The Coppelia Project - Four Dancing Robot Ballerinas

Building four life size Robot Ballerinas and teaching them to dance.
Geoffrey Drake-Brockman
1 Team Member
Launch Party Announced!

The Coppelia Project Launch Party "The Coppelia Salon" will be on Friday 10 May at the Artist's Studio. Tickets by campagn contribution, see sidebar; $32 single, $64 double. Note, single ticket complementary to previous supporters at $32 and above, double ticket complementary to previous supporters at $64 and above.

Launch Party Image

So you’re making a fembot?

Actually I’m making four. And we don’t call them fembots. They are full-size humanoid ballerina dancing robots inspired by the “Coppelia” ballet about a clockwork girl.

Partly Build Coppelia Robot 

Why make robot ballerinas?

Well, lots of reasons, here are four:

  1. It’s spooky and beautiful. These robots look a bit like scaled-up clockwork ballerina music boxes, with an added “cyborg” factor. They are very strange, eerily-attractive devices that fall outside any regular category.
  2. It’s awesome tech’. Here are hand-made robots developed from scratch without any assistance from NASA or Honda. They use all custom circuit boards, firmware, communications bus, control software, lasercut aluminium skeleton and motorized joints and a unique and beautiful form based on a body-mould of a real live prima ballerina.
  3. Its art that’s just gotta be done. It’s an extension of a long-standing series of art projects with robotics that I have been running for several years, starting with “Floribots” (see below). Humanoid robots are the ultimate pinnacle of robot-making and here we can make a batch of them and see what they look like dancing!
  4. It’s important. I think that by dealing with robots at this level – artistically – we can better work out how we feel about them, what their limitations are, how robots fit into the human world. Other robot projects are military oriented or only deal with the “geek” aspect. Here we are a looking at the graceful, beautiful, other possibility of robotics.

Building Robots in the Studio

Partly Build Coppelia Robot 2


What will the robots do?

The Coppelia Project robots are specially designed to learn and perform the movements of classical ballet. They can spin “en pointe”, move their waists, arms and head. They cannot walk and their hands do not have grippers to pick things up. They are optimised only as ballerina robots.

The Coppelia Project robots are taught ballet movements by having their arms, head, and torso physically moved through a ballet sequence by our ballerina trainer. An on-board computer captures the motion so it can replay it later - in various dance move combinations. 


Why should I give you money?

To help make something extraordinary happen. To fund the unfundable. To be part of art history. Because the contributor packages offer intriguing levels of feedback and involvement in this strange and beautiful project. Because you can.

Framed Floribot Flowers

Also, if you have seen my earlier robotic artwork “Floribots”, online or at the NGA, SAM, or PICA, note that the “Pirouette Patron” contributor package includes a framed original Floribot origami flower. These took great hung individually, but really wonderful in groups of 4, or 8!


Why are you sure you can deliver?

Two reasons; (1) A huge amount of it is already done. And (2) a solid track record of building unusual, successfully-completed robot artworks.


What’s already been done:

  • We have obtained the support of a major national ballet company - The WA Ballet. With the assistance of its principal dancer Jayne Smeulders, a full set of body-moulds of a real ballerina standing en pointe have been cast.
  • Much research has been done with Jayne Smeulders into the movement requirements for robotic ballet.
  • A working set of prototype robotic arms has been hand-made and tested with all electronics and software to achieve human motion capture and replay.
  • Two ballerina robots are already partly assembled. One is complete with high-gloss lacquer paint and a fully polished aluminium skeleton, the other one has unpainted panels and unpolished skeleton so far.
  • We have the silicone moulds to cast the rest of the body units.
  • We have the CAD design files so we can get more aluminium skeleton parts laser-cut.
  • Circuit boards and embedded software have been developed and tested. Sufficient boards for four robots have been assembled and flashed with software.
  • A full custom Motion Editor and Joint Control suite of software has been developed from scratch and tested.
  • We have sufficient, motors, bearings, mechanical fittings, wiring components, CPUs, and most other electrical parts to complete four ballerina robots.

