Johnny-Five.com : Interviews : Eric Allard
 
Eric Allard       Eric Allard - Robotics Effects Supervisor, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2

Telephone interview. August 11, 2001 at 1:40 pm (PST).
Interviewer:
Mike.

Eric is the mastermind behind Johnny Five. He turned fantastical concept drawnings by Syd Mead into a working, anothropomorphic robot. I've been after him some time to get an interview and others have been after him for Johnny's technical specs, but he has been so busy. Finally, Eric and I connected and it seems our patience will be rewarded. He is trying to bring us the Johnny Five "toys" we've always wanted. Even blueprints for the big guy! A dream come true.

 
Questions:   It's hard to see what's written on his control panel on the boom. Do you remember what it says?
What is different between the robots in the first movie and the second?   Are you working on anything else, movies?
Are there any blueprints?   What do you think about the possibility of a Short Circuit 3?
If we as fans try to make our own by ourselves, are there any legal restrictions?   Besides the films, where else can we see Johnny Five?
What happened to the rest of the robots?   Were there real cameras in the eyes to maybe guide the puppeteers?
Have you heard of any on display?   Pretend you are Newton Crosby in the film. What would convince you your robot were alive?
Which parts were not scratch built?   Do you know of any other resources for Short Circuit in books or magazines?
Johnny Five kind of looks like the robot PAL from "Let's Go." Was there any intention to do that?   That toy idea sounds really neat!
Why did you make the eyeflaps different from each other? One of them has a little piece cut out of it.   How much do you think you'll let those go for?
 
What is different between the robots in the first movie and the second? top

In the first movie, they're the same robots as in the second movie. We took sort of what was left. In the first one, we had made fifteen of them. Two were fully remote control. They had 45 axes, including the fingers on the hands. Six of them were remote control with everything but the fingers on the hands. For all of those eight robots there were three heads that were all interchangeable. Then we had seven what we called stunt bots which were the same. When we did the production run of all the pieces, we made fifteen shells. The stunt bots had all lock-off joints. They could be posed into a particular position like for those that we would throw off a truck.

For the second movie, the only thing we did different is we made the telemetry suit. Since we were just using a toggle radio control, we built a telemetry suit where you could wear the thing and operate the upper body. There was a chair you could swivel on and a backrest. You could go up and down and make the back go up and down. And then, the arms and fingers were controlled by the telemetry suit. It made it so you could puppeteer it with four people instead of nine. It was done so quickly we really didn't have time on the first one to get into the telemetry suit.

For the different looks of the robot like the "Road Warrior," beat-up look, whatever, we pre-made all that stuff... Did you design those looks or was somebody else in charge of that? Syd Mead was the designer, but I was responsible for the anthropomorphization of the robot. What about the second movie? The "Road Warrior" version. Yeah. We did that all. I'd give that to a particular group of guys and say, "Here." "Do this." "Let's Try this." "Try that." We just let people kind of go nuts. Was that your concept of how they should look? Yes.

Are there any blueprints? top

No. I've got the miniature. The remote control miniature from the second movie. I'm going through it and I'm making molds. I know I've been telling a lot of people this for a lot years, but I'm finally doing it. I'm going to do a limited edition of fifty motorized ones and one hundred and fifty poseable ones -- Numbered, signed, and put together. After that, I'm going to sell kits. I'm trying to get the rights for it all. I get a lot of people email me and lot of the emails I'm just putting into a "Number 5" file because I'm trying to get this stuff done. Then I want to start designing the robot on a CADD program. I use TurboCADD myself. Then I want to start selling blueprints, for a nominal fee, from top to bottom. I'll also have available parts that are hard to find or most don't have the machinery to make if you want to make a true copy. People who have a full machine shop and the skills would have no problem doing it.

