Animating The Physical: Interview with MekaMon Animator Jim Bending

Or, what do Kermit The Frog and MekaMon have in common?

Jim Bending has been with Reach for a couple of months now, working on some super exciting future developments. We caught up with him to find out how animating a physical robot differs from his primarily digital background!

animator with robot

What do you do here at Reach?

I animate… and other technical things sometimes!

Great! So what’s your animating background? 

I’ve been animating since I was a kid, studied it at uni and then got a job in the games industry. I’m a lot more of a generalist now than I used to be. I went from lead animator at Frontier Developments to Digital Development Lead at Punchdrunk, a theater company in London where I was also programming and leading small research projects. Now I’m back to animating, but with a twist!

How does animating physical robots compare with working on digital animations? 

I’ll focus more on the broad action of the piece rather than subtle nuances. I look at Kermit the Frog a lot! The way he turns his head is with a lot of up and down or twist, he jumps around. It’s fun and reads easily. I’ve found the nuance I would previously add to digital animations gets lost when it plays out on a physical robot. The robot naturally settles into position with a bounce, so there’s no need to add that sort of stuff in anyway. Silhouette is important and I’m always thinking about where the person might be watching from, usually above. It’s interesting watching how people interact with MekaMon. Oh and I should mention that gravity & momentum have a large part to play, which means I can’t cheat. To get around this I test whatever I do on the robot constantly, I’ve got the pipeline down now so it’s pretty quick to iterate on.

Do you have any tips for anyone creating their own animations with MekaMotion? 

Yeah! You’ll get easy wins by adding lots of arcs to big motions — by that I mean if you turn the body in the middle, try lowering it or rotating downwards then back up. It’s simple but adds some pleasing motion. You can experiment with the amount and direction to create different types of behaviour, for example pushing the robot down for it to spring back up is quite jolly. If you’re brave and attempting some locomotion/foot placement, get some sticky notes and mark them with an X. Use these to keep track of where the feet are and adjust the center of gravity accordingly. You want to keep the center of gravity between at least three grounded feet, otherwise he’ll topple over. MekaMotion is really cool, it’s a nice mix of stop-motion animation and digital – so not really something I’ve seen before!

What are you working on right now? (If you can say!) 

It’s a secret!… A really cool one I think.


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