When you think of a parrot in a rainforest, the macaw is what probably comes to mind. Colorful plumage, a powerful beak, and the ability to speak words make this bird a distinctive feature of the Amazon rainforest and, today, many homes.
And they’re getting noticed in the world of animatronics.
The Man Behind the Macaw
As a child, Jonny Pool was drawn to animatronics and special effects. He spent most of his early career creating drawings and 3D computer models as an aspiring video game creator, but he moved to tangible models and animatronics several years ago.
About a year and a half into his work in animatronics, Jonny wanted to create lifelike lures for large predatory birds to assist with capture, study, and release in aviary research. By using something lifelike, scientists can get more reliable results without the invasive means of putting foreign objects in the birds’ space. In the pursuit of this, Jonny created owls that would cock their heads, open their beaks, and imitate owls in every way.
The results were remarkable, and Jonny knew he had found his passion. “Birds in their own environment are not very often observed,” Jonny said, “so it’s amazing to collect that data into something visual that people can see.” Their grace and aesthetics drew him in as a challenge for replication.
Jonny now runs his company Innerbreed, an Animatronic Prop Design and Fabrication company. He works with film, display, and personal projects. Still, he most favors bird design. “The main reason I have chosen birds as my forte is predominantly down to the exquisite movements birds have. It was something I wanted to try and replicate,” Jonny says.
Now, Jonny has his sights on a new project: creating an animatronic Macaw. He believed he could easily replicate the bird due to its distinctive size, its beauty, dramatic personality, and many skills. Jonny studied the movements of the bird and converted their joyous and uniquely forced movements into a mechanical personality for the bird. Although the data-analyzation aspect came naturally, the creation of the bird was not altogether as easy as he anticipated.
In the creation of his animatronic macaw, Jonny wants his birds to have full eyelid movements, a technology he created in his previous bird work. His animatronic macaw also imitates cranial kinesis, with up-and-down and forward-and-backward beak control, which enables real-life macaws to complete their distinctive talking features. Jonny wants his birds to have full head control, talk with synchronized movements, and look and feel like a real macaw. “In a sense,” Jonny says, “this made the project very easy because I regularly do this type of work in my company.”
But most importantly, Jonny wants his birds to have the macaw-distinctive feature of jauntily walking up and down their perch in a side-to-side motion that has not previously been captured in an animatronic mechanism. This walking feature is a distinctive innovation in the field of animatronics because it has never been seen before. “No other animatronic birds walk,” Jonny stated.
So, Jonny started with the Hoekens Linkage mechanism, a mechanism almost a century old that approximates linear movement, and redesigned it three times to perfect the movement of the macaw.
“It’s been the most rewarding and the most frustrating aspect,” Jonny shared. The initial Hoekens Linkage design balanced the feet of the bird on a mechanism on one beam that turned around an axle; but as it turned, it would displace the feet from its vertical stature and wobble it back and forth. The new Hoekens Linkage, which Jonny designed, uses two beams turning around an axle to create a stable perch for the leg, keeping it upright and replicating the jaunty movements of the bird.
Jonny’s Macaw Prepares to Fly the Coop
To create these birds, Jonny does everything himself—including mechanical designing, electrical engineering, CAD modeling, 3D printing, silicone and resin molding and casting, painting, masking, and more. However, his personal resources in 3D printing are limited.
Jonny created a fully-functioning prototype of his macaw bird using his home 3D printer, a CEL Robox using ABS. To better support his design, Jonny needs to use a printer with finer precision and even sturdier material, SLS nylon. Jonny has created an Indiegogo crowdfunding page where he receives funding and, in return, shares the 3D files for the project so his supporters can build their own macaws. Jonny hopes to see his macaw animatronic design in theme parks, restaurants, golf courses, and even used for educational and research purposes.
Macaws in the wild mate for life with fierce loyalty and closeness to their partners. Even when flying in groups, pairs fly side-by-side with their wings nearly touching; they share food, groom each other, and provide constant companionship. As household pets, macaws project this loyalty onto their owners. With this devoted bond, man and macaw have long had a unique relationship of mutual admiration and devotion.
Likewise, the bird has captured Jonny’s heart as he dedicates his time and attention to its creation. “The macaw is completely unique and fascinating. It has real character—a real personality,” Jonny says. Jonny will continue fundraising and developing his designs until he completes this innovative advance in aviary animatronics.