Animatronics

DSCN2864Animatronics (combining the words Animation and Electronics) describes the technique of electronically animating three-dimensional characters, either in movies, live theatre, museum & heritage or theme park attractions.
The term ‘Audio-Animatronics’ is a Disney trademark and describes the synchronisation of mechanical figures and an audio soundtrack. The early ‘AA’ figures were triggered by audio frequency pulses recorded on magnetic tape. 

[photo, above, shows a Digital Animation Control (DAC) console, on display at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida]
[photo, right, shows a ‘bare’ animatronic figure at the Walt Disney: One Mans Dream Museum, Orlando, Florida]

Animatronics Timeline

There have been a number of leaps in technology, many by the Walt Disney company. 

Click on the links below for more details.

Enchanted Tiki Room (1963)

Abraham Lincoln (1964 World’s Fair, then Disneyland Resort)

The American Adventure, 1982

This huge technological achievement features 35 animatronic figures and features Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain in a number of scenes presented on ten different computer-controlled stages. One in particular features features Benjamin Franklin appearing to walk up stairs and across the stage.
The show consists of ten elevated platforms, each of which rises into view in turn, containing animatronics, scenery and furniture. 

 

A-100 (1989)

The Wicked Witch of the West (The Great Movie Ride, 1989)

A collaboration with Sarcos, the A-100 was the most advanced animatronic figure at the time. The Sarcos technology is only usable by Disney, under an exclusive licence.

The A-100 figures can also be seen in Pirates of the Caribbean – the Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) figures are remarkable.

Lucky the Dinosaur (2003)

Honda – Asimo (2000-2018)

The Creature Technology Company – Walking with Dinosaurs (2007-2015)

Project Kiwi – Groot (2021)

Free-roaming incredibly lifelike movements.

Disney’s The Imagineering Story

A must-watch on Disney+

Additional Notable Animatronics in theme parks

The Na’vi River Journey (2017 – present)

See also 

Rock Circus (1989 – 2001) Tussauds Group museum attraction in London
Chuck-E-Cheese (1977 – )

Books

2021

Show Networks and Control Systems
Buy at
Amazon UK
Amazon US
2020

Theme Park Design
Buy at
Amazon UK
Amazon US
2018

The Prop Makers Workshop Manual
Buy at
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Journals


Electronics Today International (May 1994)
[External Website]

Live shows

Notable Movies featuring Animatronics

How much do animatronics cost?
It’s impossible, unfortunately, to put a price on ‘animatronics’ as each animatronic is built for a particular purpose, to a particular budget. It’s possible for one person to build a basic animatronic for a few hundred dollars, but it’s also possible to build one for a million dollars. The manufacturer Garner Holt has an FAQ page where they answer this very question. The high cost of more detailed animatronics is the huge amount of labour involved. There’s obviously a vast difference between a puppet with a few cable controls and a self-propelling animatronic like the Muppet Labs at Disney parks (video above).

External Links

Control Systems

Alcorn McBride Inc. [USA]
Gilderfluke [USA]

Manufacturers

Animal Makers some great Behind the Scenes information here - click on the left menu [CA, USA]
AVG [USA]
Boston Dynamics Robots [USA]
Custom Entertainment Solutions Inc. [USA]
Elektrik Effects Animatronics and make-up [Norway]
Farmer Attraction Development Ltd. [UK]
Garner Holt [CA, USA]
Mannetron Robotics, Simulators, Automation [USA]
Neal Scanlan Studio [UK]
Nimba Creations [UK]
Sally Corp Designers & manufacturers of animatronics and dark rides [USA]
Sarcos Manufacturer of animatronics for Disney, Universal & others [USA]
Smooth-On Mold making and casting rubbers [New Jersey, USA]
Stan Winston Studio [USA]
The Creature Technology Company Animatronics arm of Global Creatures [West Melbourne, Australia]

Practitioners

La Machine Builders & Creators of Live Productions [France]

This page was last updated 16 May 2021, and was originally written in February 2016. 
Author: Jon Primrose, Theatrecrafts.com