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Entertaining while Educating

 

ALL ABOARD!

animatronic conductor

Everybody is getting information faster, trying to absorb it, learn from it, but it can be too much! With attention spans shrinking it becomes very difficult to help somebody learn history without poking them with a stick every five seconds.

We at Custom Entertainment Solutions do not endorse poking people with sticks.

Instead, we open creative, hungry minds to new information using animatronics!

The City of Belton, in conjunction with the local history museum housed in a 100-year-old train station, wanted to bring in more guests to view their railroad exhibit and assist in the learning of local history.

animatronic train conductor

For example, the history of trains in the US is vast and contains many details that train aficionados hold dear. To tell a few minutes of detailed history to a child can be a challenge. But to have an animatronic robot tell it they become fascinated! Everybody is entertained. The best part: the story teller (animatronic) always tells it perfectly!

robotic train conductor

 From the museum, “We are thrilled with our animatronic robot. It was so precious to see the children making him come to life with the touch of a button.  It scared quite a few until their parents assured them that he was perfectly harmless.  You can see the confusion and trepidation on some of their faces, but they definitely warmed up to him after a few minutes. There were older people, too, who were enthralled by him and listened to all the stories he told.  One older gentleman, as he walked away, said, “Well, I’ll be!  That’s amazing!” Many of the older folks also recognized Paul Brown’s voice from his radio and TV newscasts, so they had an added connection to the robot.  He felt, to them, as if he were an old friend.”

You can see him in the new museum HERE

animatronic robot

This is a custom animatronic train conductor, but…

What would you like?

 

 

Robotic Hands…EVERYWHERE!!!

 

Plastic, rubber, titanium, aluminum, glass, cement, all of these and many more materials can by 3D printed. You have at least 30 different types of 3D printing from FDM, SLA, CLIP, SLS, the list goes on and on. You can download FREE things to print! You can have it outsourced. But what most will not tell you: it takes hours, sometimes days, to print a part. Once printed that part has to be post-processed. Some call it “body shopping”. Basically you sand, you dissolve, you fill, you sand, you prime, you sand, you prime, etc. etc. If you bid out a simple part for a good quality print you will see the cost of printing…that said…we have many 3D printers in this studio! Of course it has its place, and sometimes they are running non-stop for days!

dynhand23d printed hand

The thing is, so are our CNC mills and lathes at the same time. So are our band saws, belt sanders, Foredoms (rotary tools), vac forming tables, and more.

The point is this: we use whatever process is most efficient to produce the best quality part.

We design outer robot shell shapes and suit parts, those scream for 3D printing and composite work. Some organic sculpts from zbrush are perfect for 3D printing. But why would you spend hours, maybe days, 3D printing something you can make on a CNC mill in a few minutes out of a solid, engineering grade aluminum?

This is exactly the approach we took when designing the new Mecha X Robotic Hand.

RC hand

The frame needs to be strong, have precise holes that will not wear with time, and be stiff enough to be very kinematically stable while having a wide range of motion. What is the best material for this: ALUMINUM! The CNC mill is right here, it takes minutes to program a simple part and another few minutes to have a very strong, reliable part that we can make beautiful through anodization. It will last hundreds of years!

animatronic hand

But many people want to modify, “makers” and research companies alike. Typically fingertips need to handle different sensors and different styles of gripping things.

Why not use one of the best methods on the planet to make ANY shape you want to add to the Mecha X Robotic Hand…3D printing!

Most people have at least a cheap FDM printer, why not give you the creative freedom to make perfectly-fitting add-ons to your Mecha X Hand? This hand comes with 3 different designs, all ready to print on your FDM, SLA, SLS, whatever printing method you want. Of course you can design your own fingertips or pads, add sensors, do whatever you like! Now you have a strong, stable robotic hand to add your own touch to it.

LED

animatronic handrobot hand

This is exactly what team “Night’s Watch”, comprised of computer science engineering students in Tunisia, did when they participated in “The Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016”. They needed a prosthetic hand but could not afford the traditional prosthetic hand investment. 3D printing the entire structure was not a good solution as this hand needed to be strong and lightweight. They also wanted to customize the hand to take inputs from a “Myo” arm band. They succeeded in controlling the Mecha X Hand from an amputee’s forearm and won the competition!

microsoft imagine award

amputee

The Mecha X Robotic Hand platform is here. It is ready for you to customize it and make it your own.

