Mechanical Character Design

REALISTIC ROBOTS Concept artist Joe Peterson reveals how to make imaginary robots feel part of your sci-fi world

Robots are an enduringly popular element in SF art, but their ubiquity makes it that much harder to get them right. Just like the anatomy of a human figure, anyone looking at your robot will have a sense of whether or not it feels correct, based on the design decisions you make and your ability to make your robot seem part of the world you’ve created.

Joe Peterson’s mission in this three-hours-plus video is simply to help you create more convincing robots. You’ll follow him make a SWAT-type assault bot, from initial sketch through to finished concept art. Early chapters focus on broad and then specific design decisions, with later stages switching to finishing techniques.

As Joe walks you through each phase, an interesting relationship between realism and imagination emerges. Unless you’ve studied engineering, for example, you probably can’t create a complex robot design that someone could manufacture and assemble. But, suggests Joe, you can use your understanding of human anatomy to depict convincing mechanical structures: simply substitute pistons for tendons, ball bearings for joints, and so on.

Joe also imagines situations the robot could be deployed in as he does the initial design work, and talks to a policing friend to establish appropriate colour and scale. The result is a fictional robot that feels as though it could exist.

Joe’s multi-disciplinary approach is equally compelling. He brings in ideas such as ambient occlusion from 3D graphics and box lighting from industrial design to build up a solid robot form, where planes and shadows are convincingly rendered.

Aside from the tips and techniques that he offers, Joe should inspire you to look beyond your own creative field and learn from creative people in every field.

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