When I design automat pieces I always try to have the viewers experience memorable. Often I try to achieve this by having a quirky story and a significant number of motions that stirs a fascination. Sometimes though, when the animation concept is simpler I try to spend more time on the characters in the automata themselves so that they become the memorable experience. In this way a piece with even the simplest of mechanisms can become favourites with viewers.
My rat in the sewer is one such case. I have tried to make him cute so as to be memorable. Already visitors in my shop associate him with the acorn crazy squirrel in the Ice Age movie, a widely popular animated character. So this is why I have invested significant time in him. I expect he will become the memorable focal point in my current piece. Here he is painted.
Here is the manhole cover that will sit atop his head.
Took some time off this weekend since the grand kids were here to play in the piles of snow we have here this winter. Nonetheless I did get a little more done on the rat in my current automata project. He now has the arm he needs to help balance a manhole cover on his head and I am detailing his fur by wood burning. Even with about 3 hours of wood burning he is still only half done. He also still does not have any eyeballs as you can see, but he has teeth!
Working away shaping the head and body of my next project. As a sewer rat, I'll likely name him Norton in honour of the old Honeymooners TV series. In building Norton the eyeballs and some of the operating mechanism had to be installed before install the eyelids and brow, which is meant to give him a sinister look. At this point his arm is not yet attached. His head is flat since he will be balancing a manhole cover on his head.
Here is another earlier photo showing the eye mechanism installed before the addition of the eyelids.
One of the alternative mechanisms I am considering for the rat's arm movement in my new piece is a moving rack assembly. I built a quick mock-up out of a few scraps from around the shop.
The two dowels are to keep the lower piece of the rack moving only in the vertical direction. In the final version I may use brass rods in brass tubes to ensure the piece moves freely and does hang up. Having the rods straight and parallel will be important. The upper piece will move left to right on the rollers to move the arm front to back. Beneath the lower piece is a cam (on the shaft protruding to the front) that lifts both pieces up and down as the shaft turns.
Even with tighter tolerances and different materials, I believe from building this prototype that the whole mechanism would run more smoothly with two identical cams, with roller followers, bearing on either end of the bar.
I will take a quick look a a few other concepts, including a four bar mechanism before deciding on the final mechanism.
My next automata project is in the prototype and early production stages. It is a rat who pulls coins into a manhole. The concept is not unlike the cast iron mechanical banks of older days.
My little friend will lift the manhole cover from below, glance side to side, then reach up and pull any coin left in the "magic spot". The manhole is 8" in diameter, and the rat is about 6" long from the nose to the back of the head. This early prototype had no body, and was built to help position the eyes show that upper and lower eyelids could be added.
In a production version, here is a roughed-in rat, with eye sockets and a cavity cut in the top of the head to install the eye mechanism. The final base structure will be much deeper since it will contain all the mechanism underneath to actuate my little friend.
My latest commission has been delivered. Photos, videos, and information will be posted on February 26th. Here's a teaser!
Automata is a creative blend of my life interests , engineering, art and woodworking.