John Nolan Brings Unkle Runaway Robot to Life

John Nolan is a Director signed to Streetlight Films in the UK, USA and 1/33 in France for both commercials and music video representation. After 9 years in creature and special effects John shifted his focus towards directing, culminating in the short ‘Nolan Cheddar’ which combines his love of animatronics and simple storytelling.

Throughout his effects years John worked mostly on feature films (Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, Clash Of The Titans, Hellboy 2, Warhorse, Brothers Grimm); but also TV projects including Dr. Who, Being Human, Skellig and In the Night Garden. Now with his own effects company in east London Nolan CV also includes personal projects with Chris Cunningham, Lady Gaga live shows and now the short promo Runaway Robot with Unkle.

John Nolan explains how the Unkle Runaway Robot project came about and the process that bought the Runaway Robot to life

“I wanted to get in touch with Unkle after seeing them at Fabric where they projected animated drawings of Futura robot/aliens at a launch for Never, Never Land. I knew that I could recreate something similar to the animations but with animatronics and practical effects and it would be good to build something based on a great design. Unkle music and sound is perfect for this kind of video and it reflects every idea I’ve had since wanting to build robots and shoot films. Their collaborative projects with Ian Brown, Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft and Mike D were, to me, an example of their style and personality and I wanted to get involved with anything they were doing. I contacted James (Lavelle) through a friend of a friend and sent him my animatronics showreel; he invited me to his studio in London to talk about a project he was putting together. I was hoping to shoot a promo or viral or anything 10 seconds long just to have the opportunity to work with their music, but it was the perfect timing for something else. They were not looking to shoot any promos but James asked if I wanted to shoot something for the Daydreaming exhibition at the Haunch of Venison.There was no budget involved at all, it was an opportunity to work on something together where I would produce a film and Unkle would create a track. It was a great way to work really because everyone who got involved did because they loved the track and believed in the idea, everyone was enthusiastic and excited to be part of it.


I had a few ideas involving a Futura style robot and coloured light flashes, which were mostly influenced by Audi and BMW commercials and my animatronics background.I designed the animatronic based on human anatomy with every joint and pivot point replicating that of a real person. I wanted to achieve the perfect balance between something industrial, robotic and living, organic. The robot was made from hand-machined anodised aluminium, 28 motors and sculpted, formed plastic. Building an animatronic of this scale and complexity you have to take many things into consideration. There are issues with weight, gravity, torque, speed but the biggest challenge with creating a robot with this amount of motors is control. We have to move every motor at once to create the perfect performance but I wanted to avoid 5 puppeteers on set trying to coordinate their movements with each other. The track is short but aggressive and energetic. I wanted the performance of the robot to have this aggression and energy with a marching stomp towards camera. This could only be achieved with the use of an audio timeline-based control system. I used creature performer Josh Head who programmed every move of the robot in time with the track using midi. We were able to see the track at the top of the screen as a waveform and underneath the movements of the robot. We could change the movements under the track live on set but keeping the robot and audio in total sync. Producer Ebony Maitland put me in touch with a brilliant team of people including the incredible director of photography Christopher Sabogal and brilliant Prime Focus who did an incredible job on the post.”


“I loved John Nolan’s attention to detail and his commitment to the project. I really liked the idea of being able to work in a more child-like world with his animatronics and it was amazing seeing reactions to the robot across the ages at the exhibition. It was a great opportunity to resurrect the Unkle Pointman character. John is a true artist hence why I wanted him to be involved in the Daydreaming With…….. show”
James Lavelle

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