Learning Animatronics: Learn by Doing

                  I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.



Like many people, I learn about a topic most effectively by actually doing things. As a visual and tactile thinker I have never in my life gained any insight into anything by memorizing a formula. I struggled with math all through my years in school. It was not until I got into the real world, attempting to accomplish real goals that required the implementation of math, did I ever become any good at it. Theory is fine, as far as it goes. All too often it is used as fluff and filler in how-to books to ensure that their spines are three quarters of an inch thick so their titles can be easily read on the shelves of a bookstore. Ah, but we are in the realm of electronic media now, with no minimum page requirements. We will be cutting to the chase as much as possible, if only because I am essentially a lazy and impatient person.


That being said, as I cover various topics I will attempt to present all information in as clear and  concise a manner as possible. Diagrams, schematics and photos will be included wherever it is helpful. My goal is to guide my audience through the process of understanding the concepts behind the creation of animatronic creatures. There is a lot involved, which is why there really isn’t much in the way of animatronics how-to books out there. This rabbit hole goes pretty deep. Let’s see how far we get.


The Basics...NOT!


I won’t be spending much time on the basics. I won’t go into a general discussion of things like: how to drill a hole, which end of a hammer to hold, and why it is a bad idea to jam sharp objects into your eye. There are plenty of books out there that that do a good job of covering that information, as well as a slew of videos and tutorials online. I am going to describe how the pros do animatronics.


Initially, I will deal with topics that are relatively simple and can conceivably be accomplished with hand tools. I say “conceivably” because hand tools are very limiting. Why cut a piece of metal with a hacksaw when a chop saw will do the job 20 times faster? The answer is, of course, because you don’t have a chop saw, or you’re too broke to buy one, rent the space to use it in, buy replacement blades when they wear out, and so on…


I was there myself, once upon a time, and we will be taking an in-depth look at my very first animatronics project, The Thrashing Torso, which I made with only hand tools. I made it for a haunted house back in my art student days and I used a flippin’ hacksaw! Never again: it’s been all power tools all the power time ever since.


So how to learn the basics? Read a book. Take a machine shop class at the local community college. Join a hackerspace. Yeah, hackerspaces. Not something that was around back when I was a youngster compulsively making stuff. Never had any experience with one but it seems like a pretty cool setup. Go check one out for yourself and let me know how it goes.