Sculptures with Animatronics

Hi Everyone,

I am a performance artist and sculptor. I study Art and Technology and Integrated Media at CalArts. I am trying to add animatronics to my sculpture practice. I posted on some facebook groups and they introduced me to the video courses here which have been very helpful. I have to really just get started at this point but there is something I don't quite understand. I think I need to tackle making the animatronics first such as mouth and eye mechanisms. Then I will worry about making the skeletal head and the silicone skin. Should I create a base and use a stand to mount the animatronics on? I'm not quite sure how to assemble them so that I can apply the silicone and have it stand upright. I hope my question makes sense. I'd appreciate any help and advice I can get.

thank you,



  • edited January 2022
    Hi Christine,

    Normally an animatronic character will have a rigid shell under the skin to support everything.  Inside that shell, you can bolt/epoxy a framework to hold all your components.

    When I'm working on components and they are outside of a character I usually use an extruded aluminum construction system like 80/20, Makerbeam, or Actobotics to support everything.

    Here is an eye mech I made from one of our lessons, and in the video you can see 10x10mm "Makerbeam" used to build a stand for the mech.

    Hope that helps!

  • Thank you so much! I followed you on IG. I'm also wondering if there is anyone in LA who is doing this kind of work that I might be able to see it in person. I'm having trouble even getting started on the animatronics at this point. I don't know if I should start with making the skin and the rigid skull or if I should start with the animatronic eyes or mouth. Do you have any advice for a work flow trajectory?
  • I don't know of any locations where animatronics are being worked on, but there are some great maker spaces in LA where folks are often working with 3d printers, laser cutters, arduinos, etc.

    My biggest advice would be to work modularly, and try and avoid ever gluing or permanently attaching anything.  This way you can easily swap out prototype components for more polished versions, make upgrades, make repairs, or evolve the design to include new functionality.  I try and have everything bolt together where possible.

    I'd start with a basic list of requirements for your character.  List off everything you want it to do, what features move, what range of motion those movements should have, how fast you want them to move.  Then determine your character's design requirements like scale, general profile, so you can determine how much space you'll have inside to house your components.  This is also a good time to see if you want to have some components external (usually linked with cables) if that works for your project.

    A lot of folks use an outside-in process for building animatronic characters.  Starting with the sculpt, then casting the skin, making the fiberglass/vacuum formed underskull, then building the internal mechanisms, supports, etc.

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