Real Robot Retrospective I:

Draw Boxes

It's the early 2000's. I'm in secondary school. My nightly entertainment is sitcoms, reality TV or music videos that are on the 5 channels that I can get on the small TV in my room. It's completely boring. To pass the time sometimes I write, sometimes I sculpt small miniatures out of plastic, and sometimes I draw. I always draw robots, they're so much easier than humans. They are literally just small sketches in the margins of lined notebooks or scribbles on the back of school handouts. Over time I get better at drawing, I show my friends and family and they praise my work. I read books and studied how to draw, eventually getting to a decent level. A complete amateur, but I'm having fun and I have some stuff that I'm proud of.

It's 2021. My mother caught Covid. The symptoms are completely mild (She got better without any problems), but I'm a mental wreck from worrying. I retreat back into the past, looking at old artwork that I've done, trying not to think about the uncertainty of the present. I pick out a few designs that I did from the start of my drawing career and redraw them. It's a fun exercise. I can really see how far I've come. For a moment I can forget about having to work through this tough time while keeping the household together.

After it was done, I thought that I might as well put it up on the website. While I was at it I could practice some web design, CSS grids and responsive design. I decided to immitate the visual language of Japanese model kit packaging, with their multiple panels densely populated with setting notes, text, logos, manufacturing information, barcodes and photographs.

Going through my archive I think I have 4 distinct periods of design philosophies. This is the first, where I was limited by my drawing ability and heavily influence by other designs.I'll dub this my "Draw boxes" period. I might make new sections for the others, but only if I can find the time and motivation. So, enjoy this part of the Real Robot Retrospective.


*"Real robots" were a term coined in anime fandom, they don't mean actually real robots, but ones with a more realistic aesthetic that differentiates them from the more superhero like "super robots".



1/ 01



When I was in secondary school I attempted to make a game using Visual Basic. I got as far as a robot sprite that would move around and lose HP when I pressed a button. I named the game "Backfire" and gave up on game dev for good.

But the robot was pretty cool, so I kept sketching it with my rudimentary drawing skills and came up with a design for it. Like the game I intended to make, it was heavily influenced by Front Mission.

I imagined a splash screen like this for the game that I was making, but I didn't have the skill to draw it then. I do now.

Original sketch. I drew this in a lined exercise book when I was a teenager. It has simple shapes and an obvious Front Mission influence to it. It's definitely not the most original design, but I had fun revisiting it.

Setting information: In 2304 the Federated Combined Forces deployed a new model in their bipedal assault machine arsenal. With upgraded armor, weapon systems and more fuel for longer endurance, on paper it outperformed its contemporary units. However flaws in the initial runs fuel lines caused many of them to catch fire during battle. Earning it the ignominious nickname 'Backfire' among FCF pilots.

Height: 6.2m

Armaments: 20mm Autocannon



1/ 02

G-51 'TURK'

Setting information:

The autonomous fighting robot G-51 'Turk' was first deployed for testing with North Malayan Liberation Army in 1993 during a border skirmish with South Malayan security forces. This development sent shockwaves through the militaries of the Western Block. Capable of advanced bipedal movement and autonomous decision making, it was years ahead of anything the Western block could achieve. Following a series of engagements throughout the world the original 'Turk' units were decommisioned within a year and not used in combat on any major fronts. But this was a Sputnik moment that started the doomed arms race to develop autonomous fighting vehicles.


This design was inspired by the story of the 'Mechanical Turk'. The idea I had was of a alternate history Cold War Soviet "Robot" that was actually more of a puppet with a child soldier hidden inside controlling everything. I think I had some notes for a story that featured it, but as with all things written by teenagers it kind of sucked. The robot design was cool though, so I still draw it from time to time.

I tried to get a welded-together cast iron look with the redesign. The weaponary references Cold War era soviet infantry weapons.

Original sketch. I was influenced by Machinen Krieger art to draw this blown up diagram of the different components. The head unit was placed higher and it looked a bit thinner in the original design, but I still kept the 'walking trash can' look of it.

