Animatronics is the use of mechatronics to create machines which seem animate rather than robotic. Animatronic creations include animals (including dinosaurs), plants and even mythical creatures. A robot designed to be a convincing imitation of a human is specifically known as an android.
Animatronics is mainly used in movie making, but it is also used in theme parks and other forms of entertainment. Its main advantage over CGI and stop motion is that the simulated creature has a physical presence moving in front of the camera in real time. The technology behind animatronics has become more advanced and sophisticated over the years, making the puppets even more realistic and lifelike.
Animatronics is used in situations where a creature does not exist, the action is too risky or costly to use real actors or animals, or the action could never be obtained with a living person or animal. Animatronic systems can be implemented using both computer control and human control, including teleoperation.
Animatronic figures are most often powered by pneumatics (compressed air), and, in special instances, hydraulics (pressurized oil), or by electrical means. The figures are precisely customized with the exact dimensions and proportions of living creatures. Motion actuators are often used to imitate “muscle” movements, such as limbs to create realistic motions. Also, the figure is covered with body shells and flexible skins made of hard and soft plastic materials. Then, the figure is finished by adding details like colors, hair and feathers and other components to make the figure more realistic.
Animatronics was developed by Walt Disney in the early 1960s. Essentially, an animatronic puppet is a figure that is animated by means of electromechanical devices. Early examples were found at the 1964 World's Fair in the New York Hall of Presidents and Disneyland. In the Hall of Presidents, Lincoln, with all the gestures of a statesman, gave the Gettysburg address. Body language and facial motions were matched to perfection with the recorded speech. The abbreviated term originally coined by Walt Disney as Audio-Animatronics, which is used to describe the mechanized characters, can be actually seen in the various forms as far back as Leonardo da Vinci’s Automata Lion, which was theoretically built to present lilies to the King of France during one of his visits. It has now been developed as a career which may require combined talents in mechanical engineering, casting/sculpting, control technologies, electrical/electronic, radio control and airbrushing. Long before digital effects appeared, animatronics were making cinematic history.
Building the various components used in the animatronic device usually takes the longest time. There are four main categories into which the work splits, with development happening simultaneously across the categories. Although basically similar, the design and production processes for animatronics in cinema varies greatly from animation for theme parks and other permanent venues.
- Engineers design and build the mechanical system, which includes everything from basic gears to sophisticated hydraulics.
- Another group develops the electronic control systems needed to operate the animatronic device. Typically starting from scratch and creating their own custom circuit boards, these engineers are essentially building giant remote-controlled toys. Almost all of the movement is manipulated by specialized remote-control systems known as telemetry devices.
- All of the electronic and mechanical components need something to which to attach and control, and the skin must have a frame to maintain its shape. This is done by building a plastic and steel frame to increase the realism, and because it is the natural way to design it.
- The "skin" is often made from foam rubber, which is a very light, spongy rubber made by mixing air with liquid latex rubber and then curing (hardening) it. While there are other compounds, such as silicone and urethane that are stronger and last longer, foam rubber is used because it is much easier to work with. The solution is poured into each mold and allowed to cure. As mentioned earlier, parts of the frame are embedded with the foam rubber at certain points. To further strengthen the skin, a piece of fabric is cut to size and embedded in the foam rubber after it is poured into the mold. Once cured, each piece of skin is pulled from its mold.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Animatronic.|
- How do animatronic figures work?, . retrieved December 3, 2011
- Sempere, A. (2005). "Animatronics, Children and Computation" (pdf). Educational Technology and Society 8 (4): 11–21.
- Huebner, T (2005). Looking back and looking ahead—does this revered attraction have a future?, retrieved November 29, 2011
- Jerome, (2009). What is Animatronics?, retrieved November 29, 2011
- Tyson, J, How Animatronics Works, retrieved November 27, 2011