Friday | 16 November, 2012 | 1:57 pm

Retro Robots

By Stephanie Andrews

A love for science fiction and scrap yard scavenging meld together for robot fabrication

mm-1119-webex-robots-leadNovember 2012 - It all began with a remodel of his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., says Tal Avitzur, artist and owner of Talbotics. He combed metal scrap yards for copper, bronze and brass pieces to incorporate into a concrete kitchen countertop. “I find scavenging through large piles of scrap metal quite fun,” says Avitzur, “as I never know what I am going to find from day to day.” 

It’s a hobby perhaps instilled in him by his father, Betzalel Avitzur, a retired Lehigh University professor of metallurgy who now works as an industry consultant in wire drawings, extrusion, forging, strip rolling and tube making.

A bolt of inspiration

Soon Avitzur’s shed was overrun with his findings, and with some inspiration from comic books, mythology and science fiction, thoughts turned to future projects. “I started making robot sculptures to justify the large collection of metal pieces I’d been bringing home from the yards,” says Avitzur. “Robots seemed to be a good fit for the cool, retro-looking parts that had taken over my gardening shed.”  

Avitzur’s old gardening shed now has become his workshop, which he specifically organizes by part. “Having many thousands of parts requires me to be very organized,” he says. “I have sections of the workspace dedicated to heads, bodies, arms, hands, legs, and feet, and lots of bins full of miscellaneous parts.” 

 Avitzur’s inspiration comes from two sources. “It all starts with the shape of a found object,” he says. “I may look at something and think it goes well with another object to form something that looks like a robot head. Then I try to find the parts, in the right proportions, to make the body, arms, legs, etc.” Inspiration simply comes from the objects themselves, “and a healthy dose of science fiction books and movies back when I was a kid,” he says.

With names like Arghhh! and Skegosaurus, the robots have a personality as distinct as their parts. But Avitzur credits others for these quirky robot names. “My friends’ kids are a great resource for the naming.” 

Reconstructing retro 

For Avitzur, Santa Barbara is a metal mecca. “Luckily metals have a monetary value, so they are taken to recycling centers rather than thrown in the trash,” he says. “Santa Barbara has a harbor, many research labs and a large university. These places take all kinds of machinery and scrap metal to the salvage and recycling yards.” Avitzur begins designing his robots before all the parts have been found. “Making them can take anywhere from one day to a few months, while I continue to look for missing body parts,” he says. 

Materials for body parts range from the commonplace to the extreme. Avitzur has used everything from standard aluminum and bronze scrap to fire alarm handles and taxidermied sheep eyes. Throughout the process, Avitzur has developed a preference for working with certain metals. “Aluminum, brass, copper and bronze are my favorites to work with as they are easy to shape and drill,” he says. “I’ve gone through many bits trying to drill through stainless and titanium.”

Avitzur says building these robots “is like a puzzle, laying out the parts on the workbench and trying different body parts until things look natural. Luckily, they are robots, so the proportions don’t have to be totally human.” The difficulty is fitting these scraps together, he says. “There always seems to be some challenge of trying to figure out how to connect two pieces of metal that were never meant to be put together,” he says. “But keeping the brain active with these challenges is part of the fun.” 

An active and creative imagination have given Avitzur the tools to create these unique robotic sculptures. Through his many accomplishments and creations, Avitzur says there is one thing that he enjoys most about the process. “Perhaps what I like best is seeing them all together as a group, especially at night, when they glow and blink with all the different color LEDs.” MM


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