Saturday, February 06, 2010

Automata-maker Dug North and his workshop

Automata-maker Dug North and his workshop
I thought it might be fun to give you a glimpse of my workshop and some photos of me in it.

The shots were taken by the talented portrait artist, Adrien Bisson who also resides in Lowell, Massachusetts. The photographs show my workshop, some parts of the wood clock I am making, and a prototype automaton that is in the works. The workshop it is actually built into a century-old walk-in vault.

To see more photographs from this shoot, check out Adrien Bisson's photography blog.

And, as always, thanks for reading The Automata / Automaton Blog!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

MAKE Halloween Special Issue - DIY Halloween

It may have hit the newsstands last year, but the MAKE Special Halloween issue is still full of excellent Do-It-Yourself Halloween goodness. You have got to see the headless Marie Antoinette costume!

What does this have to do with automata? This is the issue that features a humble contribution of my own -- an article on how to build a mechanical top hat with a little monster pop out of the top on command. This is the alternate cover; my hat project can be seen in bottom center of the page.

Here's were you can get the MAKE: Halloween Special Edition (Collector's Alternate Cover).

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Make an Automaton in a Hat for Halloween

Here's a video of the hat of my design that was published in last year's Special Halloween Edition of MAKE Magazine.

The project requires two costume "Coachman's" hats, plywood, some small pieces of wood, two L-brackets, two springs, a bicycle brake cable and lever, a cable crimp, some washers and screws, and a rubber finger puppet.

If you start now, you've got time to have it done by the end of the month!

Here's a link to the MAKE store where you can get the Halloween issue, which is full of nothing but cool DIY Halloween projects.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Art in Motion, Profile of Artist Dug North

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed recently by writer Drea Kane. The University of Vermont Alumni Magazine, The Vermont Quarterly, has published an article she wrote, which is now available online.

It's a great article that tells a bit about me, the history of automata, and their more recent trajectory. I am honored to have been a part of it.

Here is a link to the article ART IN MOTION by Drea Kane.

[ My thanks to Drea Kane and The Vermont Quarterly. ]

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Dug North Featured as Artist of the Month

I am honored to have been chosen to be featured as Artist of the Month by For Art's Sake -- a community association that celebrates art in Harvard, Massachusetts.

There is a nice article about me, my sorted past, my influences, and why I think automata are among the coolest things on the planet.

Here's a link to the article about Dug North on the For Art's Sake site.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dug North Automaton Plans Bootlegged on eBay?

Bootleg Dug North Automaton Plans
Well, I honestly don't know whether to be flattered or indignant. A good reader of The Automata / Automaton Blog alerted me to the fact that someone on eBay is trying to auction off plans for my Training for Christmas automaton. Above is a screen shot of the listing.

I suppose if someone is willing to sell bootleg plans of my work (at least that's what they seem to be), I've reached a whole new level of fame. Perhaps these are actual pages from the magazine, which may be legit to sell. It's kind of hard to tell.

Woodcraft issue with automaton plansThe plans are from an article I wrote for Woodcraft Magazine's Holiday 2005 issue. The article describes how to make the piece step-by-step with some plan drawings and many color photographs.

If you would like these plans, I would recommend simply buying a back issue of Woodcraft, which includes my article and dozens of other holiday-themed projects.

I may consider republishing the project (with my own images) at a future date. (I need to review my own agreement.)

Here's a link to Woodcraft's site where you can order the Woodcraft Magazine's Holiday 2005 Issue.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dug North Monster No. 1 Work-in-Progress

I am thrilled to be part of a an exhibit in my home town called: Made in Harvard.

The show is being put on by an organization called "For Art's Sake", an association supporting art in the Harvard schools and community.

I will be showing a functional mechanical prototype of a piece with the working title of Monster No. 1. The automaton features a small, but presumably nasty little monster who is struggling to break free of the chains that keep him from creating who-knows-what-kind of havoc.

The card of the front of the motorized display case reads:
Monster No. 1
being a model conceived & created for use in the evaluation of
form, design, performance, et cet. of divers examples to follow

by Mr. D. North - MECHANICIAN

Stay tuned for a short video clip in the near future!

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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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Monday, October 01, 2007

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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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dug North's Trick Halloween Automaton Top Hat

Here's a little video of the hat of my design that is in the new Halloween edition of MAKE magazine.

This is the prototype shown in this movie. The model in the magazine is a bit shorter and so sits on the head better. I also used a black ribbon in place of the maroon one.

The project requires two costume "coachman's" hats, plywood, some small pieces of wood, two L-brackets, two springs, a brake cable and lever, a cable crimp, some washers and screws, and...brace yourself...a rubber finger puppet. Terrifying!

Here's a link to the MAKE store where you can get the Halloween issue, which is full of nothing but DIY Halloween projects.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Make Magazine Halloween Issue on Sale 9/4

MAKE magazine has its fist-ever special Halloween issue for sale on newsstands starting today, September 4th!

I have written a short article for this issue showing the reader how to make a trick top hat for the spooky holiday. The hat can be seen on this version of the cover at the bottom, in the center.

