Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Boxcar Fair - film featuring the art of Tom Haney

The long-awaited short film featuring the artwork of automaton artist Tom Haney is finally here! Titled Boxcar Fair, the story follows a wandering explorer who discovers a magical fair in the desert. The film features the music of the band Little Tybee. Remarkably, the entire thing was shot in one take -- no cuts, no edits!

About the film
Directed By: Brock Scott and Tom Haney
Director of Photography: Andrew Kornylak
Original Score, "Boxcar Fair", Arranged, Performed, and Recorded by: Little Tybee, Mixed by: Pat Brooks
Puppeteers: Raymond Carr, Amy Rush, Mauree Culberson, Lee Bryan
Label: Paper Garden Records
Made in: Atlanta, GA

See more work by Tom Haney on his web site.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prop maker Dick George made automaton for Hugo

Dick George, prop maker made automaton for Hugo

Here is a nice article on the man behind the machine in the recently released movie, Hugo. The film features a drawing automaton and this article goes into some detail about George's inspirations for the figures that were used in the film.

From the Los Angeles Times article:

An automaton is a mechanical human being or animal that historically worked via clockwork mechanisms because it predated electricity and the electric motor. They were used by wealthy people as entertainment pieces that were brought out at functions, parties and gatherings. Ours had to appear to be gears that meshed together and clockwork drives driven by springs, although in actual fact there were 28 separate drive mechanisms and servo systems within the body just to perform all the functions.

He goes on to explain how they got the automaton to actually draw!

Here's a link to the article on the prop maker who created the automaton for the movie Hugo.

[ Thanks Aaron! ]

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Mechanical toy gift idea #3 - Modern wind-ups

Kikkerland Skidum wind up toy

No batteries? No problem! A company called Kikkerland offers a slew of interesting wind-up toys like the one shown here called Skidum. Like all of the Kikkerland wind-ups, it is part machine, part insect, part alien. Here's a gallery of some of the other cool spring-powered mechanical creatures in this series:

Here's a link to a bunch of Kikkerland wind-ups.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mechanical toy gift idea #2 - Mechanical banks

Who said that saving can't be fun? This mechanical piggy bank features a dog that seems to gobble up your coins. This is a clever use of a simple mechanism being used to produce a lot of convincing motion.

Here's where you see a bunch of pictures and/or order your own Barkly the Banker Piggy Bank.

If Barkley isn't quite your style, you might like of these animated mechanical banks:

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toy gift idea #1: Engino Build 50 Models Set

Engino Build 50 Models Set

The Engino building system features multi-faceted rods and connectors that allow connections on up to 6 sides simultaneously. The rods permit both dense or open construction technicques, allowing you to build simple or complex models quickly with a smaller number of different components.

More on the Engino Build 50 Models Set

50 Models Engineering Set is a comprehensive set for creating impressive, huge structures such as a tower, a suspension bridge and a truss bridge. It covers the "play-park" theme by containing instructions for a motorized ferris wheel, a carousel and a windmill. The subject of Levers is also covered with the two fully functional weight-scales and the flying machines featured include a jet plane, a helicopter and a bi-plane! The set includes the engino 3 volt geared motor and will help children use their creativity and enginuity to power up either the featured models or their own. Printed instructions are included for 12 models while the others can be dowloaded from the engino´s website.

Here is where you can get the Engino 50 Models Engineering Set.

Surprise Top Hat from MAKE Magazine

MAKE project guide: Surprise Top Hat

For those of you who may not have seen it, here's the online version of the article I wrote for MAKE Magazine a few years ago. The article shows you the steps I used to construct my surprise top hat. When a hidden brake lever is squeezed, a monster pops out of the top of the hat.

