She’s alive! Artist Jordan Wolfson and the team at makeup and creature effects lab Spectral Motion have created an animatronic version of Holli Wood from the movie Cool World that will either creep you out or blow your mind (and has done both to the people who have seen the video online and IRL). The robot, skimpily dressed and wearing go-go boots, dances to a (more) nightmarish version of “Blurred Lines.” But don’t imagine those dancing coke cans or cacti from the early ’90s. The robot moves with an unsettling fluidity. In fact she’s pretty much become the terrifying mayor of the uncanny valley.
“Think of her as an electronic musical instrument,” says Mark Setrakian, Spectral Motion’s robotics expert. “She has a pulse, which is synchronized to the music.” More specifically, Setrakian has synched DJ software up with robotic software; the two operate together.
Wolfson enlisted Spectral Motion to help make the robot from scratch. From his initial sketches, the designers made a full body mold from clay. They used silicon for her skin and fiberglass for her ribcage and skull. Her arms were 3-D printed. Then they filled her up with motors and electronics that react to commands from computers outside her body.
Meanwhile, Setrakian’s team filmed choreographers dancing and broke the moves into specific poses. Each pose was then programed into the animatronic’s software. “All the movements had to be interpreted into the robot’s range of motion–she’s not really human after all.” One pose or “motif” as Setrakian calls it, involves the robot moving her hips from side to side and raising her arms in the air. Another involves her undulating front to back. “So what looks like a long fluid string of motion is composed of little chunks,” Setrakian explains. “It’s like a song: verse, chorus, and bridge. All movements are composed and then strung together.”
What’s most uncanny about the robot, Setrakian says, is how she’s been programmed to look at human faces. “It’s a little freaky,” he admits. Because the robot is positioned in front of a mirror at her current location (the David Zwimer Gallery in New York through Apirl 19), Setrakian had to write software to prevent her from seeing her own reflection. Turns out, even robots can be a little vain.