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Failed Prototypes > Movies > R2 > CGI Cain

The making of the Computer generated Cain.

The producers of RoboCop 2 decided to take a chance on using computer graphics to create the animated head of "Cain", the master criminal turned berserker robot. Irvin Kershner and stop-motion creator Phil Tippett quickly realized the biggest hurdle on the project was the schedule. The Orion Company had set a release date for the film and if they didn't make that date their wrath would be fearsome indeed. As was done for the "Mike Normal" project, actor Tom Noonan was laser-scanned and the data used to create the animated head of Cain.

Because of the tight schedule, neither Kirshner nor Tippett was available when the time came to record our performance. Instead we were given several pages of written instructions - "Cain looks left for three seconds, blinks, turns to the right for two seconds", etc.

The problem was there was no time to do the animation more than once. Cain's animation needed to be delivered on film to Phil Tippett, who would then put it onto laser disc and play it back frame by frame onto a TV monitor built into his stop-motion Cain robot. If our animation wasn't right the first time it would put Tippett behind schedule, which would then put the film's release behind schedule, which would be bad for all concerned.

With that in mind, we fell back on performance animation's key advantage over standard computer graphic techniques - its ability to operate in real-time. If a shot called for five seconds of Cain animation, it only required an additional five seconds of effort to create TEN seconds of animation instead. So we animated quite a bit of extra Cain, much of which was improvised. We assumed the producers would then edit the takes just as they would any other actor's performance.

Even so, we got caught in the schedule crunch. After the performance was captured by the computer, we still had to do the extra layer of animation for Cain's death scene where his computer image required to break up and distort. We had no time to do the film transfer twice, or even time to see the results before the footage had to be sent to Tippett. So Cain's death throes were recorded live onto film by playing back the performance while I manually punched keys to switch him in and out of wireframe mode. The FedEx man was literally standing there waiting for the film to finish running through the camera - when it was done we handed off the film and it was on its way to Tippett... without our even knowing if it looked like crap or not.

A few days passed, and deGraf/Wahrman got a call from producer Jon Davison. The person who took the call thought Davison was furious - apparently we'd done something terrible. It took several seconds to discover the producer was actually excited - he'd seen our footage and thought it was wonderful. In the end, almost every frame of our improvised Cain appeared in the final film.

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