What would you like?

Animatronic Conventioneer

 

IMG_0844

Anybody who has ever worked on a convention or trade show floor knows the goal is to generate valuable potential prospects by stopping them and scanning them.

Anybody who has ever attended a trade show knows that those people in booths are trying desperately to stop you and scan you!

Is there a way to make both parties happy? YES!

Animatronics are the key!

Animatronic dog

Case study: MEDRIO eClinical Solutions. Their booth has been filled with colorful backdrops, cool swag, excellent staff, and a lot of collateral hand-outs for years. Almost all booths in any convention also have these things. That is why MEDRIO decided to take a step outside the norm and invest in an animatronic mascot! Their mascot, Francois, was already present in their 2D animations and marketing, we just had to bring him to life…

zbrush sculpt

 

Results.
MEDRIO let animatronic Francois perform non-stop all 5 days of the DIA (Drug Information Association) conference. The additional traffic animatronic Francois helped generate was higher than anticipated. See below:

“We chose Custom Entertainment Solutions to create our animatronic dog ‘Francois’ because they could accommodate the tight schedule due to an upcoming convention. They delivered, and the animatronic increased our booth traffic by 190% compared to previous conventions for MEDRIO. We will be adding more figures because of this proven ROI.” James Harrison, Director of Product Marketing, MEDRIO eClinical

Animatronic dog

Moving forward with animatronics
Whatever product or service you are trying to promote, there’s a way to do so using animatronics. The ROI is excellent, as mentioned above from MEDRIO. Simply let us know what you would like for your booth or walk around display. We can do the rest. We can design something specific to your needs.

What would you like?

When telling a story is not easy

 

Even if you are speaking the same verbal language sometimes it is very difficult to tell a story by only talking. With only sound and no visual communication there is little chance your perspective will be understood. Now try to imagine your audience does not speak your verbal language! How will you convince them you have a compelling story?

Visual 3D scale models are the answer!

Many times a court case will revolve around a key story the defense is making. This story, while it may be true, is not strong enough to stand on its own.

Even the most theatrical lawyer with amazing ability to explain a story by talking to a jury can fail miserably if the jurors simply do not understand. This becomes especially true with cases involving engineering / scientific evidence that are key to the defendants case. But what if that talented lawyer could use the one thing all humans have in common: 3D visuals. No matter your language if you see a model that actually physically shows the story the chances of winning a jury’s vote increase exponentially.

Models and more…

The courtroom example is only one of many instances that this type of communication can be crucial. Models are communication tools that can make a huge difference on a trade show exhibit, museum display, movies, and theme parks. They can explain and also entertain an audience, just by using the common communication between all of us, 3D.

Whatever product or service you are trying to promote, there’s a way to do so using models. Simply let us know what you would like for your booth or walk around display. We can do the rest. We can design something specific to your needs.

CES Animatronic Team Benefits SLC Boys & Girls Club

 

Custom Entertainment Solutions (CES) Inc. is always looking for ways to give back to the local Salt Lake City area. Therefore, it was without reservation that we agreed to sponsor the first ever animatronics team for the SLC Boys & Girls Club. The experiences we shared with the team were as much a learning experience for us as it was for them.

The team was comprised by a number of young people who showed an interest in animatronics and how they work. Our goal at CES was to teach the team members the basics of how animatronics are designed and created, along with showing them some of the technical knowledge that goes into creating animatronic movement. It was a pilot program and the first of its kind for the Boys & Girls Club.

Teamwork Concept

The animatronics team was very careful to stress the team concept throughout the entire process. All of the design and sculpting was done entirely by the teens themselves, with supervisory guidance provided by CES president Josh Gray. In order for the project to realize its goals however, each of the kids had to fully participate. Each one also had to learn to work with the others.

While some parts of the project were tedious and challenging, each member of the team pulled together and pushed through. Perhaps the lesson of perseverance was the most important gleaned from the experience. The kids learned to finish what they started even though the process was not always sunshine and roses.

