You may not know this, but you have seen animatronics in work more than a few times in your life. You have probably seen a few movies where you didn’t even realize that they are using these because they can be very realistic. Ever since the 70s, they have become a big part of the movie industry, especially with the release since the release of the movies The Thing and Jaws. Considering that Jaws is almost 50 years old, you still cannot recognize that the shark used was actually just an animatronic. With the success of the movie, they became a revelation in the movie industry and then spread to other entertainment industries such as museums and theme parks. We have seen several other uses where they bring animals or characters to life. No matter whether the character is fictional or not, a well-made animatronic can seriously surprise anyone.
Just imagine how realistic can the animatronics be with today’s technology, considering that those from forty or fifty years ago were realistic enough to fool millions of people worldwide. If you want to know more about such animals or characters, you should first how they work and where they are used.
Where are they used?
Animatronics or electronic puppets are electronic mechanisms that can realistically simulate the movement, appearance, and behavior of living or fictional creatures. What makes these robotic mechanisms so good is because they very accurately depict emotions or traits of animals or fictional characters. These mechanisms usually come with a remote control that can be used to control the robot from a certain distance. The control can either do simpler movements such as moving the arms or the head or they can also be made to make more complex movements such as moving the feet to traverse the ground and so on. These types of robots are mostly used for movies to avoid spending millions of dollars on computer-generated imagery or more popularly known as CGI. The film industry uses these mechanisms to add more realism to a movie better than CGI could ever do. Maybe in a few decades, we will see animals that are generated by a computer be more realistic than an animatronic, but since the technology is still not there, these robots still have a long future ahead of them.
The movie Jurassic Park was one of the first movies that truly visualized the nature of dinosaurs. They achieved an accurate and realistic look of the dinosaurs by using these robots. After the release of the film, the whole animatronic industry got a lot more work since everyone wanted to create the next big movie with such realistic robots. Museums also saw the potential of this industry and quickly replaced their boring plastic replicas with these life-like animals. If you have ever been to such a museum, you were probably stunned at how realistic their appearance is, how smooth and flexible the movements can be. For Lifesize Animatronic Animals to appear real, manufacturers must consult with zoologists so they can be created based on true information. If you are looking for such a manufacturer, check this.
How do they work?
Thanks to our increasing knowledge in robotics these last couple of decades and the growing number of mechanical and electrical engineers we can create movements that can even imitate the way humans move. The animatronic industry uses this knowledge we have gathered and the experience of such engineers to create animals or fictional creatures that look very real. For the animal to properly work, the whole development process has got to go through a couple of steps.
The first step is for mechanical and electrical engineers to work together to build the whole mechanical system. If they do not work together, they cannot plan out where the wires will go through or whether the movement will look natural. To create such movements the mechanical engineers use hundreds of gears and advanced hydraulics. The engineer must have an idea on how the final product will look like so they can simulate the fluidness in the movement of animals.
After finishing the whole mechanical system, it is time for the electrical engineers to start working on the electronic part of the system. The electronic control system is basically the brain of the animatronic that controls what the “muscles” (mechanical parts) will do. All those mechanical parts then have to be connected with wires to the electronic control system and form a type of nerve system. The brain of this whole system can then form a connection with the remote control to calibrate the movements.
While the mechanics and technicians are working on the electronic and mechanical system, a group of experts must work on the structural form of the animatronic. They need to create a frame that will realistically depict the form of the animal and to allow enough room for the mechanical parts to move. In other words, they create something similar to the skeleton of the animal. For this process, graphite is the main ingredient to keep it sturdy and strong, but to be light enough to move. If the frame is done by a much heavier material, the mechanical system will either won’t be able to lift the frame or it will need to be a lot more powerful which can be expensive.
The finishing part of this whole process is not for engineers, but for artists. For the skin to look and feel realistic, expert artists on this subject use different types of rubber, foam, and silicone. These materials must also be very durable and resistant to things such as dust, dirt, and water. If the skin is made from quality materials then all the color will fade away in a very short time and that’s a waste of money. Those special materials are usually poured into a mold and left to dry. After they have finally dried, the artists have to accurately draw and color the skin of the animal onto the animatronic. Then finally the “skin” can be attached to the animatronic frame.
So if you ever want to create a realistic experience in your museum or your dinosaur theme park, you should definitely consider getting these animals.