1985 – “PAL” (a.k.a. “H.E.N.R.I. VIII”) the Robot – Douglas Trumbull (American)

Above image sourced from Richard Steele .

Doug Trumbull, who directed the 1972 sci-fi cult film "Silent Running" and was behind the design of the drones later designed and patented a remote-controlled character called “PAL” which was first used in the Showscan film LET’S GO for the Toshiba Pavilion at Expo ’85 in Tsukuba, Japan. Closer robotic performance was achieved via a high-tech version of Japanese Bunraku puppetry, performed from below by master puppeteer Bruce Schwartz. PAL was the inspiration for Johnny 5 in the movie "Short Circuit" (1986),  directed by Badham. Steven Spielberg saw the film at the Expo and took note of "PAL's" builder, and passed the information onto Badham who engaged Allard for the robot construction in "Short Circuit". .

Patent number: D292223
Filing date: May 17, 1985
Issue date: Oct 6, 1987

The Robot Controller [below] was first used as a prop in the Showscan film LET’S GO (Live Action, 19:00 minutes) a story of a very special friendship that develops between a boy and a robot, for the Toshiba Pavilion at Expo ’85 in Tsukuba, Japan. As stated by Trumbull, "this gizmo may have interesting future applications as a human-computer interface."  

Eric Allard was a young effects wizard who made the robot. The robot effects were achieved with a rod puppetry techniques. For those who don't recognise the name, Eric Allard also built "Number 5" for the movie "Short Circuit."  The appearances between the two are remarkably similar.

Here is a text extract from the magazine Cinefantastique (July 1986) on the making of No. 5 :

"…but the job went to 30 year-old Eric Allard, whose few prior credits included DRAGONSLAYER (the full-scale dragon claw); BRAINSTORM (the destruction of the automated production line) and most importantly, a Showscan short titled LET'S GO, which featured an anthropomorphic robot named Pal.
Pal was a four foot tall tubular creation on a motorized, wheeled base that had been designed by Don Guzay1. Trumbull had come up with the idea of combining radio-controlled servo mechanisms with the techniques used to manipulate large Japanese rod puppets (Jim Henson's Muppets occasionally use these techniques, as well). Trumbull and Allard, along with assistant Barnaby Jackson and puppeteer Bruce Schwartz, worked out the details. Built over a 10-week period, Pal was still crude, but the technique showed great promise.
 Based on his work with Pal, and a recommendation by Steven Spielberg, Allard got the script to SHORT CIRCUIT on a Friday and was asked to prepare a bid. Monday morning, he returned with a lengthy proposal breaking down every shot in the film in which robots would appear, outlining how each shot could be accomplished. …"

Interesting to note that the above article says Don Guzay designed PAL, although Doug Trumbull owns the design patent.

1  David Buckley informs me that Don Guzay, as spelt in the article, should actually be Dan Gouzeé, a noted illustrator and artist.

Video Clip of PAL doing a shoot and being pampered.

Thanks Richard Steele  for sending the link.

Email On Sep 19, 2012 between Reuben Hoggett(cyberneticzoo.com) and Barnaby Jackson,

RH:  Hello Barnaby, ….. I've recently posted an article on the Trumbull Pal robot from the Showscan move "Let's Go". See here http://cyberneticzoo.com/?p=7321 . I know it's going back in time a fair way, but I believe that Pal is very significant in the history of robots in more ways than one. From different articles it appears the key players behind Pal were: Doug Trumbull, designer Don Guzay, builder Eric Allard, puppeteer Bruce Schwartz, and yourself. As mentioned on your own website, you are the one who is credited with the construction and on-set operation of the robot. I'd be interested to hear your view of the Pal story, if you wouldn't mind sharing it with me.

BJ: Hi Reuben,

I worked with Eric Allard on the construction of PAL, and really "learned by doing" under his supervision. He would sketch parts for me to machine, and then slowly, part by part PAL came into being.

I traveled to Germany with PAL for the shooting of "Let's Go" and made modifications and enhancements to the robot to support the needs of the production. There were two on-set configurations for PAL. His top half came off so we could attach the puppeteering rig to Bruce's head and hands. For wide shots he was a remote control driving robot. On set Bruce Schwartz brought him to life using smooth compound moves. I performed PAL's eyes and eyebrows with servo remote control.

The idea for PAL was Doug's and Don1 made a range of drawings based on Doug's direction. When a final drawing was approved, we began construction. I would say the whole team participated in the design of PAL, but Doug had the original vision for PAL that we all tried to follow. A patent really refers to the idea, which was Doug's.

Eric Allard really made PAL. He loved that robot, and I think there was a bit of a father son relationship between man and machine. In fact all of us from Doug on down developed a strong bond with PAL, that I'm sure still remains to this day. I was lucky as a young man to learn so much and to be allowed to work at a high level with Doug, Eric, Don1 and Bruce.

PAL was a film robot, so his personality was a function of the performance and the moments that the filmmakers decided to include in the final film. You can really see Doug's vision for PAL, when his mechanical hand rests atop the boy's, and the simulator takes them up into space…
 1  David Buckley informs me that Don Guzay, should actually be Dan Gouzeé, a noted illustrator and artist. My fault for giving Barnaby the wrong but similar name to recall.

PAL wearing an American Boy Scout scarf, which appears in one of 'his' movies. PAL has an operational mouth now, which resembles a split table tennis ball.

For those who are interested, those two servos are Tonegawa Seiko SSPS-105 Servos and the Linear activator at the bottom is a SKF linear activator wth D24 pancake motor. The SSPS-105 is also used on Johnny Five for his shoulders and two of  the same SKF activators are used for the tip toe feature of  Number Five.

PAL with remote control unit.

PAL's puppet arm used for fine control hand/fingers shots.

Article on PAL from Robotics World – May 1987.

All images and informative text in above section courtesy Richard Steele .

PAL also did a stint on The Wizard as "H.E.N.R.I. VIII" with David Rappaport. Images from fansite here.

"H.E.N.R.I. VIII"  stands for Hazardous EnviroNmental Robotics Intelligence of the 8th prototype.

Detail of hand.

A few images show the single steering wheel at the rear, not at the front as per the patent design. My friend David Buckley, a robot builder, suggests the single trailing wheel is a preferable and more practical approach to a mobile platform.

The Wizard street band with robot.

Where is "PAL" now?

Richard Steele, avid Johnny 5 collector, says that "PAL" is still with Eric Allard. He also adds that there were a number of J5's built for both "Short Circuit" movies, and one of those [the fifth one], along with the telemetry suit as used in the second movie, is now located in the United Kingdom. He has a good home and is very much looked and cared for after having being restored to fully working capacity. 

In 2005 PAL was still with Eric Allard and J5! – Thanks Dave Everett.


Eric Allard mentions that PAL was used for a few TV programs. In Allard's CV, there are the shows he mentions:

                                                                TELEVISION CREDITS
Production                                                        Studio                         Position

Lois & Clark TV Episode                        Warner Bros. TV     Robotic Supervisor

Ab.- Minded Professor TV Episode       Disney TV               Robotic Supervisor

Does anyone recall or have seen any of these to confirm PAL's appearance?

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 14th, 2012 at 1:39 pm and is filed under Not Quite Robots, The Robots. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “1985 – “PAL” (a.k.a. “H.E.N.R.I. VIII”) the Robot – Douglas Trumbull (American)”

  1. Richard Steele Says:

    I know where the PAL robot is, if you wish to contact me for details. I also have some further photos of him..