Friday, March 30, 2012

Tools, materials, hardware, parts, belts and gears from AmazonSupply

Tools, materials, hardware, parts, belts and gears from AmazonSupply

The retailer formerly know as SmallParts is now called AmazonSupply. They offer a huge selection of industrial and scientific supplies and parts all in one place. They've got a selection of over 500,000 items available via their web site, fast delivery, and competitive prices. Some items of interest to the readers of The Automata / Automaton Blog are listed below:

These are just a few of the categories. They've pretty much got it all! Here's a link to the new AmazonSupply site. Happy hunting!

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ghost illusion automaton by Thomas Kuntz titled "Moonlight Sonata"

This automaton by Thomas Kuntz features a miniature ghost illusion using two automaton figures. When the hand-crank is turned a music box is heard. A figure plays the organ and turns his head occasionally to reveal a macabre visage. A ghost playing the violin appears, then disappears and a flower spontaneously rises from the vase.

More about the automaton from Thomas Kuntz:

The mechanism is hand cranked and machined from solid brass steel and other metals all very tightly organized into the rather small cabinet. Visual foreshortening and special painting techniques give the impression that the box is much deeper than it actually is.

As is typical of Thomas Kuntz, all of the sculpting, machining, painting, ornamental details and model work are his own. The video shows us some incredible shots of the exposed mechanism in operation. The beautifully crafted brass machine looks like the fine historical examples of automata. It's a comfort to know that someone is still making such masterful automata in this way.

See more automata by Thomas Kuntz on his web site.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Video profile of toy and automaton maker Ron Fuller

Artist Ron Fuller has been making toys, models, and automata for more than five decades. His name and art are well known in the world of contemporary automata. This short film gives us a glimpse into his workshop and his thoughts.

If you like what you see and want to make some of the same models and automata, be sure to check out Ron Fuller's book The Art and Craft of Wooden Toys. It's full of plans to make Fuller's charming creations including his famous Lion Tamer automaton. One of the best books of its kind. Trust me!

[ I first saw this video yesterday on the Junkculture blog. ]

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Steampunk mechanical shark submarine model made with Legos!

YouTube member legobodgers decided to enter a competition in which the model had something to to with water and emphasized function over form. His idea? A Steampunk mechanical shark. Oh, and it's a submarine too (there is a tiny pilot in the shark's head). The piece is made from Legos with a lot of Lego Technic parts used for the sophisticated mechanism. Brilliant! I wouldn't change a thing. Well, OK...I would like to have it scaled up to full size and made water-tight so I can drive around it. But, that's it.

Here is a post about the Lego shark submarine on

[ Thanks Suzz! ]

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Exploration of The Uncanny as it relates to automata and robots

The Uncanny - the subject of an e-zine issue of the Pea Green Boat magazine, features an interview with The House of Automata and an unpretentious exploration of what The Uncanny is all about.

For some background on the concept of The Uncanny, let's turn to Wikipedia:

The Uncanny (Ger. Das Unheimliche - "the opposite of what is familiar") is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar.

Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize.

Here is where you can download the Pea Green Boat issue exploring The Uncanny as a pdf.

[ Thanks Michael! ]

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Friday, March 23, 2012

MAD Museum of kinetic art and automata opens today, March 22nd 2012

MAD Museum of kinetic art and automata now open!

The MAD (Mechanical Art & Design) Museum is due to crank up its machines and unbolt its doors today, March 22nd 2012. The MAD museum is a wonderful collection of machines incorporating gears, chains, pulleys and whirligig paraphernalia. From what I gather, the collection will be amazing, representing the work of many, many talented artists. I am currently working on a piece for inclusion in the exhibits!

The Mad Museum
Sheep Street
Stratford Upon Avon
CV37 6EF


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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Profile of automaton-maker Dug North, his artwork, studio, and involvement with the film 'Hugo'

Check out this profile of me and my automata published by Howl in Lowell -- the city's hip arts and entertainment site. There are some photographs of me and my work, a great write up, and a well-produced video. You get a good look at my walk-in vault, its massive steel door, the workshop hidden inside, and some of my hand-tools.

Here is where you can see the full profile of Dug North titled "Invention of Dreams".

