While Anthony Mackie and Paul Rudd proved to be a captivating force at the grand opening of the Avengers Campus, the real star of the show was actually a robot.
A host of high-profile figures were in attendance for the unveiling of the attraction at the Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday—which proved to be a delight for devoted fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But it was a Spider-Man “Stuntronics” robot—leaping high into the sky and over buildings in humanlike form before achieving the perfect landing—that truly impressed onlookers.
The new robot acrobat, which can perform such high-flying aerial stunts as single and double backflips in graceful—and, more importantly, safe—form could well be the future of action movies as they alleviate strain on human performers.
So how did the impressive new robots come to be? The robot started its life in more basic form, as a Z-shaped “Stickman,” as presented by a Disney research team back in 2018.
The Stickman is made up of three links, connected by hinges, and can fold and tuck or extend itself to 7ft long—emulating the dimensions of a human stunt performer with their arms outstretched.
Stickman, which boasts the ability to adjust its speed of flight, contains a series of sensors that aid in the robot’s decisions on what to do with its body.
A trio of laser rangefinders, which hit the ground at different times, measure the robot’s height in flight, while accelerometers and gyroscopes measure orientation.
The accumulated information helps the robot in knowing when to tuck and untuck as it plummets toward Earth, making consistently perfect landings.
Evolving into the humanlike incarnation seen today, the robot now has added features that allow it to control rotation, center of mass, and even its posture.
While the technology was developed for Disney-themed attractions, there has been much speculation that they could be drafted in to movie productions.
Stuntman Bobby Holland Hanton, who has worked with Chris Hemsworth over the past decade, has previously shared his belief that the employment of stunt robots on film sets could improve efficiency.
He told Insider in 2018: “While we are rehearsing our stunts for a movie, we build up each stunt in increments. We start slow and build it up until the final product—and it can take time.
“But the reason we do that and take the time is because it’s the safest way to do it. So we could potentially introduce a stunt robot to test the stunt for us to a point where we think, ‘OK, well let’s not keep beating up the human to get it right.
“‘Let’s maybe use the stunt robot for a section of it, and then when we feel it’s ready to plug the human in, we plug the human in.'”
Hanton said he welcomed the arrival of the technology on sets, explaining: “It would actually make me a lot happier if I could get a stunt robot to test up until a certain point of a stunt, and then I’ll just take the robot out.
“I’ll step in and do it maybe a couple of times, and we’re good to go. So, I mean, it sounds good to me.”
The stuntman—who has also worked with the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans, Jake Gyllenhaal and Christian Bale—also shared his belief that the technological advancements shouldn’t spell the end for human actors.
“Listen, when you’ve got an actor like Chris Hemsworth, I don’t think there’s any robot out there in the world that can be as good-looking as him,” Hanton said. “I think the actors are pretty safe.
“I certainly don’t think that it’s going to be a problem for stunt performers. I think you always need the human element of anything.
“And even when you work alongside the special effects teams they always need a human element, even if they’re going to CGI that later.
“There’s a place for everything. I think it could help both sides, special effects and us. It sounds like an amazing bit of technology that could come into the film industry and enhance it.”
The latest Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home, stars Tom Holland in the titular role and is scheduled to be released in December 2021.
Reprinted from Newsweek.