Physics In Film Blog

Physics In Film

Movies and TV shows, when done right, are great ways to entertain and tell stories. They can be fascinating avenues for experiencing some phenomena we may never actually witness in real life. They can also be ridiculous or laughably awful when scientific liberties are taken a bit too far. Join the CR4 team here in the Physics in Film blog as we explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the science and engineering we see on the screen.

Previous in Blog: At the Movies (with HUSH)   Next in Blog: Medieval Physics - Bows & Arrows

The Skeleton of Mechatronics

Posted November 16, 2013 12:00 AM by CR4 Guest Author
Pathfinder Tags: mechatronics

The Science of Entertainment

Time and technology have done a great deal to boost the entertainment value of movies. From black and white silent movies of the 1920's and the gradual progression to color and sound, movies have become bigger, better and now with all the special effects you could ever imagine. While special effects can be broken down into several different categories, the main focus here will be on animatronics, or the use of robots in a film. Robotics and the servo motors that power them have an impact on almost every facet of our daily lives so why not our entertainment.

Here's a look at movies through history that are recognized due to their robotics:

King Kong 1933- King Kong was the first of it's time for a lot of things. Marking the very first big monster movie, but the King was also the first robot ever to be used on the silver screen. The servos that helped to power him, moved his arms, head and terrifying jaw. However, due to the issues with lines leaking and power shorting out, there are only two short scenes in which the animatronic gorilla can be seen in action. image source

Jaws 1975- Jaws changed the way movies were made. Steven Spielberg upped the stakes when he brought his mechanical monster out to play. While it wasn't perfect, the $150,000 shark, of which they built three, was one of the most impressive displays of strength for robotics. Servo powered jaws and body gave the shark a very real and very terrifying movement. Just when you thought it was safe.

Aliens 1979- What's most impressive about the first aliens movie is the fact that Ridley Scott had only planned to use a process known as stop motion animation for certain scenes with the aliens. While this would have been cost effective it would have lowered the production value significantly and Aliens might not have the following it does today. Ash, the android's head was also servo powered for the mouth and eyes, but when the latex cured and shriveled this robot became obsolete.

ET 1982- Everyone's favorite little alien, a movie about a boy and his psychokinetic bond with an extra stellar being. Iconic lines from this movie are still remembered close to 30 years after the extra terrestrial made his way back home. The servos that powered E.T allowed his neck to extend and turn as well as various facial expressions. The rest of E.T was piloted by two dwarves and a master mime. image source

Gremlins 1984- One of the most bizarre "kids movies" ever to be released, gremlins had a very successful run, producing a second gremlins movie. Gremlins, like a lot of movies during this time used a combination of both puppetry and animatronics, including a lot of hybrids. Certain Gremlins, such as "Hero" from the second, incorporated servos for highly detailed movements such as speaking.

Terminator 1984- Yet another proof to the increase in technology during the 80's, it would be in poor taste to rattle off some of the best movies to feature robotics and not mention the Terminator. There are very few scenes featuring the robots themselves, mostly in the beginning and when Arnold gets skinned. However, the robots from the beginning and the mechanized arm were powered via servos, giving them that haunting and slightly lurching appeal to the way the walked or moved. image source

Child's Play 1988- This pint sized terror still strikes fear into the hearts of children and grown adults like. Keeping to the theme of the 80's Chuckie was a combination of puppet and robotics. The small facial twitches that really brought the Good Guy doll to life are one of the most haunting aspects to the movie. Child's Play was so successful that a number of equally creepy sequels have been released since the 88' debut.

Jurassic Park 1993- Jurassic Park really takes off with the animatronics. Imagine being on the set and how distracting the whir and hum of all the various servos had to be. From the necks dipping and rising, head turning, mouth opening and snapping shut, all powered by servos and the animatronic frames under the foam rubber skin of these mechanized dinosaurs. image source

A.I 2001- While this movie was an overall disappointment, A.I took animatronics to a new level. The tiny servo motors in the face could convey a great deal of emotion, while the physical movements were fluid and smooth. Would that the writing wasn't so self indulgent, A.I might have done better over all.

The Future

While special effects are leaning more towards computer generated graphics, robotics and the servo motor find work elsewhere. From the factory floor that produces almost everything we use to the space exploration robots that explore other planets tirelessly, servo powered robots are here to stay. image source

Editor's Note: William Toth is a freelance writer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who has been published across the web for a multitude of topics, some of which include: film, current events, and technology. Pioneering companies like Motion Control have been successful at integrating many of these elements under a single umbrella through the use of mechatronic technology.


Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: sometimes Wales,UK.. was Libya, now Oman!
Posts: 1715
Good Answers: 116

Re: The Skeleton of Mechatronics

11/16/2013 11:20 PM

Talking of robotics.. try this 240 year old machine

yes I know it's Facebook.. but it is good!!

The square root of nothing is what you make it!
Popular Science - Evolution - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: India-Chennai.
Posts: 699
Good Answers: 30

Re: The Skeleton of Mechatronics

11/17/2013 9:00 AM

Amazing work with innumerous cams, levers, links etc.

Wonder for how long these fine mechanisms would go in this era of advanced micro chips and processors?

A picture worth thousand words: needless to say if it is animated.
Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - Been there, done that. Engineering Fields - Control Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Long Island NY
Posts: 15286
Good Answers: 940

Re: The Skeleton of Mechatronics

11/17/2013 9:46 AM

The craft of a good news editor is so under valued on the internet today.

Presumably the author knows which scenes in the original King Kong were a robot. Tell us about or show us which scenes use the robot and which were stop motion miniatures.

Alien was made in 1979. Aliens was made in 1986.

The image credits are a mess. None of them cite the original source of the image but presumably do show where the image was acquired. The King Kong credit produces an array of search engine images. Ironically the Jurassic Park image of an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex is actually for a Dinosaur Park in England and not the movie.

<Exit Curmudgeon Mode>

"Don't disturb my circles." translation of Archimedes last words
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: by the beach in Florida
Posts: 31855
Good Answers: 1751

Re: The Skeleton of Mechatronics

11/17/2013 10:50 PM

But wouldn't it make sense to,,,,,oh nevermind......

All living things seek to control their own destiny....this is the purpose of life
Reply to Blog Entry 4 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

brich (1); redfred (1); SolarEagle (1); yesyen (1)

Previous in Blog: At the Movies (with HUSH)   Next in Blog: Medieval Physics - Bows & Arrows