Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wind-powered Whirligig Head with Moving Jaw

This week's Reader Contribution comes from Tim who has used a common whirligig mechanism to animate an uncommon theme.

Tim has fashioned a head with articulated jaw. The wind-powered whirligig mechanism drives a crankshaft which makes the mouth open and close.

Very clever, indeed.

For more on whirligig construction check out these titles:
Whacky Toys, Whirligigs & Whatchamacallits
Making Animated Whirligigs
Easy-to-Make Whirligigs
Whimsical Whirligigs
Action Whirligigs: 25 Easy-to-Do Projects
The Art And Craft of Whirligig Construction

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Robot Factory - Steampunk Windup Sculptures

Fascinated with machines since he was a boy, artist Serge Jupin creates metal automata from found objects.

At you can purchase his amazing retro-future works.

The robot shown here is known as Wattson. I love this stuff. These are tin-toys for the Steampunk generation.

Robot Factory automata are original handmade limited editions, numbered, and signed. Each robot comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Visit ROBOT FACTORY to see his full line of automata.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jaquet-Droz & Leschot Music Box

Take a look at this gold and enamel signed singing bird box. This rare automaton was made by two of the most important names in automata-making history: Jaquet-Droz and Leschot. This piece is dated to be circa 1785.

I will post more details later, but for now, enjoy the video above.

This exquisite and rare piece will be part of Skinner's upcoming Science and Technology auction to be held this Sunday, October 28th, 2007.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vichy Gymnast Automaton Uses Free Object

Of all of the automata I have seen working in person to date, I would have to say that this acrobat by Vichy is among the most impressive. The engineering sophistication is astounding.

From the eBay listing:
Rare Coin-Operated Vichy Automaton Gymnast with Two Chairs, with papier-mache head, brown glass eyes, smiling mouth with painted teeth, arched brows and theatrical make-up, standing between two white-painted chairs on paneled oak base with coin-slot, massive going-barrel motor driving five cams and four-air cartel cylinder movement, in the original spangled gold satin theatrical costume decorated with silver sequins and glass beads, ht. 35 1/2 in....

The sequence begins with the acrobat standing, poised, between the two chairs. At the drop of the coin, he raises the chair in his right hand waist-high, flexing his wrist three times so that hand and chair outstretched. He then lowers the chair to the ground and, with his hand still grasping the top rail for support raises his body into a handstand position, tilting the chair so that only its back two legs are resting on the stage. When his body is at ninety-degrees from the base, he raises the chair into the air, once again flexing from the right wrist so that the chair is horizontal and his entire weight rests in his left hand while simultaneously raising his head as if to survey the crowd, until body and chair are held in perfect alignment, before gracefully lowering himself back to a standing position. As a finale, he stretches his hand to release the chair, raising his free arm in the air, and bowing his head for applause.

It is a huge challenge to make an automaton interact with a free object. This is an amazing example both for its complexity, the size of the object, and the leverage it must exert on the figure. This is Vichy at their best.

The Vichy Gymnast Automaton is on eBay and will be part of the live auction held by Skinner Auctioneers on October 28th, 2007.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Fine Diamond-Set Gold and Enamel Music Box

This is another item going auction on Sunday at Skinner Auctioneer's upcoming Science and Technology auction on October 28th, 2007.

This piece is described as a Fine Diamond-set Gold and Enamel Carillon Music Box and is attributed to maker John rich. Stunning.

From the auction catalogue:
...movement and case marked No. 1, signed and dated on the mainspring by Benson & Ibell, August 1796, playing two tunes on a nest of five bells with finely-chased and engraved gilt-brass skeleton movement, chain-drive fusee wound from the top and eight-step change-repeat cam lever-operated from the right-hand side, in gold an deep blue guilloche enamel case with hinged base and lid compartments, the lid with central sunburst medallion of rose-cut collet and bead-set diamonds with emanating rays and diamonds in quartre-lune formation at the corners...
Source: Skinner Illustrated Cataloge #2383, pp. 80-81.

