DO ROBOTS HAVE ELBOWS?
One of the big points of discussion in creating the character of WALL•E was whether or not he should have elbows.
“Early in the film, we had designed WALL•E with elbows,” explains supervising animator Steve Hunter. “This gave him the ability to bend his arms. As animators, we were fighting for it thinking he’s got to be able to touch his face, hang off a spaceship, and have a wide range of motion. But when you really looked at it, it didn’t feel right. He’s designed to do a task, which is to pull trash into his belly. Why would he have elbows? It didn’t make any sense. So with Andrew’s help and an inspired idea by directing animator Angus MacLane, we gave him a track around his side which allowed him to position his arms differently and give him a range of motion. It helped us flesh out the character a lot more. Something like elbows may seem kind of trivial but the way we solved the problem makes you believe in WALL•E more because we didn’t take the easy way out.”
Despite the relative simplicity of his movements, animating WALL•E proved to be one of the toughest assignments yet for the animation team. According to supervising animator Barillaro, “WALL•E has a lot of different controls including about 50 for the head alone. He’s not organic like a human. We had to boil his movements down to their bare essence to make them effective. The first thing the animators wanted to do when they got a scene with him was to do all their tricks like bouncing his head around. They were trying to get too broad and too human. We had to keep reminding them to pare things down and go as simply as possible with the animation. Simpler is definitely better in this case.”
With WALL•E’s voice being such an important part of his personality, the animators worked in close concert with sound designer Ben Burtt to inspire one another. Typically, the animators would work with the rough designs to prepare test animation. Burtt would then add WALL•E’s voice, and send it back to the animators for another pass. Voice and animation would get edited together, and out of that would come the final performance.