The hat holds a mechanism connected to a cable and bicycle brake lever. When the lever is squeezed, a little monster bursts out of the top of the hat. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

The project is fun to make, but even more fun to wear!

If you local newsstand or bookseller does not carry MAKE, you can order the Halloween issue at the MAKE online store.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Homage to Dug North's Machini Automata

I am pleased to present to you one of the first duplications of a Dug North Automaton original design.

I am truly flattered that my original Machini The Marvel performing the Transmutative Hat has been recreated by a talented special-effects artist named Dorian based in Madrid, Spain. He has made some modifications -- four objects rather than six and a cloth coat. Check out all the details he has added. I like the addition of the back wall to set the scene.

Visit Dorian's Blog to see other photos of the piece he as titled Automata Transmutador. Pretty cool!

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

New URL: now directs to The Automata / Automaton Blog

If you've ever had trouble remembering the URL for The Automata / Automaton Blog (, things just got easier.

I've secured a new domain name that will automatically forward you to the blog's current location. All your old bookmarks will still work because nothing has really moved. Think of this as a shortcut to the blog's home page.

The new URL is:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for all the great suggestions you have sent in!

Dug North

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Automaton: A Boybot & His Dogbot by Dug North

I have made some additions and put the finishing touches on an automaton I started a few years ago: A Boybot and His Dogbot.

Stylistically, this piece is different than my other automata in that I have used geometric shapes for the figures and have decided to leave the wood unfinished. I experimented with painting the figures, but they lost too much of their charm.

The piece is on public display at The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.

Here's a link to detailed pictures of the figures and the mechanism from A Boybot and His Dogbot.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Valentine's Day Automaton by Dug North

I realize that this comes about a month too late, but I thought you might like to take a look at another recently completed wood automaton of mine.

The automaton depicts a poor fellow in search of a Valentine's day card. To his dismay, there are many options, but none match the sentiments he feels:

Which card says 'I love you' as much as I really do?

When the crank is rotated the carousel of cards on the right spins to display all sides. The attention-grabbing heart display on the left jumps up and down. Our protagonist is overwhelmed and madly scans the choices by swinging his head back and forth.

See additional picture of The Valentine's Automaton by Dug North

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Study of Levitations Automaton

Machini the Marvel: The study of LevitationsTake a moment to check out my most recently completed automaton.

You may recall my former piece in which Machini the Marvel pulls many assorted items from his Transmutative Hat.

I have once again called upon Machini the Marvel to perform a mechanical illusion.

This time using the what would appear to be only the power of his mind, he moves objects on a lecturn. By closing his eyes and passing his hand over the lecturn ink rises in its inkwell, a book opens of its own accord, a pen spins in place without being touched!

Check out Machini the Marvel performing The Study of Levitations!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

WoodCraft Magazine Bundle - Automata Plans -- one of my absolute favorite woodworking stores -- is offering a bundle of the first year of its self-titled woodworking magazine.

This is a great deal for two reasons:
  1. You get 7 issues of a great woodworking magazine for $9.99
  2. You get Woodcraft Holiday 2005 with my article on how to build a contemporary automaton of your very own. That's worth the price alone!
Check out the Woodcraft Magazine Issues 1-7 Bundle

If you are a hard-core Dug North fan and just want the issue with the automaton plans, you can get Woodcraft Holiday 2005

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Moving Exhibit - Article on Automata Exhibit

Here's a nice little article about the Charles River Museum of Industry exhibit that examines motion toys and automata.

This is the exhibit in which I have a piece on display.

Here's a link to the article: A moving exhibit

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dug North - Santa Automaton on Display!

If you live in Massachusetts or New England or are planning on visiting the Boston area, you can see one of my automata in person. I've allowed the museum to let people turn the crank themselves.

My automton Training for Christmas featuring Santa Claus doing exercises, is on display at The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA. The exhibit shows automata through time and has a section featuring automata that visitors can operate. My piece is on display among a number of others by automata artists you may know, and some you may not know, but should.

The museum has lots of other things of interest to the mechanically-minded: engines, machine tools, pocket watches, bicycles, and a car from 1907!

Here's a link with contact information and directions to The Charles River Museum of Industry.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Automaton - Surprise Top Hat

Here's a wearable automaton I made a few years ago. The hat is controlled by a bicycle brake cable that runs down the back of the hat, behind the collar, and down my sleeve. At the end of the cable, I attached a brake lever. When the lever is depressed, the cable pulls on the back of a four-bar linkage which makes the hinged section of the hat fly open and the little monster pop out. I intended to make a little wooden monster, but I ran out of time. The rubber finger puppet works well, because the arms flap about as if he is trying to scare someone.

Watch the video of Dug North's Automaton Hat (.wmv) or Dug North's Automaton Hat (.mov)

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Dug North's Automaton - 15 Minutes of Fame

Back in February of last 2005, the folks at -- my all-time-favorite blog , were kind enough to do a post on one my automaton called "An Interesting Specimen".

Here is the linke to Dug North's Automaton on