The Enforcement Droid Series 209 is one of RoboCop's design and effects highlights, brought into being under the guiding hand of stop motion animator Phil Tippett.
Paul Verhoeven made it immediately clear that he didn't want anything on ED 209 to look cute. He wanted something really hard and mean. Verhoeven had a really severe vision in mind for this thing, a product of modern American design. They'd design it to look neat and then they'd worry about making it work. In other words, these futuristic designers would pay a lot of attention to the cosmetics of it in an attempt to market the thing on looks alone, just like an American car.
The team took a lot of the current design trends into account and mixed them all together, adding things like oil coolers, radiators and heat exchangers, all of which are on the ED-209 robot if you know where to look. The question of eyes came up, but it was quickly decided that it was best to avoid them to show less emotion.
Included were also stabs at current corporate design policy. For instance, there are four huge hydraulic rams on the legs, even though a creature like ED wouldn't need nearly that many. Complete redundancy, a true corporate product. There's also the grill area in ED's head. While some people would look at that and go, "Oh, it's a mouth" it's also a big, obvious, extremely stupid place to put an open area like a radiator on a unit like ED-209.
First a small-scale model was built. It was about eight inches tall and was made of foam, foamcore and various pieces of plastic. All the main body parts on the full scale Ed209-the head, the arms, the legs and midsection-were fiberglass.
All the detailed parts were vacuformed. So it was entirely plastic. The only metal that was used were the screws holding the wooden underframe together. Finished, it stood seven feet tall and weighed in at about 300 pounds.
A variety of tools are needed to build such a large model. Roll around tool cabinets are definitely useful when building a seven foot tall 300 pound model!
It took about four months of really exhausting work to build.
Only one full-scale ED 209 was built for RoboCop. The large-scale ED 209 was also articulated and fully posable, although only a brief illustration of this capability occurs when the full-scale ED turns its head at the approach of Robocop's turbocruiser near the end of the film.
ED 209 was to figure prominently in three sequences - his unveiling in the corporate boardroom, his fight with RoboCop in the executive suite and his final stand in the OCP plaza when RoboCop comes to give Dick Jones his comeuppance. "Overall," said Phil Tippett, "there were approximately fifty-five shots with ED209 that we had to have in the can in three months. And they were some of the most complicated shots I've ever been in-volved with. Most of them were action shots with a great deal of camera movement designed very carefully so it would appear that we really had a giant robot walking around. We didn't want the shots to be limited by the fact that we were using animation.
To achieve the dynamic realism Verhoeven was looking for, they had to concentrate on a lot of things, including matching up the large live-action ED-209 to the stop motion ED-209. A great deal of effort went into making the models identical in every infinitessimal detail, from how light hit the rim of ED 209's lip to how it kicked off his guns. Lighting was always a consideration. In the boardroom, for instance, the lighting was designed to be very flat and corporate-looking. So for the puppet they used that same harshness and also tried to enhance it with a little rim light. In any event, all the detail work and fabrication on the puppet was very closely maintained.
Because of the way the sequences was designed, the live action ED 209 was always in his 'powered-down' mode. So the stop-motion ED always had to come out of that pose and then turn back into it when it was finished moving. That was another complication. But by far the biggest question mark concerning ED 209 was the way in which we were going to shoot it - because every puppet shot in the film used rear projection setups.
When Jon first approached Phil Tippet and his team with the idea of doing RoboCop, he made it clear that the basic budget for the whole show would be: "Cheap" And the cheapest way of doing stop-motion animation is with rear projection because you don't have to involve as many people in your compositing process - just a cameraman and an animator, basically. So they budgeted the show that way.
Then Paul Verhoeven got involved and he was quite demanding in terms of how he wanted the material lo look. It was very clear that he didn't want the technique to make the dramatic content secondary in any way. So the team spent a great deal of time with Paul explaining all the limitations of the process. but he just kept pushing every single one of those limitations right to its limit.
The team had to figure out ways that would adequately give Verhoeven what he was looking for and so they began by setting up a system closely patterned after the Dynamation process, with all the advantages and dis-advantages that go along with that. Then, by discussion and design, they worked out the problems -which were major! In some of the shots, the size of the projection plate wasn't more than eight by twelve inches, and the puppet would be right next to the screen and the camera would be right next to the puppet. You can see that in the opening boardroom sequence, for example, where there's a close-up shot of ED's foot coming down on the rug in this little anteroom - which was a miniature set built by Tamia Marg.
In other shots Paul wanted ED to come right toward the camera - and then step over the lens! To get those angles, they literally had to remove parts of the puppet -disassemble the toe, say, as it got closer, and then take part of its knee off as it stepped on over.
To photograph the RoboCop puppets, Tippett employed 35mm rackover Mitchell cameras modified for rear-screen projection work and stop-motion animation. He would just press a button, the background projector would dampen one frame, then he'd move the puppet and take one frame with the Mitchell.
Once completed, the ED 209 footage was cut together by effects editor Jules Roman. Giving aural life to the killer robot were Stephen Flick and John Pospisil of Screaming Lizard, a Los Angeles sound effects house. Flick and Pospisil not only arrived at the sound effects for ED's walking movements, background motors and footsteps, but also gave the enforcement droid various voices. One particularly threatening, animalistic growl was a straightforward unprocessed recording of an angry black leopard.
The robot's most prominent vocal feature, however, was its human voice. During Dick Jones' presentation in the OCP boardroom, the senior vice president calls upon Kinney (Ken Page), a young marketing executive, to illustrate ED 209's law enforcement capabilities. Jones orders Kinney to brandish the weapon in a threatening manner. When the young man does so, ED 209 immediately goes into its power mode, aims its own weapons and informs the hapless test subject that he has twenty seconds to drop his gun. The ominous voice emanating from ED 209 is actually that of executive producer Jon Davison. "Even my own mother didn't recognize me when she saw the film - and my voice isn't really altered that much. It is distorted, but the weirdness of the reading is actually inherent in the poor acting. I had originally gone over to Steve Flick's place and read that line into a Nagra just as something for the temp track so we could screen the picture for Orion.
Somehow, though, it survived throughout the whole picture."
...Kinney, however, did not.