[ My thanks to everyone at Howl in Lowell for making this happen! ]

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Labyrinth: wall-mounted kinetic wooden sculpture by David C. Roy

Here is a new wall-mounted kinetic sculpture by David C. Roy entitled Labyrinth. Roy was inspired by an animation he found showing the optical effect created when layers of parallel lines are rotated in opposite directions. This simple concept, turned out to be a significant mechanical challenge, taking Roy some 5 years to perfect in physical form. The time and effort were worth it. The final sculpture shown in the video produces a beautiful motion and effect, is easy to operate and will run for a full 12 hours. There is a detailed recounting of the creation process on the artist's blog.

You can learn more about the Labyrinth kinetic sculpture on the site.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Profile of artist Sam Smith, the father of modern automata

Here is a remarkable film courtesy of automata enthusiast Sergio Pinese. The film profiles British artist Sam Smith in the year 1976. While perhaps not an automaton-maker strictly speaking, Smith's work had a distinctly toy-like quality to it. Many of the figures are articulated and some pieces were in fact animated.

In his book, Automata and Mechanical Toys, Rodney Peppé singles out Alexander Calder, Jean Tinguely, and Sam Smith as seminal figures in the emerging field of contemporary automata. He even refers to Smith as "the father of modern automata". This illustrious title is bolstered by Smith's own art and the fact that he personally encouraged artists Frank Nelson and Peter Markey to pursue automata-making. We are lucky to have such a splendid glimpse at the man, his words, and his work in this film.

Read more about Sam Smith and the start of contemporary automata in the first chapter of Automata and Mechanical Toys.

[ Thank you Sergio! ]

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Film featuring the modern automata of David Secrett

Here is a wonderful bit of film produced by the BBC back in 1979. Automaton enthusiast Sergio Pinese was good enough to share this fascinating ten minute profile of automaton-maker David Secrett, which was also featured on the Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog yesterday. The video shows Secrett's fastidious approach to the art, inspired by the automata of old.

[ Thank you Sergio! Thanks also to Michael Start who passed along information about the film! ]

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Friday, March 16, 2012

How to build the box base for a wood automaton

How to build boxes for wood automata

The seventh article in my Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks series for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre is now live! In this article, I write about how to make sturdy boxes to hold automaton mechanisms. There are dozens of good ways to make a box. I focus on one simple method using corner butt joints reinforced with wooden dowels. This method is easy to make, doesn't require any special cuts, and can be accomplished with a minimum of tools. Best of all, it allows you to assemble and disassemble the piece during the design and refinement phases of construction. This is a huge time saver!

Here is a link to the article on Building the Boxes for Wood Automata. Also be sure to check out the resources section for some recommended books and tools associated with this article.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sale on Cabaret Mechanical Theatre book and three DVDs!

Sale on Cabaret Mechanical Theatre book and three DVDs!

To celebrate 30 years of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre they are having a sale! For four days you can get 50% off their book and 3 DVDs. I ordered these on VHS years ago. It is time to upgrade to a more recent format!

Here's where you can learn more about the book and DVD sale at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. (Valid from the 15th to 18th March 2012.)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Profile of the Jaquet-Droz: master watch, clock, and automata makers

If you missed this video the other day over at the excellent Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik blog, it is a must see. The film documents some of the achievements of the famous Jaquet-Droz family of watchmakers.

The list of accomplishments outlined in this 13 minute film is astounding. Among other things, the Jaquet-Droz are credited with:

  • The first sing bird autoamta
  • The first singing bird watch
  • The self-winding watch
  • The Writer automaton
  • The Draftsman automaton
  • The Musician automaton
  • The pump winding system for watches

This is only a partial list to which we must add numerous advances in watchmaking technology, and supreme artistry in the aesthetic elements of watches and clocks. Finally, though the film does not mention it, Henri Maillardet, creator of the drawing automaton that was the inspiration for the one in the film Hugo, spent time as a young man working in Pierre Jaquet-Droz's workshop. Maillardet doubtless learned much of what he needed to know to build his own drawing automaton from the Jaquet-Droz.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The incredible mechanical art of Andrew Smith

Tangles of organic shapes, twists of colorful metal, spinning wheels, balls racing along on tracks with purpose, rooms jammed full of mechanical contraptions, liquids, gases, light, and a full-size human figure made of metal riding a bike. These are just some of the incredible mechanical creations that come from the mind and hands of artist Andrew Smith. Check out this video montage showing an assortment of his kinetic sculptures.

