Do you like robots? Giant robots with human control in the inside, fighting each other? Then Robot Jox, a movie made with the help of Dave Allen’s effects crew is just for you.
Even my Hungarian readers must be interested, as the famed science-fiction author Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) wrote the screenplay for the film and co-wrote the story with director Stuart Gordon. (Haldeman originally wanted a dramatic, serious science fiction film with believable, reasonable characters; Gordon however wanted to liven it up and threw in clichés and caricatures. It was especially annoying for the writer because it was a story about soldiers, and he was the only person around the crew who had ever been one.)
The plot takes place fifty years after a nuclear holocaust. Open war is forbidden by the surviving nations, which have merged into two opposing super-nations: the American-influenced Western Market, and the Russian Confederation. To resolve conflicts, the Market and Confederation hold gladiator-style matches in huge arenas between giant robots, piloted by so-called “robot jox”. The American Achilles (and later Athena) confronts the Russian Alexander. Of course the best parts of the movie are when the robots can be seen.
The film was shot out on the El Mirage Dry Lake bed set. The beautiful weather which was their background was usually beautifully accommodating. The crew worked during the week there for 6 months to finish that part of the visual effects, and these beautiful behind-the-scenes photos were again provided by the Paul Gentry Archives.
In the first one Roy Goode and (the then-bearded) Paul Gentry are checking out setup for Alexander fist pummeling Achilles:
David, Paul, Joe Viskocil and Roy Goode setting up an Alexander rocket mode shot:
The boys in another cable pull robot setup, manipulating Achilles movements. It is happening actually on a 40′ x 40′ plywood table built on the edge of the dry lake bed, about 4 feet high. With the camera placed low enough the foreground and the background melted together, giving a simple yet lovely force perspective.
The scaffolding setup for most of the shots where Alexander was standing:
David ponders the next shot of the Achilles upper torso cable controlled version: (These were lovely models with design work by Ron Cobb and Steve Burg.)
The boom arm 9 point wire rig hoisting the outer space mode Achilles robot:
Pyrotechnician Joe Viskocil (the man that blew up the freaking Death Star in STAR WARS!!!) sets up the robot’s jet engines for a landing after it’s outer space jaunt:
A posed shot showing everyone “busy” while using gross tool technique for robot repair
Poor Alexander has just been knocked down:
And this is what the “bleacher bums” really looked like. (There was a mechanism to jiggle them around but they deemed using it “lame”.)
Meanwhile back at David Allen’s ranch in Burbank, Paul Jessel animates a four legged Alexander walking shot. One of these shots took two weeks! (Paul Jessel has an amazingly enormous robot collection with more than one hundred robots in a special display cabinet in his living room.)
One of my favorite animators, David Allen – animating the beautiful Achilles stopmo model:
And in the last picture the two Pauls (Jessel and Gentry) with the tough-to-animate four legged Alexander:
Although today’s audience pays little (or no) attention to this film, one thing must be admitted: the effects work is most impressive. Empire Pictures went bankrupt during the filming of this, its most expensive film ever. The film was bought by Epic Productions and finished and released nearly two full years after having been first started. A lot of years has passed, but there’s nothing that could get even with it: Michael Bay has still got a lot to learn.
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