Original sketch.The 'Turk' is armoured against small arms and used mainly as anti-infantry support. Designed for guerilla warfare and to operate for long periods without supplies, the 'Turk' is equiped with multiple hardpoints where human scaled weapons can be mounted on. The weapons look like tubes and blocks because I didn't learn to use references yet when I drew this.

Height: 1.5m

Optional Armaments: Heavy machine gun, RPG-7, Assault rifles.



1/ 03

PzKZ-I Ausf. J

Setting information: A mainstay of the Central Confederation Armed Forces during the early war, the single seater PZKZ-I was not particularly capable or distinguished, but it served its workhorse role well. By mid-war it's light armour and weapons relegated it to support duties. Later models such as the Ausf. J featured an additional 7.92mm machine gun for anti-infantry capability and improved foot suspension.


DESIGN NOTES: At one point I was really into reading about German tanks. This design came out of that minor obsession. But looking at it now the original design looked more like something from Max Fleischer's Superman shorts. I updated it with what I know now about the visual language of early war German tanks.

By referencing real world tanks, a bunch of boring boxes can look a whole lot more visually interesting. Of course there is an art to knowing where to put down greebles and details and where to leave undetailed. I drew this in a ligne claire style because it looks European to me.

Original sketch. Very much a bunch of boxes arranged into a humanoid shape. These were originally the "bad guy" units to go up against the Backfire.

Original sketch. I even made internal drawings for these. A lot of thought seems to be put into them. I think I was seriously considering scratchbuilding a miniature of this thing for wargaming.

Height: 5.2m

Main Armaments: 7.92mm Machine gun, 20mm Auto loading cannon.



1/ 04

PzKZ-II Margit

Setting information: The PzKZ-II chasis was commisioned by Central Confederation Armed Forces to supplement their mainline PzKZ-I forces with heavier weaponary. As a two seated design with a fire support role, it was quickly adopted for light anti-armour and anti-aircraft defense. It's slow speed and unstable gait however made it more suitable as a moving emplacement than a fast battle machine. The "Margit" variant, equipped with twin 20mm Flak cannons and lighter armour, was developed for anti-aircraft and base defense roles.

DESIGN NOTES: After the PzKZ-I, I actually drew a whole series of robots based on this "Space WWII" setting, this was one of the better ones. There's a pretty drastic redesign for this one. Mainly so that the details make more logical sense rather than being just random boxes on top of ther random boxes.

I also put more care into the construction of the machine, were the parts welded together or were they secured by rivets? Where would the joints go to permit proper movement? The weapons were more carefully researched and referenced too.

Original sketch. This is super crude and boxy. But the concept of a twin gunned robot with heavier armor looked ok.

Original sketch. I made a model sheet for this one too. The twin seater configuration can be seen in the rightmost drawing.

Height: 5.2m

Main Armaments: 20mm Flak 30 x2.



1/ 05

LCT-O Locust -O

Setting information: A proposed Omnimech platform developed from the venerable Star League era Locust, the Locust Omnimech sported an upgraded endo steel internal structure and heavier armor than contemporary Locust models. With a top speed of 122km/h and a pod space of 4 tons, it could be equiped with weapon packages for scout, light mech hunter-killer or anti-infantry roles. However the DCMS decided that those roles were of little use against the Clans, and the design was shelved in favor of the more advanced Raptor omnimech.

DESIGN NOTES: This was a really early design which I made for the Battletech boardgame. But one that I still like because it's kind of cool. It has a mix of 80's Japanese real robot design with 00's rounded iPod aesthetics. A product of its time.

It's an omnimech, so it can swap out different weapons loadouts depending on the mission needs. So I tried to imply a more pod-like modularity with the weapons.

Original sketch. Roughly sketched in pencil, the perspective barely holds together. Not counting stuff that my mother kept from when I was in kindergarten, this is probably some of my earliest surviving artwork.

