How Animatronics Works

Creature Creation

Building the various components used in the animatronic device usually takes the longest time. Most of the creatures that are developed at Stan Winston Studio require parts that you're not going to find at your local hardware store. When is the last time you saw a left forearm for a Spinosaurus sitting on the shelf at Home Depot? This means that SWS has to build almost everything themselves. They do take advantage of any existing products when possible, usually by repurposing parts of a common device to fill some of their uncommon needs. This creative use of generally available items is probably the best way to learn how to do animatronics yourself, as demonstrated on this page.

Photo courtesy Stan Winston Studio, photographer Chuck Zlotnick
Working on the head of Tyrannosaurus rex

Basically, there are four main categories that the work splits into, with development happening simultaneously across the categories.

  • Mechanical - SWS engineers design and build the mechanical systems, which includes everything from basic gears to sophisticated hydraulics. An interesting fact about the animatronic Spinosaurus is that nearly all of the mechanical systems used in it are hydraulic.


  • Electronic - Another group develops the electronic control systems needed to operate the animatronic device. Typically starting from scratch and creating their own custom circuit boards, these engineers are essentially building giant remote-controlled toys. Almost all of the movement of the Spinosaurus will be manipulated by specialized remote-control systems known as telemetry devices. We discuss the specific telemetry devices used in the next section.

    Photo courtesy Stan Winston Studio, photographer Chuck Zlotnick
    All hydraulic systems are installed and checked.


  • Structural - All of the electronic and mechanical components need something to attach to and control, and the skin must have a frame to maintain its shape. This is done by building a plastic and steel frame. To increase the realism, and because it is the natural way to design it, the frame of the Spinosaurus, as well as most other creatures made by SWS, resembles the actual skeleton of the beast. This skeletal frame is largely comprised of graphite, a synthetic material known for its strength and lightness.


  • Surface - The "skin" of the Spinosaurus is made from foam rubber, which is a very light, spongy rubber that is made by mixing air with liquid latex rubber and then curing (hardening) it. While there are other compounds, such as silicone and urethane, that are stronger and last longer, foam rubber is used because it is much easier to work with. The solution is poured into each mold and allowed to cure. As mentioned earlier, parts of the frame are embedded with the foam rubber at certain points. To further strengthen the skin, a piece of fabric is cut to size and embedded in the foam rubber after it is poured into the mold. Once cured, each piece of skin is pulled from its mold.