How Queen Animated Frank the Robot for Their 2017 Tour
Queen fans who've managed to catch the group on their 2017 tour have been treated to a special spectacle timed to honor the 40th anniversary of the band's News of the World LP: a giant-sized, animated version of Frank, the robot who appears on the album cover. Unsurprisingly, a great deal of work went into bringing this classic contraption from the front cover to the stage.
As outlined in an in-depth report from Wired, Frank's revival involved a lot of painstaking animation work — but first, because the album cover itself was repurposed from a 1953 painting by Frank Kelly Freas, the band's creative team had to decide what to do about the parts of the robot's body that have remained unseen for 40 years. Freas might have had some ideas, but he passed away in 2005; to figure out the answers, artist Mark Hough spent time tinkering with digitally rendered models until they found the right balance.
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"We had to guess how the side of his head and feet looked. We cheated," Hough admitted. "We oversized the hands because they were such a key moment when the show kicks off; we needed to make it look like it was floating over the audience."
Once Frank's body was designed, Hough faced the arguably more arduous task of figuring out how to animate his movements. As he told the magazine, they never wanted Frank's humanoid appearance to detract from his machine-driven movement, so they worked hard to make his motions clunky. Confessing he was "nervous about animation," Hough explained his process, saying, "I wanted him to look real and move in a very human way but he was heavy, metal, and couldn’t move quickly."
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The end result was an assortment of set pieces that add an extra layer of visual pizzazz to the stage presentation on this tour, while also trading on the audience's nostalgia for Queen's classic work. From semi-recreating Frank's pose on the album cover to having the robot clap along with "Radio Ga Ga," the animation echoes the mission of the current Queen lineup: celebrating the past while adding a modern twist. And for Hough, despite the difficulties, it proved an assignment worth celebrating. As he put it, "It was an honor to be trusted by a band of Queen's stature with something so precious to them."