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BMZ Interview: Robots 3D Director Mike Slee


Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: June 9, 2015

BMZ chats with director Mike Slee on his latest film, ROBOTS 3D.


Category: Interviews

Robots is an exciting, engaging 3D film that tells the stories of cutting-edge science of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Emergence in a way that will inspire children to become scientists and engineers. Big Movie Zone talks with director Mike Slee on his latest film for the Giant Screen.

Hi Mike, thank you for chatting with us. You have a number of Giant Screen films under your belt. What is about this type of filmmaking that appeals to you, and keeps you coming back?

Yes I have just completed the giant screen spectacular "Wild Africa 3" for Reliance, IM Global and the BBC Earth Films and hope soon to be embarking on "Amazon Adventure 3D," the follow up to "Flight of the Butterflies 3D." I guess the reason I keep coming back to giant screen films is that I forget how painful the previous one was to make! I also love the format and relish trying to find ways to do things differently. How to tell stories in a new way for a contemporary audience on the giant screen is a big challenge. My passion is storytelling and when you get it right on the giant screen it is spectacular.

How did the idea for a film about humanoid robots originate?

Jini Durr from Days End Production had the original idea for "Robots 3D," she called me up and said she had a challenge for me -- a movie about robots, in 3D! ... I said "Cool, what's the challenge?" She said, "I want the movie to show how it's not easy being a humanoid, we have half the money you need and half the time and we want it funny and entertaining for all ages!." "Ah," I said ... "That's a challenge. Can I have the movie hosted by a robot?." Jini agreed and the rest is history.

As you explored the world of robots, were there aspects of this type of science that surprised you?

The biggest surprise for me is, I hope, also the biggest surprise for the audience from the movie. I could not believe how far we had come in trying to make machines that can do the things we do, but, and it's a big but, I was also surprised just how far the science and the technology still has to go. We humans are so amazing in just about everything and, in trying to understand us and the way we work and make machines that are like us, we are discovering that humans are even more extraordinary than you could imagine.

How did you approach the somewhat technical and complex concepts in order to simplify it for general audiences?

The complexity of the subject was the biggest challenge. Jini, Richard Panek -- the acclaimed science writer and I looked at every single aspect of every humanoid robot currently in development and production and, as you can imagine, we were overwhelmed. There are no Star Wars C-3P0's out there just yet, which I guess is disappointing, but in labs and universities all over the world they are working on a series of just as extraordinary robots. Piece by piece, bit by bit, skill by skill the scientists are making robots that, one day, will be like us. So after many months of tearing our hair out we simplified the story to focus on the key things that humans do that robots are trying replicate. Walk, run, see, hear, touch, feel, learn, problem solve and interact -- the science behind each of these amazing human skills needs to be understood before you can make a machine that can achieve them -- that's what's underway right now.

Though the film shows a lot of advancements in robotics, the field still seems to be in its infancy. Where do you see robotics headed? Where would you like to see it go?

The achievements in robotics are phenomenal, even before we finished the movie all the robots we had included were doing better than the day we had filmed them. Spending time with the scientists I was in awe of the brains and dedication and of the time, effort and money that is moving robotics in an exceptionally exciting direction. Firstly, I see the aim of robot scientists is to design machines to replace humans in the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that nobody wants to do, and secondly, the challenge is integrating humanoid robots into our lives for the good of society -- especially the elderly, the needy and the sick.

In the future, rather than robot soldiers -- which of course is where much of the technology is inevitably heading -- I would hope we will see robots as assistants, carers, teachers -- supporting humans as they advance on this planet and perhaps on others!

Did you have any favorite robots as you made this film?

Well apart from NASA's Valkyrie -- she is curvaceous, dressed in white leather and well worth the US government's spend! One robot we filmed was a 'learning' robot called iCub. The scientists said iCub was aged around 1 month old when we started filming, a year later they revealed it had developed the learning capacity of a three year old -- that's robotics growing up fast and is very exciting.

How did narrator, Simon Pegg, get involved?

Because the movie is hosted by a robot we needed a personality and character that could work both as a narrator and be believable as the voice of an on screen robot ... and be funny!! We had an exciting short list but in my mind only one actor was perfect and that was Simon Pegg. Thankfully he was keen on the idea of being the voice of a giant screen documentary. He was very familiar with the format because his daughter had taken him to see my last film,"Flight of the Butterflies 3D," four times when he was filming "Star Trek" in Vancouver, so he knew the potential of the giant screen. He also liked the challenge of playing a robot and that is where the fun began. He was excellent at capturing the quirky and unusual way of explaining the science, he created a robot host in a way only Simon Pegg could.

What do you hope audiences, and in particular students, learn from watching Robots?

I hope the audience goes through a similar rollercoaster of thinking that I did when making the film. First a revelation that the full on science fiction robots, that we know and love from fiction, are a long way away from becoming a reality but the research being done to get there is both phenomenal and inspirational. Making humanoid robots is allowing us to understand more about how humans work than we can ever have imagined. Second, science is creating humanoid robots that are mind blowing in their abilities and potential ... the limit of what robots can do with us and for us is the human imagination.

What's next for you in the museum theater space, or otherwise?

Next for me in the giant screen format, I hope, is a wildlife drama. The team that brought you Flight of the Butterflies is reuniting to make an epic: "Amazon Adventure 3D." It tells the captivating story of a young Victorian Englishman, studying the creatures of the rainforest and coming of age, during a decade of surviving in the remote Brazilian jungle. During his scientific odyssey he discovers crucial evidence that supports Darwin's 'new' and controversial theory of natural selection. The production is through SK films in Canada, developed with HHMI's Tanglebank Studios, the N.S.F. It's a co-production with Aventuras Productions in Brazil and my company Picture Projects in the UK.

I am thrilled to say I am also developing two other science movies and a history film, called "Ghosts of London 3D." The ghosts movie involves taking the very earliest amazing 3D images of London and weaving them into a spooky adventure. I was inspired by the classic giant screen film "Across the Sea of Time" and want to make a fun & popular version for the 21st Century. I also have 2 more natural history adventures in early development for the giant screen-- I am very excited -- see ... I have forgotten the pain already!!!

Thank you again for speaking with us, and congratulations with the film!

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