Mecha design; Artisanal mecha

Visual representation of giant robots widely vary, and they can’t be put into two or three distinct categories due to the amount of that very variety itself. Industrial design is very simple to grasp, just look at war industry. However, organic design is not as simple as I’ve previously showcased with Dunbine, because Dunbine, while more organic than a Scopedog, is not exactly organic per se. Sure, it smooth lines, but that doesn’t exactly make itself organic. It’s more like a handcrafted work, a unique piece that a master craftsman designed. Dunbine’s not the most stellar example of this, as it really mixes this artisanal and industrial in a nice combination, so let’s look at a design that’s more to the point.

escaflowne

Escaflowne is a mecha that is without a doubt one of the better examples of handcrafted, artisanal mecha design. It’s ornate, smooth and royal in its design. Certain level of excessiveness is in there, and it being artisanal does not exclude means of war in there. Unlike some Five Star Stories mechas, which in reality have no sense of function, Escaflowne works in a nice balance.

If we want to get into the whole mecha thing, the best way to think of them really is as knights. In the end, a super robot story is about a person in armour, just in a more technical one. Especially when it comes to Japanese media. Fantasy mechas tend to emphasize this, as with Escaflowne above, and this really applies to all guymelefs in the series. None of them are organic, but neither are they industrial. You could say that artisanal is in-between the two extremes.

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Nabbed this Scheherazade off from Pixiv. While not as ornate as Escaflowne, it is nonetheless an example of artisan craftsmanship in mecha, especially with its head. After all, knight armours, especially those of in high position, were designed to be visually striking, a tradition pretty much all mecha follow. An armoured knight has stuck to our global consciousness and many of these artisanal mechas derive their core designs from that idea

What then is the main difference between organic and artisanal in mecha? The main difference of course really is all about the nature of the beast. Iczer Robo and Iczer Sigma are grown in an artificial womb with mechanical built into them. They are, in essence, biomechanical from the get go and largely wear an armour, that may or may not be their outer skin. The jury’s out on the still. Artisanal on the other hand would be fully or at least mostly mechanical in its nature from the grounds up.

For Western mecha the artisanal approach rarely applies. They are made to be machines of war, and even when they are crafted carefully as unique pieces of craftsmanship, they tend to look militaristic and industrial as all hell. I remember someone telling me how Battletech’s mechs were unique pieces for each of the faction or family, which they keep in priced condition and such, much like Mortar Headds in Five Star Stories.

It is not the shape curve that determines what the style is. Industrial mechas can have bulbous, very round parts to the  and still be completely inudstrial. An organic on the other hand can have cutting straight lines to them just as well. It is the nature of the line and overall shape that ultimately determines the look. Think the difference between a bone claw and a metal claw. Artisanal claw would be somewhere between the two, and be more ornate.

Ornate is the keyword in all this. Mamoru Nagano’s design are perhaps most known for their elaborate designs and details.

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While LED Mirage could be thrown into industrial design if we were to use just two categories. However, it doesn’t fit there completely because of its multitude of angles and complex natural shapes thrown into the mix. LED Mirage has a lot of numerous smooth curves to it, accented with harsh and sharp angles in combination to flat and curved surfaces. All this combines a very unique look and style that can’t be copied very easily at all, unlike say a Gundam design that’s somewhat genius in its simplicity. LED Mirage’s artisanal side is especially evident on the close-ups, which reveal further detail that’s painted on the Mortar Headd.

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You can see above that the detail here is not present is not included in the above. Nagano went through many revisions, some of which surely are lost to time by now. You can read all that at Gears Online.

As mentioned, these three classifications I’ve proposed don’t exclude each other. Often you can find elements of at least two different styles in a design, like in how Metal Gear Ray combines organic and industrial design together very well, but is not artisanal. To contrast to that, all the rest of main canon Metal Gears are outright industrial in their looks. Evangelion units and Iczer Robos share the same base idea of organic beings wearing an armour, which doesn’t exactly strike industrial in looks at first, but they are supposed to be form-fitting after all. Industrial mechas sometimes include artisanal effects to them, but generally machines of war don’t tend to do that. The most ornate spot a Gundam has, for example, is its V-fin, and the most crafted V-fin out of them sits on none other than RX-121-3C Gundam TR-1 Hyzenthlay.

It's less elaborate in-magazine
It’s less elaborate in-magazine

In the end, I would recommend reading further on all three aforementioned styles outside the mecha genre and from actual design literature for a better view of this. There is a fourth wild-card classification that I would like to coin out there, but that’ll be another entry.

Mecha design; organic vs industrial

While organic vs industrial design is relatively dry-cut most of the time, I do feel that it’s a subject that needs to be touched upon to give further idea how to put some twists to whatever giant robot you are making.

Most Japanese mechas have a level of organic in them in form of general humanoid shape, but organic design is more about bio, about the smoother, naturalistic lines. This is of course contrasted with harsh corner and straight lines in the design that are almost innately machine-like, produced by human industrial forces instead of nature. Something like a tank or a car can be fully inorganic in design, but more often than not, elements from nature are applied to make it more pleasing to the eye.

