Tag: Graduate Project

My Robot Friend – Film Festival Circuit

My Robot Friend – Film Festival Circuit

Film Festival Circuit.

My Robot Friend has finished its festival circuit and was an incredible experience. It went full circle getting shown in Spain, Italy, New York, and Bournemouth (its place of origin). I got lovely feedback from audience members and festival programmers and got to see first hand reactions when I attended its screening in Bournemouth.

The original intent for my graduate film was always to have it screened at various film festivals around the world. Since attending my first ever film festival back in 2015, I have dreamed of one day showing a film of my own at a festival and reliving that experience. This grad project gave me the opportunity to do just that, and focus a year of planning and filming to create a short worthy of presenting at festivals.

Part of the graduate project forces you to find a hypothetical client for your work – for students making content for TV it can be as simple as saying their client is BBC or ITV – but for me I had to focus my attention to specific film festivals that would suit my film. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of film festivals in the world ranging from generic screenings to niche genre festivals. As much as I wanted to submit to as many festivals as possible and see who would accept my film, I would have much better results tailoring my film to specific festivals, and finding festivals with connections to the themes already in my film. This would also prove that there would be an already established active client and audience for my film.

From this I decided to make a three-pronged approach to getting my film its festival circuit by dividing festivals into three tiers, with tier one being festivals renowned for their prestige, potential exposure, and track records. Tier one festivals considered are The Berlin Film Festival, London Film Festival, South By South West, and my personal goal of getting accepted into the 2018 Raindance Film Festival.
Tier two are local festivals on or near the south coast such as Bournemouth Film Festival, Southampton Film Festival, Solent Film Festival, Portsmouth Film Fest, and Brighton’s Cine City Festival.
The third tier to consider, are festivals which have connections to the themes I am raising awareness of in my film. Such festivals include Le Temps Presse which focuses on sustainability, the Illinois Sustainability Film Festival, the UK Green Film Festival, The ROS Film Festival which is devoted to Robots On Screen, and The LA Robot Film Festival.

After researching these festivals, and their respective programmers, correlations between film expectations began to show. In technicalities, festivals ask for films to be made from January 1st 2018, some festivals approve of screenings prior to their own whilst other festivals state that only theirs may be the premiere screening, and their attendance policy – and submissions in general – are marked with an eighteen certificate no matter what the content (limiting those who can see it legally). These rules are clearly listed on each festival page or Film Freeway (a submission platform used by many of the festivals).

I now had my clients, all I had to do was deliver my product – a six and a half minute family friendly adventure film which features robots and themes of sustainability.

FilmFreeway is the place short films and features are submitted to festivals. As a first time user, it was incredibly easy to navigate and shocking to see the never-ending list of film festivals on offer. Festivals from every country were open to submissions and it was easy to lose your head thinking you could submit your film to every festival imaginable. But again, I would have better odds submitting to specific festivals my film is tailored to than the generic ones.

The first step to submitting your film to any festival on FilmFreeway is creating an account and writing a short bio. Here you’ll have a chance to give yourself a label like “Director” or “Producer”. The profile you create is the face you will be using to sell your film to festivals.

Festivals may charge a submission fee and changes depending on how close the submission deadline is – Early Bird fees may be as little as £5 while Late Submissions may charge over £50 – but even paying a submission fee DOES NOT guarantee your film will be selected into the film festival.

After submitting your film to your chosen festivals, all you have to do is wait for them to reply if you’ve been successful or not; and there’s no consistency on notification dates as they can vary by months at a time.

But the feeling of being accepted into a festival is fantastic; it’s truly overwhelming that someone in another part of the world liked your film enough that it’s worthy of being shown to an audience with other films. It’s hard getting your film into festivals, I was rejected many times before I got my first selection, but just one selection was enough for me to feel really pleased with what I had produced and proud of all the hard work put into the project – and to come away with four festival selections, that’s just tops!

My Robot Friend – Painting the Robots

My Robot Friend – Painting the Robots

Painting the Robots

The robots were painted in bright colours to emphasise the toy-like nature of their designs and the happy mood this family-friendly short film promotes. Even though each robot was designed and built differently, they still needed to look different and distinct from one another in terms of their colour, use, and age.

As a family-friendly and child orientated film, basic primary and secondary colours were used to paint the robots such as red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and white.

Robot Claw Progression

Painting was a three step process as each piece needed to be primed with a base-coat of white emulsion, then painted their respective colour, and finally weathered to look real like metal and used.

White Undercoat Painting

Painting in itself took a couple of weeks to complete due to the amount of paint required to cover the total surface area of the robots and the inconsistency of the weather. Naturally, painting had to be done outside to keep the house clean and paint free, but also because like the solvent glue, this paint was an emulsion-based paint which meant it needed to be used in a well vented area. A respirator was worn at all times as a precaution.

