Tuesday, July 3, 2018
All about Robby!
In 1971, the original 1956 Robby the Robot was sold by MGM to Jim Brucker. He was displayed at Bruckner's Movie World/Cars of the Stars Museum, where he was often vandalized by visitors. Fred Barton restored Robby a few years later using original duplicate replacement parts made for the film Forbidden Planet. The robot continued to be vandalized, however.
When the museum closed in 1980, and Robby, his Forbidden Planet vehicle, and the remaining original spare parts were sold to William Malone. Malone was able to restore the prop using many of the remaining additional spares.
Robby was sold by Bonham's Auctioneers on November 21, 2017 for $5,375,000. It was the most expensive hero film prop ever sold at auction.
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Robby's design was developed by production designer Arnold "Buddy" Gillespie, art director Arthur Lonergan, and writer Irving Block. Their concepts and sketches were refined by production illustrator Mentor Huebner and MGM staff production draughtsman and mechanical designer Robert Kinoshita.
Robby was built by MGM's prop department.
At $125,000 (equivalent to at least $1.1 million today), Robby was one of the most expensive single film props ever created up to that time. His cost represented nearly 7 percent of the film's total budget. His construction cost would be equalled only in 1968 by the construction of the 27-ton, 12 meter-in-diameter rotating set built for 2001: A Space Odyssey -- which cost proportionally the same.
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The Robby suit was constructed of metal, plastic, rubber, glass, and Plexiglas. Robby stands just over 7 feet tall. The suit is in three sections: Legs and lower torso, chest and arms section, and the head.
The plastic parts were created by vacuum-forming heated plastic over wooden molds. The parts were made from ABS plastic with the brand name "Royalite", a material mainly used at the time for making suitcases.
The plexiglass dome head covers a light at the very top; three white wire-frame spheres that rotate around a central wire-farm column (Robby's "gyroscopic stabilizers"), a pair of reciprocating arms in the shape of an inverted "V", multiple flashing lights, a horizontal array of moving levers (made from saxophone keys), two red globes, and four vertical and one horizontal glass pieces (similar to capacitors) on the end of thin tubes. Conical protuberances attached to each side of the head carry two small forward-facing blinking lights (his eyes) and two rotating chrome rings (one mounted vertically and the other horizontally) which represent Robby's audio detectors. The bottom front section of the head is a curved horizontal grille consisting of parallel rows of thin blue neon tubes, which light up in synchronization with Robby's voice. This neon grille also enabled the operator to both see out and to breathe. The joint between the head and chest section was fitted with a custom-made bearing that allowed the head to rotate 45 degrees in either direction.
Kinoshita had formerly designed washing machines, and Robby's torso is intended to look like a washing machine. The chest features a front panel fitted at the top with a rectangular flap. Beneath the flap are a horzontal row of flashing yellow lights, two rotating discs fitted with small flashing lights, and a row of five rectangular black buttons that move in and out.
Robby's arms were connected to the body with plastic ball-joints that fitted into matching sockets in the torso. This gave the arms a small amount of rotational movement. A concertina-type tubular rubber sheath covered the actor's arms, allowing them to be extended. Robby's three-fingered hands were also made of rubber, and finished with metallic paint.
The chest section attached to the leg section with special locking clips placed inside the suit. The bottom section of the suit hinged at the top of the legs, allowing Robby to both bend forward and swing each leg backward and forward -- enabling the actor to walk more realistically. Robby's legs were made from interlocking globes of vacuum-formed plastic which were connected by internal jointing that permitted the entire leg to bend slightly but concealed the movement of the hips and knees of the human operator inside.
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To access the suit, the three sections were dismantled and the operator climbed into the legs. The torso was then placed around him, the two sections were secured with internal clips, and the operator was strapped into an internal harness. Finally, the head was fitted, the internal electronics were connected to an external power source on the back using cables, and the suit was switched on.
The suit's design made it possible to film Robby from any angle and for him to move about and carry out the actions required without either betraying the obvious presence of the operator inside or revealing how they got in and out.
Robby was operated by stuntmen Frankie Darro and Frankie Carpenter, both actors of short stature. (Darro was 5'3").
The many moving parts in the headpiece made a considerable amount of noise when Robby was powered up. This required extensive dubbing in post-production.
During shooting, Robby's voice was performed off-camera by an uncredited actor. A microphone fed signals to a voice-actuated circuit, which in turn was connected to the Robby suit by a cable that entered Robby's foot and then ran up to the neon tubes in Robby's head. This device synchronized the flashing of the neon tubes to the dialogue.
Robby's voice was then dubbed in post-production by actor Marvin Miller.