Designing a costume for an automaton is different from designing for a static figure because the clothing should contribute to the motion. Costumes must be designed with plenty of room around the cables so the fabric or seams do not upset the balance or interfere with the movement of the automaton. For Monkey automata the primary movement happens at the waist so a stiff fabric such as mohair fur will work if the shirt top can move independently from the bottom.
The final step is designing clothing that will not restrict the movement of the Automaton. Chris and I have to work very closely together at this stage, to make sure the automaton figure will retain the desired movement. Sometimes it may be necessary for the clothing to dampen (confine) certain motions.
Same but different
The hand-crank mechanism is the same for all the monkeys, but their movements appear different because they have distinct personalities. The crazed looks of Bonzo and JoJo evoke high energy, while LuLu, with her dainty pink tutu, Jayfred, with his sly grin, and the elder monkey, Marco, appear to be more subdued.
Monkey in motion
Below is a video showing the movement of the hand-crank automaton Marco Monkey. The box the monkey sits on contains the control mechanism. Inspired by the antique automata from the Victorian era, the box is draped in velvet and finished with a heavy fringe. The internal crankshaft design enables the brass hand-crank mechanism to operate at varied speed, in forward or reverse. The Monkey figure moves in a rhythmic side-to-side motion with alternating leg kicks. The loose jointed arms are secured to the legs which creates the illusion of more movement without having to add to the mechanism.
What initially started as an experimental prototype design became a series of one-of-a-kind Monkey Automata. Our chosen career is strange enough for two reasonably mature adults, but this adventure kicks it up a notch. We always enjoy coming up with our various characters, but there is something wonderfully absurd about making a Fez or sewing a tutu for a dancing primate. We can’t help but love our job.