The Requirements of An Animatronic Prop Control

By Doug Lowe

Whether it’s used in a haunted house, trade show exhibit, store display, or museum, a typical animatronic prop requires the following elements to achieve the desired effect:

  • Most props require some sort of trigger to initiate the prop’s routine. The trigger can be as simple as a button that you or a customer pushes to start the routine, or it could be a timer that causes the prop to start up automatically every 5 or 10 minutes. A third option is to use a motion detector that causes the prop to start when motion is detected near the prop.
  • All props require a way to control the prop’s actuators, which are the components that cause the prop to move. The most common types of actuators are electric motors, servos, and compressed air cylinders. If you’re using an electric motor, the prop controller usually turns the motor on or off directly by applying current to the motor. If you’re using servos, the prop controller must send timing pulses to the servo to control the servo’s position. And if you’re using compressed air cylinders, the prop controller opens and closes electric valves that allow air into the cylinders.
  • Most props require lighting effects that enable the viewer to see the prop in action. In some cases, this is as simple as one or more lights that come on when the prop starts its routine and go off when the routine ends. In other cases, a variety of lights are used during the routine to highlight different parts of the prop during different parts of the show.
  • Some props use sound that is synchronized with the prop’s movements. For example, an animated face might speak dialog, a scary creature might scream when it suddenly moves, or the prop may use music to enhance its routine.