Who I Am and Why I Am Writing This Blog
My name is Brian Poor and for the past two decades I have been working in the entertainment industry as an animatronics designer. I have been involved in projects that ranged from the creation of a 2 inch multifunction cockroach to a 20 foot tall hydraulic dinosaur, and I have seen the field of animatronics change and evolve over the years. I am writing this blog because animatronics is currently at a crossroads.
Back in the 1990’s, when I first moved to Los Angeles, animatronics was thriving and was one of the best viable options for bringing fantastic creatures, robots, and monsters to life for the big screen. At the time Computer Graphics Imagery (CGI) was coming into its own. The practical creature effects shops were responding by stepping up their game, coming up with even more innovative and spectacular effects, in order to impress the audiences (and the studios). Alas, it was for naught and CGI gradually came to dominate the creature effects arena within Hollywood. For awhile, anyway.
Ironically, the recent phenomenon of “run-away productions” has decimated the computer visual effects industry within Southern California. The traditional creature effects companies are still around, though somewhat scaled down from their heyday. Special makeup effects and animatronics still offer some considerable benefits to the creation of content for film, television, and increasingly, internet-streamed shows, and have been enjoying a recent upsurge in demand. Audiences have become nostalgic for the look and feel afforded by the older techniques and the production companies are being reminded of the cost effectiveness and other benefits of the practical approach to creature effects. However, there are not many left who are experienced in the creation of animatronics. There has been a considerable exodus of skilled animatronic designers into other industries and very little fresh blood has been coming in.
To get a start in animatronics, it used to be, you got hired to work with a team as an assembler learning the various skills and techniques required from the more experienced members. This worked fine when the jobs were larger in scale and deadlines were more forgiving than they are now. Lately, I have had the same experience every time I start on a new job: the shop manager comments on the large amount of work to be accomplished, the tightness of the deadline, and then asks if I know of anyone qualified and available to help out. Invariably my answer is no. Then, some bright-eyed newbie from the art department walks up and asks how does one learn to do what I do, animatronics, and all I can do is shrug my shoulders. There is just no way to learn on the job anymore and there just are not any other viable alternatives. Animatronics is close to becoming a dead art if only because everyone skilled in the craft has left the business or is nearing the end of their career and no one is being trained to take their place.
So this is why I am writing this blog. I am documenting and preserving the body of knowledge and techniques developed over the years for use in animatronics in order to pass it on to a new generation of makers, hackers, roboticists, engineers and animatronics enthusiasts.