Disney Stuntronics

Disney's autonomous robot stunt doubles could mean a new era of SFX

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Jun 29, 2018, 10:18 AM EDT

Tomorrowland may be the gateway to the future at Disney theme parks, but Imagineers have now created tech that literally leaps, flies, and somersaults into the future.

Stuntronics are a new generation of more active and flexible animatronics that can interact with guests and perform feats even Walt himself never dreamed of. They came into being after Disney Imagineers wanted to capture the physicality of characters that blast their way through space in Star Wars, soar through the air in Avengers, and perform humanly impossible feats like the Incredibles. This is why they realized they needed actual stunt doubles for their already iconic “hero” animatronic figures.

“So what this is about is the realization we came to after seeing where our characters are going on screen,” Tony Dohi, Principal R&D Imagineer for Disney, told TechCrunch. They’re doing all these things that are really, really active. And so that becomes the expectation our park guests have, that our characters are doing all these things on screen — but when it comes to our attractions, what are our animatronic figures doing? We realized we have kind of a disconnect here.”

You probably remember the pneumatic and hydraulic animatronics from attractions like Pirates of the Carribbean or The Haunted Mansion from when you were a kid. The only downside to those kinds of figures is that they are static and pre-programmed, forever standing in one place as they extend a creepy hand (or hook).

Fast-forward to the era of Marvel and Pixar special effects, and Stuntronic character doubles will blow your mind with aerial tricks that someone like Spidey or Elastigirl can easily pull off—while holding a superhero pose. There are laser range finding-supported accelerometer and gyroscope arrays on board each Stuntronics robot, which is slung from the end of a wire so everything from its pose to its rotation and center of mass can be controlled to achieve optimal performance. They convince you of a dynamic character one step from alive.

What’s next? Stuntronics will soon double for hero characters, like Shaman from Pandora: The World of Avatar, in shows that transition from static to action scenes and back. Imagineers are still pushing for the ultimate bipedal robot, but one that can think with an artificial brain and stick a landing every time is still pretty impressive.

Bet Captain Hook could never do that.

(via Tech Crunch)