Mecha design; From cube to humanoid

The previous post about mecha design was all about the basic ideas that yours truly tends to use when it comes to transforming or shape changing robots. As mentioned, they are not definitive and many would probably contest them, but they work just as well. However, all transforming mecha follow one essential thought pattern most of the time; from inhuman shape to humanoid shape. This shape can be whatever. Cars, planes, guns, dinosaurs, trains… pretty much everything has been turned into a robot. Hell, there used to be a saying on imageboards that the Japanese can transform anything into a mecha if they just want to. Of course, there are those that simply change utility shape between modes and never become humanoid. These are relatively rarer in scale of things, but the overall discussion follows the same pattern overall. You have a shape that you want to force into another.

The title of this post is misleading. The term that I should be using is cuboid. However, I am going to break any and all good language practices and keep mixing cube and cuboid to label any cuboid shapes. This would an example of marketing of sorts when you get down to it, as many companies want to use cube in a similar sense. Nintendo’s Game Cube being one, with it being a cuboid even when the Game Boy player is attached.

As with any matter like this, there is no one correct way to do anything. The examples here are simply just for the sake of examples and being as simple as possible. Expanding on basics and building on them is really the only way to get around.

The core idea is to take a cube and “spread” it to the similar breakdown as human would be, if we’d draw human with simple geometric shapes.

Boxtron, the strongest of them all
Boxtron, the strongest of them all

As previously discussed, boxiness is sometimes the most basic shape. This breakdown is very boxy, very basic, and doesn’t really look all that attractive. The above is just a 2D repositioning of the box’s areas. This is barely just the first step, as we need depth and sense how the transformation happens.

Why so flat?
Why so flat?

However, a man doesn’t really look like this. As mentioned, a mecha really is an exaggerated geometrically portrayed humanoid.

scan20170222_0002The head for example is far too wide, the arms are stocky without hands and legs don’t have feet. The torso is also just one block. So, let’s disregard the box for a moment and adapt humanoid elements to Boxtron. Let’s disregard the base standing position too.

scan20170222_0003I decided to keep the wide head. Giving it a wide visor and slightly mess with other dimensions give Boxtron slightly more balance. Managed to screw perspective all the while. Our robot looks a bit more pleasing now with more humanoid proportions, but due to lack of design details and everything else, Boxtron is still the most applicable name. It also lacks joints and cohesive transformation scheme. Of course, using a car or something more applicable would be a better target, but let’s try a stupid simple transformation outline for our Boxtron.


We’ve now turned a box into a robot. The joints that I didn’t care to separately draw in are the same simple joints we’ve discussed earlier with simple rolls, pivots and double joints. While Boxtron is still a box, it’s now a box with some definition to it. This transformation would be Toyetic on the scale I use. It would work on both paper and in a toy, but in reality there would be issues with the legs twisting from the side, and arms and torso popping out like that.

This Boxtron of course lacks any and all detailing, what it really is when it’s a box, but that could be anything from a Zippo to something like a spare pocket power battery. The head of course could see some work done to it, with section of it turned into a backpack or something with smaller visor, but for the sake of simplicity let’s keep it big and blocky.

This being a very simple way to turn a cube into a robot, it can be generally applied to anything in similar sense for simple transformation. Some of the older Transfromer’s cars used something similar to this, except they didn’t extend the torso and just extended the legs. Sometimes the hood was flipped back. Essentially, they were made to “stand up” from the “laying on their face” position. With Boxtron I made the legs twist to the side and the attach to the side of the mecha. The added shoulder armour flips down as well and the arms are extended from it. The hands are pulled out from the arms as well. Feet are flipped up from the legs. Little things like this do not only make the mecha more pleasing to the eye, but also a lot more enjoyable to toy with on paper.

Simplicity isn’t exactly a bad thing.  Overly complex transformation tends to make fragile objects, both in and out of fiction (unless you’re a Super Robot that doesn’t care.) I have to admit that even this example has some problems in its transformation, but as an example it suffices.

Nevertheless, whatever sort of transformation this would be, it needs to be exciting. That’s the whole point of it all, really. You can have a bland transformation like this, but when you put something into it. For toys, something like a battery effect that lights the eyes for a moment when the head is pulled up or something simple as ratchet joints that click pleasantly to the ears while giving satisfying tactile feedback to the hands does the trick. For animation and comics there needs to be the cool factor in there, with music, posing and situation, the while “man’s romance” thrown in there in one scene. Even a simple transformation from a box to a robot can make an impact when made right. It’s all about how the design and surrounding work works.

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