White Undercoat Painting (2)

“Russian Red” paint was a lovely and vibrant red paint used for one of the robots and unlike the white emulsion, only needed one layer for it to give full coverage.

Once all robot parts had been painted their respective colour, stencils were made and applied to provide additional detail. These stencils were made from paper and masking tape and painted over with spray paint.

Paper stencils and masking tape applied to robot parts.

It is through painting the robots that I was able to include Easter Eggs into my film. The serial number on the military robot is my university i-number (i7627961) and the white robot showcases “B2”which is my production group I have remained in since second year. The stencil for the serial number was made from a magnetic scorecard given to me as a promotional item from Amazon’s Top Gear the Grand Tour.

Top Gear's The Grand Tour Number Magnet - with 762796 punched into the digits.

Finally, when all robots had their respective colours and their designs stencilled on, the final stage of painted could be completed – the weathering process.

All props, sets, and costumes in film go through a process of artificial weathering where artists will try replicating dirt, rust, and age through paint and other techniques. This is most notable in Star Wars where we are lead to believe it is a lived-in universe. If things aren’t weathered or given a hint of age, everything looks new and fake and thus removing from the believable fiction it resides.

It was a great technique to learn and experience but also a very upsetting one – for these robots have been beautifully painted and look incredibly smart, and now have to be ‘dirtied up” to make believable. It is hard to go wrong with this technique, as you’re trying to make it look believable on screen, so things may look too dirty in real life, but may not come across on screen. It’s a real balancing act to get the right proportion of dirt to where it would be most used if it were real on the robots and all to make look right on film.

The technique learnt is a combination of dry brushing and wet wiping. Dry brushing is where the minutest amount of metallic silver paint is applied to a very dry brush and vigorously bashed back and forth on any hard edge of the prop in question. This gives a scratched-away metal look.

Dry brushing technique and example.

Wet wiping is done after the dry brushing, and is a technique were you spritz water over the prop, put some black acrylic in the centre, and using a brush soaked in water spear the black acrylic all over. Then quickly wipe off the paint with a cloth and whatever remains on the prop gives a much dirtied look.

Dry brushed and wet wiped B2

B2 went from three layers of crystal clean white to dirty and almost grey after it was weathered using these techniques.

My Robot Friend – Building the Robots

My Robot Friend – Building the Robots

Building the Robots

The robots are made from EVA foam mats – similar to the ones found in a gym or children’s playpen. A suitable material had to be found for the construction of these robot suits – the original plan was to use cardboard and papier-mâché, however this was not a workable material as its flimsy construction lead to prominent creases and folds when worn or moved about. I had to consider how these suits wold be worn on set and transported to the filming locations, and cardboard was not strong enough to withstand the constant battering and reforming it would face during these days.

So a new material had to be found that was as easy to work with like cardboard, but strong enough to keep its structure when worn. When researching prop and costume building techniques, I discovered a material generally used on amateur or professional cosplay – EVA foam. Although this material is used for flooring gyms and soft play areas, it is a suitable material for making things with as it can be moulded with a heat gun, fused with solvent glue, and cut easily with box or craft knives. Therefore, if assembled correctly, this material is sturdy enough to be shaped and worn numerous times without taking damage. Additionally, for the amount of material you get, it is relatively cheap – this is because it is intended for flooring rooms so the more you purchase the cheaper it becomes.

EVA Foam Tile

EVA Foam tiles are 2ft by 2ft but must have their connecting jigsaw edges removed before use.

EVA Foam Template

Templates are used for specific or repeated shapes to aid in the final assembly.

Even though EVA foam is thought of as an ‘adult’ version of papier-mâché, this was still a new learning experience for me. Not only did I have to figure out how to correctly scale up drawings to human measurements and transfer them to the foam, but I had to understand how this material works. After each cut with a knife, the blade had to be sharpened as this material was so dense it would dull the edge with each incision. The fusing process took a long time to properly get right as a two part solvent had to be used to glue the parts together. At first, large quantities of the solvent were smothered on each piece and held together until the solvent latched to one another, but this proved ineffective as the solvent would be used too liberally causing me to run out quicker and the
fusing process not working as that was the wrong way to use it.

After this had been discovered, light coatings of the solvent were applied to each edge, allowed to set for five to ten minutes, and then pressed against each other to create the bonding process – they would fuse immediately when done like this and not come apart. These would then be left for a day for the curing process to complete.

EVO-Stick Solvent Cement

A two-part solvent is need to bond the foam pieces together. The bond is instant but takes at least a day to cure.


