September 27, 2013

Robots and Projection Mapping: Bot & Dolly's Incredible Short Film 'Box'

Bot and Dolly_The BoxEvery now and again you'll see something that makes you stop and stare -- eyes wide and mouth agape. Something that uses the film medium in a whole new way. This is one of those things. Bot & Dolly, a design and engineering studio based out of San Francisco surely combine automation, robotics, and filmmaking in a beautiful and awe-inspiring way. They recently shared their short film entitled Box that uses the live projection mapping of 3D computer graphics on two 2D screens attached to robotic arms to create stunning 3D effects -- and everything on-screen is captured in-camera. If that description doesn't do it for you, and it most certainly won't (or shouldn't,) check out the video after the jump.

The technique Bot & Dolly uses to create this video is almost as cool as the video itself. According to an article by The Creators Project, Bot & Dolly uses their "state of the art robotic camera systems 'Iris' and 'Scout', which allows for millimeter precision of the robot arms." The software to interface these robotic arms, typically used for car manufacturing, was developed by Bot & Dolly in the 3D animation software Maya.

Projection mapping is used mostly in advertising, concerts, art installments, and even by DJs to accompany their music, but this video shows that there is definitely a place for it in filmmaking -- especially for those who want the bragging rights of capturing it all in-camera.

And that happens to be of the things I appreciate personally about Box, that it's reminiscent of the first films that used optical illusions for filmmaking -- it's Georges Méliès for the digital generation. Sure, you can create just about anything in post -- entire worlds, creatures, and landscapes that could never be captured in the real world, but there's something about capturing an image organically that warms a cynical old heart.

One of the most impressive and exciting things about Box is that the actor in the video is interacting with an ever-changing and ever-moving environment, or in other words, an evolving set. The precision that this would've had to take is incredible -- to combine the real world with an illusory world with enough finesse that the two mold into one.

The Creators Project says that a behind the scenes video will be available soon, so definitely keep your ear to the ground.

What do you think of Bot & Dolly's Box? How likely are you to use projection mapping on one of your projects?


Your Comment


They're using laser, right? Like in the old Pink Floyd-themed shows at the Griffith Observatory?

September 28, 2013 at 12:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Clever use of precise computer accuracy. Truly amazing programming and technology.

September 28, 2013 at 2:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Christian Anderson

Is this the trailer for Portal? ;)

September 28, 2013 at 2:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Bot N Dolly plugs directly into autodesk maya, so instead of hacking away at coding points all night an animator can move these robots the same way they move any cg rig. It is very easy and integrates with CG natively because it is CG output to the real world. That is the beauty of this system. I have a friend who does motion control using old school methods and setting up a shot can take a whole day just to program.

Lighting and camera work for almost the whole film GRAVITY was done with these bot'n dolly rigs to put them through their paces. So instead of flipping Sandra Bullock to get lighting changes, the robots rotate the light and camera around them. While this camera projection is cool it is just the beginning. These robotic systems are going to completely revolutionize cinematography. Imagine being able to click on the most complicated camera moves that have ever been done with one preset and cycle through them without changing gear, or the camera ever making a mistake.

And the system is not limited to these type of robots. Bot N'Dolly is just an interface that can control robots in a very easy fashion. They also have quad copter bots in development that will have the same type of precision. And with brushless gimbals now becoming an every day term for film crews, imagine how light robots of the next few years will be.

September 28, 2013 at 3:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


For Gravity, only the faces inside the helmets were those of actors, correct? Everything else was CGI, which allowed the impression of a weightless space without dangling the stars on a string in front of a green screen?

September 28, 2013 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I believe that is true as long as the actors stay in their space suits. I think the actors still did all the actions as reference for the animators, but I am not positive. You are right, It is mostly a cg movie.

September 29, 2013 at 4:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Holodeck anyone?

September 28, 2013 at 11:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I wonder if they used point grey cameras for motion tracking like in Nosaj thing's music video.

http://www .

September 28, 2013 at 9:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


This is very cool I like it. Not sure what else to say about it except how much.

October 3, 2013 at 10:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM