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Audio-Animatronics

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Marc Davis, Walt Disney, and Blaine Gibson working on Audio-Animatronics for Pirates of the Caribbean.

"We're working on a full-scale pirate."
"This'll animate when we have it in the show, you know. He'll talk and we'll have all kinds of body movements and things that carry on a regular little story."
"Then he'll be audio-animatronic."
"Audio-animatronic. That's right.
"
Blaine Gibson, Walt Disney, and Julie Riehm[src]

Audio-Animatronics (Animatronics, AA) 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 a recorded speech or song), but are fixed to whatever supports them. They can sit and stand but cannot walk. An Audio-Animatron is different from an android-type robot in that it uses prerecorded movements and sounds, rather than responding to external stimuli. In 2009, Disney switched to an updated version of the technology called Autonomatronics.

History

Disneyland attractions

"Our whole (past) has been in the world of making things move, from a drawing through all kinds of little props and things. Now we're making these human figures, dimensional human figures, move... making animals move, making anything move through the use of electronics. It's a dimensional thing... it's a new door... and we hope we can really do some exciting things in the future."
Walt Disney[src]

The development of the Audio-Animatronic characters, in all of their technological sophistication at the time, also marked a turning point for Disneyland. Prior to the installation of "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln," which was brought to Disneyland after its installation at the World's Fair, the park's technology was dedicated to imitating nature and providing special effects that would "wow" guests.

However, when Walt Disney started to pursue the ultimate robotic achievement—simulating a human to the extent that the robot could cause an emotional response—Disneyland became something different. An early 1960s WED press release remarked on this new technology by stating that "Walt has often described Audio-Animatronics as the grand combination of all the arts. This technique includes the three-dimensional realism of fine sculpture, the vitality of a great painting, the drama and personal rapport of the theater, and the artistic versatility and consistency of the motion picture." And, in fact, the Lincoln exhibit at the World's Fair did move people to tears, proving that Audio-Animatronics had the potential Walt dreamed of.

Walt Disney had always followed his passion for pushing the technology of his time to develop means of entertainment and education. In the case of the quote above, it was to develop Audio-Animatronics. Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the best-loved attractions at Disney's theme parks, was most ambitious large scale use of Audio-Animatronics, and continues to this day to be startlingly effective. As Life Magazine reported in 1967, POTC was "the costliest and most technologically sophisticated" adventure ever conceived as a permanent entertainment attraction.[1]

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