“Keep your hands inside the boat because the crocodiles are always looking for a hand out”

May 25, 2011

Prepare your eyes and minds for the breathtaking world of animatronics with a ride on Walt Disney’s “Jungle Cruise”

Recently we’ve been discussing what to make and why we would want to make any such thing (typical ex- art student banter). With our first collaborative work “Some film museums I have known” we devised a complicated set of models, live feeds and cameras that facilitated a scripted narrative but also functioned as a visual art installation.

The tiny set

So with the approach to our second work we have decided to pare back on our maximal genre inclusive tendencies and make a work that is void of live performance but that functions ‘perfomatively,’ if this is at all possible and also amongst a plethora of other interests.

We are interested in inverting our last work and making visual art that explores and borrows heavily from theatre. So in this very early stage I have started looking into animatronics. Mainly because I am attracted to clumsy, analogue technology and because I have a fantastic memory of going on the ‘Gremlin ride’ at ‘Movie WorldTM’ as a child.

The only Gremins' ride picture i coud find has Alf in it for some mysterious reason

This memory was made poignant by the fact that the ‘Gremlin RideTM’ (at Warner Bros Movie World on the Gold Coast TM) was dilapidated and un- maintained. Many of the gremlin puppets had come off their robotic mechanisms but the robotics were still performing to a spooky movie sound track. This made the ride actually terrifying as opposed to what it was probably intended to be. My guess is that the original intention was to be mildly entertaining and a little bit ‘creepy’ with a few minor ‘frights’.

As I was doing this ‘research’ i did get the idea that animatronic puppets could be thought of as some kind of middle ground between live action and sculpture. Inanimate objects manipulated into live performance, through life sized hardware. Although this technology seems clumsy now it was quite groundbreaking when Walt Disney started to feel the need to bring animation into physical reality.
Walt Disney was a pioneer of animatronic technology, whilst I was crudely researching animatronic history online, my heart was filled with joy to read this Walt Disney quote, which was mentioned as a joke that Disney made to one of his ‘Imagineers’.

“I’m tired of finicky actors. I want to develop a fully animated, articulated human being to use in place of motion picture actors and actresses.”

Ha! Actors, who needs ‘em! Good one Dis!

Disney got his hands on some declassified technology from NASA to make his first animatronic, which was a life sized Abe Lincon. Disney put to use this insane technology called ‘Inertial Reference Integrating Gyro’ or ‘IRIG’ for short, which I think, used sound to complete circuits and activate movement in a certain sequence so that ‘life like’ movement could be achieved. I think it sounds like actors would be a little less complicated to operate and they are very life like without needing declassified technological involvement from NASA.

It also dawned on me that most of my favorite movies star animatronic characters, “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” all hold heavily nostalgic (not my favorite word to use when talking about visual art) trappings. What could be cooler to an eleven year old mind than an animatronic shark who wants to kill Rob Schneider? He’s a shark who is capable of jumping up on to boats AND holding grudges.

Hi Mum!

Or Dinosaurs that have been cloned to exist in the present day (the present day being the 90’s) and live on a secret island that only top scientists and philosophers (what was Geoff Golblums character meant to be?) can visit. But eventually, if all goes to plan (and somehow I think it won’t!) Then ordinary humans like you and an eleven year old me could visit this dino super- fun park! Or at least the animatronic version of it.

Jurassic fear

Animatronics are really just glorified puppets that stand in place of an impossible or past reality to create an illusion of theatre. They are the perfect clunky embodiment of a desire to animate the inanimate in real time and a solution to a no employee theatre.

I doubt that we will attempt to create anything as technologically complicated as an actually functioning animatronic scenario or creature

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