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Building an Animatronic Gorilla Head

August 11, 2015
Building an Animatronic Gorilla Head

We recently had the chance to hear from one of our customers on his latest animatronic build.  Meet Marshall Tearle.  Tearle is currently completing his final year of his diploma of Scenic Art and Set Construction for film and theatre. Recently he completed his final year project, an animatronic gorilla head seen below. The head uses a servo recorder, a signal reverser and eleven servos.  Lets take a look at this build!

How long did it take to build?  

From start to finish, the gorilla took seven months to complete.

Gorilla Head 1

Eyeball

What difficulties/challenges did you run into while designing/building? What was frustrating? What went well?

The molding and casting of the skin and underskull had some somewhat challenging moments but were very successful regardless. I had to carefully plan where the skin would finish, where the underskull would start and very importantly, where the mould could part in such a way that the seams would be least noticeable. There is not one exposed seam anywhere on the skin, they’re all hidden underneath heavy sections of hair.

There wasn’t much I found to be particularly challenging or problematic although some processes were quite time consuming such as the hair punching which took just over a week. I was particularly happy with the pigmentation and finishing of the teeth and gums.

 Gorilla Head 2

Gorilla Head 3

Gorilla Head 4

Teeth closeup

What inspired you to build it? 

From a very early age I have always been fascinated with how things work and have always enjoyed making things. Practical effects encompass everything that I love about technical production and bring together such a large variety of processes with one ultimate goal, to fool an audience. Animatronics, specifically, takes this to a whole new level and is something I get such a thrill from doing. Animatronics is a beautiful blend of art and engineering heavily pioneered by Walt Disney and Stan Winston. They were such incredible men.

Where did you get the idea?

The decision to specifically build a gorilla was taken from an image I have firmly embedded in my mind from primary school. Our library had a large, hard cover book about special effects in film. On the cover was a beautiful image of an animatronic gorilla mask with a cutaway running through the centre of the face showing the inner workings. This image fascinated me and just stuck with me. This was also quite likely where I first developed my interest in this field.

Favorite part about this project?

The most satisfying (and also nerve-wracking) part is finally seeing everything come together as a final piece, specifically when the skin starts to be adhered to the underskull, a process which took about three days. For most of the build, I was either working on externals isolated from internals or internals isolated from externals. During this time, all you can do is hope that the work pays off and looks somewhat believable as a living creature when it’s complete.

Thanks to Marshall for sharing his project with us.  To learn more about his animatronic work be sure to visit his page

Finished Gorilla Head.

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