Talk to anyone who’s visited our office, and they’ll reference the collection showstopper: a synthetic Tyrannosaurus rex head with an eerily familiar face — it’s one of the T. rex models used in the movie Jurassic Park.
IV’s founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold is the ultimate dinosaur hobbyist — he’s published paleontology research findings, funded fossil excavations, and been on set at Jurassic Park filmings. But the T.rex is more than a memento; it's a symbol of robotic innovation.
Animatronics, a kind of robot, uses mechatronics to create machines that look animated rather than robotic. Powered by pneumatics and in some cases hydraulics or electrical means, animatronics can imitate muscle movements.
These specialized robots date as far back as Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that Walt Disney popularized animatronics in entertainment.
Disney and his team of Imagineers invented Audio-Animatronics. One of the earliest uses can be seen today in Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Audio-Animatronics made its first appearance in film with the two birds Robin and Umbrella in Mary Poppins.
Other silver screen superstars, including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, put animatronics in the limelight. You’ll notice animatronics taking center stage in classic films such as Jaws, Star Wars, and of course Jurassic Park.
Some Jurassic Park dinosaur creations, including the T. rex, were full-sized dino bots, but because of the cost involved in creating them most animatronics were just the animal’s upper or lower half. The rest was left to another important tech innovation — computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Spielberg combined animatronics with CGI to bring many of his dinosaurs to life. The article “20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Jurassic Park” gives a great example of how CGI and animatronics engineers worked together to create the film’s final T. rex scene.
With the onset of more cost-effective CGI technology, the film industry abandoned its animatronic creations seemingly overnight. But there are still long-time animatronics fans who believe that, as robotic technology becomes more affordable, robots will make a comeback.
Whether or not animatronics is extinct in Hollywood, robotics is alive and evolving at Intellectual Ventures. Learn how we’re helping a new generation of robot-enthusiasts bring their bot-building ideas to life.