Doris the Robotic Bowler Hat from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons

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The coolest robot I’ve ever built was made of pixels. Here’s Doris, the robotic bowler hat from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. As a character technical director at Walt Disney Animation Studios at the time, my job was to create all of the rigging and controls the animators needed to pose and animate this creepy, evil robot.

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Building the Doris rig was a really fun challenge — the script called for her to fly, crawl like a hexapod, hide all parts and appear as an ordinary bowler hat, extend her lens, poke a top-mounted arm holding a toothbrush, screwdriver, or flashlight through a retractable hatch, shoot a grappling hook, and deploy multiple spinning claw hands on infinitely long flexible metal arms.

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I created her rig in Autodesk Maya, first by placing skeletal joint pivots for all of the articulated parts, and then through a series of MEL scripts I wrote to create deformations, animator-friendly controllers, forward/inverse and spline kinematics, constraints, and semi-automated parts, such as the iris and the retractable ports from which the various arms, grappling hooks, goggles and so on would emerge. I collaborated with incredibly talented people, including modeler Joe Bowers and animator Jay Davis, to bring her to life.

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Sudden New Hobby Alert: Making animated GIFs

My friend Adam Iscove (who’s an excellent singer/songwriter/bass player) played a show out in Hollywood recently and he designed a great set of on-stage visuals by editing together tons of animated GIFs. So I had GIFs on the brain.

Then he blew my mind by sending me a GIF in a Facebook message. I had no idea.

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So, now I’m going to make looping animated GIFs for fun! Kind of like quick sketching for computer graphics. The last time I created GIFs it was, like, 1995 and I was working at IBM’s interactive media lab.

Technical details: this is a triangulated polygonal plane mesh being deformed by a travelling sine wave and rendered in a hardware buffer with motion blur and five render passes per frame to create the overlapping line effect.