What They Accomplished

Despite having absolutely no experience in animatronics, the team created a working animatronic head based on their own designs. In a nutshell, here’s what they accomplished:

  • Design and Drawing – The first step in the creation process was to design the basic concept for the finished project. This included drawing out the ideas for what the animatronic head would look like.
  • Sculpting – The concept stage was followed by each team member creating a sculpture representing what he or she saw the finished head should be. The team then reviewed all of the sculptures, took the best ideas from each one, and amalgamated them into a single idea.
  • Molding – Making simple molds in the club facility showed the basics of mold making. This process can be extremely complex and it regarded as an art form in itself. The final head sculpt was molded by CES mold making interns.
  • Skinning and Painting – Finally, the team learned how to create a synthetic skin to cover the molded head. The skin was painted, the animatronics mechanisms added, and their creation finally came to life!

As team facilitators, we were thrilled to see all of the teenagers contribute to the success of the project. Many of them discovered they have skills and talents they did not previously know they had. Others learned the very important lesson of following through on your dreams and ambitions. Overall, it was a great project that CES was thrilled to be a part of. It is a program we hope the Boys & Girls Club will continue in the future.

Unusual Animatronic Applications

 

You may be used to seeing animatronic figures of people, robots, maybe even cute animals at events. These have all sorts of internal mechanisms to make them perform. These mechanisms are hidden, they are not the “feature”. Ranging from hydraulics, electric servos, cables, levers, and more all that cool stuff is not available for your curious eyes to see!

Why not show that technology?

 

 

Sometimes companies that make high tech components need something different than an animated figure to show off their goods. Case in point: a state of the art fiber optic company has a very proprietary technology incorporated into their fiber optic bundles. Other than telling potential customers that their technology is superior, how to prove it? SHOW IT! But let’s not just put up a scope and a lens, why not make it work? Make it controlled my strictly mechanical (no electric, hydraulic, pneumatic) means to make a lens pan, tilt, zoom, and focus?

 

 

Enter the unexpected use of animatronics! Cable controlled animatronics have been around for decades. They need no power to work (other than human muscle power). It is a perfect solution, animatronics technology steps up and solves the design challenge.

Hands on!

 

The display to be used in trade shows and other events not only had to have those functions but had to be able to be controlled by an average person walking down the aisle and intuitively turning knobs on this display simply out of curiosity. It is FUN, and it accomplished a key objective: get their attention. And as they play around and look through a brilliantly bright image that is being piped into their lens it is much easier for a salesperson to tell them that bright image is brought to them by this amazing fiber optic bundle. The emotional curiosity of being attracted to a neat, shiny thing with cool knobs and stuff can smoothly be turned into a sales discussion to help that client feel comfortable with this new technology and bump up their confidence in purchasing.

 

 

Whatever product or service you are trying to promote, there’s a way to do so using animatronics. We just need to know what industry you’re in and the specific products you are focusing on for the trade show. We can do the rest. We can design something specific to your needs or we can provide you with one of our stock animatronic for sale.

Putting Some Animatronic Skin in the Game

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of the animatronics industry is creating lifelike representations of both humans and animals. Yet despite all of the intriguing elements of such design, the one thing that has plagued animatronic experts for years is coming up with a skin product that will move and flex in a way that accurately mimics human facial expressions. Even back in 1988, Stan Winston’s John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan were experimenting with different densities/softness in certain parts of Pumpkinhead’s face alone. Previous to this most animatronic skins made for theme park animatronics were (and in some cases still are) a flavor of vinyl that is about as stiff as shoe rubber!

Putting actual skin into the game is one of the most difficult aspects of human animatronics. The chosen material for any given project not only has to look realistic in terms of tone and color, but also in the way it moves and reacts to the underlying mechanisms that function as muscles. To the delight of animatronic designers everywhere, technology in this area is fast advancing.

