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.

Continue reading “Mecha design; From cube to humanoid”

Three approaches to transforming mecha designs

Unfolding, folding, opening, twisting, turning, exposing areas and revealing hidden parts is basically what mecha transformation is all about. There is no one way to do it, and the sheer amount of examples there exists eclipses the scope I’m willing to work for free. To tackle transformation schemes in general requires part problem solving and part puzzle making in a nice balance, where a irregular shapes can be turned into e.g. a humanoid and vice versa. By first introducing this sort of base idea of categorizing transforming mechas into will give some foresight how I’ll tackle the subject down the line.

Much like Three approaches in mecha design (which will be rewritten at some point this year,) I tend to employ a similar template for transforming mechas specifically. These three are not necessarily connected to the three initial approaches as some sort of rule, but they do work under them if you’d wish to make a transforming mecha. These might help you to lock down your approach better. This post can barely scratch the surface of it all with the given limit I’ve set to myself.

The three approaches in transforming mecha design are Fantastic, Toyetic and Realistic. As with previous, there are overlapping elements with each of the three and can be even split into sub-categories if necessary. Examples of Fantastic transforming robots are all the outright impossible ones in any form outside animation and movies. Getter Robo and Gurren Lagann are probably the best examples, where thing just fall into their place and morph into new shapes. Mass shifting is nothing short of expected and even mandatory.

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Music of the month; Lilia ~Winter Version~

Let’s dedicate this post to the changes that I need to make things viable again and what that means for my own time use and this blog. First, I won’t be dropping the two posts per week pace, that’s something I won’t back out on, unless something significant keeps me from doing it. The reason for this is that realistically I can’t make a living in my current profession. Craftsmen are not valued to any significant extent and their craft or skills are face the same end. The same tends to go towards designers across the board, and if you can’t make the right connections, there’s not much you can do. As such, I’ve taken a drastic decision to re-educate myself for a profession where I can utilise my previous experiences. To what exactly is something I will leave for the time being.

This means I don’t have much time in my hands. The aim is to go through three to four years of studies in one. That is stupidly fast pace, which requests me to concentrate my efforts and resources elsewhere. However, the nature of this blog won’t change too much if any because of this. Rather, I expect it to add further depth as I get more familiar with certain aspects of… well, that’s the open bit for you.

This is also the reason why there has been no new podcast for some time now. Not only the translator staff is busy at their own with both Muv-Luv related matters but also with their personal stuff. Juggling the schedules together has become exponentially more difficult, and sudden changes in what happens and when will become a daily thing to yours truly, at least. ARG is not killed, it’s just biding its time. The same thing really applies to the idea of my voice blogs, as I noticed that producing those in the way I’d like them to takes about four times longer than just writing. Maybe I should just do a stream of thought without a script, but how that would come together nobody knows.

Winter’s arrived here, meaning that while snow is still a scarce, cold weather has arrived and things slow down to take things with certain sure and safe pace. It also means Schwarzesmarken‘s second VN has been released, which means I can read both VNs in one go and watch the animated series. I’ve pushed the whole review thing back for almost a year now because I want to have a proper perspective on both of them without being influenced by hype or other views. Needless to say, both the VN and animation needs to stand on their own two feet, and comparisons between the two can be made. However, it should be noted that the two were made based on the Light Novels, which essentially served as a base script more than anything else. The animation changes things around to fit in the allotted time, while the VN has a lot more time and space just to dwell into things. That’s just the nature of the mediums.

There was no Monthly Three last month  as those take a lot of reading and planning. It may not seem like that, but they really take their sweet time to come together, and I usually plan all three parts in one go. Exceptions happen, of course. The same applies to the whole mecha design things. I do intend to write a TSF comparison this month, which will also serve as the month’s mecha design post. I haven’t decided which one, I need to check what images I have in stash and what I can get. However, for the time being, I do not intend to force myself to do a Monthly Three, unless a subject pops up towards me. Of course, I could use that for the mecha design stuff. Speaking of mecha posts, the post Three Different Approaches in mecha design will get a complete rewrite at some point in the future, and the old one will be replaced with that. However, I will archive that older version for future.