When I wrote the article, I used a rubber finger puppet. I have recently replaced this with a wooden monster of my design. The new monster has articulated arms which really adds to the sense that the creature is alive and actively pushing the top of the hat open. I gave him a surly look -- as if he is angered by his noisy neighbors. That would be you. Here is what the updated hat looks like:

Surprise Top Hat

Here is where you can see how I made the surprise top hat project, complete with materials list, step-by-step instructions, and photographs of the construction. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bubble-blowing machine by Kazu Harada

I love the ingenuity and playfulness of this hand-cranked bubble-blowing machine by automaton-maker Kazu Harada! The piece is title Air Sculpture. One of these days, I'm going to have to figure out how to make a bellows like that.

Here is where you can see more pictures of the Air Sculpture automaton by Kazu Harada

[ Also published on the the excellent blog Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik back in May of 2010. ]

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Knife-grinder whirligig discovered inside of a wall

Knife grinder whirligig

Here is a lovely piece of mechanical folk now housed at the American Folk Art Museum. The piece has a remarkable history. It probably dates to around 1875. At some point in the early twentieth century, it was stashed inside the plaster wall of a house. When the house was renovated years later, the piece was rediscovered. Some unknown person left a little treasure for later generations! Thank you whoever you are.

More about the knife-grinder:

Knife grinders such as the gentleman depicted here were a common sight in urban areas and larger towns in the nineteenth century, at a time when tradesmen and vendors plied the streets in search of business. By mounting a grinding stone on a handmade cart, knife grinders could offer a convenient service to customers, particularly in residential neighborhoods where the periodic sharpening of blades used in the home and garden was best accomplished on a large wheel.

The large wheel has a number of interior vanes that allowed the wind to power the piece, moving the man's leg as if he were treading the wheel to sharpen the knife.

Here is where you can learn more about the knife-grinder whirligig.

[ Thanks Eric! ]

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Monster Head Study No. 4 - The Aquatic Creature

Carved face of a wizened old manDug North's Monster Head Study No. 4

Yet again, it's been a while since I shared with you one of my little monster head studies. For a little background, here is where you can catch up on my posts about Monster Head Study No. 1 and Monster Head Study No. 2. and Monster Head Study No. 3. This one would be No. 4.

As with the other  monster heads thus far, this one started out as a 1 inch diameter hardwood ball. These come in packs of 12 and are free of knots. They are quite hard and difficult carve with a carving knife or gouges. Whereas for Monster Head No. 3, I used Kutzall carving burrs in a Dremel rotary tool, this time I took a different approach altogether. Actually, for this head I didn't really "carve" at all! The entire thing was shaped on a 1 inch belt sander. Mine is a sturdy homemade unit that my friend gave to me. It belonged to his grandfather, who was an engineer turned toy-maker. Not only is it a great tool (the motor is bigger than most), but I enjoy the thought that it has been used to make mechanical wooden things for three generations.

As you can see, the head is basically a sphere with a number of flat planes sanded into it. Even the mouth was shaped on the sander. By using the edge of the sanding belt, I could notch into the wooden ball. It's not the most detailed mouth ever, but it gets the idea across.

I cut a tiny wooden spool in half and those became the ears for the monster. The eyes were drilled into the front of the face. Into the resulting holes, I placed glass beads tinted just a little bit blue-green. I finished off the eyes by pressing small brass grommets into the eye sockets and securing them with a bit of cyanoacrylate glue. I tend to use Krazy Glue Advanced Formula Gel. It dries just a bit slower than regular Krazy Glue and can be spread easily with a toothpick. I drilled two small holes into the roof of the monster's mouth. I cut the heads off of two short brass brads and glued them into the holes to form a pair of crude fangs. I used an awl to press tiny nostrils into the front of the face. Finally, I sanded a curve into a 1 inch wooden disc using a 1/4" drum sander (see right). This formed the crest that I glued to the top of the monster's head.

I made this one very, very quickly. The overall effect suggests that this is some kind of aquatic monster. I never start out with a plan for these little guys, so this was a surprise -- even to me! While I like elements of this one, it's not quite as sinister or dangerous looking as some of the others. It almost looks friendly! GASP!