If we as fans try to make our own by ourselves, are there any legal restrictions? top

I don't know that there are. I think anybody can build anything for themselves. The image is owned by Columbia or Tri-Star. The likeness of Number Five. If you build your own and you wanted to do something with it commercially, then you'd probably have to pay them, get the rights. That's what I'm trying to do. I have one here that hasn't run for ten, fifteen years. I want to get it completly back to snuff. Are you talking about the full-sized one? Yeah. I actually have number five of the fifteen production run we did. The one that went wacko? Yeah. The one that melted down when we first turned it on. We built fifteen complete assemblies at first without all the motors, all the hardware. They were numbered "one" through "fifteen." The first eight we made RC. Well, the number five model which was the first one we tried to turn on... I was having a little dispute with one of the guys in the electronics area about how we should do it. He wanted to prove to me his way was right so when we turned it on, smoke came pouring out of the thing. So, literally, number five of our fifteen short-circuited. We built that one with the new concept first and that ended up being the most reliable one of the group. He's sitting right here in front of me. He's the one pictured on a website where there's some black cabinets behind it. That's the one that I got.

What happened to the rest of the robots? top

NASA got one. We destroyed quite a bit of them in the movie. We didn't make new ones for the second film so we took what we had left. Then we beat the crap out of them. I can't really say where they are. That stuff gets pilfered, but it's probably in the Columbia archive somewhere.

Have you heard of any on display? top

NASA has one in their robotics lab somewhere. I don't know where. I think it was a fully articulated one they got.

Which parts were not scratch built? top

The drive motors, servo amplifiers, chains, gears, linear actuators, rotary actuators, servos. Really, that's it. The neck gimbal, part of it was made and part of it wasn't. The orange cylinders in his neck were off the shelf. Just about everything else you see on the outside was manufactured. Where do the irises come from? Those are photocopier lenses. I got them from this surplus place. They had a pile of them. I just bought them all. You might be able to find similar ones wherever you have surplus stores that sell lenses and stuff.

Johnny Five kind of looks like the robot PAL from "Let's Go." Was there any intention to do that? top

No. It's just my basic belief of robots. In the future, when robots are going to interact with us and have a degree of intelligence where you can actually make them anthropomorphic, not only will they have to move around in our environment and relate to things and objects that were designed for people, they'll have to be designed like we are. If people are going to work with them, they're going to have to like them. You have to give them the same things, to give them a personality, that a human would have. You've got to give them a head and shoulders, eyes and hands. The eyes have to be expressive. I've got PAL here too. If you see them next to each other, they're similar and they're not. PAL has the concept of PAL. He's got a scissor boom, but it rotates at the base. Number Five rotates in the middle of the boom. I have a third robot I've made. Miles, which has a new wheel design on it that's really cool. Now, it's kind of a cross between a NASA-looking anthropomorphic robot and a Mrs. Butterworth bottle. All of my kind of ideas of a robot would look the same. Just like if an alien creature saw a bunch of humans they'd say they all look the same. They've all got a head, eyes, arms, a mouth, shoulders, hands, and fingers.

Why did you make the eyeflaps different from each other? One of them has a little piece cut out of it. top

If you look at the beginning of the movie when it's using its laser, that's part of its sighting. It would close everything up and have that little flap open for target acquisition.

It's hard to see what's written on his control panel on the boom. Do you remember what it says? top

I don't really remember. As I'm getting more into this the file will surface that may actually have the graphic left. All this information will be forthcoming. There's so many people out there that want to build one of these. It's amazing that even after fifteen years people are still interested in it. Yeah. It's got a real following. One of these days I'll get my website done too. I've got a whole bunch of information and history on the thing. I guess I kind of owe it to everybody to get it out there. I've just been busy.

Are you working on anything else, movies? top

I patented a new wheel design on that robot. I'm trying to get that off the ground.

What do you think about the possibility of a Short Circuit 3? top

I'd love to see it happen. I don't know who has the rights to it. I don't think the Fosters do anymore. I'd love to see one. Wouldn't you? Yes! Absolutely! I've got ideas in fact. There's been talk a couple of times. A few years ago there was a Short Circuit 3 in the works. Then there was a TV show a couple years ago, but that didn't go anywhere.

