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'Robot Combat League': Bot designer talks Syfy’s new 'Real Steel'-eqsue reality competition show

Robot boxing isn’t just for your little Rock’em Sock’em game anymore. In the new Syfy series Robot Combat League, metal giants dole out powerful punches on other robots. Much like in the Hugh Jackman-starring Real Steel, competitors shadowbox in an exo-suit that translates every uppercut and right hook to their mechanical avatars.

The show began with an idea from producers Jeremy Whitham and Craig Plestis. They gave the duties of creating the show’s robots to Mark Setrakian, whose credits include the animatronic effects in Hellboy, Men in Black, and Batman Forever. He was also a competitor on the Bill Nye-hosted show BattleBots in 2000.

Setrakian designed 12 robots for Robot Combat League that are each operated by teams of two: one shadowboxing contestant — one is George Lucas’ daughter, MMA fighter Amanda Lucas — and one tech-savvy teammate. It took Setrakian about three months in late 2011 to build a prototype robot, and then he led a group of 20 effects artists at Los Angeles effects studio Spectral Motion to create the robots that would appear on the show. Each robot cost about $200,000 to make, Setrakian says.

Ahead of Robot Combat League’s nine-episode season — the premiere airs tonight and is already available to watch online — Setrakian chatted with EW about designing bots for the show, inevitable Real Steel comparisons, and what the future might hold for boxing robots. READ FULL STORY

Syfy's 'Robot Combat League' photo gallery of 12 giant bots -- EXCLUSIVE

Ready to meet our new robot overlords?

Here’s Syfy’s 12 giant fighting robots that star in its upcoming new series Robot Combat League. In the show, human-controlled state-of-the-art robots pummel each other in a boxing ring until one is destroyed. Hosted by WWE’s Chris Jericho, Robot Combat League invades Syfy on Tuesday, Feb. 26. For much more on the show, see our original story here that has all the details about the show’s origin and format. After all, you’re not here for words. You’re here for bots. Here’s the rogues gallery of fighters, four on each page, followed by the network’s first teaser trailer. Each bot has their own official trading card-style description from Syfy. (I like Brimstone and Game Over).

Robot Combat League - Season 1

BRIMSTONE: Steel and leather are the materials of choice for this robot — a mechanical brute with unstoppable pummeling power. The all-important brain/computer is housed inside a triple thick hammer-finish dome that is three times tougher and heavier than the armor of any other robot in the league.  The gleaming gloves and thug boots are made of the same heavy steel alloy.  For speed and agility, its arms and legs are protected by tough leather armor, which is light and flexible to offer excellent mobility. The smooth surfaces of the robot are made to deflect attacks by causing them to glide off the body armor. But an exposed mid-section allows opponents to open gaps and possibly damage internal mechanisms. READ FULL STORY

Giant boxing robots reality show unveiled by Syfy -- EXCLUSIVE

jericho

Ready for the next generation of robot combat? Syfy has greenlit and shot the first season of a new show where eight-foot-tall state-of-the-art humanoid robots will rock ‘em and sock ‘em in a boxing cage until one is defeated.

The future-shock new series is called Robot Combat League and the project has been kept under wraps until today. The action resembles a real-life version of last year’s hit movie Real Steel, with large menacing robots pounding away at each other in a satisfying shower of sparks and gushing hydraulic fluid. And just like in the film, the ‘bots will be controlled by shadow-boxing operators whose movements are translated into metal-on-metal punches. WWE wrestler, author and Dancing With the Stars veteran Chris Jericho will host.

Though Real Steal is the most obvious recent reference, Robot Combat League has cable network forebears like BBC’s Robot Wars (1998) and Comedy Central’s Battle Bots (2000). But older shows featured small, squat robots rolling across the ground and attacking each other, like evil Roombas. “It has always been our desire — and it’s really come around perennially — to update and do Battle Bots for the new century,” says Syfy president Mark Stern. “Can we do Real Steel? Are we at a place where you can do real bipedal robots? Every time we tried to to do it, [the project] was stymied by the technology.”

You want another photo? Of course you do! Story continues below…

ROBOT-COMBAT-LEAGUE-FIGHT

Here’s how this show got started: Last year, veteran reality producer Craig Plestis teamed with robotics expert Mark Setrakian to pitch Robot Combat League to Syfy. Setrakian’s resume includes developing life-saving robotic systems and creature effects, animatronics and control technology for such films like Men In Black, The Grinch and Hellboy. One early test featured a robot attacking a Volkswagen Beetle that was hung in the air. “The robot was hitting it, it was tearing the mirrors off and breaking the windows,” Stern says. “At every step we got closer and closer.”

Syfy won’t reveal how much the 1,000-pound robots cost (“a lot,” Stern says) and there is one obvious design differential that keeps the bots from Reel Steel-like autonomy — a stabilizing bar that prevents the top-heavy machines from toppling over during fighting and help controls their movement across the ring. Stern hopes that “version 2.0″ of Robot Combat League can ditch the bar.

Still, from what we’ve seen from a presentation reel on the show, Robot Combat League (which debuts Feb. 26) delivers what’s promised — robots pounding on each other. “Up until we actually saw them in the ring fighting, we didn’t think it would work,” Stern says. “Setrakian created a robotics system that can mimic a human’s actions and movements. We’ve had robots decapitated, we’ve had robots cut in half. It was truly spectacular.”

NEXT: The biggest fighting robot photo yet

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