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Robot goes from Andrews workshop to star in summer blockbuster ‘Transformer’ movie
Lauren Winterfeld - Thursday, July 17, 2014 8:16 AM
A robot from Andrews is a movie star.
MiniMechadon, or MiniMech, as his creator Mike Smyth calls him, has a starring role in the major motion picture "Transformers: Age of Extinction."
The fourth installment of the Transformers series was released on June 27 and is now the highest-grossing movie ever to be released in China. At press time, the film had grossed $575 million worldwide.
It is the number one movie in America, and Smyth thinks, "It's kind of cool."
Smyth, an electrical engineer, built MiniMech 10 years ago in his workshop.
"It's pretty much all scratch built," he explains, "The intent ... was to simplify the mechanics ... and program it to learn to walk."
Which MiniMech now does, on the big screen.
When Smyth first learned about Transformers 4, he says, MiniMech had been "sitting for almost 10 years."
After building MiniMech and its brother-robots, Mechadon, a larger version of MiniMech, and Hexapod, a six-legged robot, Smyth says he created a website where he uploaded some photos and videos of the robots.
A set decorator working on the summer blockbuster was "just searching the Internet to see what kind of looked cool and was searching for robots. And so I just got an e-mail out of the blue," says Smyth.
"It said, ‘Hey... I saw your robots. I'd like to use them for our main character in a movie.' It was signed by a guy from Paramount Pictures, and I'm like, ‘Yeah, right.'
"It kind of sounded like some starving film student in California, so I ignored it because I was used to getting some weird e-mails.
"About a month later I get an e-mail from the same guy again that says ‘Hey, just wanted to make sure you saw our e-mail about being in our movie, Transformers 4.'
"Okay, now you have my attention," he says, laughing.
"I still kept kind of grilling him, like, ‘OK, really?'
"We finally got to the point where we started talking about non-disclosure agreements, so I'm like, ‘OK, this sounds right.'"
After a few more e-mails were tossed back and forth, Smyth sent some photos of his robots and his workshop. The set decorators took those photos straight to Michael Bay, the award-winning executive producer of the film.
"‘Well, he (Bay) wants that one (MiniMech) to walk on camera. We'll fly you down, too,'" says Smyth.
"I'm like, ‘OK!' So, that's kind of how it started."
That was April 2013. Two months later he was on set in Elgin, TX, ready to roll.
"To start with," says Smyth, "I walked on the set and there's a semi sitting there, and I'm like, ‘No....'"
That semi was Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots.
In non-Transformers speak, Optimus Prime is the robotic leader of "the good guys" and defends Earth from the villainous antagonists, the Decepticons.
Smyth says he first met the set designer who contacted him, who then said, "‘Did you see Optimus sitting over there?' And I'm like, "Yes! I know Optimus Prime!"
Smyth seems to have been more star-struck by the famous Autobot than he was by the actors on set, whom he worked with literally shoulder-to-shoulder.
MiniMech's appearance on screen takes place in the "first 10 minutes or so" of the film, says Smyth.
The robot walks across Mark Wahlberg's character's drafting table, and has a few close-ups.
"It's only a couple seconds each time, but it's kind of cool," Smyth says.
To set up the scene,
Smyth says he stood next to Wahlberg, and prepared MiniMech for action. The scene was recorded countless times.
"They were shooting it multiple times, different angles, close-ups and everything," explains Smyth.
He says he was most nervous about MiniMech not performing correctly.
"My biggest fear of the whole thing was that the robot would mess up, or break, or just not do at all what it needed to do, and mess up scenes and hold stuff up, and (then I'd) be at the wrath of Michael Bay."
MiniMech's performance went off without a hitch, save for a tumble brought on by Mark Wahlberg's elbow.
"He (Wahlberg) knew me, and he knew who I was ... he got close to it (MiniMech) a couple of times with his elbow.
"I just about said something, but he kind of slid over a little bit, so I didn't.
"So, he elbows it, and knocks it on the floor. He tried to catch it and almost got it, but it still hit the floor pretty good. He looked over and says, ‘Sorry dude!' so I said, ‘That's alright, thanks for trying to catch it.'
"So, everybody got quiet ... and I'm sure everybody's thinking ‘Oh my gosh, it's not going to work, what are we going to do now, because its already in the scene, and we've already spent two hours doing it.'
"So, I walk over and I look at it and it's not too bad, and I turn it back on and it starts walking again.
"So I'm like... ‘OK,'" he says with a sigh of relief.
Smyth says it was not long after that, when he had a moment to check on MiniMach and see what damage was really done.
"I'm itching to get back over to look at it," he explains, "So they start moving the cameras around ... so I'm going over to the bench to look at it, and all of a sudden I hear, ‘Make him go, it's movie time for this little guy!' and Michael Bay has a camera, himself, and he says, ‘Okay, make it go.'
"So he is down low, and doing all this ... and I'm almost positive - it had to have been - the scenes that made it into the movie are the ones that he (Bay) shot."
When Smyth left the set, he had no idea whether MiniMach would actually appear in the movie.
"The way they shoot it anything can get cut," he says. "And you read the stuff about Michael Bay and how he is constantly changing and moving fast, and it's all true from what I've seen. So I mean, he would go through and improvise. And you never know when he is going to change his mind, and this whole thing gets cut.
"So, I honestly didn't know."
But he was in line on opening day.
"I couldn't wait," he says.
"It was kind of a shock," Smyth says of seeing MiniMach's appearance in the film.
"I've only seen it twice so far, but I want to go see it in IMAX next.
"It was kind of a shock both times. When it just shows up, it's like, ‘Wow.'"
As the hit movie continues to be shown in theaters, more and more movie-goers will see MiniMach moonwalk across that drafting table, but the excitement doesn't end there for Smyth.
He says he is excited for the movie's release on DVD, because his robots Hexapod and Mechadon were also on-set and he says he wants to try to spot them in the background of the barn scenes.
"That's going to be a pause button thing," Smyth says.
"I also haven't seen whether or not my name is in the credits, yet."
Another task delegated to the pause button.
But, there's more. Smyth was also interviewed while on set for the "Making Of" portion of behind-the-scenes footage, which he says should be included on the DVD as well.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," says Smyth of his experience with the movie.
But now, he says, "I told them to keep me in mind for ‘Transformers 5,' and I'd build them something custom," he smiles.
To see all of Smyth's robots and electrical engineering work, visit the website that started it all at home.ctlnet.com/~robotguy67/Homepage.htm.
Complete caption: Mike Smyth, of Andrews, takes a breath on set of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” His handmade robot, MiniMech, stars in the summer blockbuster. The robots pictured on the drafting table are also his creations, and were featured in background shots in the film. They are Hexapod and Mechadon.