Some of the most awesome science fiction machines ever conceived for film, like the turbo-tank AT-ATs from Empire Strikes Back, were inspired by things the concept designers saw every day. You may already know that George Lucas was allegedly inspired to create the AT-ATs by these cargo lifters at the Port of Oakland — but did you know the T-1000 "liquid metal" Terminator was inspired by chocolate fudge? Find out which strangely ordinary items inspired eight of the coolest science fiction machines, and be humbled.
Robby the Robot, star of 1955 special effects blockbuster Forbidden Planet and later a main "charater" on the TV show Lost in Space, was the creation of legendary production designer Robert Kinoshita. Apparently one of his biggest inspirations for the globular humanoid bot was washing machine tubs. Kinoshita had worked on those before his career in the movies. The comparison sounds strange to us today, until you look back and see what washing machines looked like in the 1940s, when Kinoshita worked on them. This picture shows the odd similarities, with the bulbous roundness and strange silver knobs sticking out.
The HAL 9000 computer which famously refused to open the pod bay door in the 1969 movie 2001 was inspired by surveillance cameras which filmmaker Stanley Kubrick saw around London as CCTVs were being put in place. Author Arthur C. Clarke, who worked with Kubrick adapting his novel for the screen, confirms that HAL was inspired by "television cameras in cities" in an interview.
Here is a rather odd reverse-inspiration. The exoskeleton that Ripley used to fight big mama alien in Aliens is frequently mentioned by the designers for exoskeletons that might be used by soldiers or disabled people. Here you can see Ripley's cool device, and the exoskeleton for soldiers it inspired.
Since the special effects designers for Machine City in Matrix: Revolutions were located in San Francisco, it's probably no surprise that they based it in part on the San Francisco skyline. Effects designer Craig Hayes said in an interview that one of the first things he and his crew did was go out on the San Francisco Bay, about 8 miles from San Francisco, to see how the city would look from a distance. That gave them a sense of how to build Machine City from Neo's point of view as he zoomed into it.
Here you can see the hot fudge sundae that became the T-1000. Director and effects maven James Cameron said that when he was first conceiving of the liquid metal Terminator, he thought a lot in terms of texture. How should it ooze? How should the reflections look? In an interview, he admitted:
I wanted the effect of the T-1000 to look like a spoon going into hot fudge; it dimples down, then flows up over and closes. That's the look I wanted. You have to work with the viscosity in order to get that look just right.
I like a guy who eats enough fudge that he wants to build a robot out of it.
When Steven Spielberg set out to make futuristic computers for Minority Report, he didn't mess around. He went straight to a research group at MIT, called the Tangible Media Group, which thinks up next-generation interfaces. The group told him that gesture-commands would be the wave of the future, and even showed him a bunch of prototypes — some of which are now in use, several years later. You can see an early gesture-controlled prototype here, on the left. And there's Tom Cruise doing his Minority Report gesture thing on the right.
And finally, there are the eXistenZ "metaflesh game pods," created by David Cronenberg for his dizzying movie about virtual reality games that plug right into your spinal column via a creepily biological bio-port installed (oh so Cronenberg style) right above your butt. Cronenberg has said a lot about how current technology is heading towards a merging with biology. So it's no surprise that his game pods look exactly like biological rehashings of late-1990s Playstation controllers that he would have seen every day while making this movie.