You can see more kinetic sculpture by Andrew Smith on his web site.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Fanciful 'Nervous Owl' paper automaton kit

Here's a new paper automaton design from the folks at cool4cats. The tormentented owl can only look on as the motorcycling mouse rides circles around the tree. The owl's had action is fascinating!

The 'Nervous Owl' automaton kit comes with all necessary materials and full step-by-step instructions. All you will need is some white glue and a craft knife. Nervous owl is currently selling for £12.00 (about $18 USD).

Here is where you can order the Nervous Owl kit paper automaton kit.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Help support The Automata Blog when you shop at Amazon

Image of the link to use on The Automata Blog when you shop at Amazon

Short Version:
You can help support The Automata Blog by using the link in the upper right corner of the page whenever you shop at Amazon. The image above shows the link to use. That's it!

Long Version:
For those of you who regularly read The Automata Blog, I am grateful for your visits. It's fun to share my passion for automata and mechanical things, showcase the work of talented people, and point you to some resources that might be of interest.

Despite the short format of The Automata Blog, maintaining it does take time, money, and other resources. If you enjoy it, you can help support the blog by using the Amazon link in the upper right corner of the page. This link contains my Amazon Affiliate code.

So, what does that mean? The link will take you to Amazon where you can shop for anything you like. The cost to you is no different than if you had found your way there from any other source. The difference is that Amazon will give me a small percentage of the sale amount for being the one to send a customer their way.

Any link to Amazon on The Automata Blog will work this way, whether you purchase an item I have featured or buy something completely random. As long as you arrived at Amazon via a link on this blog, they will credit all sales during that session to me. Books, cosmetics, food, machinery, Kindle books, gift cards...pretty much every category of product is eligible.

I can access a report showing what was bought, but I have absolutely no information about who the purchasers are. None. Your privacy is 100% secure.

The earnings pay for web and database hosting, domain name registrations, internet access, and computer equipment I use to keep the blog going. I can also use it for books, tools, toys, kits, courses, and travel -- things that I can share with you in the days to come.

Going to Amazon via my blog will only take a few extra seconds. You can, of course, ask your non-blog-reading friends and relatives to shop Amazon via my blog too. Simply direct them to the or and direct them to the Amazon links.

Thanks for taking to time to read this post. I very much appreciate your support!

All the best,

-Dug North, The Automata Blog

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Full size Japanese automaton writes with an inked brush

Magician Brad Henderson from Austin Texas uncovered this video of a large writing automaton from Japan. I don't know much (or anything) about this karakuri figure. The size and sophistication are extremely impressive!

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Heath Robinson Contraptions - inventive cartoon contraptions

Heath Robinson Contraptions - inventive cartoon contraptionsYesterday's post about the Corkscrew contraption by Rob Higgs made mention of one of the Masters of the Contraption. While in the U.S. we may think of Rube Goldberg and his elaborate chain-reaction machines, in the U.K. they might be more inclined to think of Heath Robinson (1872 -1944). Robinson was an English cartoonist known for his drawings of improbable machines. Like Goldberg, his very name has become synonymous with quirky, ugly, improvised, silly, and overly-complex machines.

Here's an example of one of his drawings, though I should point out that this one is NOT in the book shown above.
Heath Robinson's pancake making machine

From a review of the book:

Robinson's elementary mechanical world is brilliant and arcane--those ancient wooden cogwheels, intricate pulleys, fragile gantries, ingenious tunnels, magnets, and steam kettles kept on boil by a lighted candle or two; the whole enterprise held together by knotted string and operated by intensely serious workmen with a sprinkling of soberly top-hatted company directors in charge.

