NASA's Robot Smarts Give Wall-E a Ration of Realism

To give trash-compacting hero Wall-E a more realistic feel, Pixar Animation Studios turned to real NASA robots for inspiration.

Early on, director Andrew Stanton and his team wanted insight into how robots move, think and learn. To get the info, they went straight to the source: They visited the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and talked with the folks who designed the Phoenix Mars Lander and red planet rovers Spirit and Opportunity -- machines that, like the beeping star of Wall-E, survived long past their life expectancies.

"We wanted to get an idea of what real robots are capable of and what they could be like in the future," Stanton said. "The help from [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory] was invaluable and inspired us in so many ways."


This real-world NASA connection is documented in the extensive collection of special features on the Wall-E DVD and Blu-ray discs, released Tuesday. The featurettes reveal how the movie's computer-generated robots were designed, how hard science informed the cute, animated characters and how the unique sounds of the robots were created.

According to Stanton (pictured right, on Wall-E's treads), while his task was never to create a real-world robot like those dusting off Mars, his visits to JPL helped create a more realistic look at what robots will be able to do in the near future.

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