An interview with Mike Senna, builder of a real-life Wall-E
Here’s something you won’t find at your local Buy N Large. Computer programmer Mike Senna recently unveiled a life-sized, working Wall-E replica that can trundle around on its treads, wave both hands, raise its eyebrows, and — of course — warble its own name. Senna has spent a staggering two and a half years on this project, toiling for about 25 hours each week while holding down a full-time job at a biometrics company in Orange County. Though Senna has some experience bringing beloved pop culture bots to life — he completed a similar R2D2 replica in ’03 — Wall-E presented a unique set of challenges.
For starters: The robot “changes size during the film,” Senna tells EW, which made its dimensions difficult to determine. Without real-life schematics or prototypes, Senna had nothing but screen shots from Pixar’s movie to guide him. Senna also had to custom create nearly every one of Wall-E’s parts, although he did luck out by finding a perfect pair of eyes at Home Depot. The builder wanted his creation to be able to convey emotions — just like the “real” Wall-E — so he spent the lion’s share of his time building its head.
All that effort paid off: The larger-than-life Wall-E that roams around Disneyland has immobile eyes, but Senna’s 3.4-foot-replica features peepers that can move. The robot also makes about seven distinct sounds, including that iconic “Waaa-AAAA-lleee!” Soon, though, Wall-E’s vocabulary will increase: Senna says he’s hoping to either create more sounds on his own or get in touch with Ben Burtt, the sound designer who provided the bot’s voice in Pixar’s film. Other planned additions include a panel that displays the robot’s remaining battery power and the ability to play a Macintosh startup sound when Wall-E boots up. (Teaching it to do the “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” dance will presumably take a little more time.)
While Senna’s model has only made a few public outings so far, it’s already garnered a lot of positive attention — especially from one high-profile name. “I had shown it to [Pixar chief] John Lasseter at an event that I went to with the R2,” Senna says. “He said that he liked it a lot and that I should probably bring it by Disney studios when it was completed.” Sounds like the best all-hands meeting ever.
In the meantime, Senna’s going to concentrate on showing off Wall-E at events for kids and pediatric hospitals. And don’t start pestering him about making a Johnny 5 or T-800 — he doesn’t plan on tackling another project of this magnitude any time soon. “My wife wants me to do the improvements to the house that I’ve been neglecting for the past two and a half years,” Senna explains with a laugh.
See Wall-E in action by watching the video below — and head to Senna’s YouTube page for a series of clips that show the robot’s evolution from idea to finished product.