Besides the films, where else can we see Johnny Five? I have the Hot Cars, Cold Facts video. top

Yeah. We did that. There were a couple TV shows in Germany. There was this thing called "The Seventh Crazy Year," or something like that. It was a cross between The Newlywed Game and Johnny Carson where they'd have these people who had been married for seven years. We had him on that. He was on a segment of Good Morning America where they were showing robotics. They had this kind of clunky, state of the art robot that was at the time a little Heathkit square box and Number Five was cracking jokes about him. I have all that stuff too. I suppose I could get that out there too. A girl you once met, Virginia, told me about a video where he is on the Home Show too. Yes, that's right. It was The Home Show where that other little robot was there.

Were there real cameras in the eyes to maybe guide the puppeteers? top

No. You're just sitting offstage while you're performing. No speaker where his mouth would be? No. Nothing like that. On the first movie we had puppets from the waist up. There were three specially built ones that were puppet controlled. You'd literally have an extension up the elbow with a handle. You'd have one puppeteer on each arm. I'd do a lot of that. There was a guy on the head. Tim Blaney was one of the puppeteers and he'd just read the lines. But for the actors, they wouldn't hear it from the robot, they'd hear it from the person off to the side? Well, sure. We'd have speakers around. We'd try to put it near the robot so it gave that illusion. When we were making the movie we tried to get people not thinking of it as, "You on the arm do this." "You on the leg do that." It was more like, "Just talk to the robot." Like he's a character, he's a person and we'd all pick up our queues from there.

Pretend you are Newton Crosby in the film. What would convince you your robot were alive? top

Well, if it started doing things that I didn't ask it to do. I know that with the state of robotics as good as they may be, mechanically, if you're going to build a robot with any degree of intelligence that people are going to interact with, you've got to make it more like a dog. Like Aibo for instance. That's what I told the Japanese guys when they came here to talk to me about their project. If you make it anthropomorphic, people are going to expect too much out of it. I don't think a robot like Number Five would be built until you already have enough artificial intelligence, if you want to call it that, to interact with it and expect it to do anything worthy of its anthropomorphic form. I guess you'd know it was alive when it started doing things on its own.

Do you know of any other resources for Short Circuit in books or magazines? top

There aren't any. Not that I know of. There may be some privateers who made some after-market stuff, but I know, officially, nobody has ever done anything. I'm the only one who ended up with any of the hardware. There is one guy who bought a lower half from an auction. He got from the waist down. He was going to build the upper body, but whether he did it or not I don't know. I know someone has a complete shell robot. He says he got it from the director of the second movie. Could have been. Of the stunt robots, some of them got out to the producers or maybe they sold it.

That's really all I have to ask you. Thank you very much! That toy idea sounds really neat! top

Yeah. I've been talking about it long enough. I've actually got the thing half taken apart on my work bench. I just started it a couple days ago. I'm pretty determined to get it done. It's really intricate. It's a lot more intricate than I remember. It's going to be a challenging kit to produce for any reasonable amount of money.

How much do you think you'll let those go for? top

I'm just going to see what dollars I have to put into it and figure out what it was worth doing it for. The first pieces will really be more like art pieces. They'll be sold to collectors on a limited basis. Then, the kit. It's just a matter of how much the material is and what the labor is to make the pieces and package it. I don't even know what that will be yet. I have no idea. It will be what it will be. Then anyone who wants one can get one. The real ones have sold at auctions for three thousand dollars. I've heard of someone who has a toy, but he wants twelve thousand for it. Wow. That's amazing. I've got one of the original ones that I'm using to make the patterns and I've got the one we used for the motion control which is a much cleaner version. The toys were a little bit crude, but for the purpose they were great. They didn't have to sustain any closeups. Sounds like you have a lot of work to do! No kidding!


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