I will most likely insert few personal posts about games on smart phones. This is because my old Nokia finally went bust and I had to purchase a new one. This post, or posts if I end up making multiple, will be observations about mobile gaming in contrast to e.g. handheld console gaming.

I admit that lately this blog has not been up to the standard I’d like to think it has stayed at for a long time now. A lot of news and events that I wanted to write about have come and gone, but my time and simple stamina have been used to a more pressing matters. As said, if I were paid to write, I’d take this more seriously. This is more or less a hobby. Sometimes it stresses, sometimes it feel almost cathartic.

For now, I’ll have to leave you with this, despite it leaving me with a lacklustre feeling. I need to fix my tyres, somebody had slashed them the other night along with seven other’s.

Mecha design; manipulators

Consider your hand. You control all those 27 bones through muscles and tendons. The nerves give you feedback and send your commands down the like, commands that you are not even conscious of. Twist your hand, and you see it twisting. The large muscles come through the skin, but all the fine motion is lost unless we specifically look for it. It can grab and hold things in a wide variety of positions and ways, some that we don’t even know before someone else teaches that. These hands can build and destroy in equal amounts, they are our the tools of our creations.

Transferring that to a giant robot is a bit of a hassle.

Much like with a lot of other direct transfer elements with human body and giant robots, adapting hands 1:1 is an easy concept for sure. The idea of similar multi-use manipulator is attractive from the get go, but depending on the setting, human-like hands might not be the best option. A human-like hand requires far more parts, development, maintenance and simple tech than a say a pincer or more simple manipulator. Of course, the main argument for having a hand for a giant robot is its versatility, especially when it comes to weapons. However, that’s something that could be easily done with hardpoints where weapon is being mounted. We should also question how versatile does the hand of a giant mecha be, especially for a war machine.

Broadly speaking, all human-like hands with mecha follow the same basic idea, there isn’t much deviation. It’s either smooth or cubic. Using this example from a VF-19 serves as a good showcase.

VF-19 hand

While it looks complex, it’s more about the layered elements that make it look complex. Inner functions are of course barely thought, they’re not important. The fact that it looks like it could work and has plausible design elements, like the knuckle guard and fingers’ segments layer on top of each other when bent, is more than enough. Studio Nue has always preferred rounder elements to their design (sometimes dubbed as Bubble hands), especially with their older works. In Gundam, Sunrise and Bandai have preferred using more cubic hands, although exceptions are aplenty.

Gundam MS fed manipulator

The above generic Mobile Suit manipulator was designed for the models, but seeing how Bandai and Sunrise design their mechas models in mind nowadays, it’s a good example of a hand that’s more or less designed for wielding a gun and a beam sabre. It’s a bit more straightforward than VF-19’s, less well-rounded. The question of course is, if this hand is largely made for weapon carrying, why isn’t it designed as such?

The answer is, of course, because of Rule of Cool. When mechas are designed as characters, they’ve almost always given large amount of human characteristics in order to showcase dramatic events. Hands are no different in this. Beam sabre battles would be less dramatic and interesting if the manipulator would be specifically designed holder than a hand.

Controlling a hand like this has basically three options, direct 1:1 input, control macros or brain wave input. Variations and combinations do apply. While a “glove controller” would be idea, that’s pretty much what you do then with that arm. It’ dedicated for that arm, and the rest of the controls are either automatic or left other arm or legs. We discussed control macros previously, and this is most likely the best option overall, if brain wave scanning tech is not available in your setting.

Designing mecha’s hand really isn’t anything hard; just look at your own and mechanise it. Give it details for something to grab attention and some panels for easy access.

Giant robots don’t really have a need for similar level of sophistication when it comes to their hands, a simple grasping arm should be enough with some level of modification to suit the needed purpose. Hardpoints add a lot of versatility as well.

These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too
These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too

Of course, fiction doesn’t need to play by the rules of reality all that much, and if technology is advanced enough in a fiction to produce these things, why not? They could of course build better and simpler manipulators, but sometimes you do seek more complex solution for the sake of all the options it could give you. A gripping manipulator above doesn’t really offer many ways to grasp a thing.

