WHALE - A magnificent display in Paris
on the banks of the River Seine for the climate talks in December 2015,
this is the giant metal sculpture of 'Bluebelle,' a whale caught in the South Atlantic
Ocean in 1912.
STUDY IN BLUE
Marine Systems are looking at the possibility of creating one
of the most exciting displays in the world as a natural showcase for exhibition
on land and to give ocean rides to whale enthusiasts.
idea is to create the largest interactive robot whale in the world. Not a
killer whale, as appears to be very popular and perhaps the largest of the
waterborne animatronic whale projects, but a humpback or sperm whale. A
blue whale might be a bit too big. What do you think?
inspiration has come from the above display on the banks of the River
Seine, though not a marine animatronic, it is crying out to be one. We
also drew inspiration from the giant robot
ant that is nearing completion in our workshops.
- The GRP Orca made for the famous film by Warner Brothers
WALT CONTI - ANIMATRONIC WHALE
FOR FREE WILLY
In 1992 Warner Bros was planning to make Free Willy, a film about the friendship between a boy and a killer whale. A real whale named Keiko would portray Willy in scenes that take place at a marine park. However, almost half the story would be dedicated to Willy’s dramatic rescue from the park and triumphant return to the open ocean. The filmmakers had no idea how they were going to pull off these critical scenes. So they called Walt Conti, who had recently achieved breakthrough success by creating the free-swimming miniature humpback whales for Star Trek IV.
Until Free Willy, state-of-the-art for full-size aquatic animatronics was the
shark created for Jaws. Although quite an accomplishment at the time, the shark scenes were realized by using only partial shark models (left side, right side, hero head, etc.) that were attached to a pneumatically powered rig. The big challenge in Free Willy was that the animatronic model would have to convincingly perform extended emotional scenes. The arc of the relationship between the boy and whale was at the heart of the film and had to be completely believable, quite a different challenge from the quick action cuts required of the Jaws shark.
The dream, for Walt and the filmmakers, was to make a full-size version of the Star Trek whales, in other words: a self-contained, self-propelled, free-floating animatronic killer whale that could be used interchangeably with Keiko. But could it be done?
Before work could start, Walt had to ramp up a facility and assemble a team. The facility had to be fully operational in a matter of weeks, including among other things: CAD design, electronics lab, machining, welding, fiberglass fabrication, test tanks, and a whale of a paint booth. The highly talented team of engineers, artists, fabricators, and technicians he brought together for Free Willy would go on to form the core of Edge Innovations for years to come.
- The scale of the problem is enormous. The mould for a boat hull this
size would cost a fortune.
The basic idea seemed simple. Just scale up the 4 ft.
Star Trek whales to 22 ft. Unfortunately, the underlying design parameters don’t scale linearly, but rather by the 3rd power, or in this case over 150 times. So instead of the 1 horsepower required by the
Star Trek whales, the Willy model would need almost 200 horsepower. And instead of a 35 lb. skin, the 22 ft. whale would have a 4,000 lb. skin. The questions then arose: How does a 4,000 lb. skin behave when it moves? How do you attach it to the mechanism? How do you balance the 6,800 lb. whale so that it behaves naturally in the water, actually swims, and doesn’t float belly up? The whale would be completely self-contained except for a small umbilical. There was no precedent for any of this. Undaunted, the Edge team broke down the multitude of challenges into separate tasks and prototyped each.
The mechanical design of the whale mechanism required aerospace-level design in that all structures had to be highly optimized for weight in order to achieve neutral buoyancy of the whale. Hydraulic components were sourced primarily from aerospace and military vendors, who had to be cajoled into shrinking their delivery times from months down to weeks. The
electronics and control system were created from scratch.
At the same time, the artists had to create a sculpture that matched Keiko’s form as accurately as possible. Initial attempts at measuring Keiko failed, until the trainers worked some new moves into his routine in which he would take the tape measure in his mouth and roll just the right way so that accurate measurements could be taken. Additionally, an orca skull of just the right size was obtained and castings from this skull were used to create the mouth interior and individual teeth of the whale.
Certainly the most nerve-racking moment in the project came when it was time to pour the final one-piece skin. Up to that point, only partial test skins had been poured. After six months of seven-day workweeks, the final pour took place 48 hours before the animatronic whale had to ship to Mexico to begin filming. The highly complex mechanism was placed inside the mold and then 400 gallons of rubber, with a pot life of 30 minutes, had to be mixed and poured before it set. No one in the world had poured this amount of this urethane product at once. It was a one shot deal – if anything went wrong, there wouldn’t be enough time to pour another skin. But to everyone’s great relief the pour went smoothly . . . and as the whale realistically cracked its neck and kicked its tail for the first time, it was clear that a new level of animatronics had been achieved.
