This year at E3, a massive annual video game conference, attendees had a special treat. There was a life-sized Watcher from the video game Horizon Zero Dawn walking around. In the game, these dinosaur robots move around and scope things out. When they notice the player, they alert other bots. Hence the name “Watcher.” They also happen to be one of the few bots in the game that are small enough in size to be easily operated by a human as a costume.
Here’s an example of the watchers from within the game itself, to compare to the costume above. The creator of this video is disabling them as stealthily as possible to avoid a major confrontation.
Building a costume like this is no simple task. To create this one, the effects company Spectral Motion was put on the task.
The process of building something like this is pretty interesting. They begin by simply blowing up pictures and figuring out what adjustments they’ll need to make to the scale to actually have a human pilot the rig. After that, a “trash bag” model is made. This is a low-fi version of the costume constructed out of cardboard, foam, and, in some cases, actual trash bags.
Note that there were no trash bags in this trash bag model. That makes me giggle.
After they make adjustments based off of what they learn from this low quality model, they begin with the high quality version. Instead of using cardboard and tape, they build a light weight aluminum structure to hold everything. This has the full animatronic features like a cable drive for the neck and lighting for the eyes.
The paneling, cabling, and pretty much all the heavy looking stuff is made from foam. They can mill the broad shapes using a big CNC router. To save additional weight, some panels are then vacuum molded to make super light weight pieces that still have the details they want.
The final result is something that can be carried and operated by a single person while still looking heavy and machine-like when it moves around.