Safety had to be considered too when making these robots as the solvent used to fuse the EVA foam together was highly toxic and could only be used in well ventilated areas. As such, the windows would be open all day, and the gluing would only be scheduled for certain days to allow time for the curing process and fumigation of the room. Naturally, a respirator was worn at all times during the gluing process.
Starting in late October and finishing right before the shoot in April, these robots took months to build. But they were made with passion and due care and was a tremendous learning experience.

This was the first attempt at building the robot suits. Taking an image of a vintage toy robot and finding its simplest feature to scale up to my measurements was an interesting process, but the result turned out great.

Articulation is limited at the elbow but is more fluid at the shoulder. As the first full scale test, this build took over five hours from design to assembly.



New techniques in joining pieces together were discovered whilst building these robots. These shoulder pieces connected to the body from the side and needed extra reinforcement to make sure they would not fall off under its own weight, or be torn due to its location on the body – at the shoulder the arms would be moving constantly and could cause these piece to rip off entirely. Therefore, these pieces were cut with ‘jigsaw’ teeth that would slot into the body and be reinforced by their extra centimetre into the body – a joining method similar to comb joints or dovetails used in carpentry.

To give a sense of scale and how much material was used in the construction of these robots, on the left is a stack of ready-to-assemble pieces that would soon become thighs and shins, and on the right are the thighs mid-assembly.

Building these robots myself and not having the luxury to assembly or store these in a garage or shed meant that I had to live with these in my bedroom at all times. These robots would take up more space the further I progressed with them until eventually I was living with four fully assembled robots – these robots were all built slightly larger to my measurements so it was if I was living with four other people in my room.

If I wanted to work, all the robots had to go on the bed so the floor would be free for me to continue cutting or gluing, and if I wanted to sleep everything had to be moved to the floor.

Building these robots was a learning curve that I had to overcome and hurdles did present themselves. When starting out, I wasn’t careful and rushed the cutting process which caused me to slip with the knife and cut my fingers – losing a chunk of my nail. Thankfully the knife is sharpened after every incision to the foam so it was an incredibly clean cut to my fingers.

The message of this short film is to use what you have to make something great and that is even represented in the construction of these robots as certain designs or components were too difficult to make out of EVA foam so things had to be scavenged to work in the build.

For the child’s homemade robot, and the green military robot, their heads required a dome or half sphere. Unfortunately, the thickness of the EVA foam hinders the creation of spheres in general if one were to try and assemble one with segments. I had to be resourceful and find something that would be a suitable substitute so I ended up using lids from recycling bins.

After all the robot body parts had been cut and glued, it was time for assembly and test fitting. A fatal design floor in these robots however is that they were built to my measurements, so finding someone similar in size to me, willing to act in these suits, and be free on the shoot days was another challenge to overcome. However, Bradley Wyatt agreed to be the robot actor and was the perfect size for the suits.

Robot Test Fitting

It was wonderful seeing these robots fully assembled and finally come to life! There were still improvements needed though when testing these suits with Brad. Namely in what order the pieces would go on and how long it takes for the robot to go together. Additionally, as pieces were cut to my measurements, some were just a bit too small for Brad, so needed minor tweaking.

Robot Test Fitting

The shin pieces need to be completely recut to accommodate for Brad’s knees, and all shoulder or arm pieces needed small pieces to be cut out of them for his arm to go in easier.

After these adjustments were made, the next step would be to paint these robots.

Scrap robots which the protagonist scavenges from the bin also had to be made. As these were designed to look damaged and broken and never from close up, these were made out of cardboard and did not need to be precise in their construction – hence the greebling of yoghurt tubs and egg

Scrap Robots - Made From Cardboard

My Robot Friend – Designing the Robots

My Robot Friend – Designing the Robots

Designing the Robots

Robots were a large factor in the production of this film. They represent the excessive consumer choice in our society – there are so many robots to choose from, that once finished with one robot or it becomes ‘obsolete’ one can just discard it and move onto a newer model.
Our world is trapped in a throwaway mind-set with our technology of mobile phones, tablets, or computers, discarded without hesitation when the opportunity rises to get an update. Film allows the extraordinary to be brought to the ordinary; so robots are used to replace and represent our most advanced yet mundane ‘disposable’ technology – mobile devices.

Vintage Toy Robots

The robot designs are based off of vintage toy robots from the 1960’s to counter hyper-realistic designs in contemporary science-fiction. They have also been made to evoke nostalgia in viewers to when robots used to be colourful, playful, and happy.

Rough Sketches and Designs of Robots

Sketches were made to see which robots would be the best fit in the real world and the simplest to build. The sketches helped me discover limitations in time and construction as I was able to see how much material would be need to build them and how much or little detail each would have.