Here is a link to the book featuring Heath Robinson's drawings titled Heath Robinson Contraptions.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The biggest, baddest hand-operated mechanical corkscrew in the universe

Artist Rob Higgs creates overly-complex machines that perform simple tasks. They seem inspired by pseudo-mechanical drawings of Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson. I did a short post about the one shown here, titled Corkscrew, a few years ago, but didn't have video to show at the time. I think the video is essential to see the eerie mechanical beauty of 1000 pounds of machine as it goes about opening a bottle of wine. Mind you, it will also pour a glass for you too! I am in awe of the artist and his incredible machine.

[ Thanks Brian! ]

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Name a new MechaniCard and you could win one of your own!

MechaniCards are small, hand-cranked kinetic sculptures, designed in limited edition by artist Bradley N. Litwin. They are constructed primarily from paperboard, with a few bits of wood, metal, or plastic.

The lastest one, shown in the video above is yet to be named. Here is the fun part: you can be the one to name it! Here's how:

  1. Visit the MechaniCards web site
  2. Send your suggestion for a title of the one shown here
  3. If your entry is chosen, you will receive a free copy of the newly-named card

There is no purchase is necessary to enter. One entry per person. The winner will be picked on March 15th, 2012.

Here's a link to the MechaniCards web site where you can see all of the current designs and submit your name for the new one!

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Hugo DVD and Blu-ray with bonus feature about automata

Hugo DVD cover photo

It's been an exciting week for me. The release of the Martin Scorsese film Hugo on DVD and Blu-ray confirmed at last that I was indeed included in one of the bonus features. I am one of the experts interviewed for a featurette titled The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo.

The DVD edition includes only one extra feature, a nice behind-the-scenes piece titled 'Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo'. The Blu-ray special features include:

  • Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo
  • The Cinemagician, Georges Méliès
  • The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo
  • Big Effects, Small Scale
  • Sacha Baron Cohen: The Role of a Lifetime

The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo covers the history of automata, examines the human drive to replicate life in mechanical form, and explores why we find them so compelling. Among the speakers on the featurette are:

  • Martin Scorsese - Director / Producer
  • Ben Kingsley - Oscar winning actor
  • Graham King - Producer
  • Dick George - Automaton maker for the film Hugo
  • Thomas Kuntz - Artist / Automaton maker
  • Dug North - Automaton maker

The featurette includes footage from the motion picture Hugo, drawings of historical automata, 3D animations, antique automata in motion -- some without their outer coverings so you can see what is going on inside, and automata by artist Thomas Kuntz.

Clips from The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo can be found here:

Being in the feature, I may be biased, but I believe the final product to be an interesting and informative look at mechanical automata. Clocking in at about 13 minutes, it is all to brief and cannot claim to be a comprehensive treatment of the topic. I am honored to have been a part. I hope you will enjoy it too.

Here are the various version of Hugo that are currently available:

  • Hugo - One disc: DVD + Digital Copy
  • Hugo - Two-disc combo: Blu-ray / DVD Combo + Digital Copy
  • Hugo - Three-disc combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy

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Friday, March 02, 2012

Artists speak about the mystery and motion of automata

This is the third video segment from the special feature included on the Blu-ray release of the movie Hugo. I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the feature which is titled The Mechanical Man and the Heart of Hugo. In this clip, I say a few words about the questions that automata raise in our minds. Other speakers in the clip include Martin Scorsese himself and artist Thomas Kuntz, whose incredible automaton art is also shown in various moments in the clip.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Dug North speaks about the Maillardet automaton for Hugo bonus feature

I was interviewed recently for one of the bonus features for the DVD release of the movie Hugo. A team  associated with Paramount came to my studio to film an hour-long interview. Many of the questions I fielded were about the history of automata. This naturally lead to questions about connections between the automaton in Hugo and any historical automata. As it turns out, the automaton in Hugo is closely tied to a real automaton.

Here is a short clip from the special bonus featurette titled The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo. In this segment, I say a bit about the famous Maillardet drawing automaton at The Franklin Institute. I had the pleasure of seeing the automaton in action during a visit there a few years ago. I think my reverence for the masterpieces comes through in the clip.

I particularly love how my segment transitions to Ben Kingsley's. I do hope that I set him up well.

Here is a web page where you can see the video of Dug North speaking about the Maillardet automaton.

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