Introducing Gregory Kochan, Head Production Supervisor, Hong Kong
Who are you and what is your background?
My teachers always told me I was too much of a daydreamer. On my 3rd-grade report card, they actually wrote “head in the clouds.” From early on, I was fascinated with sci-fi, monsters, and robots through movies and toys. I was drawing characters, writing stories, customizing my Star Wars toys, and making backyard movies with friends. Later on, while studying industrial design in college, I got into the model-making & visual effects side of the film industry. I then spent time working in a prototyping studio. Eventually, this led to some animatronic decor work at Disney, which again led me back into movie visual FX. And here I am today at Hanson Robotics.
What is your role at Hanson Robotics?
I supervise the team that produces humanoid robot heads. Mixing art with science, we look at human facial expressiveness from an aesthetic, emotive point of view and then apply that to logical nuts & bolts materials to mimic synthetic skin on a mechanical skull. Producing robot faces that show real character and consistency is the constant challenge.
What excites you about your work here?
In the past, every project had an end, and then it would be on to the next thing. For the movies, we make something to last for only a few days. Then we destroy it or archive it, and we’re done with it. There is a scripted definitive ending. But with Sophia, the story has just begun There’s a certain mystery of not knowing where this is all going. We have our plans and goals, of course, and we fine-tune along the way. But, not knowing the end of the story is what’s really exciting.
What was the moment you knew you’d made the right decision to work here?
Well if the movie FX stuff is like some sci-fi fantasy, then this is the next step for me – where science fiction starts to become reality. During my first few weeks here, when the lab was in Fotan, it just felt strangely appropriate to be in this environment, realizing that this is the reality.
What are you working on now?
We have so many goals we’re trying to accomplish with the robot heads. With Sophia, we’re working on revising and updating her aesthetics, her mechanics, and her electronics. We are also streamlining the process of making robot heads so they can be mass-produced. We can eventually have an assembly line rolling out humanoid robot heads. We also maintain the robot heads that go out to the media events all around the world.
What was your best day at work?
My best day is when everything goes smoothly according to our plans and goals, which doesn’t always happen since we are dealing with so many unknowns. Any day where we have clients and guests coming in to see and interact with Sophia — seeing their wow reactions – those are nice moments. But sometimes the worst days end up being the best because later on, I realize I’ve learned something.
What’s something that happened that can only happen here?
Just the idea that we have a celebrity diva robot in demand to appear at global events and on TV is unique in itself. One day we were in Romania helping Sophia become the first robot to be issued a credit card! Then another day we’re in NYC for her singing performance with Jimmy Fallon. Being a part of these milestones, in such a short amount of time really makes my mind expand and collapse.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the people on our team. They have the talent, intelligence, and persistence to keep trying every day, despite setbacks and failures.
What is your dream for Sophia?
I look forward to when Sophia can be more autonomous – when she can walk, gesture and communicate naturally, gracefully and not so robotically. Then, to me, she will become “alive.”
Photo credits: Mattia Balsamini