 Coppelia Moulding with Jayne

Jayne Smeulders Positions of the Arms

Robot Arm, Ballet Slipper, Coppelia Skeleton 


What still needs to be done:

 Unpainted Robot Coppelia

With funds from this campaign we will complete the robot ballerina dance troupe as follows:

  • Lasercutting, hand-machining, and assembly of two additional robot skeletons.
  • Production of two additional fibreglass bodies, hand finishing and lacquering.
  • Installation of electronics and wiring into all four robots.
  • Setup of software and integration of systems to enable dance capture and replay.
  • Training of the dolls to perform ballet moves.
  • Software development and hardware refinement to create a cohesive robotic dance installation.
  • Production of dance sequence videos of the robot ballerina troupe for publication on Youtube.


What lead up to this project?

The Coppelia Project is the ultimate outcome of a series of increasingly ambitious robotics projects. In 2005 I created a work called "Floribots" incorporating 128 robotic flowerpots. This artwork has been exhibited internationally and started the process that lead to this project. I have also completed other major robots, including the highly complex spatial robot "Headspace" in 2010 - with 256 motorized mirror-polished rods and "Totem" in 2012 - the world's largest laser projecting robot at 10.5m (35') tall and weighing almost 20 Tons, with 108 moving elements and three laser projectors.

Two other ballerina related projects have also taken place alongside the Coppelia Project, one is “Parallax Dancer” – a 3D virtual dance installation, and the other is “Cockwork Jayne” – a simple windup version of the ballerina robot.  

Parallax Dancer, Clockwork Jayne  

Note that “Floribots” has been exhibited at The National Gallery of Australia (2005), The Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (2007), and The Singapore Art Museum (2010). Floribots won the Peoples’ Choice Award at the National Sculpture Prize in 2007 and is the subject of a catalogue essay by Dr Benjamin Joel.

Robotic Projects by Geoffrey Drake-Brockman  


What will the final outcome be?

The Coppelia Project will create a dancing robotic installation that will be exhibited as an artwork, become the basis of Youtube video works for a worldwide audience, and eventually provide the foundation for a hybrid performance work - a new ballet written for robotic and human dancers.

Why the Coppelia Story?

Coppelia is a great story! It is a widely known ballet that is performed by dance companies all over the world. Coppelia is about a clockwork girl, who is mistaken for a real girl by a boy who falls in love with her. Coppelia is one of the most enduring stories in our culture about the encounter between human and robot. It is unusual in that it deals with this situation through love and infatuation, rather than jealousy and rejection as in the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelly. Coppelia provides an evocative background against which to set a contemporary robotics project - in an age when human/machine encounters are becoming increasingly real.

 Coppelia Ballerina

Who are you?

I am Geoffrey Drake-Brockman. I’m a full-time professional artist, working primarily with robotics, but also using lasers, and other materials and technologies. I have a technical background (BSc in computer science) and have spent many years in the commercial world as a programmer and as an IT Manager running large-scale IT projects. I’ve also been to Art School and done a Master of Arts degree. I have been working as a full time artist for the last seven years. My “paying” jobs are generally public art commissions. I recently gave a TEDx talk about my art practice you can watch here.

Also on the Coppelia Project team we have:

  • Jayne Smeulders - Principal Dancer. Jayne is Prima Ballerina of the West Australian Ballet. Jayne has trained and performed ballet her whole life – essentially her first steps were “en pointe”. The Coppelia Project dolls are based on a full body cast of Jayne. She will participate as dance consultant, and robot trainer. Jayne trained in Germany at Hamburg Staatsoper GmbH Balletschule and performed with Netherlands Dance Theatre II in Amsterdam. Jayne was the 2009 WA Citizen of the Year for services to arts, culture and entertainment.
  • David Veerman - Embedded Systems Design Engineer. Former avionics engineer, robot enthusiast, self-taught electronics and realtime software genius. David is responsible for custom-developed electronics, firmware, and motion control software systems for the Coppelia robots.
  • Ruvan Muthu-Krishna - Mechanical & Software Development. 5th-year mechatronics engineer student who assists with hardware and software aspects of the Project. Ruvan volunteers his time to The Coppelia Project, sighting it as a great application of his studies and example of animatronic art.
  • Chrissie Parrot - Choreographer. Chrissie is a prolific, multi award-winning choreographer. She has worked work for companies including WA Ballet, Synfionetta de Lorraine France, Tanz Forum Cologne and Theatre Vorpommern in Stralsund. Chrissie is fascinated by the Coppelia story and has choreographed her version of Coppélia for WA Ballet.


