Friday, March 26, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret film stars cast

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
I did a post in 2008 about the children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which features a sophisticated automaton based on the Maillardet automaton at the Franklin Institute.

Martin Scorcese is in the process of making the book into a film. A recent announcement reveals that the human cast members will include Ben Kingsley and Sascha Baron Cohen.

Here is a link to the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.


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Friday, November 06, 2009

Two Maillardet Automaton drawings on eBay

Two Maillardet Automaton drawings on eBay
I was recently contacted by a woman who found two drawings while going through her late mother's photos and keepsakes. As it turns out, they were penned by none other than Maillardet's Automaton, now at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. She has been in contact with a number of experts who have confirmed these drawings were done by the Automaton.

Here's the eBay listing with the complete story behind the two Maillardet Automaton Drawings.


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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maillardet's automaton at Franklin Institute

Maillardet's automaton at the Franklin Institute
I had the chance to visit Philadelphia recently, location of The Franklin Institute whose stated mission is "to inspire an understanding of and passion for science and technology learning." For this visitor, they did just that.

The Institute has several traveling exhibits and at least ten continuing exhibits that fulfill their mission admirably. I was there to see one thing in particular. You see, the Franklin Institute is home to one of the world's great mechanical treasures: The Maillardet Automaton.

The automaton is the centerpiece of the Institute's Amazing Machines exhibit -- and with good reason. Created somewhere between 1800 an 1810, the Automaton has the largest "memory" of any such machine ever created. It is capable of drawing four sketches and writing three poems (two in French and one in English).

To see what I mean, check out this video of the automaton in action.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to see the automaton in operation the day I visited -- a rare event, since it is not demonstrated on a regular basis.

I was greeted by several friendly and helpful museum officials. Most of my time was spent with Charles Penniman -- a long-time researcher, caretaker, and operator of the automaton. Mr. Penniman demonstrated how the machine's two spring-driven motors are wound, the writing instrument calibrated, and the machine set into motion. He answered my questions and pointed out various details of the machine and its sophisticated sequences of action.

Seeing the brass skeletonized figure of a boy spring to life, deftly guiding a writing instrument over a blank sheet of paper to create an intricate sketch or a beautifully penned poem filled me with awe. As someone who appreciates mechanical things, there was no doubt that I was in the presence of greatness.

Below is one of the drawings the automaton creates -- a landscape depicting a Chinese palace.
Drawing by Maillardet's Automaton
To my mind, Maillardet's Automaton has to be one of the most impressive unions of mechanical engineering and artistry that has ever been created.

Beyond its antiquity and complexity, the automaton has a fascinating history. At one point, the automaton verified its own origin when, restored to working order, it signed one of its poems in French with the statement "Written by Maillardet's Automaton" (below).
Maillardet's automaton - signed poem
More recently, this automaton was inspiration for Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which features an automaton very much like Maillardet's.

Here is a longer video shot in November of 2007, when Brian Selznick visited The Franklin Institute for a signing of his book. Andrew Baron, master mechanician, is man operating the machine in this video.
My sincere thanks goes out to The Franklin Institute and the many people who contributed to the demonstration I was fortunate enough to witness.

While you may not be so lucky as to see the automaton in operation, it is on permanent display and features a great exhibit complete with a wonderful, informative video (not shown here). I am certain that the Amazing Machines exhibit will appeal to readers of The Automata / Automaton Blog, as will the museum as a whole. If you will be anywhere near Philadelphia, I urge you to plan a trip to The Franklin Institute.

You can learn more about Maillardet's writing and drawing automaton at The Franklin Institute's page on Maillardet's Automaton and another page they have with information about the automaton.


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maillardet's Automaton at Franklin Institute Draws

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia -- home to Henri Maillardet's drawing automaton -- has recently updated their site.

In addition to the video seen above, there is some (remarkable) history about the piece, images of drawings that the automaton creates, and shots of the intricate clockwork brass mechanism.

Learn more about Maillardet's Automaton at The Franklin Institute.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Automaton by Maillardet is able to Draw and Write

Maillardet's Automaton is one of the most impressive working mechanical automata in existance. Built around 1800, the automaton is capable of creating amazing drawings and handwriting with a real pen.

It has a great back-story involving its loss, recovery, and unknown origins. The automaton itself plays a pivotal and active role in solving the mystery. Stranger than fiction!

Check out the drawing and writing Automaton by Maillardet at the Franklin Institute's web site.

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