Some franchises mix human-like hands with specifically designed manipulators, Muv-Luv popping to my mind foremost.

To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped
To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped. It’s a pretty good example of a very specific manipulator arm that works in junction of the main hand, something that I personally would like to see done more

Another one would Mobile Suit Z Gundam‘s The O with its assisting manipulators underneath its skirt. These manipulators question why would The O even need human-like hands, when the three-prong manipulator does everything they do. The answer to this is, of course, because the human design does not use that sort of hand. In a way, mecha in general should always be contrasted to armoured knights of legends, but that’s another topic.

Hands are ultimately something that Japanese inspired mecha design does. For giant robots, America has always preferred more built-in options. MegaBot’s Mark II is a good example of this.

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American vision usually attached the weaponry onto a pre-fixed arm that may have some freedom of motion to it, but is always more dependent on the movements of the main body. Compare this to Suidobashi Heavy Industry’s Kuratas and the difference in approach is notable.

The idea of having this built-in approach and lack of manipulators is just as valid.  While it lessens on-the-fly options and puts some limitations, it eliminates loads of moving parts that would require maintenance. The most prominent film example of this sort of thing would be our good old friend, ED-209.

I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.
I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.

Unlike with mechas with arms and manipulators, you can see ED-209 guns are its arms with no manipulators, as it needs none. It’s a robust little connector that looks sturdy and serves only to take the beating from the cannon’s recoil and swivel enough to shoot whoever full of holes.

Keep an eye to hands you see in mecha films and shows. Take notice how they are portrayed and how they function. Rarely you will see them doing things outside the capabilities of human hands, and showcasing how they are actually controlled is even rarer. Sometimes they take advantage of what a machine hand can do, like how Gundam washes clothes by rotating its wrist 360-degrees in repetition.

Washing machine Gundam

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.

alphonse_mucha_dance
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.

71UZaAPk8uL._SL1000_

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.

Your giant robot’s controls

For the sake of simplicity, mecha controls can be divided into three category; control jokes, direct trace input and mental control. Often these are mixed and matched with each other to produce a more sensible and maybe even a more plausible way of controlling your giant robot, but in the end all of them are just as bullshit. The level of sophistication that’s gone in the design can always be appreciated, but in the end there’s nothing much else to it.

Joysticks or similar handles are likely the most common form of controls. You can find these from pretty much any Gundam outside G Gundam, in Muv-Luv’s TSFs, Macross and so on. These controls rely on the basic idea of any control jokes, and I’m sure most people have played some sort of flight simulator with a joystick to understand the basic functions. If not, get yourself two joystics, one for each hand, and boot up Descent in dual-stick control mode. That, or pick up Twin-Sticks for Virtual-On for some TSF gameplay.

Continue reading “Your giant robot’s controls”

Plane Elements in Tactical Surface Attackers; A-10 Thunderbolt II

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known by its nickname Warthog, is an iconic piece of aviation. It entered service in 1976, it is still the US Air Force’s primary low-altitude close air support aircraft. It was designed to counter enemy (i.e. Soviet) armoured units and artillery, nothing less and nothing more. Its core design was to allow it to fly low, take hits and litter the battlefield with bullets. Its high-lift wings have large control surfaces, making the A-10 very manoeuvrable during its flight. It also helps the A-10 has a short take-off and landing allows it to function near the frontlines in rougher environment. These wings also cover the craft’s engines from down below, adding an extra layer of protection. Its ease of control allows pilots to do night missions with just a pair of night-vision goggles.

These engines are General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofans with 4 115kg of thrust. Turbofans were selected over conventional jet engines due to the fact that they gives off less heat, thus making them less vulnerable to heat-seeking weaponry. Their high position gives them an extra layer of protection from ground fire.

In addition, the A-10 was designed to be largely symmetrical. Many of the parts are interchangeable between sides, including the engines and main landing gear, making it easy to be operated from austere bases with limited facilities.

