The Q&A section will publicly address some of the questions I receive concerning
Animatronics. I get a lot of emails from creative people asking my opinion
or how to do a particular project. Here, I will post my response and hopefully
answer some of your questions in the process. Enjoy!
Here are some good Q/A E-Mails I've recieved
am very interested in building some simple animatronics for next Christmas
I was wondering if you might be able to answer a few questions I have.
don't know too much about animatronics, I've been trying to research them
the internet but haven't come up with much.
My big question is about
controllers. Where do I find the
one that's right for me? What I'm
to do is something similar to "T. Bone".
I would like for mine to
talk and move at least 2 or 3 servos but be mobile.
Thanks for your interest in emailing me concerning my favorite hobby!
I have some information on servo motors and controllers for ya. If you would
like your animation to use servo motors, the animation will have to be small and
light enough that the gears don't strip out under the torque of moving it's body,
head or whatever. I use compressed air to move my animations because it's more
reliable. A servo would be good for a mouth move or an eye blink in a piece of
animation like T-bone because jaws and eyelids are light. Going servo is
considered "Analog" and can get very expensive. Nevertheless, here's
some info on servos and controllers.. Use metal gear servos not those cheap
plastic gear ones that RC cars use. You can find the servos at The Mark III
Robot Store. http://www.junun.org/MarkIII/Store.jsp
You can find metal gear servos at any good hobby store too.
Now here's the fun part... CONTROLLERS! I would use a Gilderfluke SER-DMX
controller because I've used them at Disney a few years ago for a couple animatronic
jobs and they're still working flawlessly after thousands of shows. It is capable of
handling 16 servos. Of course this unit will only work for you if you will be using
DMX to control your animation. Here's the concept... This unit takes the DMX signal
from a DMX output module like a lighting board or whatever and converts it to a servo
signal so you can control the servos. Gilderfluke sells everything to make programming
servos possible but it can get awful costly.
Go to http://www.gilderfluke.com for pricing and specs.
If I were going to only use servos and program them to be completely automated, I would
go for a Gilderfluke SER-DMX unit ($280) and a Gilderfluke MACs-USB ($2,750) to
program and control my animation. The entire cost of these two items would be roughly
$3,030.00. It's expensive just for a simple animation for Christmas but here's the thing,
since you are dealing with DMX, you can control up to 512 movements or light fixtures!
if you want to make a good piece of animation or animations but don't need precise
control over your movements, consider going with air pressure and air actuators. You can
get everything you need for under 500 dollars including the air compressor, actuators and
control computer and software. Email me back if you would like info on how to go digital
instead of analog.
Best Wishes and Happy Holidays!
Your digital way sounds good
(inexpensive). Here is the basic idea. I'm
Sounds like you have a good idea what you would like to build.
If you would like a series of figures to react to motion then I suggest
mounting a motion sensor in the body behind some kind of thin screen like
mesh. It would make things a lot easier and less expensive if you use
a single sensor mounted somewhere that would trigger all of your animated
figures at once and then all go into some kind of show. If you want to use
air pressure, then go with bimba cylinders and clippard 3 way 24v valves.
The size of the cylinder actuators will depend on your application.
you will need cylinder mounts, fittings and hoses to match your cylinders and
valves. they are sold separately but are relatively inexpensive. You should not
need anything bigger than 1/8" air lines from your valves to your actuators.
I recommend clippard 1/8" polyurethane hose colored black so you don't see
it in the dark. You can use a Gilderfluke mini brick 8 ($150) for digital motion
control and for an audio source you can use a solid state digital audio reproducer
like a portable mp3 player with a trigger the play button and output to the
amplifier or home stereo. If you want to go professional and more versatile, get
an Alcorn McBride 8-traxx mp3 reproducer and you will have up to 8 separate
PCMCIA slots to hold as much mp3 stuff as you like, space permitting. The 8-traxx
is very expensive though. something like $2,000 or some outrageous price. If you
are good at soldering things and figuring stuff out, you can simply wire a trigger
to a portable mp3 players play button and use that as an inexpensive alternative.
Next, get an air compressor. I use a 20 gallon compressor for T-bone. it can more
than handle a yard full of animated props. Let your brain run wild and try different
things to make your animations move about. There's lots of ways to make your holiday
animations come to life.. just play around with different ideas. Another reason to
use air pressure for outside animation is MOISTURE. You don't have to deal with
electric motors and things getting wet out there if you use air. T-Bone has run in
pouring rain and still never misses a beat because he is run on air. There are
so many variations and variables to building animatronics I can't possibly go over them
all. Just be creative and try different things. Even if you have no technical skills,
I'm sure you can come up with something. I'm always happy to help.
I'm also happy to see that someone is taking the initiative to build an impressive piece
of animation for show instead of going to the store and buying some cheap plastic thing
that belongs in "It's a small world" hehe!
Be careful at whatever you do and GOOD LUCK! I hope my info has given you some insight.
I know it can be complicated and frustrating but if you have a talent then utilize it!
Best wishes and happy holidays...
The audio products that you mentioned didn't seem suited for my
Remember that no matter what audio source you use be mp3, cd or mp3 reproducer,
you will need to program the controller to make the mouth to move for each word or
syllable unless you use a sound activated unit to trigger the mouth. Problem is, with
sound activation, the mouth also picks up the music too if you will be using music.
Otherwise, that's a good idea to trigger the mouth. Yes air cylinders produce a smooth
motion depending on the flow setting. Pneumatic and hydraulic cylinders are used in
99% of animatronics in the entertainment industry. You can see different types of
cylinders on my website in the "Behind the scenes - How To" section of my website.
You can also visit http://www.bimba.com for good air cylinders.
Also, http://www.clippard.com for air 1/8" 3 way 24v air valves and fittings.
If this is your first time dealing with pneumatics, I would see about taking a course
in pneumatics at your local community college. There, they may have a workshop where
you can try different applications before you go out and buy a lot of stuff that may
wind up being the wrong size for your application.
Air is the way to go for good quality animation, specially if it's outside in the weather.
Bimba air cylinders are made of stainless steel and the fittings are made of brass so
you don't have to worry about rust. Let me know if you have any more questions!
Sounds like you are on your way to having a great learning experience in animation!
I'm very curious about animatronics. It's a big interest of mine. Do you have a suggestion
on where to look for good schooling in the field? I'd appreciate any help you can give.
A lot of people ask me that very same question. Truthfully, I am not aware of any particular
school that teaches the creation of Animatronics. It's a skill that combines a vast array of
skills, IE mechanics, electronics, metalworking, sound systems and programming to name
a few and bringing them together using your own creative fabrication techniques. You might
start with a college course in robotics and move from there as that may be the closest thing
you may be able to get to a lesson in animatronics. After all, an animatronic figure is nothing
more than a robot.
Thanks for the inquiry. I wish I had more info for you but I just don't know. Animatronics
is something I've learned along my life's journey through the theme park industry taught by
the "elders", if you will. I have to say that the best school for this stuff has to be the on the job
training at a place that uses them. Here in Florida, there isn't a problem finding a job around
Animatronics but if you live in a place where these things are scarce, then a course in
robotics at your local community college or university might be the best thing. Good Luck!