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Pixar's Wall-E Brought to Life by California Farmer

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 12 comments
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Move over R2D2, there's a new robot in town whose geek appeal is only matched by his adorably over-sized eyes. Wall-E the robot from the eponymous animated movie has been brought to life thanks to Mike McMaster and the other members of the Wall-E Builder's Club

McMaster and his friends — most of whom are also members of the R2D2 Builder's Club — started working on their own versions of Disney Pixar's charming robot shortly before the film hit theaters in 2008.

MORE: Watch It! The 5 Coolest Robots

McMaster and his life-sized, remote-controlled Wall-E were interviewed recently by and featured as a part of YouTube's first annual "Geek Week" (August 4-10). 

From his orange farm in Bakersfield, Calif., McMaster described the process of assembling a built-to-scale replica of a robot that hitherto existed only as a computer-generated image (CGI).

He and his fellow builders used a combination of screenshot images, movie posters and BluRay still shots to gather an accurate portrait of the animated Wall-E. 

Builder's club members then used other objects in the Wall-E movie to help determine the proper dimensions for their robot. McMaster said they started by looking at how big Wall-E's hands were in relation to a VHS tape or a Rubric's cube the robot handles in the movie, for example.

"We started with the hands and sort of worked our way backwards," McMaster said. "Once we had that scaled we were able to extrapolate how big the hands were in relation to the body, how big the body was in relation to the head." 

The builders have since learned from speaking with Pixar animators that their one-to-one scaled model of Wall-E is actually quite accurate.

MORE: How Possible are the Giant Robots in 'Pacific Rim'? 

McMaster and fellow builder, Mike Senna worked together to create all of Wall-E's parts from scratch. McMaster even custom built each of the treads that make up the robot's track drive wheels.

"The track drive turned out to be very problematic," McMaster said, "Because we wanted it to look the way it does in the movie, but it still had to work in the real world. And of course, in CGI you don't have to worry about real world physics and making things operate properly." 

But McMaster's Wall-E does operate properly. Its head, which moves up and down enthusiastically, is powered by servos, tiny motors that have many applications in the world of robotics. His arms move up and down thanks to a linear actuator (the same thing that opens and closes the tray on a DVD or Blu-ray player), and his hands can even wave with help from a small gear motor.

While McMaster's Wall-E might look a little beat up, that's only because the builder wanted to remain true to the robot's animated image. He used special painting techniques— gleaned from YouTube videos and some friends in the prop-making business— to make Wall-E look weathered. 

All of Wall-E's features are remote controlled, from his 270 degree vision and super-expressive eyebrows to his warbly robot voice and accompanying romantic soundtrack.

This adventurous little robot does like to get out of the house. McMaster has brought his Wall-E to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco as well as that city's annual Maker Faire. 

And fellow Wall-E builder Mike Senna uses his replica of Wall-E to entertain kids all over his home state of California. Most recently, Senna's Wall-E made an appearance at the Muscular Dystrophy Association's summer camp in Orange, Calif., and he also makes frequent visits to Orange County's Children Hospital.

McMaster and Senna recently told the Washington Post that the smiles they see on kids' faces when Wall-E rolls into the room is reason enough to keep building and improving these lovable bots.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo on Twitter @techEpalermo or on Google+.  Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • -4 Hide
    digiex , September 2, 2013 8:18 AM
    Copyright infringement!, oh, many will hate me for this comment.
  • 7 Hide
    rayden54 , September 2, 2013 8:37 AM
    He's a lot bigger than I thought.
  • 4 Hide
    John Bauer , September 2, 2013 9:03 AM
    digiex, I hate your comment not because you said "Copyright Infringement!", but because you said "people will hate me for this comment"

  • Display all 12 comments.
  • -3 Hide
    John Bauer , September 2, 2013 9:04 AM
    digiex, I hate your comment not because you said "Copyright Infringement!", but because you said "people will hate me for this comment"

  • 6 Hide
    The_Trutherizer , September 2, 2013 9:51 AM
    This infringes about as much on copyright as a custom built iron man suit made by a fan for ComiCon. This is fanart.
  • -1 Hide
    tafreyo , September 2, 2013 12:54 PM
    I adore wall-e as much as I adore my 64, my commodore 64
  • 0 Hide
    video99 , September 2, 2013 1:26 PM
    " how big Wall-E's hands were in relation to a VHS tape" I hope they didn't, because you will remember that the tape in the film was Beta not VHS! Geeky factoid: The tape was supposed to be a domestic Beta (Betamax) tape but it seems the CGI people didn't have one to hand so used a studio Beta (BetacamSP / DigiBeta) tape which is the same size but has subtle differences which can be seen in the film. In that sense, Beta outlived VHS.
  • 1 Hide
    cyphacipher , September 2, 2013 3:36 PM
    For sale or fee: copyright infringement. For entertainment: fan art.
  • -2 Hide
    cyphacipher , September 2, 2013 3:38 PM
    For sale or fee: copyright infringement. For entertainment: fan art.
  • -2 Hide
    mman74 , September 2, 2013 5:58 PM
    What's a "Rubric's cube"?
  • -1 Hide
    nino_z , September 3, 2013 9:29 AM
    "Wall-E Builder's Club"?! Seriously, there is such a thing? Next thing you are gonna tell me its members are not children.
  • -2 Hide
    antilycus , September 3, 2013 11:02 AM
    Since money is more important that individual freedom in the US. I expect this farmer to get sued, lose EVERYTHING and the kids to end up never buying anything Disney ever. These old time companies can't see the value in free advertising. Example, if someone steals your movie and shares it with 1000 people, it's likey to be bought more than it would be otherwise. You aren't losing money, you are gaining sales from the free advertising. Good movies = sell. Crappy sequels and poor writing = don't sell. I think it's awesome this guy make this with the help of thers, but I fully expect him to have nothing in the bank soon.
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