I hope you liked learning a bit about this little carved monster head. There are many more to come so stay tuned.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Hexbut Larva - autonomous squirming bug robot

Hexbug has been delivering insect-inspired robots for a while now. Based on simple electronics and basic bio-mechanics, they are robots-from-the-ground-up, similar to many of the BEAM robots in principle. In addition to their original Micro-Robotic Creatures, they have introduced an Inchworm, Spider, Crab, Ant, and nondescript Nano, as well as various terrains and habitats for these little creatures.

The HEXBUG Larva is the latest addition to the line. Though quite small, the robot has infrared sensors that allow it to detect obstacles in its wriggly path. The robot is then capable of steering clear of those obstacles. All of this is pretty good for a robot this size, but not earth-shattering. The thing that sets the Larva apart is the bio-mimetic motion. It's both fascinating and -- if you are not into creepy-crawly things -- perhaps a bit unnerving. Personally, I think it is fantastic!

Here's where you can get the Hexbug Larva in a variety of colors.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

House of Automata - Consultants on Hugo movie

The House of Automata - Consultants to the movie Hugo

More exciting news about next week's release of the movie Hugo! Michael and Maria Start from The House of Automata served as expert consultants for the movie makers for all aspects of automata. In addition, they gave instruction to actors such as Jude Law, and also provided automata from their extensive collection for props in the film. They were recently featured on a STV -- a Scottish news program. Congratulations to The House of Automata on a job well done and much deserved!

Here is a link to the segment on STV featuring The House of Automata.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prototype Arm and Hand by Keith Newstead

I don't know what to say other than this mechanical wooden hand is awesome. The articulating hand and arm were made by the super talented automatist Keith Newstead. There is nothing in the video description to suggest what form this will ultimately take. The fact that the video is titled "Prototype" leads me to believe that we are waiting for something very, very good!

See more amazing creations in wood, paper, and metal on Keith Newstead's web site.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rare antique automata auction Nov. 19th, 2011

The Kneeling Egyptian Harpist automaton

Shown here is an extremely rare musical automaton known as The Kneeling Egyptian Harpist. Made by Gustav Vichy around 1890, few are known to exist. It is estimated to be worth between $30,000 - $45,000. This is one of many exquisite dolls and automata being auctioned by Theriault's on November 19th, 2011.

From the Harpist automaton description:

When wound, she elegantly plucks the harp, her right arm moving laterally to the instrument as her right jointed wrist bends to "pluck" the strings. Then her left arm rises and falls vertically in an arc. Meanwhile her head turns and nods as though gazing at the strings and then at her audience, her breastplate heaves slowly in a breathing motion, and her eyelids open and close.

The sale, to take place in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, features a collection of 19th century antique French dolls and automata. The most notable of automata in the sale come from the collection of Aaron and Candy Spelling. These include automata by such masters as Vichy, Theroude, Lambert, and Roullet et Decamps.

Here's one on my wishlist (for all you kind anonymous benefactors out there) -- a French gilt bronze automaton titled Mandarin Magician by J.F. Houdin.

Mandarin magician automaton

From the magician automaton description:

A heavy cast bronze Mandarin magician with elaborately-sculpted costume in traditional style and having impressed designs, earrings, moustache, and cap is standing behind a gilt bronze table with star and fringe accents. Music and movements are wound separately, and the music can be elected to play alternate tunes, repeat, or can be played separately without the movements. When wound, the Mandarin nods his head, and in a series of movements lifts both magic domes atop his table or only one; meanwhile the secrets under the domes are alternately revealed: cups, dice, cones and such, or, sometimes, nothing.

Here is a link to more information on the Many Wonderful Things auction to be held Saturday, November 19th, 2011. If you cannot attend, be sure to register for the online auction – visit and click on the button for Proxibid – because they will be demonstrating each of the pieces as it is brought to the podium!

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