What is animatronics


Animatronic or animatronic figures are electronically, mechanically or pneumatically controlled figures that are often based on real living beings. In this regard, animatronic combines disciplines such as robotics, electronics and mechatronics, is based on anatomical knowledge and, especially in terms of control, shows parallels to classic puppetry. Although technology has come a long way, it is still present in many forms of entertainment. Development is progressing, sometimes due to the close connection to robotics.

Endoskeletons as the basis of animatronic figures

The basis of an animatronic figure is usually a mechanical endoskeleton. This is a support structure that primarily offers protection for the technical components it contains. The endoskeleton is often made of aluminum, steel, plastic or wood and its shape largely corresponds to the real skeleton of the corresponding figure. Technical elements such as joints, motors and actuators are connected by cables, wires and the required lines; the technical structure can be compared with the muscles and the nervous system of real living beings. The endoskeleton also serves as a support structure for the outer covering of the animatronic figure. Consisting of latex, silicone or similar materials, the sheathing is provided with a costume if necessary in order to give the figure the best possible visual appearance. Here, too, the aim is to make the animatronic figure look as lifelike as possible. Therefore, artificial fur, feathers and make-up are used regularly.

In the context of shaping and equipping with technical components, the mobility of the animatronic figure must be taken into account. Depending on the figure and the future area of ​​use, only a few parts of the body such as the head and arms or the entire figure must be movable. Modern techniques also allow complex facial expressions and also enable motion sequences such as walking and running. Servo drives such as the FHA-C and FHA-C Mini from Harmonic Drive SE are decisive for the mobility of animatronic figures. With the help of the integrated servo motor, an installation kit from the CSD or HFUC series and a specially developed output bearing, these servo drives allow a simple and space-saving design. On top of that, they meet high demands on the dynamics, the setting ranges and the accuracy of the movement.

Animatronic control options

Modern animatronic figures are software or computer-controlled, whereby a distinction must be made between whether certain movement sequences are implemented through one-off programming or the figure is controlled in real time and thus only follows fixed movement sequences to a limited extent. The first variant offers the possibility of defining special soundtracks, noises and sound effects for selected movements while programming. In the so-called playback phase, the soundtrack and movement of the animatronic figure are coordinated with one another. The choice of control - whether static programming or remote control - is primarily based on the use of the figure.

Areas of application of animatronic

Areas of application of the animatronic are to be found especially in the entertainment industry; A prominent example of this are amusement and theme parks. Animatronic figures are also used in the film industry. Since the introduction of CGI graphics and similar special effects software, the use of animatronic figures in the film industry has declined. However, CGI graphics cannot be transferred to reality and are therefore limited to screens. However, the animatronic experiences great potential at a wide variety of events. With advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, animatronic characters are popular entertainment elements at sports and live events, street parties, exhibitions, and trade shows.

Animatronic - Outlook and Competing Technologies

Almost every aspect of animatronic has benefited from technical advances in recent years. More powerful servomotors meet more complex software and chemical breakthroughs, including in the area of ​​silicones. While all of these innovations improve animatronic characters in principle, they also strengthen competing technologies such as CGI and VR, which have been very popular in the film industry for some time. For this reason, the expectations of Animatronic are very high. Outside of the film industry, the use of animatronic characters is still very popular. The combination of animatronic with artificial intelligence gives new possibilities here and contributes to the fact that figures come ever closer to their living role models. Animatronic is also experiencing an upswing through the combination of computer games and electronically animated characters.