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attraction may have been those I recently saw in an Indian amusement park as part of a dark ride. Nevertheless, the ride was one of the most popular attractions in the park due to the other elements like interactivity and a rotating ride vehicle.

The American Adventure at EPCOT

What do animatronics add to an attraction? John Wood – Character and personality, first and foremost! Animatronics provide an attraction with a sense of place, purpose and performance. What would a mine ride be without miners working the ore? What would a haunted house be without goblins and ghosts? In many cases without animatronics the entertainment value diminishes greatly. Garner Holt – Walt Disney understood that moving, dimensional characters leap from otherwise flat worlds – literature, films, even stage plays – into rides and other attractions to fill a space, and to make it more real. Animatronics add kinetic life to attractions.

What’s one of the most misunderstood things about animatronics? GH – Animatronics are not a series of metal frames, tubes and cylinders filled with compressed air or hydraulic fluid. They are characters. Walt Disney did not set out to create a moving mechanical skeleton. He

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

As well as featuring a great rollercoaster, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is also a rollicking good ride thanks to the whimsical dwarfs seen working away at the start of the attraction. These animated figures combine traditional Audio-Animatronic technology with state-of-the-art projection to provide some really life-like facial movements. “Generations have grown up knowing Happy, Sleepy,

Dopey, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful and Doc,” notes Ethan Reed, animation creative director on the project for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Our guests know these characters and we had to deliver on these characters' unique personalities. Conceptual development of the dwarf figures began in early 2011. While on breaks from animating the Audio- Animatronics figures for The Little Mermaid – Ariel's

Undersea Adventure at Disney California Adventure I would take out my sketchbook

and sketch dwarf gags. The facial development began in 2012.” “When you study the animation that was done in 1937 for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs you will notice that animators would change the shapes of the facial features to get the emotions to read better,” continues Reed. “They would squash and stretch the eyes and have very broad mouth shapes. The best way to accomplish that [on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train] was to employee our new technology so that we could partner with Walt Disney Animation Studios and let their animators use the same principles developed by Walt and his original animators during the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”


Do park/attraction owners usually commit enough of their budgets to animatronics? MKD – No. It is always one of the things that gets cut back on in terms of movement or complexity. DM – Not nearly often enough. I have seen shows where the entire budget went to the animated piece, and nothing was left for the props and sets that go around it to put it into context. In other cases we have had shows where the key animatronics in the scene were in the shadows. A simple light or two would have made the scene ‘pop’, but it wasn’t in the budget. JW – No, but I think we’d be hard pressed to find many parks outside of the Disney and Universal realm that have an animatronics line item in their budget. In truth, animatronics are the actors in other attractions like dark rides, walk troughs and musical show productions.


set out to create Abraham Lincoln. Often, we as designers aim for a point where our guests don’t even consider the technology behind them, they accept our animatronics as the characters they seek to represent. It’s not a robot dressed as a T-Rex, it’s an actual pre- historic beast brought back to life. Doug Mobley –Programming for a show is more an art than anything else. The best programmers are the people with a musical or other artistic background, and not necessarily someone who knows their way around a computer. As the company that is providing the tools that the are used for making all kinds of animatronic shows, we make the tools work in the way artists think.

How have animatronic control systems changed over the years? DM – We’ve been doing this for over 30 years – we provide all the electronics that are needed to provide animation, lighting, audio and video playback – and things have changed radically! The costs and size have dropped, the capacities and reliability have increased. When we started, the largest memory chip available held 2,048 bytes of show data. Now a flash card you can get at the local convenience store can hold billions of times more data.

Can or should animatronics be an attraction in their own right? Matt Kitchen-Dunn – Yes, look at The Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World, Florida. JW – Absolutely! Abraham Lincoln certainly proved that in 1964 [in Disney’s Great Moments with Mr Lincoln at the New York World’s Fair]. Animatronic musical elements are always a hit whether it’s a Dixieland Jazz Hound Dog band on Main Street or the singing mushrooms that were brought back at King’s Dominion last season to delight of park fans. Yet animatronics are typically used as part of a storytelling attraction like a dark ride. As a result, it requires a significant amount of other elements like scenery, special effects and projections to be a cohesive and entertaining experience.

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