You might be wondering where you have seen the whole "robots in a theme park" story before — and no, it isn't The Simpsons episode "Itchy & Scratchy Land" — but that's because HBO's latest offering, Westworld, is a reimagining of the 1973 film of the same name.
We may only be one episode in, but it seems there are more than a few glitches on the plains of the wild, wild West. In a world of humans vs. robots, it is important to distinguish between the real-life and the A.I. So, just how does the team behind HBO's latest blockbuster create our animatronic allies?
A Blink of the Eye
This week's opening episode of Westworld showed that all is not well in J.J. Abrams's sci-fi thriller, but who is the man behind the curtain making those robotic movements?
VFX supervisor Jay Worth has worked with Abrams's company Bad Robot for over a decade, and praises not only the advances in technology but the actors themselves. Believe us, it is a lot more than the ability to not blink that puts the modern retelling of Westworld lightyears ahead of its original counterpart.
Call the Old Bill
The FX team was hard at work in the scene where Anthony Hopkins's Dr. Ford is found lurking in cold storage. Ford is seen speaking to a first-edition Westworld robot, Old Bill, who is decidedly more jittery than the current generation of bots and wouldn't look out of place in Disney's It's a Small World ride. While actor Michael Wincott's role was entirely real, the post-production effects to make Old Bill old were not. VFX supervisor Jay Worth told Inverse:
"We changed his performance entirely, but it’s really subtle...We gave him these little stopping and jerking things, his eyelids and hands and arms and how he moves. It was so effective in making it feel like this older model that was not quite as smooth."
The company behind the effects is Cosa VFX — also responsible for the likes of Stranger Things and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Using a program called Nuke, the team added layers of effects to turn Bill's larger movements into much smaller ones.
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It was a busy week in the Westworld maintenance department, with both the town sheriff and Dolores's father, Abernathy, also hit by the Y2K16 bug. A short-circuiting sheriff may not be the town's biggest worry though, someone should really take a look at that pesky fly situation down in Westworld. Josh Clark's Sheriff Reed and his wandering eye gave Worth and co. another shot at their FX magic:
"We had a lot of fun with how his eyes worked, following the fly and malfunctioning."
As for the flies, Worth assures us that wherever possible they go for the real thing, only adding CGI flies if absolutely necessary.
However, at the end of the day it looks like you can't beat some good old-fashioned acting skills. The scene where Louis Herthum's Abernathy delivered a rather chilling message to Dr. Ford was an exciting climax to the show, and was relatively light on the post-production. Worth said that the team did:
"...really subtle things with his pupils and eyelids [that] made it feel like he was off, but not so mechanical...Everything that Abernathy does in his conversation with Dr. Ford, that’s all actor action...We made him freeze every now and then. But the actors are really good at not blinking."
Just the Beginning
Admittedly, it was hard to tell who the hell was human and who was mechanical in the first episode, and I am pretty sure at least one red herring was thrown in there for the season finale already. There is something rather "robotic" about Hopkins's Ford, but we will have to wait and see. What made the premiere episode of Westworld so thrilling was its subtle ability to blur the lines between human and robot right until the last moment. We are sure this is just the beginning of the mayhem down in the park, and that we are in for an action-packed season!
What did you think of the first episode of 'Westworld'?