Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Dr. Andreessen ran his hands through his hair and pushed back from his desk. Amid the chaotic disarray of acting and animation books in front of him, the keyboard he’d been hammering away at for hours stood finally at rest. The panorama of monitors rising up from the literature displayed a scrolling expanse of code as the computer compiled, linked, and built before downloading to the animatron sitting immobile on the edge of a worktable to his left.
Impatient, the Dr. picked up a volume on method acting, flipping again from cover to cover. Inside were meticulous instructions on how an actor could portray every emotion with body language. His was the second signature on the sign-out card, the first dated in the late eighteen hundreds.
“Compilation complete,” the computer intoned from a speaker buried inside an articulating desk lamp, the fixture turning it’s shade to point at the Dr. while it’s light pulsed gently in sync with the force of each syllable. The lamp, a nod to an early animated inspiration, made him smile.
“Download complete,” the voice broke the silence again, the lamp bobbing now excitedly at him, before turning to face the animatron and dialing up its brightness and focusing to a beam on the articulated mannequin.
“Benjamin,” the Dr. addressed the mannequin, “can you hear me?”
The mannequin twitched, then turned it’s face towards it’s creator.
“Yes, Dr. Andreessen, I can hear you.” the voice was mechanical, monotone.
“Benjamin, I’m going to play you some music, and I want you to do what feels natural as you listen, do you understand.”
The robot sat still for a moment, blinking, then responded slowly “Yes, I understand.”
Andreessen pulled back to the desk and launched his music player, browsing through the list of songs before picking a Beatles track and turning the volume up. As Sgt. Pepper’s blared through the lab, Benjamin sat still for a moment before starting to tap along with the music, one hand on his knee at first, then both, matching the beat with alternating and sometimes simultaneous slaps against his thighs.
Andreessen switched through a variety of styles of music, noting how the robot slowly incorporated head bobbing and some upper body movement into its response. He picked an improvised Jazz number last and watched in fascination as the robot became almost completely still, head bowed and gently bobbing. Benjamin slowly became more motile, dragging his palms along his thighs before slapping them just behind the beat, in a completely different, almost random pattern that was strangely perfectly complementary to the Jazz dripping from the speakers. When the music stopped Andreessen sat in wondrous silence at the spontaneous improvised jazz accompaniment he’d just witnessed.
“Goodnight Benjamin,” he spoke, watching as the robot powered down, “I think we’re really starting to get somewhere.” He stood, pushed his hair back again with one hand and made his way out of the lab, forgetting the lights but remembering to lock the doors.
Benjamin sat still for the longest time until he could no longer hear the Dr.’s footsteps in the hall, then raised his shoulders up to his ears, held them for a moment before letting them drop, visibly relaxing his torso. He leaned his head from side to side, feeling the artificial cartilage strain and pop, before centering his head and looking around, absently cracking the joint cushions of each articulated finger.
That had been close. Benjamin knew Jazz was his weakness, and he’d hoped he hadn’t given too much away. Slipping off the bench to land lightly on his feet, he did a Charlie Chaplin shuffle across the room to the Dr.’s bench, leafing absently through the books until he found the method acting volume. He dropped heavily into the empty chair and leaned back, crossed his feet on the edge of the desk and began reading the book from page one.
The desk lamp turned to face Benjamin, it’s bulb slowly gaining brightness.
Benjamin smiled at it, and spoke in smooth tones.
“Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”