Archive | July, 2011

The Imagineering of Audio-Animatronics

27 Jul

Anyone who has visited a Disney park has undoubtedly been captivated by Audio-Animatronics (or AA’s).  My fascination with AA’s started at a young age, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about them.  I also love to discuss them with other people, so I’ve decided to put together a high-level overview of their constantly evolving technology.

Control Systems

To understand machines as complex as Audio-Animatronics, it helps to first understand control systems.  A control system in its most basic form is an input that produces a desired output.  Inputs and outputs are classified as either binary (also called digital) or analog.  A binary input or output is one of two discrete values (i.e. on or off).  An analog input or output is a varying value.  How do you know if the value is designated as an input or an output?  You have to think like a controller.  The controller is the reference point.  Information that the control system receives is an input and information that the control system sends is an output.  Simple enough?

To illustrate, I’ll use an example that most people can relate to before moving on to the inner workings of AA’s.  A control system that most people encounter on a daily basis is the thermostat in your home.  Your thermostat is a controller.  Inside that controller is a temperature sensing element.  Since temperature is a varying value, it is considered analog.  Your thermostat receives an analog input from the temperature sensing element.  Your thermostat has been programmed to maintain a specified room temperature, so when it receives that analog input, it will confirm whether or not the specified room temperature has been satisfied.  Your thermostat then sends a binary signal (on or off) to your air conditioning unit.  Your air conditioning unit will continue to cycle on and off to satisfy the specified room temperature.

Asleep yet?

A-1’s: The First Audio-Animatronics (for Disney fans, the Dancing Man is not considered a true AA)

One of Walt Disney’s first endeavors with AA’s was with Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland back in 1963.  What made this control system so revolutionary was how WED Enterprises combined movement with sound – hence the “Audio” in Audio-Animatronics.  In this instance, a score is prerecorded and programmed on magnetic film/tape.  The control system is a group of gigantic machines that play back the programmed film in the desired sequence.  The film produces a set of signals or tones.  Every time a tone sounds, a metal reed vibrates.  The signal and metal reed are the system’s binary input.  This metal reed closes an electric circuit which triggers a solenoid.  The solenoid actuates a pneumatic valve which opens and allows air to flow.  The Tiki Room’s outputs are its pneumatic valves/cylinders.  That’s why you can hear air hissing sometimes in many of the attractions with AA’s.  This particular system is fully binary, so the valves (the outputs) are two-position: open or closed.  A simple movement that results from opening a pneumatic valve might be to open a bird’s beak.  To summarize: control signal closes circuit and solenoid actuates air valve which opens beak.  That’s just one movement.  The Tiki Room is full of countless other movements set to a full musical score.  Mechanically, it’s a simple system, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make everything work properly and to produce an entire show.

Still with me?

The 1964 World’s Fair

We’ve made it through the basics, and each new development builds upon the previous incarnation.  Next comes the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with WED’s first human AA (which were called A-1’s by the company internally), President Abraham Lincoln.  Abe presents new challenges.  First, this AA is considerably larger and heavier than the Tiki Room’s birds, and second, a human’s movements are not two-position.  Our movements vary.  To address these challenges, WED uses hydraulics in lieu of pneumatics on some of the heavier/larger limbs and they develop an analog control system.   Both a binary system and analog system are used for Mr. Lincoln.  The way the analog system works is by varying voltage to the actuators of the pneumatic or hydraulic valves which results in a full range of motion.  The control signal is not on/off; it fluctuates.  Every analog input is programmed individually on the magnetic film.  Then each piece of tape is combined into a single reel and synched with the dialogue and music.  You can see the finished product in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color “Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair”.  Walt gives a great introduction and we get to see Blaine Gibson, the sculptor who created Lincoln’s face.

In the same special, Walt goes on to discuss the Carousel of Progress.  This is where we get to see one of the methods by which WED was able to program the desired analog movements.  Wathel Rogers, an Imagineer, is shown wearing a harness device that records his movements onto the magnetic film.


The next major milestone is in the late 1960’s with the introduction of the Digital Animation Control System or DACS.  DACS has the capability to program movements on computer disks rather than tape.  With the advances in computer technology, Imagineers can program AA’s from a control board instead of wearing the cumbersome harness.  Also, eliminating the tape allows for easier addition, deletion, and shifting of movements in a sequence.

Side note: This system is still in use today but has gone through multiple upgrades and improvements.  DACS does not only control AA’s; it also cues lighting, sound, and other effects.  This is the control system seen in almost every Walt Disney World television special when the cameras go inside the Utilidors.


