Audio-Animatronics is the registered trademark for a form of robotics created by Walt Disney Imagineering for shows and attractions at Disney theme parks, and subsequently expanded on and used by other companies. The robots move and make noise, generally in speech or song. An Audio-Animatronic is different from android-type robots in that it works off prerecorded moves and sounds, rather than processing external stimuli and responding to them. Animatronics has become a generic name for similar robots created by firms other than Disney.
The term "Audio-Animatronics" was first used commercially by Disney in 1961, was filed as a trademark in 1964, and was registered in 1967.
Perhaps the most impressive of the early Audio-Animatronics efforts was The Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened in 1963 at Disneyland, where a room full of tropical creatures synchronize eye and facial action with a musical score entirely by electromechanical means. The "cast" of the musical revue used tones recorded on tape which vibrated a metal reed that closed a circuit to trigger a relay which sent a pulse of electricity to a mechanism that causes a pneumatic valve to move a part of the figure's body.
The movements of the attraction's birds, flowers and tiki idols were triggered by sound, hence the audio prefix. Figures' movements had a neutral "natural resting position" that the limb/part would return to when there was no electric pulse. The animation was all on/off moves, such as an open/closed eye or beak. On/off movement was called a digital system.
Other early examples were the Lincoln Exhibit presented at the State of Illinois Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Also at the fair were three other pavilions featuring Audio-Animatronics. They were Pepsi/UNICEF's "it's a small world", General Electric's Carousel of Progress, and Ford's Magic Skyway.
To permit a high degree of freedom, the control cylinders resemble typical miniature pneumatic or hydraulic cylinders, but mount the back of the cylinder on a ball joint and threaded rod. This ball joint permits the cylinders to float freely inside the frame, such as when the wrist joint rotates and flexes.
Disney's technology is not infallible however; the oil-filled cylinders do occasionally drip or leak. It is sometimes necessary to do makeup touch-up work, or to strip the clothing off a figure due to leaking fluids inside. The Tiki Room remains a pneumatic theatrical set, primarily due to the leakage concerns — Disney does not want hydraulic fluids dripping down onto the audience during a show.
Because each individual cylinder requires its own control/data channel, the original audio-animatronic figures were relatively simple in design to reduce the number of necessary channels. For example, the first human designs (referred to internally by Disney as series A-1) included all four fingers of the hand as one actuator. With modern digital computers and vast data storage, the number of channels is virtually unlimited. The current versions (series A-100) now have individual actuators for each finger, and similar improvements have spread throughout the figures.
Compliance is a new technology that allows faster, more realistic movements without sacrificing control. In the older figures, a fast limb movement would cause the entire figure to shake in a strange way. The Imagineers thus had to program slower movements, sacrificing speed in order to gain control. This was frustrating for the animators, who wanted faster movements in many cases. Compliance improves the situation by allowing limbs to continue past the points where they are programmed to stop; they then return quickly to the "intended" position, much as real organic body parts do. The various elements also slow to a stop at their various positions, instead of using the immediate stops that caused the unwanted shaking. This absorbs shock, much like the shock absorbers on a car or the natural shock absorption in a living body.
The skin of an Audio-Animatronics (shorthand AA) is made from silicone rubber. Because the neck is so much narrower than the rest of the skull, the skull skin cover has a zipper up the back to permit easy removal. The facial appearance is painted onto the rubber, and standard cosmetic makeup is also used. Over time the flexing causes the paint to loosen and fall off, so occasional makeup work and repainting is required.
Generally as the rubber skin flexes, the stress causes it to dry and begin to crack. Figures that do not have a high-degree of motion flexibility (such as the older A-1 series Lincoln) may only need the skin to be replaced every 10 years. The most recent A-100 series human AA's (such as for Bill Clinton) also include flexion actuators that move the cheeks and eyebrows to permit more realistic expressions, but the skin wears out more quickly and needs replacement at least every five years.
The wig on each human AA is made from natural human hair for the highest degree of realism, but using real hair creates its own problems since the changing humidity and constant rapid motions of the moving AA carriage hardware throughout the day cause the hair to slowly lose its styling, requiring touch-ups before each day's showing.
Several passengers and crew of a Pioneer Zephyr are represented in a display of this historic train at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Neatly dressed in the proper style of first class passengers of their era, one remarks upon the casual dress of the visitors.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial features an Animatronic George Washington.
John Wardley is often said to have brought Animatronics to the UK, utilizing a concept called Ramped Movement, which allowed for smoother movements of the figures.
John appeared on Tomorrow's World in the '70s showing a guitar playing Animatronic, programmed to music.
His first project was the creation of the animated show "50 Glorious Years" for Tussaud's "Royalty and Empire Exhibition" at Winzsor.
Classic Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln Returns to Disneyland, Utilizing Advanced Technology to Present Lincoln's Inspiring Words.
Jan 05, 2010; President Abraham Lincoln returns to the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland with stunning new Audio-Animatronics...