There is a constant middle ground between the two, but it’s not exactly biomechanical. Gradual change between organic and mechanic design in giant robots has more to do with the base of general visual, while biomechanical is straight up combination of the two in harmony. There’s also techno-organic design, but that’s sort the same thing. It just has slightly stronger emphasize on the technological side rather than having the two governing together.

To use actual art an example of organic design, Art Nouveau is by its core is tied to naturalistic growth and style. It’s a direct contrast to the industrial style. For example, Gustav Gurschner’s Lampe Nautile, Vers 1899, exhibits the basic loose roles for organic style.

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The rules are not hard, and I’ve effectively already mentioned them; curved, flowing, natural. There are no real harsh corners anywhere on the lamp and no visible connection points. Instead of steel gray, earthly bronze was used combined with the pearly look of a shell. From visual side of thing, go check Alfons Mucha, my personal all-time favourite.

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That’s the stuff

To directly to Art Nouveau, Bauhaus’ had many core industrial designs that still affect how things are made, produced and designed. An industrial design is rather the opposite to organic, leaving less room for the organic growth and cutting the chase.

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This 1930’s Bauhaus desk lamp shows some of the core elements in the rules; unapologetic in simplicity, not hiding joints or the fact that the form follows function and not the other way around. Rather than an earthly bronze, steel shine is applied to the piece with a brass joint at the base with a white baccelite switch. Even the switch is emphasized with a slight raiser from the base.

The two lamps both would serve in their function as a light giver, but the other fits for more moodier lighting, while the other is more a tool for office use. This relative idea is apparent in mecha design as well.

Aura Battler Dunbines Aura Battlers most likely is the well-known organic mecha from the 1980’s, based on Yoshiyuki Tomino’s work and ideas.

dunbine[1]

Dunbine’s appearance is based on a humanoid insect. It has a largely curvy body with visible bone white claws. While its colouring isn’t anything out of the ordinary, considering the time, but one of the main points it has for it are the yellow insect wings it has on its back. All that gives is a distinct feeling from previous Tomino’s works, all of which largely used industrial cubic shapes.

Another 80’s mecha that is more or less organic in design is Iczer-Robo.

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Iczer-Robo is a relatively early example of a bionic being, composed of both mechanical and biological components. It’s outer appearance has flowing smooth lines, but do carry certain industrial vibes. It is between the two, but inside it is very much organic. We even see Iczer Sigma’s birth in the series in a giant tank without any of its armour, basically saying that Iczer-1’s robot are not as much build as they are grown. In many ways, Evangelion’s concept of having an organic being in an armour restraints controlled by a human inside a cockpit surrounded by a liquid is nothing new, as Iczer-Robo did it first.

To directly contrast Dunbine, let’s go with the King of GMs, Ideon.

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Ideon is such a strange design at first, especially when you consider it is formed of three separate units. At first, it’s not particularly pretty mecha to look at, but it grows on you. It’s follows the archetype of a blocky mecha as its body can be broken down to cubic geometrical shapes very easily. Drawing a very rough sketch with just boxes is very easy and good practice. It’s completely opposite to Dunbine’s shapes. Some years later, Makoto Kobayashi actually designed and built an organic Ideon model, and while that is more directly organic being, the contrast is striking.

Biomechanical

The contrast between the two is striking, but both are the same core design, just in different style. Not only did it lose pretty much all of its boxiness, but also lost mass here and there. Some elements were changed to fit primordial god theme slightly more, which is evident of its slightly grotesque appearance. Plain red was replaced with broken, earth red instead with the occasional blob of light grey and bright red at joints.

Maybe one of the most famous industrial looking robot in sub-culture is the one that was designed to look like an American car.

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Robocop‘s ED-209 is an exceptional example of industrial designed mecha. It’s form follows the function and nothing is really unnecessary. The joints look robust and strong, mechanical. It’s colour is largely that dull gray with a blue hue with black governing top of the main body, red are spared for wires and weapon bits. Steel grey is evident from bits that require to look like bare steel, and you have that yellow-black striping showing what parts to be wary of. It’s a hulking beast that doesn’t have softness to it despite having curves. They’re all cold and designed, rather than organically stemming from the body. It’s a terrific, iconic design.

Of course, there are a lot of things you can do between organic and mechanical design, not just in looks but how the mecha act and move. Zoids are largely designed to look like industrial machines, but their organic nature comes from them acting like animals instead of machines. Shield Liger for example moves like a real big cat and all the joints and the like are designed to accommodate this despite it’s overall industrial look. Just look this PV of MasterPiece-01 Shield Liger and how they made the model itself move.

I’m rather impressed on how they got the side parts to move like it was breathing or moving muscles around

As you can see, you can mix organic and mechanical together rather large degree for various kinds of effects. Just like with every other post in this mecha design series, the best way to look into this is to study actual existing examples. For organic, it’s the body structure and shapes of real life creatures that you could use to make a giant robot. For industrial design it’s much easier, as there are numerous books going over that topic.

Real world is a very good source for examples to learn from, instead of looking into existing mecha design. Modelling a mecha after something real and giving it a mechanical twist, but perhaps in an organic fashion, can lead to interesting and great designs. Or just nab a fighter jet plane and use its elements to make a whole tech three of giant robots.