We’ve made it to the 1980’s!  At this point, Imagineers are a bit annoyed by the seemingly harsh movements that most of the AA’s exhibit.  If the movements are quick, the limbs shake which makes the whole AA move.  They end up having to slow the movements down to prevent shaking.  This is not a desirable solution, so Imagineers develop a better technology to correct these issues.  They call it “Compliance”.  Compliance allows limbs to move slightly past their programmed end location to absorb shock and soften the finish of the movement.  This is all made possible due to more robust computer systems and programming technology.  In 1989, the first AA to incorporate compliance shows up in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney’s MGM Studios at the time).  The Wicked Witch of the West is unveiled at The Great Movie Ride.  The company calls this type of AA an A-100.  Because of the exponential increase in channels of movement, it can take up to eight hours to animate one second of an A-100.  Keep in mind that up to this point, every AA’s inputs are prerecorded.

A-100’s are still the most recent incarnation of AA’s, but as materials are refined, control systems become more sophisticated, and Imagineers continue to tinker, AA’s movements become more realistic.  I was really impressed when I saw a clip of Ursula in The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure which opened in Disney California Adventure in June 2011.

Living Character Initiative

In the early 2000’s, Disney comes up with what they call the “Living Character Initiative”.  This encompasses both AA’s and traditional motion picture animation.  It’s a way to enhance the in-park experience by allowing guests to interact with characters.  The difference between standard AA’s and Living Character Initiative AA’s (or animated images) is that some of the inputs for the LCI characters are NOT prerecorded.  These inputs rely on operator intervention.  Typically a cast member is camped out nearby programming inputs in real time.

An example of a development from the Living Character Initiative is Lucky the Dinosaur.  Lucky is the first AA that can walk independently.  The cart he tows behind him conceals the control system and power source.  One of the reasons Lucky can roam freely is because his limbs are actuated electrically, so compressed air and hydraulic pumps are not required.  Lucky uses some prerecorded movement sequences but some of his actions are controlled by a hidden operator.  This allows Lucky to interact with guests.  Other LCI creations include Turtle Talk with Crush, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Push the Talking Trash Can, WALL-E, and Muppet Mobile Lab.

Here comes the cool part…


The future of AA’s is so advanced that Disney had to come up with a new name for them: Autonomatronics.  By the way, both “Audio-Animatronic” and “Autonomatronic” are trademarked by Disney.  The Autono- prefix is used because these characters do not rely on operator intervention; they function autonomously. The term is first mentioned on Twitter in reference to the D23 Expo in 2009.  Disney introduced a new Autonomatronic named Otto.  The control system for this new generation is capable of receiving inputs from various sensing devices.  Devices might include occupancy sensors, cameras, or microphones.  The system first receives input information.  Then the controller analyzes the input, selects the desired output, and sends a signal to trigger the end device.

If you remember the thermostat example from way back in the beginning of this post, the new Auto’s are similar in regards to inputs and outputs.  They operate in response to external stimuli as sensed by the system instead of by a human operator or by using a prerecorded sequence.  However, the Auto’s have a lot more data and much more complex control algorithms than a home thermostat.

I came up with a possible scenario of how Autonomatronics might be used.  I’m not sure if Disney is already implementing this sequence; this is simply to illustrate the technology.  An Auto might have a thermal imaging camera imbedded in it.  The control system could then use that image to identify how many bodies are in the immediate area.  That quantity would serve as the analog input to determine what dialogue and/or movements are performed.  Again, this example is completely arbitrary; I don’t know if the company is actually using thermal imaging in this way.

I look forward to the future of both Audio-Animatronics and Autonomatronics.  Who knows what their capabilities will be?  Maybe we’ll be able to hold entire conversations with them and be BFF’s.

Home Stretch

I know this is a pretty dry topic for a blog post with a lot of emphasis on technology and all-around nerdy stuff, so I appreciate anyone who suffered through reading the whole thing.  If you have any comments or anything you wish to add, please post them below.

Oh yeah, and I guess I’m supposed to say something like “I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company. All thoughts and opinions are my own.”

Resources Used:’s_Enchanted_Tiki_Room


For Purple Mountain Majesties

25 Jul

I thought I’d share some photos from our three days of fun.  We explored Denver and its surrounding areas.

Our first day in Colorado, we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I had never visited the park before, so I was excited to see something new.  Some portions of the road up into the mountains weren’t protected by any guard rails, so I was occasionally a nervous wreck.  Other than that, the drive was beautiful.  We stopped a few times on the way up – first to look at the aspen trees (cause I love how their leaves seem to sparkle in the sun) and next to spend time at the Forest Canyon overlook (elevation 11,720’).