A-10’s primary weapon is the GAU-8 Avenger, a 30mm gatling gun that takes most of its internal space. Somebody once told me they designed a cannon awesome and big enough that they needed to bolt an aircraft around it. It is the largest cannon ever fitted to an aircraft, and uses both depleted uranium armour-piercing and high explosive incendiary rounds, firing either one 35 rounds per second. In addition, the A-10 can carry a large range of general bombs, cluster bombs, rockets and missiles, including the Maverick anti-armour and Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles. It can carry up to respectable 7 264kg of additional weapons weight.

 

This BRRRRRRRRRRRT is a well spread meme

Essentially, the Thunderbolt II flies in, shoots the ever-living shit out of everything, makes the battlefield radioactive with depleted uranium and leaves metal wreckage in its wake, possibly with a distinct smell of napalm.

A-10 Thunderbolt II saw numerous little upgrades to it over the years, like the Pave Penny laser receiver pod in 1978, inertial navigation system in 1980 and the like. GPS systems were installed in 1999, and in 2005 the A-10 fleet began to receive the Precision Engagement upgrades to improve it to the new electronic warfare. This included better fire controlling system, electronic countermeasures, digital stores management, LITENING, Sniper advanced targeting pod integration SADL, VMF, GPS-guided weapons and upgraded to DC power among other upgrades. Now, the A-10 fleet carriers the A-10C designation.

The main difference between a Tactical Surface Fighter and Attacker is their role. Whereas TSFs are all about mobility and Hive infiltration, the TSAs are all about ranged combat with overwhelming fire power. They are, without a doubt, the shield to TSFs’ sword. The A-6 Intruder proved itself in beach landing operations, but due to the lack of Jump Units their role would always be limited. The answer to this was the A-10 Thunderbolt II, designed to litter the field with bullets like its real world counterpart.

The A-10 is essentially designed on F-4’s frame, and it shares its problems with increased bulk and weight. The A-10 balances these out adding even more armour (some optional!), superior Jump Units and sheer amount of fire power it carries. On its shoulders the A-10 carries two GAU-8 Avenger gatling guns in addition whatever weapon they can carry in their arms, like the WS-16 Assault Gun. It doesn’t have any Mount Pylons, but it needs none. In addition, the A-10 has Javelin CIDS Mk. 1 system installed all over its body. These are essentially explosive spikes that can be shot out in an explosive manner to get Tank-Class BETA off its surface.

 

The additional armour makes it look like it's hiding from its sempai. Just add blushing lines in there
The additional armour makes it look like it’s hiding from its sempai. Just add blushing lines in there

The role A-10 serves on the field is simple; massive crowd control. Its main role is to keep the smaller BETA strain under control, mainly the Tank-Class, while the TSFs can concentrate on the larger strains. The two comp each other, as A-10 is not terribly good against the larger strains due to its lack of mobility and melee weapons. Their main moment of glory was in late 1983, when Attack Squadron Pit Masters defended Hamburg from BETA invasion. Despite 50% losses, the invasion was halted, and the German civilians gave the craft an affectionate nickname Kanonenvogel after the Ju-87 Bomber.

Much like the real world version, the TSA A-10 gained some upgrades throughout the tears, mainly upgraded to use Operation by Light controls, newer and lighter armour plating as well as access to the Mk.57 Squad Support Gun and AMWS-21 Assault Gun. Much like with the real life version, the TSA has overall better performance after the upgrades.

A-10
The only officially coloured lineart of A-10 can be found in Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse World Guidance’s upgraded tech tree in a very miniscule size. There’s a fan render out there that’s using wrong colours too. Technically, the one used here is a A-10C, but the two share the same lineart

This TSA has the least of lines out of any piece I’ve done thus far. The main reason for this is the same as with MiG-21; it adheres to the in-universe logic that F-4 was the starting point and directly ascending it or using its frame use its main form. The TSA A-10 follows more the idea of field littering support unit than the form of the craft. This is applied to the armouring as well. Even the Jump Units are unique in that they replicate only the latter part of the craft and one of the sides.

There is very little A-10 in A-10 in terms of clear visual cues. The additional armour gives it more curved surface resembling the aircraft, but outside that it’s very stripped down. I would have preferred to see a more direct adoption of sleek curves from the plane itself instead of opting to follow the F-4 TSFs. At least the legs could’ve used some elements from the landing gears.