Where will this take place?

The outcomes of the Coppelia Project will be recorded via video and still images that will be published on YouTube and online and be visible to all. I see this as a project for a global audience. However, in terms of geography:

  • The construction and preliminary training of the robots will take place my studio in Perth, Western Australia.
  • Further development and rehearsals will be done at the Chrissie Parrot Studios and/or at the West Australian Ballet headquarters. Both in Perth, Western Australia.
  • The Coppelia Project will be put forward for exhibition at appropriate venues internationally, likely to include Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.
  • Eventually, when we produce a Coppelia Project live dance performance - with human and robot dancers - it is hoped to tour the work internationally.


Why make four robots?

One of the things that make robots different from humans is that robots can be manufactured in bulk, while humans are always unique. So to tease-out this key difference, there has to be more than one Coppelia doll - and four is a nice binary number (100), and is just enough to make a little ballet troupe.

 Four Ballerinas

Are you replacing real ballerinas?

Yes! Eventually all ballerinas will replaced with my robots! (Seriously, these robots will only serve to highlight the true grace and beauty of human dancers; I hope that the contrast will show the different abilities of human and artificial performers.)


Isn’t the whole thing a bit weird?

This is an art project. If it’s “a bit weird” then that just makes it all the more interesting. Anyway, I think the Coppelia Project is just good clean everyday ballet robotics!


Why odd ($16, $32,...) contributions?

It’s a geek thing. Everything has to be a power of 2.


How are you going to use the money?

With funding from this campaign we will complete all four robot ballerinas. This money will allow the purchase of materials, payments for artistic and technical services, subsidised studio rental and dedicated time of the artist Geoffrey Drake-Brockman to complete the four robots. Major cost items include:

  • Materials; fibreglass, aluminium, lacquer
  • Materials; electrical and electronic components
  • Laser cutting and machining services
  • Ballet dancer artistic fees
  • Assembly and software development costs
  • Portion of studio rent, power, and data costs


When will it happen?

The estimated timeline for the project is:

  • May – June 2013: Robot part production and assembly
  • July 2013:  Robot ballet dance training
  • August 2013:  Robot troupe integration and completion


What’s the next step in the project?

Once the ballerina robots are complete, I want to develop an original stage production titled “The Coppelia Project” - based around the four robot ballerinas, as well as a cast of human dancers. Note that this performance is beyond what is budgeted for in this campaign – with the need to pay dancers and technical staff - but any overflow funding will allow preliminary work on this ultimate development to commence.

The stage production of “The Coppelia Project” will draw on the 1870 Coppelia story, with some updates and a new slant. Read the synopsis here. Choreographer Chrissie Parrot has agreed to co-produce the production, and Jayne Smeulders will dance in it. One day it is hoped to tour this version of “The Coppelia Project”  - robots, dancers, and all - internationally.


What robotics technology is used?

Here is a summary of the main technology elements that allow full reproduction of graceful human dance movement in realtime:

  • CPU - one on-board X86 based solid state controller per robot, running custom-written Java runtime software.
  • Servo Control Electronics - each robot has eighteen custom-developed motion control cards on a data bus with bespoke firmware in C++.
  • Motion Capture / Edit / Replay – custom-developed software suite written in Visual Basic.
  • Joint Servos Motors – each robot has eighteen 12VDC gear-motors in various sizes with position feedback on each axis.
  • Environmental Sensors – the robots have four channels of infrared sensors.
  • Networking -  a wireless network allows the robots to communicate.
  • Skeleton -  a custom designed fabrication of laser-cut and mirror polished aluminium with stainless steel fittings.
  • Outer Cladding - fibreglass with high-gloss clear over base auto lacquer finish.


