Animatronic Character Creation - Organic Mechanics PART 2 with Rick Lazzarini

How to make organic animatronic mechanisms. Learn fx techniques from animatronics designer & special effects character creator Rick Lazzarini.

Aug 20, 2012


“Just say no to squirrels.”

I had to lead off with that because it was my favorite part of this video.  I’ll explain what it means in a moment, but for now simply think of it as a good way to grab your attention for this week’s latest lesson, Animatronic Character Creation:  Organic Mechanics – PART 2.


Now, where did we leave off?  Previously in PART 1, the incredibly talented, character creation megastar, Rick Lazzarini started work on an animatronic puma.  He gave some extremely informative overviews on organic expression, push-pull vs. pull-pull mechanics, and even covered a lot of territory on servos and transmitters.  Physical construction of the puma mainly consisted of the creation of the vacuform underskull, the jaw, eyes, and a lot of focus on the brows.


Continuing in PART 2, Rick’s overviews delve into new material, as well as building on concepts originally presented in PART 1.  A few of his focus points are dealing with the properties of cables, additional information on pull-pull and push-pull servo actions, programming range of motion, and one thing I think that is an extremely important lesson -- how to make adjustments as you go.


Learning how to make adjustments, and how to correct an occasional error as you go, is something that Rick not only talks about, but is seen in the lesson.  Specifically with a situation on the upper lip where the cable ended up being too flexible.  We see Rick have to start that section over and fix it.  Seeing that sometimes even the best of us don’t get it correctly the first time is something that will make everyone feel better about their work… and their occasional mistakes.


Continuing on with the physical construction, most of Part 2 is focused on the movement of the jaw, and the snarling of the lips.  The jaw, and the teeth, are a very interesting watch.  I dare anyone that watches the section where Rick is trying to fit the teeth in correctly, not to immediately think of their grandparents and their dentures.  It’s this kind of anthropomorphic quality that is exactly what Rick is seeking in the first place, and he gains it even with the puma mainly being a vacuform shell at this point, with almost no movement to it at all.


From there, the lips are their own truly amazing view.  Watch how, first, Rick decides to tackle this issue by creating a diagram, and working it out on paper.  From there watching him embed micro servos that will not only have an up-and-down motion, but also an in-and-out motion is a thing of beauty.  Watching Rick work, taking it step by step, ends up taking an initially complex medium, seem like we can all actually do it.  And isn’t that the whole point of the SWSCA?  Because at the end of the day, we all CAN do it.

Long story short, PART 1 and PART 2 of this animatronic journey is one that everyone can relate to, even if initially you don’t think you will.  It’s a great ride.


Now, finally, let me explain the opening line.  During a segment where Rick was mixing some propoxy he had some time to kill, so he relayed an anecdote about animatronics and squirrels.  Basically the two don’t mix.  Producers ask him all the time to create an animatronic squirrel for a project, and consistently he has to tell them no.  The reason?  He can make practically anything, except a squirrel.  They are simply just too tough to duplicate.  There are many reasons.  The hair on a squirrel is too tiny and tight.  They have three different shades of color along the strands which is incredibly difficult to recreate.  The skin never seems to work.  To this day, no one has ever made a realistic animatronic squirrel.  He does state that he saw one wearing a helmet once, but that doesn’t count because it’s all about the head.  But it’s here that he poses his challenge to the Stan Winston viewer.  His challenge?  Make a squirrel.  See if you can beat the master at his own game.  So as I see it, you have two choices…  Either accept Rick’s challenge, or heed his advice, and “just say no to squirrels.”

Check out "Animatronic Character Creation - Organic Mechanics part two" HERE.

-Jeff Dixon