Fireside Chat with Star Wars Animatronic Designer Gustav Hoegen

author avatar

19 Feb, 2021

Fireside Chat 'The Voice of Innovation' #2

#2 of our 'Voice of Innovation' fireside chat series, in which Syntiant CEO Kurt Busch talks with innovator Gustav Hoegen

Wevolver and Syntiant are creating a series that explore the work of innovators and the future of pervasive AI. Syntiant is developing ultra-low-power AI processors. Because they believe in the importance of innovation, Syntiant is engaging in these fireside chats with engineers and designers who are on the cutting edge of their field.

The second conversation in our Voice Of Innovation series was held between CEO Kurt Busch and Gustav Hoegen, an Animatronics designer and Creature FX artist. His highly realistic
works are key to the success of blockbuster movies like Alien and Star Wars. If you have seen movies like Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm, Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or any of the latest Star Wars, then you have probably marveled at the creatures that Gustav and his company Biomimic Studio created.

Artificial Intelligence and Animatronics

According to Kurt Busch, Syntiant sees "artificial intelligence as this bridge between humans and machines." As more and more AI gets deployed, we can see this new human-machine interface, which is something animatronics has been working on for years.

Gustav describes the evolution of animatronics, illustrating how the industry has embraced complementary technologies. A decade and a half ago, people were very inclined to use computer-generated imagery (CGI). But steadily, practical effects and animatronics got reintroduced. Now, instead of competing with CGI, the two fields complement each other. CGI provides a new level of freedom to animatronics, allowing elements to be removed from scenes and opening new ways to design and operate on set. Digital technologies such as 3D printing and CAD influence the way FX artists approach and execute designs. Animatronics is not just creating physical objects now. It’s a collaboration between different technologies that allow each of them to show their strengths. 

Syntiant is on a mission to elevate the interaction between humans and machines to a seamless, intuitive experience. Gustav recognizes animatronics' role in elevating the physical and emotional experience of those interactions. His next project is an ambitious life-like humanoid robot that will combine the art and attention to details of the film world with cutting edge robotics technology. 

For me, it would be fascinating to create an AI controlled humanoid robot that can interpret people’s facial expressions and in turn respond through the appropriate speech and facial expressions, creating a connection between man and machine.
-Gustav Hoegen

Robots such as this could enable new human-machine relationships that include communication subtleties such as body language and voice inflection. As AI and animatronics converge, the potential for reimagining what our workplaces, healthcare facilities, and entertainment can be is endless. 

Companies like Syntiant are continuing to make AI processors smaller, lowering their power consumption and making them more accessible. Therefore, innovators like Gustav Hoegen or Anouk Wipprecht (see our earlier fireside chat) are gaining more opportunities to apply artificial intelligence in novel ways. 

This video is part of a series of fireside chats in which Wevolver and Syntiant partner to engage with global innovators. I encourage you to stay tuned and to follow Syntiant's profile for more of these conversations.

More by Bram Geenen

CEO and co-founder of Wevolver. Trained as an industrial designer. Previously founded a design studio that pioneered 3D printing large functional objects in the late 2000s. I also worked a lot with composite materials. Wevolver was a side-project that got positively out of hand...

Wevolver 2022