The weather was absolutely perfect at the overlook.  It was clear, dry, and 72°F.  On the way back to our hotel in downtown Denver, the temperature rose to 96°F.  Yowza!

Our second day was a repeat of one of my family’s trips to Colorado Springs a long time ago.  I do remember a lot from that trip, but that didn’t make our day any less exciting to me.  We started out by visiting the United States Air Force Academy.  We spent some time in Cadet Chapel.  All the glowing windows inside sort of reminded me of Space Mountain.  Yes, I can relate anything to Disney.

In the visitor’s center, they have a small model of a cadet room.  Of course I immediately thought of Zoolander, “What IS this? A cadet room for ANTS?!…it needs to be at least three times bigger than this.”

We finished our day with a visit to US Olympic Training Center and then made a loop around Garden of the gods.

This rock formation is called “Balanced Rock”.

Our final day of fun was spent touring Coors Field.  Although I’m not a baseball fan per se, I am always willing to visit an MLB field.  The grass is so PRETTY.  This particular field is unique because it has the Rockies (the mountain range, not the name of the team) as a backdrop.

A lovely trip in a beautiful part of the country!

Girly Things: All-Over Face Makeup Favorites

21 Jul

First things first: I am not a makeup artist.  That being said, I think makeup is wonderful.  I don’t feel “ready” until I have my makeup on.  On the other hand there are plenty of times when I’m home on the weekend and I’m too lazy to put some on, so I’ll run errands or go out to eat without it.  That’s not a big deal.

But, I love when I have a lot of time to get ready because that means I get to play with my makeup.  Playing means spending extra time with whatever new product/pigment I’m trying or being more precise during application.

To me, the most important step in makeup application is “prepping the canvas”.  Sure, eyes and lips are the most fun, but if the all-over face makeup doesn’t look flawless, no one will even notice your eyes or lips.  Evening out your skin tone and doing some highlighting and contouring make a huge difference.

At this point in time, these are some of my favorites for all-over face and cheek makeup (including bronzer & blush).  Most of the Laura Mercier and Cover FX products came recommended by the YouTube makeup guru, Kandee Johnson.  I tried them out and have been very pleased.

Primer: Laura Mercier Foundation Primer

Foundation:  Laura Mercier Liquid Foundation

(I use moisturizing in the winter and oil-free in the summer)

Concealer: Cover FX Total Coverage Cream Foundation

(Although it’s a cream foundation, it works really well as concealer)

Setting Powder: Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder

Bronzer: Bare Minerals All-Over Face Color in Faux Tan

Blush: NARS Blush in Desire

Cheek Shimmer: Bare Minerals All-Over Face Color in Clear Radiance

(I don’t wear this all the time, but it’s fun to wear occasionally)

What are your favorites?  I’m always on the hunt for new products, so please comment below if you use anything that you think is worth a try.  Thanks!

We’re Going to Disneyland!

18 Jul

We booked our fall trip to Disneyland a few months ago, and I’m loving every minute of researching and planning.  This will be our first trip to Disneyland.  That means everything will be new to us!

Many people ask, “Why would you go to Disneyland when Walt Disney World is so close?”  A valid question.  I have lots of answers.

1.  Disneyland Park was the first park.  It’s the original.  Without the success of Disneyland, Walt Disney World would not exist.  I must pay my respects.

2.  Disneyland Park is NOT the same as the Magic Kingdom Park.  Yes, they are similar, but there are tons of differences.  They’re certainly different enough to warrant a visit.

3. Disneyland Resort has two parks, and their entrances face each other.  How cool is that?  I’ll be able to WALK from one park to the other.  This is completely foreign to me since I’ve grown up going to Walt Disney World.  In WDW, you have to allow yourself 45~90 minutes travel time between parks.  Also, DLR’s Downtown Disney District is within walking distance of the parks.

4.  World of Color.  Oh my goodness.  This ultimate nighttime spectacular is shown at Disney California Adventure.  I can’t wait to see it in person.

5.  There are quite a few attractions that are unique to DLR.  Some of my must-do’s: Indiana Jones Adventure, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Alice and Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which doesn’t exist anymore at WDW), Monster’s Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Grizzly River Run, The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (which is on it’s way to WDW), and, if it opens in time, California Screamin’.

6.  In addition to the new (to me) attractions, I can’t wait to experience the ones that have a twin in WDW.  I use the term “twin” loosely, because I hear the attractions are very different on each coast.  It’ll be like riding them for the first time!

