Innovative Audio-Animatronics Figures, from Birds to the Bayou

Innovative Audio-Animatronics Figures, from Birds to the Bayou

It’s time to pull back the curtain on what Imagineers do. Walt Disney Imagineering has launched a new YouTube series, “We Call It Imagineering,” bringing viewers behind the scenes as to what goes on from start to finish and how these amazing teams make the impossible possible. If you’ve ever wondered how birds sing, elephants fly and other great moments are brought to life, the first video in the brand-new series takes you behind the scenes of Imagineering’s Audio-Animatronics figures. The innovation has come a very long way and it’s all blue skies and sunshine where Audio-Animatronics technology is headed next.

The current state of Audio-Animatronics technology traces back to Walt Disney’s dedication to advancing narratives through a unique blend of innovation and creativity — a journey that began about 80 years ago and continues to push new boundaries today.

Walt Disney's antique mechanical singing bird in New Orleans

In the late 1940s, Walt Disney discovered an antique mechanical singing bird in New Orleans. This discovery sparked his fascination with three-dimensional animation, and after returning home to California, he tasked his Imagineers with dismantling the bird to learn how it worked — laying the groundwork for Audio-Animatronics figures.

One of the early breakthroughs came with “Project Little Man,” where Disney Legends Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers crafted a series of miniature human figures. These figures, culminating in one programmed with cams, cables and tubes to mimic tap-dancing routines performed by actor Buddy Ebsen, showcased the potential of lifelike movements.

Walt Disney and the first-generation Audio-Animatronics figures, known as the A-1

In the 1960s, the first-generation Audio-Animatronics figures, known as the A-1, debuted at Disneyland and transformed attractions with animated animals populating the scenery of Jungle Cruise and Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. When Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened in 1963, it featured over 200 singing figures, making it a significant milestone as the first show to integrate Audio-Animatronics technology.

A pivotal moment arrived with the creation of the world’s first fully animated human figure, President Abraham Lincoln, showcased at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This lifelike representation captivated audiences and set a new standard for immersive storytelling.

Behind the scenes, technological advancements like the Digital Animation Control System (DACS) and Animation Console (Anicon) propelled Audio-Animatronics technology into the digital age, enabling precise control and lifelike movements.

Over time, Audio-Animatronics characters evolved in complexity and sophistication. The technology reached a major milestone in 1989 with the debut of the A-100 figure. This new generation of figures incorporated advanced compliance technology, allowing for smoother and more lifelike movements.

The Shaman of Songs, as seen in Na'vi River Journey

Following the use of hydraulics, electric figures were then introduced in experiences such as The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Cars Land. One of the most remarkable figures to date can be found in Pandora – The World of Avatar. The Shaman of Songs, as seen in Na’vi River Journey, seamlessly blends cutting-edge technology with artistic storytelling. This captivating figure stands nearly 10 feet tall and employs new technologies to imbue her every gesture with fluid energy.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Hondo Audio-Animatronic

The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge marked another leap in Audio-Animatronics technology with the introduction of the A-1000 figure platform. This latest generation of figures boasts significant enhancements in range, speed and overall performance.

With the debut of World of Frozen at Hong Kong Disneyland and Zootopia at Shanghai Disney Resort, advancement set new standards in immersive storytelling experiences.

And now, later this year, you’ll be able to experience our most advanced Audio-Animatronics figures yet in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. These figures build on our legacy with even more sophistication. Looking back at where we’ve been, I am immensely proud of this team who constantly pushes the envelope of creativity to champion us forward beyond imagination. We cannot wait for you to see how Imagineers have built on our history and continue to tell amazing stories through the blending of art and science.

Want to hear more about what’s being dreamed up, designed and created? Follow the Imagineers every step of the way on YouTubeInstagram and stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes stories on the Disney Parks Blog. You never know where the next exciting bright idea might pop up!