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Building the skeleton of a character. Copyright The Walt Disney Company.

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Video transcript

Now that you have a sense of our character design process, in the next few videos we're gonna dive deeper into how we bring characters to life via audio-animatronics. The phrase "animatronic figures" was invented by Walt Disney in the early 60s, by combining the words animation and electronics. Most robots, especially industrial robots, are designed to do a task, like welding a car or assembling electronic circuit board. Animatronic figures are designed to create expressive performances. Animatronic characters consists of four main components. Armatures, that play the role of the skeleton and a real character and define how a character will move. Actuators, that play the role of the muscles, that create motion. Sensors, that play the role of nerves and provide the character with information about the physical world around them. And a control unit, that plays the role of the character's brain. This video will focus on armatures - the skeleton of the character. An armature is typically an assembly consisting of segments connected together at joints, allowing the character to move in different ways. Each individual motion that the armature is capable of is known as a degree of freedom, also known as a function. For instance, my armature, that is my skeleton, lets me bend my elbow. So that's a function. It also lets me twist my wrists, so that's another function. Wrist in out, wrist forward back, wrist twist, those are three of our standard functions. So Jake has five functions, he's got the ability to nod his head, he has the ability to tilt his head, he has the ability to turn his head, and then he's got the ability to drive backward and forward and the ability to turn as he drives. Some more complicated mechanisms are typically found where you need several motions within one small joint or one space. So a wrist has three degrees of freedom. Mouth corners, we want to move up down, In out. The expressive Chaman face was a whole challenge and a whole system within itself. To get it to move through a full range of expression from smiling to grimacing - a very wide range of expression. So basically we have two motors that work together. In order to move a single point up down, in out. We actually had to invent a new function that had never been used before on any animate animated figure. I think we called it the nose scrunch, because Davey Jones has to wrinkle up his nose when he's talking because the squid skin is very rubbery, and it has to pull up. And he, for him to look angry he has to go "ERRR." And so we have a function actually pulls up on his cheeks, and his nose, and makes it like he's doing this. You have to try to optimize for getting the most out of the least amount of functionality. The fingers going to move, Is the finger gonna do this? Is the hand gonna do this? Is the hand gonna do that? Every one of those things has a function, and that requires an actuator, which requires wires, which requires sensors, which requires design, and work, and a space to package all of those things. So, you have to design your character very carefully with the things that you really need to tell your story and eliminate the things that you don't need to tell your story. So you don't want to oversimplify, and then it starts to look robotic and stiff. Right? But you want to have it just as much as it needs to be, to accomplish the creative goal and relate back to the overall story. And then the animation that we do with the audio animatronics It's just icing on the cake. You should be able to tell what the character is thinking and feeling if the figure was completley static. Before we build anything out of plastic or metal, we always, always, always start with one or more proof-of-concept prototypes. Prototypes are a way to demonstrate how a character will perform. Using simple materials that let us iterate rapidly and work fast. And you start with building a toy. Prototypes do not have to be fancy. Even at Imagineering R&D, we will often build prototypes out of cardboard, popsicle sticks. So you have popsicle sticks with little pushpins as your linkages, and you can just swing and move them to see how your final motion will look like. Paper clips. binder clips. Legos, in order to kind of build up that armature or to see how things can package together. Whatever we have lying around,. What's important is to get the idea out of your head and onto the table as quickly as possible, so that you can talk about it, iterate, change, and improve. One of the things we were kind of asking ourself with tiny life is how much could we do with with just a little. We built a super simple mock-up, which is this little guy right here. And he's truly a collection of parts from a hardware store, wooden dowels, the roller ball heads that we cut off liquid deodorant bottles, and we kind of slapped all this together with some scrap fur that we have found to make this character. And you know, again, not a huge amount of functions, but we got a lot of information out of him. We would do studies where we had a puppeteer who would puppet him. We would film all of it and then we would go back and we would look at what pieces of the motion did we really think bring this character to life. And what that helped us do is figure out how do we design the final animatronic now that we've seen a bunch of different motion studies, we can figure out what features are important, what features do we maybe not really need. And from there we can make great informed decisions on how to build the final figure. It's important to remember that when coming up with the prototype, rapid iteration, trying versions over and over, is key. Nothing ever works the first time, believe me. In the next exercise, you'll have a chance to prototype a simple armature for a character of your own design. Have fun!