Sunday, November 01, 2009

"The Beholder" - creepy mechanical sculpture

Check out the wonderfully unsettling effect of organic and robotic elements in this kinetic sculpture made with found objects by Nemo Gould.

See more of Nemo Gould's work on his web site.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Classic monsters paper automata series

Dracula paper automata kit
Just in time for Halloween, Flying Pig Paper Animation Kits has an entire series of paper automata featuring classic monsters. The series was designed by artist Ng Wing Him.

The paper automata monsters:


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Radio Controlled Zombies on the Loose!

Remote Control Zombie
I hope the headline to this post didn't cause any Orson Wells War of the Worlds type of mass hysteria. No? Really? Oh. OK.

Even the Halloween-themed mechanical toys are remote controlled these days. Take for example this, an 8 inch tall remote controlled zombie with posable arms and head. The remote is shaped guessed it: a brain. When you activate the remote, the Zombie plods forward and groans.

This undead fellow would be a great (if unwelcome) guest at a Barbie Picnic or Hanna Montana concert. Or, give him a walk-on part in High School Musical -- just no lines.

Check out the Remote Control Zombie at

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Raven: Hand-Cranked Flying Bird Automaton

Here is an automaton that seems right for the season. The Raven is a mixed media automaton of paper clay over a wire armature. The piece was finished with acrylic paint, black lace, feathers and a crown of quartz crystal arrowheads. Very nice, indeed.

Visit the Remnants Of Olde website to see more photographs of The Raven automaton.

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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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And Now a Word from Our Sponsor....Batdog! has tons of Halloween costumes and is offering free shipping for orders over $25. They have:
  • Women's costumes
  • Men's costumes
  • Girl's Costumes
  • Boy's costumes
  • Baby costumes

Would you believe they even sell costumes for DOGS? Shown here: Batdog?

Here is a link to Amazon's Halloween Costumes Store.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scaretaker Motorized Animated Halloween Prop

Scaretaker Motorized Animated Halloween Prop
Check out "The Evil Scaretaker" a life-sized animatronic Halloween prop.

The Scaretaker's body shakes while he glares at you menacingly. His jaw moves up and down, as does the jaw of the head he is holding! The lantern in his hand is powered by two AA batteries, but the rest is powered by a 9V wall adapter. The figure is hand painted and stands approx 5 1/2 feet tall. Nice details on the clothes, it appears.

Set this thing up with a basic motion detector and a prerecorded message and you've got one seriously scary greeter for you front yard or entryway. Imagine seeing this guy all of a sudden in a dark hallway.

Check out Scaretaker Animated Prop

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Super Creepy Mechamo Crab with Baby Head

The team over at MAKE magazine have figured out a way for you to make your own creepy crab/baby abomination -- not unlike the one in the movie Toy Story -- just in time for Halloween.

Here is a link to MAKE's post that shows this and other videos for this project. Their store, The Maker Shed, also sells the Mechamo Crab by Gakken used (baby head not included).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Time to Order Halloween Costumes & Props

Fright Catalog - Halloween masks, costumes, props, and decorations
A vast selection of costumes, masks, & decorations for Halloween may be found at The Fright Catalog.

They have a huge array of motorized animated props and full-fledged animatronics if you want to have THE scariest house on the block. Consider it an investment -- one that is likely to pay off in years of fun. That's far better than most investments can offer these days.

Visit The Fright Catalog's Halloween Central while you still have plenty of time for shipments to arrive before Halloween.

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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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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

October Means Halloween & Animated Props!

Halloween is the favorite holiday here at The Automata / Automaton Blog. To kick things off, shown here is an affordable animated ghost prop that flies back and forth on a cable, waving his arms, and shrieking. The 3 foot tall ghost has posable arms and comes with a 25 foot cable for indoor and outdoor use. The ghost is set it in motion when it detects sound. EEEEK!

Check out all of Amazon's animated Halloween decor.

If you are thinking about costumes -- and now would be the time -- they are offering free shipping on Halloween costume orders over $25.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mechanical Haunted Bookshelf Halloween Prop

Motorized Haunted Bookshelf Halloween Prop
Here's a clever, subtle Halloween or haunted house effect in which books on a bookshelf move in and out as if on their own.

Product Description
Spookify your library shelves with this haunting collection of books. Books move forward and back on a black wooden base. Requires AC power. Sizes and titles of books will vary. Bookshelf is also available in white!

Visit Fright Catalog to see their huge selection of animatronic Halloween props.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Got Remote Controlled Animatronic Zombie?

I hate to be behind on things like this, but I feel duty-bound to report it to you anyway with Halloween coming up. Yesterday the illustrious featured this animatronic zombie.

I never thought I would say this: you can own your own remote controlled zombie, powered by 2 12-volt batteries and 4 motors. In addition to pulling itself around, it groans, screams, and talks via an on-board sound system.

Get all the gory details on the Dead Fred Zombie Chaser at Fright Catalog. Yikes!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Animatronic Frankenstein Machine Comes to Life

This elaborate animatronic Frankenstein scene depicts the monster coming to life. Frankenstein's monster shakes violently as he is jolted to life, then he bolts forward unexpectedly. It comes complete with integrated sound and an air compressor to power the monster.

Imagine having this in your house on Halloween! Sadly, not all of us have $7000 to spend on a huge, detailed haunted house prop. Perhaps, though this can serve as inspiration for a small scale automaton or encourage you to make your own animatronic holiday displays.

Visit The Fright Catalog online for this and other animatronic Halloween props.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Horror & Halloween Animatronics

Alligator has an entire section dedicated to animated horror and Halloween automata or animatronics. From the home page navigate to "Halloween Props" then "Animated".

They offer 75 items ranging from a simple spinning motor for animating your own Halloween props ($16.99) to a 12 foot animated flying saucer ($29,000.00). Fair warning: some of this stuff is pretty gory, but they are horror props after all.

Shown here is an AMAZING realistic alligator automaton. It may set you back $8,900.00, but I ask you: how much should the power to send someone into cardiac arrest cost?

Completely realistic alligator lunges forward to snap at your guests. The high speed, 5 foot forward movement and opening mouth will startle the most brazen. Includes a powerful monitor amp, cassette player, and tape of fierce alligator sounds. Requires AC power and 100 psi air compressor. Industrial strength, and extremely durable.

Visit to check out all of their horror themed animatronics.

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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

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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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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Friday, September 14, 2007

Make Magazine Halloween Project Archives

I am really excited to have an article in the fist-ever Halloween Special Issue of MAKE Magazine. They have set up a dedicated Halloween section of their site. It's full of DIY Halloween projects.

They are also holding Halloween contests in a bunch of cool categories including:

  • Pumpkin decorating
  • Costumes
  • Decorations, haunted houses, and gadgets
  • Halloween Food
To enter just upload your photos to the DIY HALLOWEEN Flickr photo pool and tag them "DIYHALLOWEEN." You can also email your photos to, or put them on Instructables in the MAKE group with a tag "DIYHALLOWEEN". Maybe your project will be in the second Halloween edition next year!

Check out the Make Magazine Halloween project archives.

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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 07, 2007

Automaton How-To Article, MAKE Halloween Issue

Automaton article in MAKE MagazineI am very pleased to announce that I have contributed an article to MAKE Magazine's first-ever special Halloween issue. The article shows the secret behind the trick top hat I designed, so that you can build one for yourself!

You can pre-order MAKE Magazines Special Halloween Issue now. I have a feeling it is going to be a really great issue of MAKE.

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