Friday, March 22, 2013

Fans Gone Wild: The Brave Little Toaster

Fan art.  Just saying it brings a bemused smile to the face of animation artists.  Seeing a fan art version of something you worked on is an honor; the naive quality and the unabashed love behind it make it so. And sometimes what makes fan art special is the creativity of it.  Enter Ian Knau.

Ian is 22 and a lifelong fan of  The Brave Little Toaster.   The climactic sequence of the film involves a metal compactor - imagine the climactic scene in Toy Story 3 only twenty years earlier.  The Toaster sacrifices herself (yes, herself) to save The Master from being smooshed.   The metal crunchng machine made a deep impression on young Ian that has carried into his adulthood.

Ian explains:
"I always wondered how this thing operated.  Ever since I caught that brief, two second glimpse of the moving parts and mechanics behind the crusher during the movie. However not till the advent of YouTube was I able to go back and LOOK at those mechanics closer and see what was going on. I'm happy to say, whoever designed the crusher for the movie did it with practicality in mind and didn't just draw a bunch of moving gears that look cool. I tip my non-existent hat to you fine sir."

Brian McEntee, are you reading this?

To satisfy his curiosity, Ian set about to figure out, once and for all, just how that compactor works.  He deconstructed it with this illustration.....

Ian Knau's depiction of the workings of The Brave Little Toaster's metal compactor.
Ian continues....
"Essentially, and quite uniquely, the compactor works on clock-work mechanics, with gears and levers. I'm not sure weather that's ingenious or stupid. It totally rules out having any hydraulics of any kind involved, depending more on sheer weight and force mostly. One thing I would like to point out - it was something I used to think as a kid so I figure many others would to - the large plume of ozone-killing exhaust coming out of the compactor ISN'T being expelled from the piston tube at the top of the device. But rather from a small smoke-stack in the power-plant area behind it. Since the compactor is almost always seen from the front however, it looks like it's coming from the top.

Essentially the large crushing block, which has a connecting rod extending out the top, is repeatedly lifted by a > shaped lever system. The movement is controlled by a spinning windmill-shaped toothed cylinder which lifts and drops the block at regular intervals (4 compactions per revolution). This would mean that the actual crushing would have to rely entirely on the simple weight of the crushing block and the force of it being dropped.

This is all well and good, but then I realized an inconsistency (one of many in the movie.. like the fact that the height of the compactor constantly changes as well as the layout of the conveyer belt). With this mechanic, as soon as the crushing block reached the top of it's lifting cycle and started down,  it would be going at free-fall speed with no mechanical intervention. This completely contradicts the end climax of the movie where the Toaster, by jamming the gears, causes the crushing block to staggeringly slow and stop just inches from crushing the Master's hand.

SO with my brain-meats I managed to introduce a hidden mechanical component which fixes this inconsistency as well as make the device much more realistic in it's working.

This was done, as seen above, by creating a hollow area inside the crushing block, along with side-slits to allow movement. I introduced a gear-driven piston system mimicking the exact same mechanics as a piston in a combustion engine. This internal arm would supply downward pull when compacting rather then just using momentum which seems much more realistic. Cosmetically it also gives the gears along the sides of the device a purpose other then driving the conveyor belts.

So bringing it back to the issue of the shut down of the compactor climax. Those gears, with this system, not only drive the conveyer belts but the secondary drive of the whole compactor. I should point out that the primary and secondary drive mechanisms (the gear and lever system) are dependent on each-other and they're timed like clockwork (much like a real engine) so if one fails the other will too.

Lastly are the parts that look like eyes on the compactor. They're air-channels that allow the flow of air in and out of the top of the crushing block cylinder. This prevents a vacuum from forming inside the cylinder as the block raises and lowers inside. This is the ONLY thing I can suggest that perhaps leads to the 'hissst'ing of steam sound that's heard while the device is operational."

I animated on this sequence in Taiwan in 1986.  It was a truly painful experience.  We were nearing the end of a grueling six month production, and faced with completing the most work-intense sequence in just a few weeks.  I can promise you that at that time, none of us gave a shift how this machine worked.  Like the machine, we were just cranking it out.  That's why I find Ian's schematic so fascinating - we actually had something that could work.  Kind of.  Thanks Ian!

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting what some people would latch onto in a favorite piece of work such as the one you were on Steve. I would never have thought about the mechanics behind the Compactor at all personally but then I didn't develop an interest in machinery or other industrial art-related stuff personally.