Animals and Humans Are Different

When you are dealing with animals, skin is not as critically important. Why? Because most of the animals an animatronic studio might duplicate either have hair covering their entire bodies or their movements are somewhat limited. In addition, animals rarely provide facial expressions that need to be duplicated. That said, there has been some incredible work done for the very hairy gorilla-like creatures in “Attack the Block” where every muscle was sculpted and slid on top of each other in a spandex covering. Does it show under that 3” of black fur? That’s a good question…

When it comes to people on the other hand, facial expressions are an integral part of the overall presentation. We humans are trained to pay attention to facial expressions when communicating with other people, as those expressions give us clues as to an individual’s intent and purpose. So even when looking at animatronic figures, our natural reaction is to pay close attention to the face.

How Expression Is Accomplished

One of the services Custom Entertainment Solutions is now offering is our new Android Doppelgänger Replication. This service allows our customers to have a custom doppelgänger replicated for anyone, just by supplying us with photographs and a bit of information about the individual. Yet in order to make these doppelgängers as realistic as possible, we have to pay attention to the skin.

The proprietary composite polysiloxane material used for the skin must be implemented with the following considerations:

  • Color and Tone – Skin color and tone must be realistic down to the slightest blemishes that give a human face its character. A completely uniform skin tone with no blemishes looks noticeably fake.
  • Thickness – One of the ways we add realism to facial expressions is to adjust the thickness of the skin in specific locations. Thickness directly affects how the skin will move and change shape.
  • Fit – When we apply the skin to an animatronic face, it must fit a certain way in relation to eye sockets, ears, nose and mouth. Again, this will influence how the skin moves when the internal mechanisms are adjusted to account for facial expression.

Other Body Parts

Although the skin used for animatronic heads is of primary importance, other body parts need realistic skin if they play an important role in presenting an accurate allusion. Our Magic Animatronic Hands provide a good example. When animatronic hands need to realistically include motion, the skin must look and move as accurately as it does on the face. Fortunately, it is a lot easier to accomplish with hands.

Next time you consider all the work and effort that goes into making a realistic humanoid android, just consider how complex the skin is. And you thought skin was just a vehicle enabling you to get a good tan!

 

The Creepy Factor of Animatronics

 

At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is the incredibly popular Hall of Presidents exhibit visitors to this exhibit are treated to lifelike animatronic figures depicting every U.S. president from George Washington to Barack Obama. However, would you believe some people refuse to go into the Hall?

It’s true. Some people just find animatronic figures too creepy to deal with. It’s no different from folks who will not visit a wax museum because the life-like figures give them the willies. There’s just something about re-creating human figures in lifelike form that creeps us out.

Always Something Missing

We don’t fully understand the creepy factor of animatronics, which is why the industry has yet to overcome the phenomenon. However, human behavioral experts suggest it might come down to an innate knowledge within the human brain that there is “something missing”. No matter how life-like an animatronic humanoid looks, we can’t deal with the fact that something is not right; something we cannot quite put our fingers on.

Experts suggest a couple of possibilities here:

  • The Eyes – It has been said many times over that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you look into someone’s eyes, you can generally tell their overall mood rather easily. Sometimes you can even tell what they are thinking. When creating an Android Doppelgänger extreme care and attention is given to the eyes for those reasons. The most subtle motion, lower eyelid squint, how much of the iris is visible, and 100’s of other factors beyond the simple eyeball up/down left/right motion are considered.
  • Facial Expressions – Some experts suggest that a lack of accurate facial expression is another part of the creepy factor. Custom Entertainment Solutions now offers an Android Doppelgänger Replication service, making it possible for you to have a custom doppelgänger made of anyone. As part of that service, we do our best to replicate facial expressions. This is not always as easy as a simple “smile” or “eyebrows up/down”. The uncanny valley is a very real thing that we must balance on when animating. On one side, if you make the motions on an ultra-realistic sculpture as real as possible you will inevitably miss something. That small “something” will trigger any human to feel terrified! The solutions we employ are stylization in either animation or sculpture.
  • Fluid Movement – Employing robust fluid movement in our animatronic projects is another option in our Android Doppelgänger Replication service. Using complex closed-loop control theory and advanced feedback sensors fluid motion can be robust and adds realism. So much so that we can fool people if lighting and distance are manipulated in relation to the animatronic subject. It could be that our brains have trouble processing realistic fluid movement in light of the fact that we know we are looking at an android. It could definitely creep some people out.
Android Doppelgänger Replication

Android Doppelgänger Replication

Stationary Projects

What some of us in the animatronic business find so fascinating is that the creepy factor does not seem to apply with stationary products. For example, our new Ultra Realistic Artificial Hands are about as close to the real thing as possible. The main difference with these hands is that they are stationary rather than animatronic.

