The initial experiment was to see how to get the most motion out of the simplest puppet; in reality, automata design begins with a puppet that is controlled invisibly through internal cables, levers or wires. If you have seen photographs of the inner workings of antique automata you know they can be very complicated, the idea here was to make a simple balanced armature that would be robust, trouble-free, and most important, move naturally.

Everything is affected during the automaton construction; weight affects the balance, fabric restricts motion, so it is best to start out with a puppet armature that will move almost on its own. A puppet will operate automatically and require the least amount of control if the armature is properly balanced, but it is also important to let the puppet to do what it can do, instead of trying to make it do what it cannot.

A basic stick figure armature was made with a spring neck and torso; the arm joints are loose so they follow the motion that is created when the legs move up and down. The legs act as levers for the arms so they produce motion in the passive parts (the arms) of the puppet. The balance and movement of the springs seem relatively natural as it eases in and eases out of the motion on its own. This simple design is the basis for many of our moving figures.

Prototype Design

The prototype armature of the miniature 6″ wind-up automaton is based on the balance mechanism. Due to the small size it requires a very fine spring as a spine, after searching for the right size and type of spring without success, I had to make the spring from scratch. The next step is to design and produce a mechanism to control the movement, there are three trays of parts that make up this miniature automaton armature and controller, this is one of them.

The controller prototype design is a stacked crankshaft made from pennies that has been silver soldered together and linked to a Sanyo music box movement with nylon gears used for slot cars. When the music box mechanism is wound-up the penny crankshaft produces a wave type of motion, similar to that of the balance mechanism, so the miniature automaton figure will have a rhythmic side-to-side movement.

Created with the Support of Creative Pinellas and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners;
the City of St. Petersburg Office of Cultural Affairs and the St. Petersburg Art Alliance.