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By Nancy Hopkins on

Celluloid cyborgs

Aaaah robots on camera, dontcha just love ‘em? We’ve been putting robots on screen for almost as long as we’ve been making films.

There’s just something irresistible about replicating ourselves in robot form, setting them loose to nuke a city/ fall in love and then making a film about it.

Here’s six of our favourite robots stars of the silver and small screens

Q

Regarded by some as the first ever robot on film, in 1919 Q was so revolutionary he wasn’t even called a robot because the word didn’t actually exist at that point.

Referred to as ‘The Automaton,’ Q’s boxy appearance is instantly recognisable as a traditional ‘robot,’ – he just didn’t know he was one.

Drawn from an old Slavonic word ‘robota’ meaning ‘servitude,’ or ‘forced labour’ the word robot first came into use in 1920 by Karel Čapek, used it for the title of his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

Čapek’s plot of a robotic rising followed by the enslaving and destruction of humanity set the template for modern sci-fi, and his visioning of robots as being grown from organic matter and indistinguishable to humans was way ahead of its time. Eat your heart out, Blade Runner.

When you visit the exhibition, you’ll be able to see the original, first edition of the book.

Maria from Metropolis

Made in Germany in 1927, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and is regarded as a pioneering, being one of the first, full length sci-fi films.

Maria was played by German actress Brigitte Helm in both her robotic and human form, paving the way for other Teutonic humans masquerading as cyborgs. John Connor!

The robot in our exhibition is a replica built in 2016 by prop-makers Kropserkel Inc in Toronto. Our Maria is based on original drawings and research into original designer Walter Schulze-Mittendorff’s archive.

To sculpt the original costume, a plaster body cast of actress Brigitte Helm was made and then large chunks of plastic wool were rolled flat and draped over the plaster. It was then spray painted with varnish mixed with bronze powder, to give the appearance of polished metal. (Click here to find out why our guest blogger Gia Milinovich thinks our view of female robots is problematic).

Terminator

It wouldn’t be a top robot film blog without paying homage to the Governator himself. There have probably been entire degree thesis written about the subject, but I how true to life is this 80s classic?

Putting aside the twin fantasies of time travel and getting Arnie back into acting, some of the humanoid cyborg features we all laughed at back in the day have now become a reality. Take for example if you will the Mars Rover, which is a great example of an autonomous robot.

This robot has the ability to drive round terrain on its own using stereo cameras and 3D mapping software, mapping its own safe path across the Martian landscape.

A Japanese company have also developed a robo suit to support and enhance the wearer’s bodily functions. This is a great development for those who need extra help with mobility, but the more sinister amongst us could use the suits to give ourselves Terminator style strength and endurance.

When you visit our exhibition you’ll be able to come face to face with the T-800 skeleton from Terminator: Salvation.  With his bright red eyes, metallic physique and soulful stare, the T-800 is guaranteed to haunt your dreams for weeks to come.  In a bad way.

Kryten

Kryten is a robot, wanting to be a human, played by a human. This could have been totally rubbish, but instead Kryten ended up being a pivotal part of cult comedy series, Red Dwarf.

Kryten was intended to be a service droid, but his dry wit and Lister’s constant attempts to ‘free’ Krysten led to some classic moments, such as Kryten’s artistic expression through the medium of paint, as seen above.

So how realistic is the concept of a service robot that can also engage with customers? Not as daft as you would think, actually. Disregarding the slightly gimmicky robotic ice cream parlour worker in China, a service robot with a personality has already been developed.

Nadine the humanoid robot is employed as a robot receptionist at the University of Singapore and is based on her creator, Professor Nadia Thalmann. Her software is similar to Siri or Cortana, and she has been programmed to express a range of emotions (depending on the subject matter) and also recall previous conversations.

Johnny 5

Readers may also know this chap as ‘Short Circuit,’ the 80s experimental military robot who got hit by lightning and subsequently developed a personality as a result. Although there’s absolutely no scientific content in this film whatsoever, Short Circuit made the cut as he shows a gentler side to robots and valiantly tries to quash the ‘seek and destroy’ stigma that has so often defined our robotic pals on screen.

Zoltar

If you’ve read the blog on robot performers you’ll already know we have a soft spot for Zoltar.  Although not a robot in the traditional sense, Zoltar’s mechanised working are reminiscent of some of the earlier automatons in our exhibition and for that, he gets a small shout out at the end of the blog.

We love the video, above, of when Tom Hanks met ‘Zoltar’, 30 years later…

Robots is at the Museum of Science and Industry from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 15 April 2018. Click here for more information. 

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