Free Willy went on to become the sleeper hit of the summer of ’93 and spawned two sequels. The Edge team continued to improve the whales with each generation, creating 15 animatronic models across the trilogy. In the original film the animatronic whale and Keiko shared about equal screen time, while on Free Willy 2 & 3 the animatronic whales carried the entire films. Moviegoers never could tell the difference between Keiko and his doubles.
ROV WORLD - JULY 30 2012
Filmed in South Africa, the realistic swimming motion was cleverly recreated through the precise fingertip control of the Falcon by
ROV pilots Nick Stroud and Josh Smit of Marine Solutions.
The biggest challenge, according to Marine Solutions director, Kevin Bey-Leveld, was to make the Orca whale, with its large body, look like it really was swimming along.
The success of the project, says Kevin Bey-Leveld, helped keep down the cost of filming.
“The way the Falcon flies, combined with trained ROV pilots, allowed the director to film the sequences in a relatively short space of time, in terms of normal filming,” he explains.
Although small and compact, the Falcon was powerful enough to manoeuvre in both
swimming pool and the open ocean − the trick, explained Kevin Bey-Leveld, was to balance the buoyancy to compensate between sea water and fresh water.
It is not the first time the Falcon has starred in the movies. In the Bollywood film, ‘LUCK’, also filmed in South Africa, it was strapped under a 4.2 metre long latex and polyurethane replica of a tiger shark and used to replicate the realistic swimming motion of the shark and its violent attacks on hapless swimmers.
ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE - 1977 MOVIE
When a fisherman named Nolan kills a pregnant Orca, he leaves her mate swearing revenge on the
fisherman. The Orca begins a vicious vendetta against him attacking his boat, his crew, even his entire fishing village and even goes so far as to bite the leg off his wife (that scene
differs from other films involving Orcas since Shamu and Free Willy never showed the Killer side to these
whales - we do though have Moby Dick). We never see a marine mammal capable of such destruction or sentience to pinpoint anything related to this one guy. So Nolan goes Moby Dick and sets out to the frozen ends of the ocean to track and kill the animal. This was one of the first of many Jaws knockoffs to come down the pike, and
is regarded by some as one of the better ones.
- There are a number of Chinese companies who make some pretty large whale
animatronics. If these paid a little more attention to details and
anatomical accuracy, they would be even more amazing than they already
- Not a whale, but the method of construction is interesting. Nature has already done most of the design work for
you, but this needs to be studied and then converted into a practical
replica. In the film world attention to detail is essential for audience viewing
pleasure and profits. The shark in Jaws was not that brilliant today; it
was pretty good at the time.
ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS - DARPA
is pushing the boundaries in promoting humanoid robotics. How long then
before we see animatronic dignitaries at venues like Madame
DUCHESS CAMBRIDGE - This is not a robot of Kate, but a photo of the
much loved lady where you could be forgiven for thinking her a waxworks
model, if not for the fact that her companion is conversing with her. Kate
is her popular name, formerly Catherine Middleton, she is a patron of many
Imagine fooling the Japanese into trying to capture a robot whale ......
and maybe the whale fights back! Now that is something we are sure a lot
of people would like to see.
BRILLIANT - Sea Life Sydney Aquarium (formerly Sydney Aquarium) is a public aquarium located in the city of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is located on the eastern (city) side of Darling Harbour to the north of the Pyrmont Bridge. It is a full institutional member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
(WAZA). If you take the time to visit this display, we think you may agree
that the artwork is first rate, in fact one of the best around.
- Our Chinese cousins love their Dragon culture - and why not
heartwarming adventure: pirate whalers
V a wounded whale and three kind people out to save the cetacean, with
a $Billion dollars riding on the conclusion.
NEXT: One of the Free Willy movies. CENTRE: A big fish roams a shoreline ripe with tasty morsels until three
men get in a boat to hunt it down. RIGHT: The Marvel version of the film.
- ATLANTIC - BALTIC
- BAY BENGAL - BERING
- CARIBBEAN - CORAL - EAST
GOC - GULF
GUINEA - GULF
IRC - MEDITERRANEAN -
NORTH SEA - PACIFIC
- PERSIAN GULF - SEA
CHINA - PLASTIC
- PLANKTON - PLASTIC
OCEANS - SEA
LEVEL RISE - UNCLOS
- BURIGANGA - CITARUM - CONGO - CUYAHOGA
GANGES - IRTYSH
- JORDAN - LENA -
- MEKONG - MISSISSIPPI - NIGER - NILE - PARANA - PASIG - SARNO - THAMES
- YANGTZE - YAMUNA - YELLOW