We have designed and built them so they can be posed in an almost unlimited number of combinations. However, because they are stationary, they do not seem to creep people out. Observers know they’re looking at something artificial so they are more likely to be fascinated by the realism.

Perhaps one day we’ll fully understand how the human brain works as it relates to animatronic humanoids. Many institutes, universities, and individuals are making progress in finding a bridge to this uncanny valley “creepy” effect. In fact we have created many different designs of humanoid heads for universities in Tokyo, Sweden, and Israel. The work that they and everybody else are doing may eventually lead us to overcoming the creep factor. It’s a daunting task indeed, but a challenge many are making exciting progress in!

Top 10 Animatronic Creatures and Figures

 

From the “golden era” of animatronics in movies to animatronic robotics in theme parks and museums, here is our top 10 breakdown!
 
First thing’s last:
 

Position 10: Universal Studios Hollywood Jaws shark on Back lot Tour circa 1980’s

 
WHY? With all due respect to this old guy, it tries to scare adults (kids are easy to scare, no points there!) by sliding up an underwater track and bobbing its head up and down with jaws opening and closing. That is kind of cool, but the BEST part about this “Bruce” imitator is that after the tram moves to the next attraction you can watch the shark “swim” backwards! So funny that the tour guides point it out. Please note that this is referring to the 80’s, the shark has become much more scary since then!

(Image Source: http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2012/01/01/universal-studios-florida-s-quot-jaws-quot-attraction-sails-off-into-the-sunset.aspx )
 

Position 9: The real Jaws great white shark AKA “Bruce”

 
WHY? This classic movie is in many way a classic because the animatronic shark did NOT work except for only a few shots! Spielberg’s intention was to have it revealed in the first attack of the skinny dipping girl in the first few minutes of the film. Imagine if you saw the pivotal antagonist scary great white monster immediately…how scary would the scene where it bobs out of the water to try to eat Roy Schieder’s chum be? A huge challenge for any machine is sea water, and in animatronics for film there is generally never anything but prototype #1. No time to test this great beast in water until shipping it to Martha’s Vineyard. It rarely worked, but that it worked at all we say cheers and well done to Bob Matty and his crew!

(Image Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/gallery/2012/sep/27/sharks-jaws-spielberg-in-pictures )
 

Position 8: Return of the Jedi’s Jabba the Hutt

 
WHY? If you grew up with the original Jedi you can’t forget how fun it was to see this “disgusting blob” on film. If you saw this with the right kind of eyes it was a great character. If you looked at it with cynicism you saw a silly big rubber worm that spoke in a loud booming goofy voice. If you think about it, it was REAL. It was THERE on set. Hot Princess Leia was actually lounging on a big rubber animatronic, not a chromakey-green pillow. There were 5 guys inside the thing on set, a little person working the tail “backwards and forwards!” and a guy whose sole job was to smoke a cigar and blow it through a plastic tube that went out the corner of Jabba’s mouth to give the in-camera smoke from the hookah! If you’ve been on set you can relate to the high level of stress, now take that and wrap yourself in sulfer-stinky foam latex with a few other guys under hot lights. NOT easy work! But it pays off. It’s fun to watch! And the real practical Jabba looks amazing compared to his CG counterpart! What happened? Computer Graphics are a great tool, but more often than not shouldn’t be used. This is a perfect example of trying to fix something with CG that was not broken.

