Way back when… so far back that the Disney Channel showed actual Disney-related content… the network often filled time between its programs with informative interstitials about Disney history. A series of these featurettes were produced about Walt Disney Imagineering, hosted by then-frequent Disney Channel host Eric Boardman. One of these, shown below, provides a glimpse at the history of and technology behind Audio-Animatronics. It also features Imagineers Dave Feiten and Eric Swapp, as well as Marty Sklar and beloved Disney personality Wally Boag.
While one could have a long debate over the greatest innovation brought about by the Disney theme park revolution, there’s no doubt that the advent of Audio-Animatronic technology is the one best known throughout popular culture. The idea of “robotic” actors that could perform, on cue, around the clock 365 days a year was a uniquely Disney innovation and the foundation of its most memorable ride experiences. It’s been a rough few years for Audio-Animatronics enthusiasts, what with Disney selling off all their AA technology, tooling, and equipment and finally eliminating and disestablishing the legendary MAPO dream factory and skunkworks in Tujunga. There have been high-profile animatronic failures (the Yeti, for one), as well as an increased reliance on film technology in rides and a corresponding decline in the immersive, dimensional attractions that Audio-Animatronics represent.
Back in 1988, though, it seemed that the sky was the limit for the Disney animatronic gurus, and this video presents a nice capsule history of how the technology had advanced to that point. Look also for a cameo by the under-construction Norway Pavilion!