HERBIE concept art

What if Star Wars hadn’t been the first film of 2015 to create a cute soccer ball-like droid that rolls around with a sphere as its primary body? We thought we’d seen the end of the “this is what could have been” info about Fantastic Four, but now there’s some concept art for the FF’s robot HERBIE.

Circa 2013, the ‘bot was still possibly to be included in Josh Trank‘s feature, and the HERBIE concept art features a design wildly similar to BB-8 from The Force Awakens, a character who, at the time, had not yet been revealed. Check out the concept art below.

Concept artist Fausto De Martini (RoboCop, Transformers: Age of Extinction), via Birth.Movies.Death, shared these (and also some FantastiCar concepts) on his Facebook page.

ff-herbie-FB-1 ff-herbie-FB-2

 

Check out the details there, specifically the fact that both these incarnations of HERBIE use Legos as building parts. We don’t know if there was a point in development where a very young Reed built the robot; in one early draft of the script, details of which we’ve reported on before, HERBIE is created by Reed after the characters get their powers, while he’s in hiding from the military. (Reports say Fox’s president of production Emma Watts scuttled the HERBIE and FantastiCar concepts.)

HERBIE (which stands for Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics) has a weird history. He was created for the late ’70s animated Fantastic Four TV series, because the Human Torch had been licensed out separately from the team and couldn’t be used in the show. Since you can’t have a Fantastic Four with only three people, Stan Lee pitched the cute robot concept and Jack Kirby ultimately designed it. The character was soon incorporated into comics stories as well.

(As a kid, however, I didn’t know any of that stuff. I only knew that the Fantastic Four TV series had a goofy robot in place of the Torch. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan. Other people might have been more welcoming to the little guy.)

The main thing to take away from this is that there is kind of a “balancing ball” design to Kirby’s original vision of the robot, which tended to move around on little hover jets more than anything else. Let your eyes go out of focus to take in the character’s general outline and you can easily see that ball design, with an expressive head balanced on top.

And so we come to De Martini’s designs. Just imagine if something like this had ended up in the film. BB-8 is the biggest hit of the current Star Wars licensing push, but if that wasn’t the only ball-droid on the scene this year, would things be any different? Given how Fantastic Four turned out, we can guess at least that the final version of HERBIE wouldn’t have been as well-realized as BB-8 appears to be.

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