Learn more about this and other amazing automata going to auction from Skinner's web site where you can download PDF sections of the current catalogue.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Featured Piece: Playing Dice, Automata I

This automaton by artist Don McGranaghan is entitled Playing Dice, Automata I.

As the title implies, the piece relates to Einstein's famous quote concerning his opinion on quantum physics ('God doesn't play dice with the universe').

"I've had an interest in automata since I was a teenager, when I saw the movie "Sleuth", which was full of antique automata" explains McGranaghan.

To create this extraordinary piece, the artist relied on his professional experience in design, sculpture, mold-making and casting, mechanics, electronics, metal and wood-working. Combining diverse skills and materials, McGranaghan is following in the footsteps of automata masters of old.

In Playing Dice, Automata I the eyes move and blink, heads move from side to side, her mouth opens and closes, his throat makes a swallowing motion, her body and hand with scissors moves, as well as his left hand and right leg.

In explaining the inspiration for the piece, McGranaghan says, "I wanted to create a work that showed the contrast and relationship between two very different figures, and tell a story." In this, the artist has certainly succeeded.

In a humorist twist, the hairdresser attending to Einstein's hair is standing on a beginner's book on quantum physics.

The piece is powered by standard household current, with cooling fan, fuse, and speed control. Take a look at McGranaghan's meticulous handiwork inside.

You are looking at a Bison gear motor which turns two steel crankshafts. Clearly, this is a piece that was build to last.

This is a one-of-a-kind piece that could be the highlight in a large collection or the center of attention in any public space.

Here is a video to give you a sample of the automaton's motions.

Piece dimensions: 21" wide x 30" long x 42" tall
Weight: approximately 100 lbs.
Price: $13,500 which includes the fabrication of a custom crate, shipping, and insurance.

Interested parties should contact:

Don McGranaghan

McGranaghan Artistic Resources, LLC

12 Cherry St., Montrose, PA 18801

(570) 278-7591

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Singing Bird Box by Bruguier

As part of The Automata / Automaton Blog's coverage of the automata going to auction on October 28th, in Bolton, Massachusetts, USA here is the first of several videos featuring select items.

From the Auction Catalogue:
Fine Tortoiseshell Singing Bird Box by Bruguier, No. 600, with fusee movement, stack of four song cams operating in sequence....bird with iridescent plumage of dark and light green, red, and bright blue, articulated head, bone beak, wings, perch, and tail, in tortoiseshell case with hinged key compartment, floriate-pierced grill and foliate-chased original diced maroon leather-covered traveling case.
- Skinner Illustrated Catalogue #2383

This piece is part of Skinner Auctioneer's upcoming Science and Technology Auction.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Roullet & Decamps Cambodian Dancer

One of only two known examples, this Cambodian Dancer was never offered for sale to the public by its makers, the famed Roullet et Decamps of Paris.

This beautifully sculpted automaton is most likely the handiwork of Gaston Decamps -- a gifted artist and student of sculpture.

The dancer performs by swaying from side to side, tilting her head, rotating her arms at the elbows, and turning her hands at the wrist.

Every inch of this 40 inch tall piece is lavishly adorned: gold silk brocade, sequins, beads, anklets, bracelets, and an elaborate headdress. This piece is a marvel of artistry on many levels.

This extremely rare automaton will be part of the auction on October 28th, 2007 held by Skinner Auctioneers.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rare Hand-Cranked Barrel Piano Automaton

Standing at over three feet high, this beautiful and unusual automaton was made and signed by a piano manufacturer George Hicks of London.

The piece has many nice features including an enclosed barrel piano, a double-leaf folding lid and a box comprised of boxwood, rosewood, and ebony.

I was drawn to the fine woodwork, the high backed proscenium which acts as a sound aperture, brass S-form crank, and the delightful animated scene. The presence of a Royal Coat of Arms on the back panel may mean this was a special commission of some sort.

There are four moving figures derived from traditional Black Forest automata: King Gambrinus drinking, an ape in jester costume playing guitar, a Roman soldier, and an Eastern arms collector. All four figures are animated by the barrel which operates a total of ten levers.

