Controlling an animatronic ‘Happy Face’ using Autodesk Maya

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The big animatronic head is controlled through Maya

On 12 June, Holborn Studios in London played host to New Blades, the 22nd annual model makers recruitment fair.

As a sponsor, DEVELOP3D went along to see the diverse range of models on display from the 100 graduates from six different colleges.

One of the standout exhibits was Happy Face – a project by a group of students, graduates and lecturers from the University of Bolton’s Visual (VFX) and Special Effects (SFX) for Film and TV course.
The animatronic face was built by student Julian Griffiths with the facial control system created by course leader Richard Jones using custom developed tools within VFX software including Autodesk Maya.

“The idea is that the same user interface in Maya can be used to control a visual effects asset and a physical animatronic, that means you can have predictable reproduceable movement of an animatronic which is quite exciting in relation to its applications,” explains Jones.

The first of the two videos below introduces the Happy Face control system, with the second demonstrating it being applied to Julian Griffiths’ animatronic face.



Video01 – Happy Face: Project Intro and Overview from University of Bolton on Vimeo.

Video02 – Happy Face: Animatronic Demonstration – Emotions from University of Bolton on Vimeo.

According to Jones, the project is still young and there are lots of things that the team are hoping to add over the summer.

“Firstly, we are looking to make the system wireless using a Arduino or Raspberry Pi, after some latency tests. Alongside that, I am developing the animation module for the tool, so as well as calibrating and positioning the animatronic, the facial servo positions can be saved at different points in time, and then played back to produce precise, predictable and reproducible animation sequences,” says Jones.

The project team are keen for both industry and enthusiasts to comment and contribute, so take a look at the HAPPY FACE project website and drop Jones an {encode=”” title=”email”}.

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