Weta Workshop Aids Robot Insurgency in David Karlak’s RISE

In the near future, sentient robots are targeted for elimination after they develop emotional symmetry to humans. A revolutionary war for their survival begins.

If you’ve ever wondered which side Weta Workshop would take in the inevitable robot revolution, the clue may lie in RISE: the terrific sci-fi short from Los Angeles director David Karlak. In the film, actors Rufus Sewell and Anton Yelchin face off, human versus robot; biological versus artificial intelligence. Both are a threat to the other’s existence. But if you thought you knew who you’d be rooting for, you might be surprised.

Three years in the making, RISE is, strictly speaking, what’s known as a Proof of Concept. It’s a glimpse at what a full-length feature film could look like. After selling the pitch to Warner Brothers in 2011, Karlak enlisted the help of nearly 100 artists from around the world to provide the short’s striking visuals.

And that’s when Weta Workshop joined the uprising. Project, I mean. Karlak was already a fan of Workshop Senior Concept Designer Greg Broadmore, having seen his work as lead concept designer on Neill Blomkamp’s critically-acclaimed District 9. Greg was in the very earliest stages of developing a Mixed Reality Game based in the world of Dr. Grordbort’s with Magic Leap, when David got in touch with an irresistible project.

“When David told me the story of RISE, I was on board with it right away. To me, it resonated with my love of films like The Animatrix – it plays on that idea of flipping the switch, of the robots not necessarily being the bad guys, as they so often are in fiction. What if we tell a story from their perspective? What if a robot uprising is actually our fault?”

-Greg Broadmore, Game Director – Magic Leap

Rounding out a group of five credited with concept design, including fellow Workshop Senior Concept Designer Christian Pearce, Greg generated a handful of android designs for RISE. Empathy with the film’s robot characters is crucial to Karlak’s story, so Greg gave the android a human likeness. In the final piece, that likeness is the face of Anton Yelchin, his body replaced with CG. It’s a seamless effect.

RISE is full of fantastic CG imagery like that, but one of the film’s most important elements was actually a physical prop: the mysterious “Pulse Box.” With a tight deadline looming, Greg swiftly rendered a design, then handed it over to Weta Workshop Props and Models Supervisor Alex Falkner to be built, as Greg says, “in equally sprinty fashion.” 3D modelled by Ed Denton, the box was milled out of a very dense Cibatool. To add the details, Alex laser cut Cibatool off Ed’s patterns and attached them with glue. Proving that you can make magic out of anything, even an ultra-powerful weapon that has the potential to, spoiler alert, destroy us all, Alex looked in unexpected places to complete the build.

“I actually just went to I.T and chopped up a bunch of computer parts, which you can see all over the box – the plugs and everything. Those are just commercially available computer parts which I then superglued onto the Cibatool.”

-Alex Falkner, Props & Models Supervisor – Weta Workshop

To finish, the prop was lit with LED lights by Pietro Marson and Rod Sheehy from Animatronics, before being handed over to Sourisak Chanpaseuth and Dordi Moen in the Paint Shop for its metallic sheen.

When you see the Pulse Box in the finished short, you’d never guess the thing was spliced together from elbow grease and a few well-chosen – and cleverly disguised – Workshop doodads. Like most film props, it’s not designed to be functional; which is just as well, really. As you’ll see in RISE, you probably want to keep the ‘Off’ switch on this one. Says Greg: “It was a really quick job, but it was an incredibly effective prop. You can see it in the film and it shows you what Weta can do in such a short time frame.”

Alex agrees. “It was a very, very quick build. Which is what we’re good at! It was cool fun.”

After Weta Workshop’s role in the film was done and dusted, a Kickstarter came in 2014. Not surprisingly, it was a wild success. Nearly $40,000 was donated from 544 backers, far exceeding David’s goal of $20,000. With the final cash raised, David was able to complete the film’s special effects and the result was shown to the world in March 2016.

“Working with Greg and Weta Workshop was an incredible experience. They really connected with the story and delivered two central design elements for RISE; the main humanoid robot character and the hero prop. Greg's unbelievable ability to deliver idea-driven designs and Weta Workshop's team of skilled artists brought a level of imagination and authenticity that a story like RISE demands.”

-David Karlak, Director – RISE

The concept of humans playing god is a well-established idea in sci-fi storytelling. You could say RISE owes as much to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as it does to Blade Runner and The Matrix. But Karlak’s film is not so much about artificial intelligence setting out to destroy the world; and, depending which side you’re on, it’s not about robots on a power trip, either. It’s about what happens when humanity mistreats its own creations.

"There’s a lot of fear out there for what A.I. will mean for us if it becomes too much like us. But ultimately I think the desire to make them is no different than the desire to have children. It’s that same impulse to basically create another version of us, right? So being afraid of them or wanting to destroy them, or, conversely, protect them, these are really powerful fictional ideas to play with."

-Greg Broadmore, Game Director – Magic Leap

So: amidst all these rumblings of a robot rebellion, what side of the fence does the Workshop sit on? Take a look at RISE and see what you think. Clocking in at a concise five minutes, it’d be silly not to. It’s a fantastic slice of sci-fi cinema: highly polished and incredibly thought-provoking. And if afterwards you suddenly feel compelled to treat Siri with a little more respect? That’s just a bonus.

Copyright 2017 Weta Workshop