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The Making of Bicentennial Man
By Jon Fontenot

While this film was not, in my estimation, the best that it could have been, (I think the editor should be shot for leaving the Robin Williams out takes on the cutting room floor), this film does have quite a few cutting edge effects that should be mentioned.

Some of these include non-latex socket joints for the "Andrew" robot, thermagel, a new extremely elastic material developed by XFX studios, and use of some new techniques with silicon, all making this picture a cutting edge FX extravaganza.  Not to mention all the fantastic digital matte layered effects done by Dream Quest Studios.

The story concept wasn't bad either, robot develops a personality, becomes a living robot, and discovers he has been used as a slave and now wants to become more human. Add to that the idea of casting Robin Williams and of course, you're sure you have a blockbuster.  I think this film would have made 3 times as much at the box office if Williams had more funny lines that made the cut.

On to some techniques, first order of the day was for XFX to do some life casts. For more information on life casts contact and ask for "the techniques of lifecasting" video.  Steve Johnson, in charge of the project, was afraid that with Robin's stocky frame there might be design problems.  Johnson's solution was to make the lower legs and feet larger.  This seemed to solve the seminary problems.

Next was to sculpt Andrews proportions, presumably done in a Palestine type clay that never hardens, and then a plaster type material like ultracal 30 ( is applied over the model with a petroleum jelly release.
After this process the resulting parts where made using something called vacuform plastic modeling.  For those of you who don't know, this is a process in which heated plastic sheets are laid over the part to be duplicated and holes in the board underneath vacuum out all the air leaving a thin and strong plastic part that can be cut out and processed.

The XFX crew of 160 people worked around the clock to create thousands of transparent vacuformed and mechanical parts that make up the outer "Andrew" suit.  These parts where then painted metallic on the inside in order to create a "futuristic" material appearance.  Then these parts where attached to an inner fiberglass suit.

Apparently, the new order of the day in prosthetic makeup effects is silicone.  Everyone seems to be using silicone techniques now and this film is no exception. As the story line takes place over the coarse of 200 years, many of the actors age significantly and this aging utilized these silicone techniques.  In this film, these are accomplished by makeup artists Greg Cannom and Wes Wofford.

We follow "Andrew" through his transformations as he strives to gain more emotional communication through greater facial expressions.  This was done using a softer material for the new design and the use of radio controlled animatronics hidden between the fiberglass inner lining and the outer shell of the face.  In fact, there where tiny fans inside blowing on Robin's face to keep him cool in-between shoots.
For one scene, "Andrew" meets up with a rouge robotist who agrees to help Andrew look more human.  Seemingly being in the process of sculpting Robin Williams face a new product is being used, XFX's Thermagel.  Burman industries has a version also, it's called flabbercast.  It's a substance that will bounce back to its original shape and can be made to appear at different gelatin states.  The effect on screen here was as if bringing a sculpture to life in an instant.

If you haven't as yet, in your busy schedule, seen this movie yet you should.  It's beautiful to look at and the story is good.  It could have been great, just goes to show you that a good editor is as important as all the other amazing talent that goes into a film.



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