Critical Reaction

RoboCop Redux
Rewrite me a Robo
The Gunarm
The Flightpack
On the set: Atlanta

Picture gallery > Movies > R3 > Flight Pack

Visual consultant Craig Hayes was tasked with designing and building RoboCop's jetpack - both in miniature for use with the stop-motion puppet, and in full-scale for Robert Burke to wear during the bluescreen shoot.

Officers from the Detroit Police Department at last join forces with the beleaguered rebels, But even their added firepower proves inadequate against the enemy. Just when all seems lost, the cavalry appears in the form of RoboCop - flying through the air courtesy of a prototype jetpack - firing on the Rehabs and Splatterpunks with his multi-weapon arm.

Initially, the sequence was designed to be realized with a stop-motion puppet augmenting bluescreen footage of Robert Burke. "We supplied approximately ten stop-motion shots of RoboCop flying around using thejetpack: Phil Tippett recalled. "The puppet was shot against a frontlit bluescreen with motion control camera moves, On a few of the shots there were camera moves, so Pete Kozachik integrated the motion of the flying puppet with whatever move was in the background." Background matching with the Atlanta plates proved to be no easy feat, "Whatever system they used to dolly the camera, it was really slow, Because the scene had so many people, so many explosions, and so much smoke, it was impossible to undercrank the camera or skip-frame later on to increase the speed." The solution was to move the puppet. "We animated and shot the sequence so that RoboCop would always overtake the camera, constantly either dropping in from above it and rushing away, or emerging as a pinpoint in frame and fly- ing up over the camera."

Originally they wanted RoboCop to have an entire flying tank but as that would have been too expensive, they settled for a jetpack. After doing a week's worth of designs, Craig Hayes and his team built two full-scale jetpacks - one fully actuated, and another for stunt purposes only. "We made the functional one out of materials that could withstand the high temperatures of the practical flame effects that would be pro- vided by Jeff was made out of vacuformed ABS plastic - built to withstand a lot of abuse - and had cable-actuated clamps and functional lights." For the live-action shots, Robert Burke was strapped into an elaborate flying rig on a bluescreen stage. "We built the flying apparatus: said Jeff Jarvis, "which was a servo and hydraulically controlled belly pan that could do pitch and yaw and roll moves. Since the miniatures had already been shot, we had to match what the animators had done."

Despite the elaborate flight work, a sneak preview much later in the schedule revealed mixed audience reactions to the sequence. "It was clear to us that we had a home run of a premise, but that for some reason the live-action bluescreen elements were not properly incorporated," admitted Director Fred Dekker, Alternatives were hurriedly explored, "I put in a call to ILM at one point,just asking for their advice; and they told me they had gone through the same process on The Rocketeer, When you have somebody up in the air in front of a bluescreen, it is going to be very diffi- cult to shoot it in such away that it really feels as though he's flying, There's no elegance to it, The footage has a cumbersome, weighted-down quality. Even with motion control, there is a sub- liminal sense that what you're seeing is a guy hung with a pole up his butt, as opposed to something that is whisking through the air."

To strengthen the sequence, Tippett Studio provided some additional stop-motion shots, "Fred Dekker and Pat Crowley came to my studio with their first pass on the flying sequence: recalled Phil Tippett. "I suggested various shots that could replace others and enhance the sequence. We came up with a new approach since the rocket-man idea was impossible to achieve due to the slow tracking on the background plates. I suggested we take a 'hummingbird-man' approach - have RoboCop zing into shots, brake, hover, do his business, then zing out: Ultimately, all but two of the live-action shots were replaced with new stop- motion, "The first batch we had done took maybe three months, Eight months later, we did the second batch in about six weeks, Eric Swenson programmed the motion control flying rigs and lit the RoboCop elements, We used different rigs for different kinds of movement."