Animatronics- From Haunted houses to Disney and beyond

Here we will talk about animatronics which is a lot like a mixture of robotics and puppetry but usually it involves some form of electronics and a remote control to move the character with very little if any use of sensors and autonomous movement.

Usually in the humanoid animatronics area there is a close link to the Hollywood type special effects areas.

You have seen animatronics whenever you see moving human/cartoon characters at places like Disneyland or theme parks and moving dinosaurs at museum exhibits and shopping malls.

Some of the most amazing special effects humanoid creators who have made props for Hollywood are some like these

– Winston Studios

– Waldo Mason Effects

Your typical animatronic characters were able to move around 30 years ago and look like robots using a mostly hardware technology called DMX where you put electronic receivers in your characters and control them with your transmitter with preprogrammed movements that you typed into the transmitter box.

These DMX units are still used today and are what make the light shows operate in bars and concerts around the world.

You can buy some of the moving light DMX units for under $200 and attach a character head to it to simulate the movement of that characters head.

Now these characters would not be full robots because they would not necessarily have any smarts like AI to make them move autonomously or by themselves with sensors.

We would either move them with a DMX remote control or we would pre program a series of move routines that would play one after another without any real robot brains involved.

Now the average person has probably seen DMX at work in a bar or concert without knowing it because most laser lightshows in these environments are controlled with lights plugged into DMX hardware units and using special DMX software that is either preprogrammed or to make lights move in response to the music or certain notes or drum patterns that are played.

So to make a fake robot you could simply hook up a rotating DMX light kit to a robot head and allow the head to move in all directions.

These DMX units have 3 prong connectors on them that are same looking as microphone XLR connectors.

So you could purchase several of the pan and tilt light control units for perhaps $100 each to be put into the robots neck/head area and then either purchase some DNX software like Venue Magic or use free DMX software like Freestyler or DMX Contrrol or Ma2 and get your robots heads or arms start to move.

Here is a video by the Youtube robot builder James Bruton as he shows how to use DMX to control his DMX controlled robots.

He connects up is Arduino board and uses some DMX Arduino library code to start making some things move with his equipment.

Here are some sites which have products or services related to animatronics and DMX.

Steve Foci (from Hauntedhackers) and his youtube channel “Sanctuary of Spooks”

Gemmy Master Animatronics

Company sells moving skulls etc Frightprops

Hacking Santa by “Tom Hammond”