Original sketch. I did this one before I left for university, inking it with a ball point pen. By then I had a decent understanding of perspective and dynamic posing. Although my figure drawings from the same period looked absolutely terrible.

Mass: 25t

Height: 8.7m

Main Armaments: (4 tons pod space) Martell Medium laser x3, Harmon light laser x2.



1/ 06

P3-000X Ostwald

Setting information: An upgunned security mech manufactured in limited numbers by Kong Intestellar Corporation. With an upgraded fusion engine, it features heavy armor for its weight class, a trio of Sperry-Browning machine guns for anti-infantry work and two Sian-Ceres Lynx SRM twin racks for use against heavier units. Mainly designed for population suppression and peacekeeping, most were destroyed or caniballised for parts when they were pushed to the front lines during the Succession Wars.

DESIGN NOTES: Another Battletech mech. This really shows a clear progression of drawing skill and style. From just barely-there perspective and crude lines, to shaky sketchy lines, to clean and confident line art. Drawing this felt like an exercise from a Scott Robertson How to Draw book. I'm pretty sure that there are some perspective errors though.

I toned down the sci-fi elements and incorporated a lot more tank details in the redesign. The main body is inspired by the turret of a Cromwell tank and the armored panels reminescent of schurzen skirts on German WWII tanks.

Original sketch. An early drawing of the Ostwald, it was on the same page as the Locust-O.

Original sketch. This one came later, which I inked in using a ballpoint pen. The lines are a bit shaky because at the time I thought that was an interesting style.

Mass: 25t

Height: 8.4m

Armaments: Sperry-Browning Machine guns x3, Sian-Ceres Lynx SRM twin rack x2.



1/ 07

Niels Bohr

DESIGN NOTES: One more Battletech mech (I really played a lot Battletech). This design is oozing Macross/Gundam influences. I liked the design so I tried to keep as much of the original as possible, especially the chest mounted missile launchers and the WWII bomber inspired face. Only changing the proportions slightly to make it look more heroic. I used what I learned from modern Gundam model kits to place the joints and articulation. I named quite a number of mech after physicists/chemists for some reason.

I shaded this in because it looked a bare without it.

Original sketch. This is a cool and dynamic pose, but there wasn't much thought given to how the articulation actually works.

Setting information: A light mech commander unit, it has three medium lasers to cut through weak points in armor and three SRM-2 launchers to deliver finishing blows. Equiped with jump jets and a powerful communications system, it can keep pace with common Wasp and Stinger scout mechs while coordinating up to a lance of mechs.


Height: 10.2m

Armaments: Medium laser x3, Short Range Missile-2 x3.



1/ 08

SHD-2HCT Hammerhawk


The last Battletech design of this series. All of these were custom designs that I made with my gaming group at the time. Which is why I'm quite nostalgic about them. There were a lot more, but I only picked 4 to redraw because of time limitations.

I wouldn't call this design very original, the Dougram lineage is very obvious, although the lower legs look more like something from the modern Diaclone reboot. I hadn't developed my own design sensibilites yet, so I just copied what I liked. Dual shoulder cannons are cool, but they are a pain to draw. I drew them so they store upwards when not in use.

Original sketch. I forgot the original name of this mech and all I have of this design is this illustration. It's a cool action scene, but wonder how it can swing that hatchet without the shoulder mounted autocannons getting in the way.

Setting information: An experimental platform developed by NAIS by incorporating elements of the Hatchetman on a heavier Lang-T1 chassis. It was armed with two Class-5 autocannons for long range support until it could get close enough to use its battery of lasers and hatchet to inflict close quarters damage. 5 units were built for field testing, with 2 shipped for limited combat roles on the Cappellan Confederation border. While lacking in firepower and considered an unsuccessful experiment, the data obtained was used in the further development of the Axman battlemech.


Height: 13.2m

Armaments:Class-5 Autocannon x2, Medium laser x3, Hatchet.