Way, way back in 2008 I was home from school for a few weeks when I caught an ad for a national BattleBots competition happening in Miami. BattleBots was one of my favorite shows growing up, so my mind was blown when checked it out and found out that even though the show ended, the competitions were still happening. Not only that, but it wasn’t just adults that were competing. High school kids were building impressive robots and duking it out in the arena.
This instantly seemed like a cool doc – follow some students around as they navigate their teenage years while building metal smashing robots. But I wanted to go beyond just the fights you see in the arena, I wanted to look at the design process, the construction of the robot, and what happens in between the fights when you have 20 minutes to fix your robot before the next match.
When I graduated the following year I was looking for a project to do and this seemed like the perfect fit. So I spent a year following different kids and teams around, culminating in the 2010 national competition. That’s Bots High.
It was a huge learning process and as I look back at the film there’s a million things I would have done differently. It’s flawed. It wasn’t the indie darling I had hoped for, but it’s a fun, innocent look at kids building robots and being kids.
It’s incredible how much technology has changed in just five years, and fun to imagine how much different it would be with the tools available today.
This was shot before DSLRs were viable filmmaking tools. Before GoPros. Before drones.
I used Kickstarter to help raise funds, but this was in the early days before Zach Braff and Veronica Mars made it a household name, so it took a lot of explaining to people how this crazy site worked.
Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to the persistence of BattleBots creators Greg Munson and Trey Roski, BattleBots is back on TV, primetime on ABC. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a good number of people from Bots High are competing on the show.
In the real life universe of robot building, Bots High is the closest thing to their origin story.
Here’s everyone from Bots High that’s on BattleBots…
Boy genius Will Bales is one of the main characters in Bots High, along with teammates Alex Mattaway and Tyler Bond. Together they created Fluffy, the not very cuddly robot that occasionally bursts into flames from its own power. The film follows Will and his school as they try to build bigger, faster, and more powerful robots while combating procrastination and the lure of helping the opposing girls team. In BattleBots they team up again for HyperShock.
Their first match was against Will’s father and siblings.
At least that match didn’t end in (intentional) flames.
Marc DeVidts, creator of the seemingly unstoppable Icewave, wasn’t in high school during Bots High. However, he was the mentor to the other main team featured in the film, My Mechanical Romance, with Liz and Danielle. He has one of my favorite productivity quotes.
The robot is not done, therefore there is work to do.
Since the events of Bots High he went and co-founded Double Robotics, now a multi-million dollar telepresence robotics company. They have a very nice looking demo video. See if you can spot Greg, BattleBots co-creator.
Nola’s the glue that keeps everything together. One of the founders and head of Starbot, a sort of maker space catering to high school kids, she helps facilitate the building of robots for different schools and organize competitions. She also gets kids (especially girls) inspired in science and engineering. In BattleBots she competed with an all-girls team from Carrollton, one of the schools in Bots High where two of the featured teams are from.
Before it was a flame throwing multi-bot, the very first version of Witch Doctor made its appearance at the national competition in Bots High in the open division. It quickly became famous for tossing robots across the arena and into the Lexan walls.
There’s a follow up video with Bots High that catches up with Will and the teams the following year. In it is a battle between Will’s new robot and Witch Doctor, with some surprising results.
The biggest sparks that flew in Overhaul’s battle against Lock-Jaw happened after the fight, when Overhaul member Adam Bercu refused to shake veteran builder Donald Hutson’s hand for a hit after the buzzer.
Before schooling the two time super heavyweight champion on buzzer sounds, Adam was one of the original teammates of Witch Doctor. He also shook hands.
Special Shout Outs
Greg Munson, co-creator of BattleBots, served as announcer at the games in Bots High.
You can buy or rent Bots High right now on VHX, which is my preferred platform since the majority of your money will go to me, the filmmaker, to make more cool projects. Or learn more about the film and find more ways to watch at www.botshigh.com.