Robot character design & TV VFX

James was asked by Platform Post and Retort to help out on a new childrens science based edu-comedy for CBBC and tasked with creating a CGI sidekick to one of the show’s main characters, Archie. The brief was to come up with a floating robot orb, called ‘Olivia’. Olivia would need to easily transform into other ‘devices’, such as a viewing screen to present the shows educational content, a stereo system, a scary monster, a ghost and many more.

James worked closely with the team on-set at Teddington Studios to come up with a functional design that would be realistic, appealing to children, transformable and most importantly – could express a great deal of character, emotion and be visibly seen to ‘communicate’. View the development of Olivia’s character below – with explanations of the important design considerations, together with a selection of some of the 140+ shots we created for the show.

Futuristic concept design and Visual Effects

After the design for Olivia was established, James began working on concepts for a teleportation device and futuristic environment for the shows first episode. This shot was important to establish the fact that Archie was a time-traveller from the future, and he was taking a journey back in time with Olivia to the present. After coming up with a concept that all of the crew loved, James set about putting together the CG elements and live action footage. The actor Sy Thomas, who played Archie, was filmed against a green screen so he could be composited into the pod for the teleportation sequence. Following this, over 140 shots of Olivia had to be set up, animated, lit and rendered, before being composited onto the live action plates.

Robot Character Design; 3D Modelling, 3D Animation, Lighting, Rendering, Post Production & Visual Effects: James Kearsley
Software Used: 3DS Max, After Effects, Photoshop.

Project Information

Concept Design, 3D Modelling, Animation & VFX: James Kearsley
Agency: Platform Post Production
Program Director: David Sant
Series Producer: John Pocock

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Concept Design, 3D Modelling, Rigging, 3D Animation, Tracking, Visual Effects, VFX, BBC, Stanley Brown, Robot, Robotics, Robot Character Design, Futuristic, Character, Orb, Floating, Teleportation

The evolution of Olivia’s robotic character design

Concept development from left to right, top to bottom

Design Consideration: Simple

With the basic shape required being that of a ball or orb, the challenge was to create a character that was never too dull, always had some sort of motion or action occurring. To this end, James designed Olivia to have rotating side panels and a screen to help communicate via a set of LED lights.


Design Consideration: Multiple Components

Olivia needed to be able to open up panels and produce various objects, aswell as completely transform into other objects. After many iterations of designs, it became clear that the best option was to split Olivia up into 3 sections, a main body ‘part’ and two disc ‘wings’, which could operate as doors, arms – or even speakers, a telephone or a laser gun!


Design Consideration: Communicative

With the absence of any physical limbs or a face to communicate, the design took into consideration a way to communicate basic emotions, such as happiness, anger or confusion. Simply by animating the way Olivia floated and rotated (head down & shaking = sad or disapproving!) combined with animating a set of LED symbols on her ‘face’, it became clear Olivia could be infused with character, despite her simple frame.


Design Consideration: Transformations

One of the main requirements was that Olivia could transform into various objects and devices – a stereo, scary monster and most importantly a viewing screen in order to display the shows animated educational content. It fast became clear that any ‘proper’ transformations involving solid, moving parts would be too difficult of a design decision. James decided that the best way to transition from one state to another was to use a process of spinning Olivia gradually faster whilst her ‘arms’ rotated around her and opened up in a set pattern of rotation. Combining a set of two different models – one of Olivia morphing in and the other the object to be morphed out, Olivia was able to be transformed into any object requiered, effectively and in a visaully pleasant way!