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Are fighting robots being manufactured in the United States? Nope, it’s special effects


Are there really robots ready to take over the world? The robot who appears in a viral video looks ready to do just that when he does a showy backflip and throws a few punches. A number of posts online claimed that the robot was made by Boston Dynamics, an American robotics company, who were also said to have shared the video online. However, this video actually wasn’t created by the company – it was created by a digital artist, who spoke to our team.

If you only have a minute

  • A video showing a robot “fighting” has garnered more than two million views since it was posted on Twitter on April 29, 2023. 
  • The post claims the robot was made by the American company Boston Dynamics. Many of the people who have been sharing this post are worried about robot takeovers.
  • The video first appeared on a TikTok account made to look like it was the company’s official account – but it wasn’t. 
  • It turns out, the company has absolutely nothing to do with this video – or this robot. It was created by an American digital artist using special effects, as he told our team. 
  • Our team also spoke to two other specialists who showed us how to tell that this video isn’t real. 

The fact check, in detail

The video, showing a robot doing a backflip and then throwing a couple of punches, has been viewed more than 2.5 million times since it was first posted on TikTok on April 29, 2023.  

“Why is Boston Dynamics teaching their robots how to fight?” asks this Twitter user in a post shared nearly 1,500 times. Boston Dynamics is an American robotics company currently owned by the South Korean group Hyundai Motor.

Politicians are focusing on crypto regulation, meanwhile robots and AI building essential skills to take over the planet. Boston Dynamics robots now have martial arts and fighting skills. What could go wrong…” wrote this Twitter user.

This is a screengrab of a French tweet featuring the video, posted on May 2, 2023. © Observers

Check the account

At first glance, it does look like the video was made by Boston Dynamics. The video posted on Twitter features the logo of the social network TikTok, as well as the user name @boston_dynamics. If you go to that TikTok account, then you’ll see the video, published on April 30, 2023. On TikTok, it has already garnered more than three million views.  

This is a screengrab of the video posted by the “Botsom_Dynamics” account.
This is a screengrab of the video posted by the “Botsom_Dynamics” account. © Observers

The robot actually does look like one of the robots manufactured by the company, although it doesn’t have a “Boston Dynamics” label.

Here, we’ve compared the robot that appears in the recent viral video with the Atlas robot developed by Boston Dynamics as it appeared in a video shared on January 26, 2023 on Twitter by Boston Dynamics.
Here, we’ve compared the robot that appears in the recent viral video with the Atlas robot developed by Boston Dynamics as it appeared in a video shared on January 26, 2023 on Twitter by Boston Dynamics. © Observers/Boston Dynamics

However, it turns out that this TikTok account isn’t official.

The first clue is if you go on the Boston Dynamics website. The site mentions that the company has accounts on YouTube, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – but not TikTok. 

Also, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that the account that shared the video is called “Botsom_Dynamics”, not “Boston”.

This is a screengrab of the TikTok account Botsom_Dynamics.
This is a screengrab of the TikTok account Botsom_Dynamics. © Observers

This pretender account has actually reposted a number of real videos shared by Boston Dynamics on its official accounts. This video, posted on the fake TikTok account on April 18, 2023, is actually an excerpt of a longer video shared on Boston Dynamics’ official YouTube page on January 18, 2023.

However, the video of the fighting robot shared on this fake account has never been shared by Boston Dynamics on any of its official channels.

Special effects

The comments section of this video is full of notes left by savvy viewers who realised the video was created using special effects. They are right.

If you type the key words”Boston dynamics 3d animation” into TikTok, then you’ll pull up the account of a man named Wayne Ryan Thompson, an American digital artist. He shared the video that has been circulating online on March 27, 2022. 

The hashtags on the video include “#bostondynamics”, as well as “#cgi” (computer-generated image), “#vfx” (which stands for visual effects or special effects) and “#3D”.

This is a screengrab of the video shared March 27, 2022 on Wayne Ryan Thompson’s TikTok account.
This is a screengrab of the video shared March 27, 2022 on Wayne Ryan Thompson’s TikTok account. Observers/Wayne Ryan Thompson

Our team contacted Wayne Ryan Thompson, who called himself “a passionate, self-taught photographer”.  He told us how he produced this video. 

After filming the backdrop with his phone, he used “motion tracking” to give the impression of camera movement using Cinema 4D software.

Once the motion tracking was completed, I took the robot 3D model (which I had purchased through the 3D model marketplace CGtrader ) and ran it through the free Adobe Motion Capture database called ‘Mixamo’. There I gave the model the fight stance animation.

On Mixamo, you can see a pre-made animation that looks a lot like what the robot does in the video.

Sur Mixamo, on retrouve en effet un mouvement similaire à celui exécuté par le robot de la vidéo.

The artist explains that he then calibrated the animation and the original footage as much as possible to get the closest possible colours and lighting. He also added some lens distortion and dirt effects to make it look more natural.

Imperfections 

There are a few clues in this video that make it easy to see that it was created using special effects says Antoine L., a 3D designer

First of all, the environment doesn’t seem to have any effect on the robot. The path is dry and dusty, but you don’t see any dust when he moves. Similarly, the grass doesn’t move either.

There are also some issues with the shadows. They are really soft, which is common with 3D software.

Also, the way that the camera is moving looks virtual. There isn’t any shaking and the movement is smooth, nearly perfect. It looks like camera animation added after the fact.  

Moreover, the video was filmed outside in the forest, which is really different from the other videos shared by Boston Dynamics, which are all filmed inside. 

Our team also spoke to Pierre Billet, the technical director at a Paris-based company called the Compagnie Générale des Effets Visuels (CGEV, or the General Special Effects Company). He added that the sound on the video was “a disaster” and that there were also issues with “tracking”, which means capturing the movement of a camera during a real filming session in order to recreate it virtually. 

The tracking makes it look like the robot is in the same perspective as the backdrop. When the tracking isn’t perfect, you can see that there is a issue between the backdrop and the special-effects generated robot. At the 8th or 9th second, you can see that the tracking isn’t working and the robot’s foot seems to slide past the ground.

Fake videos of the company already circulated in 2019

This isn’t the first time that Boston Dynamics has had an issue like this. Back in 2019, a video showing a robot participating in military training exercises went viral – and that also freaked out social media users. 

That video was actually created by Corridor Digital, an American company specialised in special effects. That video featured a spoof of the Boston Dynamics logo that said “Bosstown Dynamics”. Our team investigated the origins of that video, as well.

>> Read more on The Observers: Does an armed robot really turn on humans in this viral video?

It’s no coincidence that Wayne Ryan Thompson also mentioned this company in his post.

I was actually inspired to make this particular video after seeing Corridor Crew’s ‘Bosstown Dynamics’ on Youtube (I love their work!). I just wanted to see what I could come up with using only an iPhone and my local computer/software.




This story originally appeared on France24

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