The Robots Are Coming!

Danger, Will Robinson! Terminator 3‘s title tack-on, Rise of the Machines, could easily be the slogan for the coming slate of animated and live-action features lurking on the horizon. From Blue Sky Studios to actor Will Smith to a former Star Wars designer, it seems like everybody is jumping on the bionic bandwagon these days. But will the droid deluge rain in big bucks at the boxoffice or over-saturate the market?

A couple days ago, we wrote about director Chris Wedge’s (Ice Age) upcoming CG feature Robots, which is being prepared for a March 11, 2005 release by 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios. Based on a script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the film is designed by acclaimed author and illustrator William Joyce (Rolie, Polie, Olie) and features the voices of Halle Berry, Ewan McGregor, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey and Jamie Kennedy, among others. The plot revolves around a young inventor who wants to improve the world, despite the nefarious schemes of an evil corporate type. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the army of automatons marching on theaters and retail shelves in the next couple years.

Doug Chiang, designer of the last two Star Wars films, is currently working on a feature-length, Shakespearean CG opus set in a world that has fallen under the control of machines. While Robota still has a way to go before completion, the trailer is getting a lot of attention, winning the Advertising or Promotional Film Award at Annecy last week and the Best Rendering Award at Imagina 03 last February.

Based on 12 of Chiang’s illustrations, the two-minute 3D trailer took a team of six people six months to create and required a long digital integration operation using Flame.

While Chiang’s sepia-toned design work may too closely resemble his efforts on the Star Wars prequels, his ability to create fantastic, visually stunning worlds is evident, and the animation by Sparx* is gorgeous. If the story, revolving around a manhunt by intelligent machines in search of a soul, is half as compelling as the visuals, Chiang may just move out of the shadow of George Lucas and spearhead a franchise all his own.

In the first sequence of the trailer, a group of robots marches through a sandstorm like a band of majestic Masai warriors. According to the team at Sparx*, the hard part was maintaining a sensation of weight on the robots, especially in the movements of the fabrics, despite the slow-mo effect of the scene.

Robota is based on a book co-written by science-fiction author Orson Scott Card. That book will be available in U.S. bookstores in late 2003.

We also brought you word that CinéGroupe is putting a robotic twist on the Pinocchio fable with the upcoming CG feature film, Pinocchio 3000. In this futuristic updating, Pinocchio is a super robot who is tricked into helping the evil Scamboli (Malcolm MacDowell) turn all children into robots. With the help of friends Geppetto, Spencer (Howie Mandel) and Cyberina (Whoopie Goldberg), Pinocchio must challenge Scamboli and learn valuable lessons about what it means to be real.

The film is directed by Daniel Robichaud, a renowned animation director and digital artist whose credits include Titantic, The Fifth Element, T2 Terminator 2: 3D and Apollo 13. It is not yet known if the project will get a theatrical release or go straight to video. Carlton Consumer Division will be handling licensing, theatrical, publishing, broadcast and video rights in the U.K. for the property.

Yesterday, we reported that toymaker Hasbro is teaming with producers Tom DeSanto (X-Men, X2: X-Men United) and Don Murphy (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) to make a live-action feature based on the popular “robots in disguise” toys known as Transformers.

In addition, actor Will Smith (Ali, Men In Black) will put on a spandex mo-cap suit to lend his voice and movements to the title character in a filmed version of Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction classic I, Robot. The book is actually a collection of stories based on the Three Laws of Robotics: 1. A Robot may not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey a human beings’ orders, if the order does not conflict with the first law; and 3. A robot must protect its own existence unless it conflicts with the first two laws.

If all that weren’t enough mechanized mayhem for you, there are also rumors of a movie updating of the ’70-era Lee Majors TV series The Six-Million Dollar Man and the similar themed series Jake 2.0 coming to UPN this fall. On top of that, the rumor mill has long been abuzz with talk of a remake of Michael Crichton’s cautionary tale Westworld, which sees a robotic cowboy at a western theme park go ballistic. Can another Short Circuit movie be far behind? After all, Johnny 5 is still alive.