Technology meets Biology for CBS Sci-Fi Series

CBS and Steven Spielberg premiered a new Science Fiction series, "Extant", in July, 2014. The show stars Halle Berry as Molly Woods, a mission-driven Astronaut, with her Scientist husband John Woods (Goran Viinjic), who explores new realms of Artificial Intelligence, Bionics, and Robotics, calling his creations "Humanichs". Woods has an assistant and colleague named Julie (played by Grace Gummer) who has created a new, prototype Humanich:
Lucy, who learns at an advanced rate, and is intriguingly unfinished.

Extant Producer Todd Coe hired Rick Lazzarini and his genius team of Artists and Technicians at The Character Shop to design and create "Lucy". The design went through many iterations, with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg weighing in with approvals. After an initial go-round, Spielberg requested that we up the ante, to give this almost-background item more movement, more function, a speaking role, and a move to the forefront. So that's what Rick and his crew did! Here's a near final test showing head, neck, and jaw movements...

Here are images of the initial animatronic Lucy head, which featured 3D printing and radio-controlled eye and blink movements (click to see a higher res version):

Inspired by Spielberg's directive to "go bigger", Lazzarini and his team went back to square one: Design. From a rough sketch provided by Extant's Production Designer Cabot McMullen:

Lazzarini engaged the services of Illustrators Austin Smith and Josh Crockett to give detail, clarification, and color to the rough sketch. Below, a sequence of images showing Crockett's progress, using Zbrush and refelecting many emails, chats, and IM's with Lazzarini to ensure the details were correct for presentation:

Once approved by Spielberg, Lazzarini, his Animatronics Technician Lars Jangaard, and his Art Department (Stephen Blandino, Chase Birdsong, Natalie Knudsen) began the actual construction of the final animatronic head. To achieve the "organic metal mesh" look, a skull shapes was vacuformed, and then rigid dental acrylic applied, by hand, then dremeled, cleaned, sanded, until the rounded, protective cage was completed. Meanwhile, pieces were turned on the lathe for the cosmetic pieces, out of black delrin and aluminum. Head swivel, up/down, tilt, and jaw mechanisms were created, to be operated by remote control. Intricate internal wiring was built up, wire by wire, and a glowing "chip brain" and other interior lighting was incorporated. A serene child's face was sculpted, molded, and cast in silicone, then applied to the head.

The result is an intriguing, eye-catching, original take on what we can expect from androids and AIs in the near future. We'd love to create an army of them!

Whether you're a Producer, Art Director, Prop Master, or Production Designer, you can have incredible animatronic creations for your Production. Need incredible imagination and technological wizardry for your Film, Television Show, or Live Event? Contact The Character Shop at 805-306-9441 or lazzwaldo at!


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