Nick Maley continues to discusses the origins of movie animatronics. You should also see the previous page The birth of movie Animatronics ? ....... Ergo.

Movie Animatronics Vs. Disney's Audio Animatronics


Greg Porter (Chino) <> reminds me that....

"The term "Audio-Animatronics" was coined by Walt Disney in the early 60's. There was even a copyright taken out for this name at the time. To this day the Disney Company still uses the term Audio-Animatronic to describe there entertainment robots."

He adds.... "The real origin of animatronics came from the Imagineers at Disney. Most of what Disney had to work with in those days was a direct result of the USA's efforts to put man on the moon. The small valving used in rocket motors was one key offshoot of the early space program. An inertial navigation computer used in submarines in the 60's was used by Disney Imagineers to control some of there animatronics also. Of course, these were all stepping stones to using digital animation."

"The prefix 'audio' is said to have been added to describe the medium for controlling the animatronics."

Greg suggests a National Geographic article in August 1963 for further reference.


Greg's comments are both helpful and informative and I'm always pleased to receive input by informed individuals. I was well aware of the influence of Disney's theme park robotics . They were inspirational to everyone developing "movie animatronics" and their use of silicon skins and computerization was way ahead of it's time.

However....... although it appears clear that the term "animatronics" was coined at Disney, the details of the techniques of their Imagineers was not commonly available to those of us developing "movie animatronics". As far as I know they were secret . All we saw in Britain was a few publicity short films that superficially examined the broad concepts. The bulk of early "movie animatronics", (and I include Muppet techniques in this statement), were not computerized or electronic at all. In the main they did not involve servo valves, analog or digital controls, servo motors, solenoids, air pistons or torque tubes which Greg described as typical of the Disney approach. Of course many of those things were eventually incorporated amongst the thousands of mechanisms built later, but at that time we were trying to avoid rigid engineering principles in an attempt to create ultra lightweight mechanisms which combined unusual linkages and delicate materials with regular puppeteering methods.....more in an attempt to extend the operators muscular nuances than to create a repeatable mechanical performance. We incorporated more complex mechanisms in the late 70's/early 80's when we included radio control model makers and computer programmers into our crews, adopted their industry standards, and customized from there.

Of course we were inspired by what we saw at Disney..... but we had no real knowledge of the techniques used nor Disney's money to invest in their development (until George Lucas created ILM.) We were all freelance individuals mainly working out new concepts (new to us at least) to suit very short schedules (6 - 16 weeks was common) based upon ideas we played around with in workshops in our basements or back gardens.

Although I can not speak for what Stan Winston or other pioneers in the USA may or may not have known at that time, I do know that they too started in small labs more along the lines of Dick Smith's basement workshop than the big industrial complexes that they have grown into. Never-the-less, the industry articles that I read at that time, and technicians that I met that worked with them, and first hand experience of having Rick Baker take me on a tour of his workshop, all lead me to believe that their development, though different in detail, was principally along similar lines.

Where computers were a great asset to theme park presentations the early analog was much too slow for us in movies. Several people tried to use it but invariably shooting became protracted. It was, with a few notable exceptions such as programmed speech, often a hindrance to the spontaneous nature of movie making. Even in those rare cases, the lip mechanisms and foam latex skins used did not to my knowledge incorporate Disney techniques. Once computers were adapted to record an operators movements in real time..... simply recording a performance and replaying it, then they became much more useful. This concept came hand in hand with devices that automatically measure an operator's/performer's movements and transmit them to an animatronic figure (sometimes referred to as "waldo's). We were building such mechanisms in the early 80's based upon rumors of such concepts that circulated at The Muppets but I suspect that both concepts probably had their origins at Disney. Certainly there can be no doubt though that Disney's use of silicon skins and computerization was the driving force behind the development of both technologies in movie make-up effects and animatronics.


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