This piece will be going to auction on October 28th, 2007. Visit Skinner Auctioneers' website for more information on the upcoming Science and Technology auction that will include this and many, many other automata and mechanical music items.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Automaton Top Hat with a Mechanized Surprise!

I've added a new page to my site featuring various stages of my trick Halloween top hat automaton.

On this page you will find links to:
  • My concept sketch of the hat
  • The mechanism inside the hat
  • The finished hat
  • Details of the article about the hat
  • Video for Windows & MAC

Here's the link to the Halloween Hat Automaton page.

Of course you can also order MAKE magazine Halloween special edition, 2007 for all the details of construction.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Encyclopaedia metropolitana: Automata

This is a little snippet of text from a wonderful book from 1845 called:



I love those old verbose titles! There is a four page entry on automata from page 146 to page 150. It's very interesting.

Check out the ENCYCLOPAEDIA METROPOLITANA at Google Book Search.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chinese Magician Automaton - Auction

This is one of the many automata that will be auctioned by Skinner Auctioneers in Bolton, Massachusetts on October 28th, 2007.

Nick Hawkins -- Skinner's resident music box/scientific instrument/automata expert -- was kind enough to give me a live demonstration of this piece.

It is quite large and the sequence surprisingly long. Overall, one of the most remarkable pieces I have ever seen.

Visit Skinner's site to learn more about the upcoming Science & Technology Auction and the preview dates.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Automata in Japan: Karakuri Ningyo

I own two books on karakuri that are entirely in Japanese. I can't read them, but they are filled with photos and illustrations on glossy paper. Most of the karakuri in this video -- the acrobot, the archer, the magician, and the tea server -- are shown in these books.

Here's one karakuri bookand here is another karakuri book.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reader Contribution: The Magician

This week's Reader Contribution comes from Tony who writes that he has just started making automata and would like some constructive criticism.

When I make an automaton with a very simple mechanism, I consider hiding it in order to showcase the figure and its action. I did this with my piece An Interesting Specimen. Tony could consider making a stage to set the scene for his magician. Then again, there is a long tradition of showing the mechanisms, no matter how simple.

It is worth noting that Tony did something that is hard to do: he got a rather complex set of motions from a simple input motion. Well done!

For a book on how to make wooden automata, see Rodney Frost's
Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood. Frost is particularly good at making stages or sets to hold his mechanisms.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Hungry Vampire by Aquio Nishida

Aquio Nishida is an automata maker from Japan with a wonderful style. One of the remarkable things about his work is that almost every part is made from wood, including such things as axles, chains, and fasteners.

In the spirit of upcoming Halloween holiday, I wanted to showcase a Nishida automaton entitled The Hungry Vampire.

The sequence of action for this piece is described in his book: when the handle is turned the Vampire works the pedals of his robot bat. The bat opens his mouth and flaps his wings. Finally, the vampire brings his glass of red wine to his mouth to hold him over until he finds some blood to drink.

You can order Aquio Nishida's book Automata: Movable Illustration from Amazon's Japanese site.

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Halloween Hat - Original Sketch

I thought you might enjoy seeing my original sketch for the trick Halloween top hat that I created and is now featured in MAKE magazine. Take a look:
Dug North's Halloween Hat SketchMy final design differed from my initial idea in several ways. The drawing shows a simple lever to raise he lid of the hat. In the real version, I used a four-bar linkage. By experimenting with the lengths of the linkages, you can actually get a motion that moves both up and out. This give the monster a more natural motion and really suggests that it is trying to scare you.

My original design also shows that the lid of the hat pulls the monster up. In the final design it's the other way around: as the monster rises, the linkage he is attached to lifts the lid of the hat out of the way.

Finally, I had planned to make my own monster out of wood. I simply ran out of time the year I built the original hat, and used a rubber finger puppet instead. It turned out to be a great choice. The yellow puppet is highly visible in low light and his upraised rubber arms shake around when he appears. Very comical.

To learn more about making animated displays for various holidays check out Animatronics: Guide to Holiday Displays.

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