Popular Mechanics have an in depth article up about the history of animatronics at Disney and how they are using new technology to help bring Star Wars Galaxy's Edge to life. Here's a brief snippet. Be sure to watch the video below to see how lifelike he really is!
Within its nondescript walls, safe from the unseasonably chilly February day swirling outside, all eyes are on Hondo Ohnaka, a scheming pirate from Star Wars: Rebels. His head bobs up and down, shaking his long green alien braids. His foot appears to step forward, rattling his bronze belt. His mouth curls into a wide smile before devolving into a deep belly laugh.
For a split second, it seems that this colorful horns-for-a-beard alien is flesh and blood. But Hondo is actually a Disney audio-animatronic, one of the most advanced ever built, and he’s getting ready for his debut at Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. He’s performing what’s known as “cycling,” going through his predetermined movements for 120 hours before installation at one of Disney’s theme parks.
“We work years to see this moment,” says Kathryn Yancey, Walt Disney Imagineering show mechanical engineer. “He’s been on the computer for so long, when he’s right there in front of you…it’s amazing.”
In December 2015, Yancey and others began visualizing, conceptualizing, and constructing Hondo. Three years later, it’s no wonder why emotions are high. “He moves, he talks, and has a personality,” says Yancey. “Hondo is real to us.”
Hondo represents 55 years of animatronic evolution, beginning with pneumatic-controlled birds, graduating to hydraulic-powered former presidents then innovating to electrified wicked witches. But Hondo is an evolution beyond anything Disney has ever attempted, and offers a moving, talking glimpse into Disney’s newest, largest, and most ambitious attraction.
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