Mecha design: Animal transformation

While majority of the transforming  mecha are of vehicles, Beast Wars engineered biological transformations as we understand it nowadays. We did have transforming robots that had animal like modes, but these were always more or less mechanical in nature. Be it Transformers‘ Dinobots or Tobikage‘s Ninja Robots, organic transforming mecha were a rarity. Beast Wars didn’t just push toy engineering, design and manufacturing further, but also had a television show that is of high quality. It’s 3D CG looks outdated by modern standards, but we can’t blame the staff for not using technology from the future.

Organic transformations use the same idea as before; break down the individual components and reform those into new form. However, we can have two approaches to this, depending on what is our alternative, or Beast Mode. Well, Beast Form is more likely what Hasbro could use nowadays due to Marshawn Lynch trademarked Beast Mode for his clothing line.

The first approach is to have no excessive parts, no unnecessary shifting. To stay true to the idea that we are talking about a mecha that is so organically intertwined with its beast form that the transformation scheme flows from one to another. This approach can simplify the transformation quite a lot. To the point in which an animal pretty much stands up. Let’s use Boxtron’s brother, Anitron, as an example.

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Animatron? You couldn’t come up with a better name?

I’ve broken down a generic four-legged animal into more geometrical elements. Breaking organics into chunks of irregular geometric shapes works better than oversimplifying them. This is assuming we want to keep some of natural shapes around, rather than mechanise the beast form completely.  To keep with the first approach, the easiest way we can have the first step in a humanoid mode is to make Animatron stand.

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Are you serious?

Four-legged animals are a very easy example due to them having somewhat remotely similar body structure to humanoids. It just needs some tweaking. Let’s throw the animal head back, push the front leg’s paw’s back while flipping hands out from the forearms and turn that tail into a gun.

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There are multiple ways to handle the animal head. Here we see an example where it’s essentially a hanging kibble on the back. While it’s dirt cheap method, it has its use when handled properly. More often than not, the head of the animal is pushed to the front so that the face is on the chest. This gives the mecha a crest and a thematic approach. Take a look at Cheetor’s toy control art to see how they’ve flipped the head forwards.

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Cheetor’s transformation is not the same as Animatron’s (there is more twisting of limbs and whatnot), but the point still stands. With a shorter neck, the head dangles on the chest. There is also an option to leave the animal head as-is and use that as the mecha’s humanoid mode head as well. You can also do what Voltron did and have the face be hidden inside the animal’s mouth, leaving the top of the animal head a helmet.

This approach is very straightforward and can be adapted to pretty much any animal shape, except to those that do not necessarily lend themselves for the humanoid two-arms two-legs form. In cases like this we need to start looking how to either break down elements in order to force them a new shape, or how we could create the animal form to function as a shell. Shellformers are a thing, and here’s the worst (best?) example; Break.

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Cliffbee‘s review says it all, really.

You could really just pull all the penguin parts and have a robot with no forearms. The design’s not something that would win prizes, but not all designs are required to be of top percentage.

But let’s combine the shellforming and “standing-up” transformation for the second approach, where we have to tweak some things in order to work. A T-Rex is always a popular theme for robots, so let’s use that. An intentionally bad example, so I can touch upon this sort of volume-centric scheme later on.

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Let’s try to have a smoother T-Rex than breaking it down to geometrical elements

A dinosaur like this poses two problems compared to the four-legged animal above; the forearms are short and can’t make humanoid arms, and tail is far too long to be integrated easily without adding too much bulk. In order to achieve a similar transformation, we need to add few more steps into the mix.

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Animatron is pleased, yes

In order to house human proportion arms, we can stash them inside the torso underneath the robot mode head. We turn the torso’s sides into shoulder armours and have the arms lower from there. Then we can have the neck take over now empty section of the torso all the while pushing the head down to become the chest. Straighten the legs and turn the tail into a turret attached to the pelvis, and shorten it by splitting it open and covering top and bottom.

There would have been multiple ways of achieving a transformation. We could’ve have gone the opposite direction and split the head and neck open to form legs, legs becoming hulking arms and tail becoming the weapon again. This approach, where elements are derived from the volume.

Volume-centric transformation schemes work best when you have enough volume to work with, where you can turn things inside out to reveal something that the mecha was hiding underneath. This isn’t transforming one shape into another anymore, like we did with Boxtron’s example. Here we are revealing completely new elements from within the mecha itself that have no relation to the beast form with the arms. I could’ve done this a lot more, like have the legs transform into more mechanised ones instead of keeping the T-Rex legs as-is. The tail-gun, which looks absolutely retarded above, is another far simpler example.

The two approaches are almost inseparable to some extent. More often than not, you need to use both volume centric and shape transforming approaches when it comes to organic objects due to the nature of the beast. In a way, an animal may force a smoother and flowing idea of a transformation compared to a machine, where industrial efficiency in shape and function reign.

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.

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