Designing a Space Suit for RoboMoco

16 January 2018

What's this about?

Since September 2017, I have been working on promotional content for a motion control company called RoboMoco. The first piece of work I did for them ended up being used as poster content and advertising material for Cinefex magazine. Part of this involved creating a 'mascot' for the company in the form of a science fiction character. In this case, the character took the form of a new space suit.

This was a new experience for me and served as a really cool learning experience, so I thought I'd give a brief overview of the stages and thought processes that went into making the suit.

The following image became the final composition which would be printed on the poster and promotional advertisement:

Below is a draft that was used to demonstrate the pose. The composition pose was intended to serve as a reference to 'The Creation of Adam' by Michelangelo, so well done to anyone who noticed that!

Designing the Space Suit

I have a little soft-spot for science fiction suits and armours, but more-so if there's a thread of reality governing the design. Ultimately, the goal was to design and build a suit which would look cool, but the client had a special request which involved a rather niche artefact from Litton Industries which can be found in the Apollo / Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida:

The guidance from the client was to try and recreate the general structure of this design of the hard suit above, whilst making it look less cumbersome by thinning it down to a more typical Human shape. I began blocking this out, making sure that the shape was closer-fitting as requested. This was one of the early block-outs for consideration. Don't mind the face behind the visor staring into your soul.

Reflecting on the early stage, neither of us liked the simplistic shaping around the helmet, feet, hands and neck, so the next stage would be to make it look more segmented and 'engineered'. Details were added both to imply purpose (such the external feeds on the torso and mask), whereas others were added to move it towards a more visually interesting result (such as the port colour variation and structural detail on the torso belt, as well as the segmentation of the helmet's upper centre).

The trend of detailing certain areas of the suit continued (which involved feeding in more inspiration from original space suit designs) until we reached an iteration which we were both happy with. The design was then painted with a distinctly 'NASA' colour scheme and adorned with a couple of details which made it relevant to the company (notice the 'R' which comes from the RoboMoco main logo, and the Union Flag/Jack on the left upper arm to indicate the home of the company - an alternative version with the US Flag was used in the final poster promotional composition to represent the presence of an office in San Francisco).

At this point, I had not had much experience rigging a character that was almost entirely hard-surface and it was inevitable that there would be a certain degree of unwanted stretching. Having used this character for a collection of compositions now, I have made a mental list of areas of the model where I would completely re-construct the topology if I ever came back to it.

The following were early tests of the initial rig, the pose is not too different from the original, so stretching is minimal, but still noticeable. The compromise I ended up going with for the final composition was to remove certain 'hard' details which were present on the rig (like bolts and ports) and manually place them back on-top of the character model, separate from the armature so that the original shape was preserved. Other stretching anomalies would be painted out after the final render.

The following are a couple of beauty renders showing the two variations of the suit - painted clean and dirty. More images can be found on the original portfolio post for the suit here:

Overall, this was quite fun - especially since we were trying to create something new from things that excited us rather than imitating reality in its entirety, and being able to express creative freedom always motivates me.

I expect I'll end up doing more pieces like this in the future, so if any of this interests you, make sure to check in every once in a while :)

Thanks for reading, and good health to you all!