolly’s robots, which come in large and small sizes (they’re called Iris and Scout, respectively). It’s not that the robots couldn’t have been programmed this way before—it just would have taken a lot longer. “The difference is about the flexibility that we bring to the equation,” Sherman says. “Assembly lines are set up to be programmed once and then do the same thing for 10 years. We are interested in giving people tools to design a shot on the spot and then make on-the-fly adjustments or even radically rethink it over the course of a day.”

Could Bot & Dolly’s robots put a few human camera operators out of work? Possibly—but they could create just as many new jobs by giving more people access to advanced cinematographic tools.

Below are some more Bot & Dolly videos for your amazement. Get your tickets to “Robots Remake the Workplace” now, and you’ll be able to meet Sherman and a gaggle of other top roboticists in person next week.

 

 

 

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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