Pro Tips: Animatronics Challenge

February 1, 2016

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We’ve compiled a few tips and resources to help you create the coolest, most unique animatronic puppet ever for our #AnimatronicsChallenge. Have more ideas? Maybe some questions? Want some feedback on your invention? Tell us about them here! Need specific help with an issue or problem? Ask an expert community member here.

Give your character a personality.
Make your puppet unforgettable by giving it unique traits and a backstory. Think about the following questions to get to know them better:

  • What is your character’s gender?
  • What is your character’s age?
  • What is your character’s occupation?
  • What makes them scared?
  • What makes them laugh?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they like most about themselves?
  • What are their flaws or weaknesses?

If you need help getting started, there are a ton of fun character generators out there like this one or this one.

Make it life-like.
You can build personality into your animatronic in different ways using movement, sound, and light. To create the illusion of life through your character’s appearance, think about:

Look. What color is it? Does it have hair or fur? Do the eyes light up?

  • Movement. What parts of your animatronic will move? Does it have blinking eyes? A moving mouth or lips? Wings that flap? A head that turns to you when you speak? Legs that walk or arms that hug?
  • Sound. Does your character talk or make noises? Is s/he loud and angry or soft-spoken and angelic? Is it an animal that growls or purrs?
  • Control. Who or what is controlling it? Does it act independently or is there a puppet master? Wireless modules, pressure sensors, and motion sensors are all fun ways to control your animatronic.

Tell us a story.
To really make your character come to life, build a story around them. Start by creating a situation for them to act in. Where are they? What are they doing? Who else is there, if anyone? When does this take place (e.g. day, night, the past, the future, etc)? Next think about what your character would say and how they would act. You can write a script or improvise. For this challenge, keep it between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

Finally, recruit your friends or family and film it!

Level Up: Get emotional with your Arduino

You could say that emotions are the main difference between animate and inanimate things, between robots and living things. You can use movement, light, or sound to display how your character is feeling. Try using a dimmer, the pulse module and an RGB LED to replicate different emotions:

  • A fast blinking red LED might indicate anger.
  • A slow blinking blue LED might mean calm or sad.

To really expand your emotional vocabulary, add an Arduino. This will allow you to fade LEDs for a breathing effect, use the random() function to create a confused or excited effect, or combine these for a spectrum of feelings and one emotionally complex puppet. New to Arduino? Check out our Introduction to Arduino series.

Documentation

  • If you are using a phone to capture your creature, be sure to orient it horizontally in landscape format.
  • Make sure we can hear you or your sounds loud and clear by keeping the camera close to the audio.
  • Hold the camera still and be sure to focus on the object or scene you’re highlighting. Try not to move around too much, otherwise you might make your audience seasick. :0
  • Taking shots from different angles and edit them together using iMovie for Mac, Movie Maker for PC, or other editing software.

Learning Resources
1) littleBits Animatronic Challenge Workshop Guide (coming soon!)
2) Animatronic Workshop by Ginger Alford and the condensed version over at Make Magazine.

This is a wonderful curriculum for the classroom or afterschool that unites electronics, storytelling, and design. Created by a computer science educator and a team of students, this resource has a bunch of materials to help you extend this design challenge into a larger unit.

3) Tips and Tricks: 10 Ways to Create Goofy Eyeballs