Robotslayer: The Making Of
‘No, something else.’
‘Book eating boy? Come on we love that one.’
‘No Daddy, you do a story.’
‘I’m tired Leo, come on how about a bit of Gruffalo.’
‘Robot story, Daddy.’
Leo is bouncing on his bed with anticipation and fixing me with those big blue eyes.
‘Ok, ok, here we go. Leo was just an ordinary boy who lived with his grandfather in a city called Robotolis. Leo’s grandfather just so happened to be the greatest robot designer the world had ever seen…
That’s how it started. Leo was around 3 and half years old and Benny was just wriggling around on the floor trying to eat everything in his path.
Each night I would make up a bit more of the story and ask Leo what he liked. We would act out the roles and figure out what sort of special powers Leo would need to beat Grububble’s army of robots. My Dad is an amazing engineer and our company designs and makes scientific instruments, so he was the inspiration behind Professor Arnold Robotolis. Leo had visited our machine shop and witnessed all the CNC machines turning block of metal into parts, so it was not too much of a leap for him to believe that Opa made robots.
I then thought about drawing some of the robots from our story. I hadn’t really drawn anything for years. I did not take art classes at school or college and so to begin with it was a little difficult. The pictures needed punching up a bit, they needed colour. I used photoshop at work to make adverts and tweak images on our company website so I scanned in pencil drawings and started to colour them.
I was just messing around making the odd picture, but as is my way, I had to ramp it up a bit. I did some research and followed some online tutorials on drawing and painting digitally. I was getting really into it and Leo loved seeing the characters come to life. I started to think that maybe it could be a book. How hard could it be?
Very very hard. If I knew exactly how hard I may not have ever started. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
Eventually I had quite a few drawings and it was starting to look more like it should be a comic book instead of just large pictures. I read everything there is on sequential art (comics) and how to tell stories. I used to write stories all the time as a child. I fell right back in love with storytelling. How could I have forgotten?
I started getting up at around 5am to draw before work. Benny was getting older and wiser and noticed he was not really featuring in the story so much. He needed a larger role. I started again. Yep, I scrapped the drawings and started over. It was painful but had to be done.
I carried on just chipping away when I could, mostly before work. My drawings were improving so I had to keep going back and changing the early drawings so the style and skill level matched up, it was so frustrating but I was having such a great time seeing this book develop. I couldn’t wait to show Leo and Benny the latest page or picture. Sometimes they loved it, other times it was Ben 10, Nemo or Wall E that drew their attention.
A couple of years had gone by and then in October 2012, I went to a technology conference for work and I was chatting to a few movers and shakers in the online world when the conversation turned to projects we do in our spare time. I spoke about Robotslayer and showed the group I was with a few pictures. They seemed impressed and encouraged me to take it a bit more seriously. Set a date!
So with renewed motivation, I set myself a deadline of Christmas 2013. I worked harder than ever on the drawings but then one day while watching the boys stabbing away at the iPad I thought why not also make an app of the book with some interaction. I started looking for a company who could help me with this and found the awesome Hover Studio in London. These guys totally got what I was trying to do and were so excited for the project. Up until then I had been working alone and had no idea if what I was doing was any good. These guys renewed my motivation and helped me take it to a new level.
I thought why stop at drawings? Wouldn’t it be cool to build life sized characters from the story. I researched movie prop building online and started experimenting with polystyrene. I was not popular. You cannot imagine the amount of white polystyrene fluff that was spread around our house as a result of me learning how to sculpt this stuff. It gets everywhere. I would be sitting in meetings with bits of white fluff in my eyebrows. When you have carved out your shapes you then have to coat them in epoxy resin and glassfibre to give them strength then paint them. It’s all nasty sticky and toxic stuff.
I then wanted to build life size Leo and Benny models. I bought tonnes of clay and started to sculpt. I didn’t know what I was doing but the internet came to the rescue. The deadline was getting closer and luckily the real life Opa (my dad) jumped in to help me build armatures to hang the clay from. I then got these cast in glassfibre at special prop making studio in London. I then painted them up and added blue LED lights.
By now you can probably tell that I’m not easy to live with. All night building and drawing sessions followed by full days at the office sometimes left me a little ruined and not the greatest of company. My amazing wife Caroline supported me the whole way, I know it was pretty difficult for her to keep hearing about robots and pepping me up when I was down, but I think she could see how happy this was making me and the boys.
We finally launched the book and app on December 11th 2013. It was a wonderful evening shared with family, friends and robots. I don’t know what will happen next, the book is available on Amazon and at a few independent book shops, all I know is I am so very proud of my book. It was an incredible journey in creating it and nothing brings me greater pleasure than hearing when kids (and big kids) enjoy it.