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Robot master behind 'Men in Black' and 'Hellboy' shows us how movie magic is made

You probably don't know who Mark Setrakian is. But you know his work:

  • The well-meaning demon and his amphibian counterpart Abe Sapien from Guillermo del Toro's 2004 film Hellboy

  • The tiny Arquilian alien Gentle Rosenberg, who maneuvers his human-shaped body from inside its head in 1997's Men in Black

  • The titular gorilla in 1998's Mighty Joe Young

  • The star of George Lucas's infamous 1986 flop, Howard the Duck

All of these diverse characters came from the workshop of one person: robotics and creature-effects guru Mark Setrakian.

Setrakian currently is the mastermind and designer behind Robot Combat League, Syfy’s new weekly fighting-robot show that features a dozen 8-foot-tall robotic monstrosities clobbering one another.

Setrakian had made a name for himself in the robot-combat circuit in the 1990s and early 2000s, sending his creations into battle in the original Robot Wars competitions and the BattleBots TV series.

His film work began at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas's special-effects house.

Now Setrakian, whose laid-back demeanor starkly contrasts his otherworldly creations, works from his studio at Spectral Motion in Glendale, California, where he created the RCL robots and fashions numerous robotic creatures for movies.

The unadorned exterior of Spectral Motion doesn’t stand out on its quiet street outside of Los Angeles. But, once you enter, the green, vicious canine creature standing there, as well as the myriad of fantasy and sci-fi movie posters that line the walls, instantly show that you’re somewhere out of the ordinary.

Inside the workshop, engineers and artists work among their creations. Oversized claws and limbs protrude from under clear plastic sheets, and full-scale aliens, demons, and monsters watch as new creatures are brought to life under the studio’s florescent lights.

Setrakian, whose special-effects work keeps him behind the scenes, uses his unmatched robotic-engineering knowledge, advanced puppeteering skills, and artistic vision to turn creatures normally confined to the pages of comic books and science fiction stories into memorable, lifelike film characters.


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