Now On-Demand: How To Build An Animatronic Head - Part 1

Chris EllerbyChris Ellerby Los Angeles Admin

HOW TO BUILD AN ANIMATRONIC HEAD PART 1 - CREATING THE MECHANICAL UNDERSKULL



Learn how to build an animatronic head with master creature effects mechanic Craig Caton-Largent (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator 2). In Part 1 of his 4-part webcourse series on DIY mechanical characters, Caton-Largent teaches you how to create an epoxy & fiberglass underskull, the critical first step in building facial animatronics for your character creations.

WEBCOURSE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tips for Controlling Skin Thickness
  • Laying-Up Clay Inside the Mold for Core Creation
  • Creating a "Throw Away" Core Mold
  • Laying Up the Epoxy/Fiberglass Underskull
  • Joining the Underskull Halves

VIEW THE LESSON HERE

Post edited by Chris Ellerby on

Comments

  • For the people wondering, these 4-part lessons are really a must-see if you're into animatronic building or if you're up to becoming one :) 
  • Hello, I have a ton of questions.  First question is about the Servo supply list.  It appears as though the number of Hitec HS-82MG needed is a total of 11, is this correct? 
    Also, I seem to be confused and missing a step. 
    1) Have a mold
    2) Cover it with vaseline(?)
    3) Put WED type clay into it. 
    4) Spray with Crystal Clear
    5) I'm lost...Spread plaster on the inside of the WED clay? And stick it together? And wait for it to dry?
    6) Spread vaseline on the plaster and
    7) Cover it with bandages? 
    Can anyone please help?
  • Chris EllerbyChris Ellerby Los Angeles Admin
    Elizabeth,

    The steps you are mentioning are for creating the fiberglass underskull.  You take the mold that was used to create the skin of your animatronic character and line the inside with clay that is the approximate thickness of the character's skin, and then create a mold of that internal cavity using plaster bandages.

    With complex lessons like this, I find re-watching a few chapters (or sometimes the entire lesson) helps, since you have more context having seen more of the process.

    Here is the list of servos used in this lesson:  (form the lesson page materials list)
    • Jaw Servo (Hitec HS-645MG)
    • Eyes Horizontal Rotate (Hitec HS-53)
    • Eyes Vertical Rotate (Hitec HS-82MG)
    • Eyelids 2 needed (Hitec HS-82MG) (2)
    • Brows 2 needed (Hitec HS-82MG) (2)
    • Upper lips 2 needed (Hitec HS-82MG) (2)
    • Mouth corners 2 needed (Hitec HS-82MG) (2)
    • Lower Lips 2 needed (Hitec HS-82MG) (2)

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

    Thanks,

    /Chris
  • Hello! For my sculpture, I only need my creature to be poseable. He doesn’t need to have any electric movement as long as I could move him with my hands between poses. Do you think this could work, and I could avoid spending $300 in servos? Never done anything animatronic before so this might be stupid but who knows.

    I have to build the rest of his poseable body too so I‘m trying to save as much as possible wherever I can.
  • Chris EllerbyChris Ellerby Los Angeles Admin
    Hi Temple,

    If you don't need your character to move on its own, and just be posed, it should be much easier and less complicated.  One quick way to make a character poseable is to add aluminum armature wire, or stiffer steel wire to the joints.  

    /Chris
  • damthatsbamdamthatsbam Rhode Island, USA
    Hello!
    I am very interested in using this technique for an upcoming short film I am producing, but was curious if you have a rough estimate of the material cost from start to finish? I looked over the materials list but it doesn't seem to list costs anywhere-- is this true, or did I miss it? I need to make sure I'm allocating enough of our budget to this and would rather have at least a rough idea before purchasing the course.

    Thanks, and cheers!
  • Chris EllerbyChris Ellerby Los Angeles Admin
    The material costs can change depending on the needs of your projects, and where you source the components.  For example you can shop around for servos, and your design will also dictate the strength (and thus expense) of the servos, and how many you'll need.  

    This course focuses more on the mechanical aspects of the head, but there are other aspects that would add to cost like sculpting, molding, and casting of the skins.  So coming up with a total cost estimate is not really feasible.

    If the needs of your project are simple enough, you could create a basic no-frills head for around $500.  How you control it has a big impact on cost as well, since RC transmitters can cost hundreds, but simple wired controllers (potentiometers) can be much less expensive.

    /Chris
  • What is the difference (if any) between a "core" and the fiberglass underskull?

    In a post above it sounded like the skin for the animatronic had already been cast prior to the fiberglass underskull, leading me to think there is a core mold used to create the skin and then the fiberglass underskull created to match the core as much as possible. 
  • Chris EllerbyChris Ellerby Los Angeles Admin
    Hi Timothy,

    You can create your underskull using the core from your skin's mold.  Sometimes this is done using vacuum-formed  plastic to create a lightweight underskull, or you can make a stronger/heavier one out of fiberglass.   For fiberglass, I would first make a negative mold of the core and lay the fiberglass inside that, so the material you build up does not increase the size of the underskull.   With the vacuum-formed underskulls the material is usually so thin you can create than right on top of the core without changing scale too much.

    Hope that helps!

    /Chris
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