John Park retrospective: Doris the Robotic Bowler Hat @johnedgarpark


The coolest robot I’ve ever built was made of pixels. Here’s Doris, the robotic bowler hat from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. As a character technical director at Walt Disney Animation Studios at the time, my job was to create all of the rigging and controls the animators needed to pose and animate this creepy, evil robot.



Building the Doris rig was a really fun challenge — the script called for her to fly, crawl like a hexapod, hide all parts and appear as an ordinary bowler hat, extend her lens, poke a top-mounted arm holding a toothbrush, screwdriver, or flashlight through a retractable hatch, shoot a grappling hook, and deploy multiple spinning claw hands on infinitely long flexible metal arms.


I created her rig in Autodesk Maya, first by placing skeletal joint pivots for all of the articulated parts, and then through a series of MEL scripts I wrote to create deformations, animator-friendly controllers, forward/inverse and spline kinematics, constraints, and semi-automated parts, such as the iris and the retractable ports from which the various arms, grappling hooks, goggles and so on would emerge. I collaborated with incredibly talented people, including modeler Joe Bowers and animator Jay Davis, to bring her to life.


While the Doris I made was done entirely in CG, there has been at least one version made in the real world. This junkbot, made by Lockwasher (sculptor Paul Loughridge), was created from a trumpet mute, microscope lens, bicycle brake arms and reflector arms, and crab shell cracking tools. My wife got it for me as a gift, and now junkbot Doris watches over me in my shop. Menacingly.

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