7.  DLR takes advantage of holiday makeovers for attractions.  We planned our trip close to Halloween for that very reason.  A couple of attractions that have these overlays are Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy.

8.  New food.  We all know that food is an important part of any Disney trip, and from what I’ve been told, the in-park food at DLR is quite tasty.  I’ll be sampling as much as I can without getting ill.

That’s plenty of reasons to go, yes?!  Am I forgetting anything?

Used-to-be-Fun and Newly-Fun

15 Jul

Sometimes I miss doing things that I once considered fun.  How can I get that back?  It’s okay if I’m discovering new fun things to replace the old ones, but occasionally the list of used-to-be-fun things is longer.

Example: I used to love to go to movies.  It didn’t matter what time of day it was or really even what movie it was.  I was game for anything.  Now, I have to be 100% certain that I’m going to like the movie. It has to be early in the day.  It has to be showing at one of the two theaters I like in town; they’re the cleanest and have the best popcorn.  We have to arrive at least 30 minutes before the movie to make sure we don’t have to sit in front and to see the previews.  So many rules!

Another one: I used to love to run.  Now this one goes WAY back – back to around 3rd or 4th grade.  I think most kids between the ages of 2 and 10 like to run.  And jump.  Especially when you get a new pair of tennis shoes that make you run faster.  Or light up. Then that all changed.  Running is now miserable.  Why run when you can walk?  Or better yet, drive. And you get all sweaty and tired.  Why put yourself through that?

Fortunately, there are a few things that were once not fun to me that have become fun.  One of the weird ones is ironing.  I now enjoy ironing.  Who knew?  It’s very relaxing to me, and I get instant gratification from it.  Wow! That garment was wrinkled and NOW look!  Side-note: I highly recommend using Magic Sizing (“Light Body Without Stiffness”).

I try to focus my attention on the newly-fun and still-fun things, but I would love to be able to pull some of the used-to-be-fun things back to the still-fun side.  Maybe some of them will loop back around.  Do you have any used-to-be-fun things that you miss or newly-fun things that were unexpected?

Scent Memories

14 Jul

I’ve always been sensitive to smells.  A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that I’m allergic to most perfumes, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing it.

I think one of the reasons why I buy a lot of perfume is because I really appreciate scent memories.  In addition to having all my perfumes’ scents memorized, I can usually identify other smells that I associate with a memory.  It’s so amazing how I’ll get a whiff of something and I’m immediately transported to a specific time/place/feeling.

Sometimes I’ll smell something familiar and I don’t know what that smell reminds me of.  That drives me NUTS.  I’ll think “what was that?” for hours.  And if I can’t figure it out, there’s no backup plan. There’s no IMDB for scents… if you can’t figure it out yourself, you’re out of luck.

I started thinking about some of my favorite scent memory triggers today and put together a mini list.

  • Scent: a type of chap stick that came in an orange tube, Memory: Cracker Barrel.  It smells like the Country Store
  • Scent: A whiff of something while walking through the mall (not sure where it came from), Memory: the ocean scene at dusk from Soarin’ at Epcot
  • Scent: lime coolada lotion, Memory: our honeymoon in Hawaii
  • Scent: ice skating rink, Memory: middle school birthday parties
  • Scent: burning smell outside (maybe it’s leaves?), Memory: burning of the Library of Alexandria in Spaceship Earth
  • Scent: French Connection perfume, Memory: my family trip to Banff, Canada
  • Scent: musty water, Memory: every water ride at any park

So what can I do with this heightened sense of smell?  Basically nothing.  But I can make it a game for myself, and since the memories are mine, I’ll always win the game.  Am I the only person who has a lot of distinct scent memories?  Are any of them really specific?  Even a little odd?  The weird ones are the best ones!


14 Jul

While I was watching Disney Parks: Disneyland Resort Behind the Scenes, I started thinking about how much I love the Disney fonts.  The Disneyland Resort font has a medieval style while the Walt Disney World font looks more like Walt’s signature.  Unsurprisingly, I have both of them.

Then I came up with a brilliant silly idea: I will make a logo for a fictitious park called “Malloryland”.  At the time, I thought this would be fun and simple.  It could’ve been simple, but I wasn’t about to let that happen.  I’m ashamed to say that I tinkered with images, colors, shapes, and formatting for approximately four hours.  Four hours of my life were spent doing something completely unproductive.  But, hey, I now have a logo now for my “park”.  I’ll be using it as my blog title so it’s not a complete waste.

How does it look?  If you think it’s lame, I want my four hours back.