An earlier version of Pleo --

Photo courtesy Ugobe

The Pleo Prototype

It takes a lot to get from the idea of a dinosaur to a walking model, especially when the goal is for the model to be particularly lifelike. "The first idea ... was an idea on how we could create much more natural and character-based animation," Sosoka says. "We were working on developing a prototype to see if this idea would really be effective ... Over the course of a couple of months, [that] resulted in a little walker. We had a blue walker and red walker, and they were little, almost like stick-figure robots made out of normal hobby servos and things like that. But when you saw them move, it was very expressive." You can see one of these walkers in our Pleo video.

The next step was to take that basic idea of a walking robot and transform it into a walking dinosaur. Doing this involved a team of experts, and not just experts in robotics. "A lot of the things we need are very, very specialized," Sosoka says. "We have a kind of extended family of contractors ... we have to fly different people [in] from different places to do that." The team working on Pleo could change from day to day. "We have special AI talents and sensor talents and all kinds of things ... You don't know exactly which kind of people you are going to run into when you are out there."

A lot of these experts worked to make Pleo look and sound real. Sosoka explains:

Depending on when you show up at the lab, you might see a recoding session when we are doing voices for Pleo ... then we have our recording engineer that works with them ... then there are people like the sculptor who when we got the basic idea of [which] dinosaur ... Once we have the idea of what dinosaur we wanted to represent, we had a sculptor that works on all kinds of dinosaur sculptures at the La Brea tar pits and historical recreations ... he was looking for ways to make this more realistic.

The sculptor created the physical texture and shape of Pleo's thermoplastic skin. "He made all these little patterns to bring out the little bumps on the skin, he made all these different pattern pieces," Sosoka says. A different expert created the patterns of color on Pleo's body. "Another person we had is a special-effects paint wizard," Sosoka explains.

Pleo's lifelike qualities also come from the way he moves. We'll look at the inspiration for Pleo's behavior next.