Audio-Animatronic three-dimensional animated human and animal figures operated by Digital Animation Control System (DACS) perform in a number of attractions at the Walt Disney World theme parks. These lifelike robotics are not merely visuals, they are the characters.
The Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened at Disneyland in 1963 and is said to be Walt Disney’s favorite Audio-Animatronic show, was the first to utilize this Imagineering invention. Built around a mechanical toy bird Walt purchased while visiting New Orleans, the Enchanted Tiki Room was a result of plussing, innovation, and persistence. The path to Audio-Animatronics preceded the little bird, however. Walt, a tinkerer, had been toying with mechanical performers for some time. He paid some key staffers out of his own pocket to work on the secret robotic project. Ken Anderson sketched while Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers developed the animation technology. One of the first scenes attempted was The Dancing Man, a nine-inch human figure modeled after actor/dancer Buddy Ebsen. The small size human form proved too difficult and complex to perfect and led to the life-size Abraham Lincoln Disney featured at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.
[Tweet “Learn about #WDW #DACS Audio-Animatronics / build robots! #Disney #homeschool”]
Early figures utilized a cam-and-lever technique to create character movement. As technology progressed, the bulky cam-and-lever principle was combined with an electronic-hydraulic-pneumatic approach to provide more versatility for two Disneyland attractions, Nature’s Wonderland and Jungle Cruise. This method, however, was soon replaced by a system using magnetic recording tape and solenoid coils, in which signals recorded on the tape triggered coils in the figures to produce action. The Enchanted Tiki Room was the first example of this type of animation.
The advancement of computers enabled Imagineers to further refine Audio-Animatronics. Movements were recorded to a computer disk and console buttons and knobs could add, delete, or adjust actions. This Digital Animation Control System (DACS) playback cued speakers, lights, effects, and motion simultaneously to synchronize all the show elements. This method continued into the 1980s.
Currently at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom alone, Audio-Animatronics perform at several shows including The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Jungle Cruise, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Carousel of Progress among many others, and are significant aspects of each attraction. Sophisticated computers operate a complex system of multiple DACS controlling Audio-Animatronics figures at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot from one single location located in the Magic Kingdom Utilidors. I think Walt would really get a [robotic] kick out of the many automated characters that perform in his parks today!
Build a robot! This will need to be done with adult supervision or by older students. Once your robot is complete, synchronize its movements to music and special effects to produce an Audio-Animatronics show.
Younger students may opt to have one of their own mechanical toys perform. For instance, costume a crawling baby doll in Spanish attire, cue the theme to it’s a small world, and set the doll in motion.
SCHOOL SUBJECT: Engineering
SKILL LEVEL: High School
©2016, 2012 Magical Mouse Schoolhouse, your Disney homeschool resource! An earlier version of this post appears in MAGICAL MOUSE SCHOOLHOUSE: Learn While You Play at Walt Disney World Resort.