You can never go wrong bonding a boy with his ‘bot, and Netflix’s “Lost in Space” reboot definitely got the scene-stealing Robot right. The series comes alive whenever he’s on screen, much like the beloved protector from “The Iron Giant.”
In fact, this Robot also has a similar backstory in which he overcomes his attack mode programming to become more sensitive and empathetic. He’s cool and complex, with a lot of untapped potential for Season 2.
A New Transformer Twist
The original design of the Robot was done by VFX house Rhythm & Hues, and then the bulk of the animation was done by Image Engine (“District 9”) in Vancouver (with R&H, Trickster, and Futureworks pitching in for their sequences). He comes in two forms: an alien version (sporting multi limbs) and a bi-pedal humanoid. However, when Will (Maxwell Jenkins) first encounters him in Episode 1 (“Impact”), the Robot is trapped in a tree and severed in two.
With the boy’s help, he re-attaches himself with his internal cabling, and then studies the young boy on top of a cliff. They bond and the Robot takes on a humanoid form and repays Will’s kindness by saving sister Judy (Taylor Russell), who’s trapped under ice on the planet the Robinsons have crash-landed on.
Courtesy of Netflix
Yet the Robot’s performance on screen was also achieved by an actor (Brian Steele) wearing a heavy practical suit made by Spectral Motion. “We wanted to play the character with an actor in a suit, so the humanoid form took hold because of bonding with Will and taking his shape,” said production VFX supervisor Jabbar Raisani. “He transforms depending on who he’s paired with or who controls him at that moment.
“Whether it was a guy in a suit, whether it was full-digital, we needed to make sure to maintain a negative space throughout the center of him so you can view the cables that connect him,” added Raisani.
The Robot’s Face
The face of the Robot (a screen depicting various light patterns evocative of his emotional states) was an interesting process that evolved during the production. “It started out colorful but it was distracting,” Raisani said. “We decided to go with a lava lamp sense where he was a bit more ethereal and almost more mesmerizing as you stared into his face. And then using slower patterns and light seemed to be more effective. But we tried to use color to help show what he was feeling.”
Courtesy of Netflix
The Robot begins with very little color but then his face turns blood red during attack mode, when the stars move much faster along with more complex geometric shapes. “It was about finding a language despite the simplicity of his face,” he said.
The first big reveal of attack mode occurs in Episode 5 (“Transmission”) when the Robot is nearly destroyed by two large reptilian predators that invade the camp. Urged on by Will to defend himself, the Robot returns to his multi-limb form and overcomes the predators with the use of a hot-hand that spews molten steel. It is during this reveal that the colonizers realize that this is the same Robot that attacked the Resolute space station in an early flashback.
The Big Robot Fight
The attack mode, meanwhile, was utilized at its fullest in the final confrontation between the Robot and a much more powerful alien ‘bot in the season finale (“Danger, Will Robinson”). Image Engine choreographed the fight and animated the two CG robots, creating nearly half a dozen, very detailed, geometric damage states. Indeed, the simulated molten steel was a last-minute master stroke.
Courtesy of Netflix
“The Alien Robot, which we called SAR (Second Alien Robot), was a riff on the attack mode robot, but he has a new color scheme, a dark copper look, and is larger and less damaged,” said Raisani. “We approached it as a boxing match, but realized that it needed to be taken up a notch in post. So we treated the hot-hand as his secret weapon to get the upper hand with multiple blasts against this bigger and stronger robot.”