first use of Audio-Animatronics was for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland,
which opened in June, 1963. The Tiki birds were operated using digital controls;
that is, something that is either on or off. Tones were recorded onto tape, which
on playback would cause a metal reed to vibrate. The vibrating reed would close
a circuit and thus operate a relay. The relay sent a pulse of energy (electricity)
to the figure's mechanism which would cause a pneumatic valve to operate, which
resulted in the action, like the opening of a bird's beak. Each action (e.g.,
opening of the mouth) had a neutral position, otherwise known as the "natural
resting position" (e.g., in the case of the Tiki bird it would be for the
mouth to be closed). When there was no pulse of energy forthcoming, the action
would be in, or return to, the natural resting position.
This digital/tone-reed system used pneumatic valves exclusively--that is, everything
was operated by air pressure. Audio-Animatronics' movements that were operated
with this system had two limitations. First, the movement had to be simple--on
or off. (e.g., The open and shut beak of a Tiki bird or the blink of an eye, as
compared to the many different positions of raising and lowering an arm.) Second,
the movements couldn't require much force or power. (e.g., The energy needed to
open a Tiki Bird's beak could easily be obtained by using air pressure, but in
the case of lifting an arm, the pneumatic system didn't provide enough power to
accomplish the lift.) Walt and WED knew that this this pneumatic system could
not sufficiently handle the more complicated shows of the World's Fair. A new
system was devised.
In addition to the
digital programming of the Tiki show, the Fair shows required analog programming.
This new "analog system" involved the use of voltage regulation. The
tone would be on constantly throughout the show, and the voltage would be varied
to create the movement of the figure. This "varied voltage" signal was
sent to what was referred to as the "black box." The black boxes had
the electronic equipment that would receive the signal and then activate the pneumatic
and hydraulic valves that moved the performing figures. The use of hydraulics
allowed for a substantial increase in power, which was needed for the more unwieldy
and demanding movements. (Hydraulics were used exclusively with the analog system,
and pneumatics were used only with the tone-reed/digital system.)
There were two basic ways of programming a figure. The first used two different
methods of controlling the voltage regulation. One was a joystick-like device
called a transducer, and the other device was a potentiometer (an instrument for
measuring an unknown voltage or potential difference by comparison to a standard
voltage--like the volume control knob on a radio or television receiver).
method was used, when a figure was ready to be programmed, each individual action--one
at a time-- would be refined, rehearsed, and then recorded. For instance, the
programmer, through the use of the potentiometer or transducer, would repeatedly
rehearse the gesture of lifting the arm, until it was ready for a "take."
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