(Image Source: http://starwarsinterviews1.blogspot.com/2010/01/john-coppinger-interview.html)
 

Position 7: American Werewolf in London

 
WHY? Genius prodigy of Dick Smith, Rick Baker made history by winning the first Oscar ever for “Best Makeup” in 1982. The design of the stages of makeup transforming David into a werewolf are classic. The execution, simple and effective. Animatronics actuated by 2 syringes and a plastic hose? Brilliant! And that’s what made the face-stretching shots incredible. “Change-o-heads” for intermediate transformation and final stages show a great mind designing an animatronic effect that is flexible and optimized for minimal time between takes…brilliant! Let’s not forget the animatronic Dead Jack skull…

(Image Source: http://www.worch.com/2006/05/16/its-alive-animatronics-exhibit/animatronics_american_werewolf/)
 

Position 6: Harry and the Hendersons

 
WHY? No more cables! Not only was Harry a great design given the challenge of making a Bigfoot creature that can be both scary and also endearing the head was a technical breakthrough. Cables were the most popular way up to this point to actuate all the different parts of an underskull to make facial expressions. Rick Baker and his team broke the mold by making Harry completely free and self-contained. This gave director William Dear freedom to put Harry wherever he wanted, now an animatronic creature could be treated exactly like an actor taking real-time direction without re-set down time between takes.

(Image Source: http://www.i-mockery.com/minimocks/animatronics/page2.php)
 

Position 5: Aliens

 
WHY? You might think we would immediately jump to the amazing Queen Alien, but this film has some other very clever animatronics. The facehugger running across the med lab floor was more or less a pull toy with a simple mechanism to make the tail wiggle. The visceral shock reaction inspiring facehugger in the specimen tube in the med lab, classic! And yes, the Queen…AMAZING work on both the full scale and smaller scaled puppet. Full scale introduced hydraulics for the first time to Stan Winston Studios in the form of a boat’s steering hydraulic cylinder operating the neck of the heavy head. Very clever approach to making the odd spindly arms and overall form hiding two performers strapped together in the Queen’s chest. Overall a classic film containing too many amazing effects to mention in this short list.

(Image Source: http://www.hrgiger.com/alien.htm)
 

Position 4: MIB I Arquillian Alien in head

 
WHY? Rick Baker’s team and especially Mark Setrakian made this animatronic one of the most beautifully articulate and perfectly pupeteered in movie history. If you watch him very carefully almost every nuance of motion and small details in puppeteering match the emotion and speech perfectly. So this ranks high not only because of the beautiful and intricate mechanical design but especially because of the incredibly realistic performance this little actor made.

(Image Source: http://aliens.wikia.com/wiki/Arquillian)
 

Position 3: Jurassic Park T Rex

 
WHY? Before the T Rex made by Stan Winston Studios there was never a creature this size that worked well mechanically. Jaws “Bruce” did not work as planned for example. King Kong Lives full size Kong had many issues. Stan’s T Rex was huge and delivered a great performance! Using extremely advanced controls similar to those used in advanced manufacturing robots, T Rex had incredible hydraulic power, speed, and smooth motion. Yes…when it got wet it got the “shakes”. BUT that was due to the fine tuning that allowed the Rex to move smoothly under normal conditions. Simple amazing performance, enormity of size, and amount of courage from Stan Winston and his crew to even say “yeah, we can do that”. Well done sirs!

(Image Source: http://www2.jogjabelajar.org/modul/how/a/animal/animatronic.htm)
 

Position 2: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Edward the Troll

 
WHY? This animatronic character showed that CG characters are not nearly as convincing and fun as actually having a practical physical animatronic character on set. Another actor among actors that can react immediately to reflect and enhance human performances. Something real they can see. Bigfoot Harry did the same thing way before CG had taken over real effects. Edward showed that if the director had the courage to commit to a character before shooting a frame of film the performance on set makes a huge difference not only in interaction but in the “reality” of the film. To Mike Elizalde, Mark Setrakian, and the rest of Spectral Motion we say well done sirs!

(Image Source: http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2013/04/they-come-from-everywhere-interview.html)
 

Position 1: Walt Disney’s Abraham Lincoln

 
WHY? This animatronic figure is the grand-daddy of them all! Walt coined the name “Audio Animatronics” (AA) to describe this new technology. Groundbreaking work done by his team of imagineers, this figure inspired so many to pursue engineering, mechanical design, programming, control theory, and much more to children world wide. Uncle Walt, we thank you for creating this field!

(Image Source: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2010/11/walt-disney-one-mans-dream-re-opens-with-new-magic-fond-memories-at-disney%E2%80%99s-hollywood-studios/)