Other questions…

Email me at: geoffrey (at) drake-brockman (dot) com (dot) au

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raised by 78 people in 2 months
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$32,768 USD goal
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This campaign ended on April 29, 2013
Select a Perk
  • $16USD
    Kinetic Contributor

    All our Kinetic Contributors will become part of kinetic art history. Help us complete the world's first troupe of robotic ballerinas! Your name will be acknowledged on the dedicated Coppelia Project web site ( and you will receive a thank you email and exclusive digital image set from robot maker artist Geoffrey Drake-Brockman.

    1 claimed
  • $32USD
    Pointe Principal

    Help get this project get up and "en point", and ready to dance the moves of classical ballet the robot way. As a contributor at "Pointe Principle" level you will receive a Limited Edition Coppelia Project postcard hand-signed by robot maker artist Geoffrey Drake-Brockman and posted by air mail to anywhere in the world. You will also be acknowledged on the dedicated Coppelia Project Web Site and will receive a thank you email and exclusive digital image set from the artist.

    13 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $32USD
    Coppelia Launch Party Ticket!

    You will receive an exclusive one-person ticket to a special event at Geoffrey's industrial warehouse art studio in Nedlands, WA - to see the first Coppelia Doll unveiled! The “Coppelia Salon” will be a major event from 8pm til late, with entertainment including performers, music, and art installations. Theme: Paris 1870 (and automata/ballet). Date: Friday 10th May 2013 (subject to conf.) Some food and drink provided. Time: 8pm ‘til late. BYO additional drinks.

    24 out of 256 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $64USD
    Class Supporter

    Bring about the world's first ballet class for robots - where our ballerina will teach robots the moves of classical ballet! As a contributor at this level you will receive two signed limited edition 15x20cm (6x8") photographic prints of The Coppelia Project by Geoffrey Drake-Brockman - posted to you anywhere in the world. In addition, you will be acknowledged on the dedicated Coppelia Project web site and receive a thank you email and exclusive digital image set from the artist.

    3 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $64USD
    Launch Party Double Ticket

    You will receive two exclusive tickets to a special event at Geoffrey's industrial warehouse art studio in Nedlands, WA - to see the first Coppelia Doll unveiled! The “Coppelia Salon” will be a major event from 8pm til late, with entertainment including performers, music, and art installations. Theme: Paris 1870 (and automata/ballet). Date: Friday 10th May 2013 (subject to conf.) Some food and drink provided. Time: 8pm ‘til late. BYO additional drinks.

    19 out of 128 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $128USD
    Barre Sponsor

    Get this Ballerina Troupe dancing! You will be welcomed to a private tour of the artist's studio of Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, in-person or by Skype. You will also have your name engraved on a metal plaque mounted inside the thorax of one of the ballerina robots. In addition, you will be acknowledged on the Coppelia Project web site, and receive two signed limited edition 15x20cm (6x8") photographic prints, as well as a thank you email and exclusive digital image set.

    2 out of 128 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $512USD
    Pirouette Patron

    Receive a signed & numbered limited edition "Floribot" artwork. Floribots was the robotic artwork by that lead to The Coppelia Project. Inside the 25x25x5cm (10x10x2") frame is an original origami chatterbox bloom made of auto-laquer and quality paper. They were exhibited at; National Gallery of Australia, Singapore Art Museum, and/or Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. You will also be acknowledged on the Coppelia Project web site and receive a thank you email and digital image set.

    6 out of 128 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013


    Exclusive naming rights to one of the four Coppelia Project robots. Names are subject to approval by the artist and should be suitably feminine. Doll names will be engraved, along with the name of the Co-Inventor, on a metal plaque inside of each of the robot ballerinas. Name also used as network identifier and for performance documentation. In addition, you will be acknowledged on the Coppelia Project web site and will receive a thank you email and exclusive digital image set.

    4 out of 4 claimed
    Estimated delivery: May 2013
  • $131,072USD
    Prima Absoluta

    Make history and see this world-first vision come true! For you we will do a private installation and performance with a troupe of four robot and four accompanying classically trained human dancers, with their support crew, anywhere in the world - with specially written choreography for robots and humans. The location needs to be safe for performers and practical for installation, transport and logistics. You will also receive all other rewards and tokens of appreciation previously listed.

    0 out of 1 claimed
    Estimated delivery: October 2013
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