If you thought we were done with the new information and behind-the-scenes looks at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you were about as wrong as Jabba the Hutt was about challenging Luke Skywalker.
Thanks to Techcrunch, we have more information on the audio-animatronic figures that will inhabit Batuu and beyond when the lands open later this year:
As you’d imagine with any high profile Disney Parks property, Batuu will be home to a variety of animated robots, Animatronics, in Imagineering parlance. From droids to shop proprietors to ride pre-show characters, there are a lot of animated figures in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Since the 80’s, the hydraulics-based animatronics in Disney parks were based on the A-100 chassis. A sort of basic humanoid template. The animatronics on Batuu are all based on a new A-1000 series chassis, which can be configured in a variety of ways at a variety of sizes — with one major difference: electric motors.
Electric motors were pioneered in 2009 with the head of Mr. Lincoln. They’ve since been used in Enchanted Tales with Belle, Frozen Ever After and the Na’ve River Journey attractions. Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout is also an electric figure.
Unlike hydraulics, electric motors enable far more precise movements. They can start and stop nearly instantly, have less wind up and wind down times and make for more fluid transitions between directional movements. Plus, you cut the amount of cabling going to the figure in half by eliminating hydraulic lines. This cuts down on figure installation size and control cabinet size, allowing for more interesting placements in scenes that don’t have to allow for covering all of that stuff up and for easier maintenance.
The new figures are smooth, capable and really fun to watch in action.
Here are some of the major AA characters that will inhabit Star Wars land:
Hondo Ohnaka — A Weequay pirate introduced in Clone Wars, Hondo is now the proprietor of Ohnaka Transport Solutions and has been loaned the Millennium Falcon by Chewie for some “deliveries”. The animatronic figure itself is around 7 feet tall and uses the latest in electric motors instead of hydraulics. Hondo’s figure includes around 50 functions (movement points) total and is the second most complicated animatronic in Disney parks. The most complicated, for the record, is the Na’vi Shaman, mentioned above, which has 40 functions in its face alone, not to mention the rest of the body. We had the Shaman at our robotics event a couple of years ago, it’s incredible to watch. Hondo isn’t far behind, with fluid movements, smooth facial contortions and believable interactions between himself and his R5 droid.
DJ R-3X — You know him previously classified as RX-24, or Captain Rex, the pilot over at Star Tours. Now, he’s a DJ at Oga’s Cantina on Batuu. He plays music composed by the Imagineering team and a variety of artists from around the world. All of it is poppy and synth-ey and a bit 80’s, with some classic mixes of Cantina tunes gone by. His torso and arms move to work the controls and dance and he has a three hour cycle of music and dialog to keep patrons entertained. Fun fact, Lucasfilm Creative Executive Matt Martin says he has many, many pages of backstory about how Rex ended up on Batuu.
Dok-Ondar — An Ithorian trader, Don is renowned for his Jedi and Sith artifact collection. I was able to see Dok fully active in the Imagineering animation building and he looks incredible. The figure towers several feet above guests heads as he sits behind his counter and interacts with shop employees. The detail is lovely here, with a rich, smooth set of animations for hands and neck, his whole body rising up and down. The lips along his two mouths ripple as he speaks in a resonant stereophonic voice.
Nien Nunb — A Sullustun pilot famous for copiloting the Millennium Falcon on its mission to destroy the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. On Batuu he will pilot the transport ship that you board during the Rise of the Resistance attraction.
One of the more minor but no less intriguing characters includes a Dianoga beast which will cameo inside of a water fountain, popping up out of the very murky looking (for show) water intermittently to surprise guests. You’ll also see a ton of animated creatures inside the Creature Stall including fan favorites like the Loth-cat and a Worrt. The Droid Shop is also set to be full of animated droids of all kinds, and its exterior will have droids interacting with guests via the PLAY Disney app and getting a refreshing lubricant bath.
Interestingly, I’m aware of some droid projects that Disney is working on that have not yet appeared in any official reveals. There is a lot more to come in the interactive figure department and Imagineering already has plans to expand Batuu with new experiences. I was also unable to get them to tell me whether the Loth-cat and other small creatures that will be featured here are part of the interactive semi-autonomous Tiny Life project I’ve written about previously.
The process of animating the figures has also been updated along with the chassis.
“One of the things that went so well on this project is that some of our software partners have developed tools that allow us to import and export data from design software into modeling and animation software,” says Associate Show Mechanical Engineer Victoria Thomas. “We’re able to give them a 3D representation of exactly what the figure is, exactly where the pivots are. They’re able to take that and animate in exactly how fast they want those joints to move. We’re able to get a lot of great feedback like, “Oh, well the shoulder pivot’s kind of off. Is it possible for you to adjust that?”
“Getting that feedback early in the process allows us to change, improvise and adapt and overcome anything that’s going on with the figures.”
The animations, like all of the other data that makes up the land, are hosted inside of BIM. That pre-visualization work saves a lot of heartache and physical fudging on the back end.
“Doing things early allows us to solve problems before they become serious problems. With the Hondo figure specifically, we were able to determine, “Oh, based on his show set and where he is, there’s not enough room for audio in his scene. He needs an onboard speaker,” says Thomas.
“In another scene, we were able to determine, “Oh, there’s large speakers in the scene where we expected a maintenance person to be able to access the figures. If those speakers are there, then you can’t maintenance the base frame.”
Because of BIM and pre‑visualization, we were allowed to do a lot of that. One of the other cool things is that we were able to get motion‑capture data on these figures initially as a way to prove out, how would a human move? How would this look natural? How can we make this look as organic as possible in order to improve the guest experience?”
The resulting figures are some of the best looking creations Disney can currently make, and they’re at the forefront of this pre-visualization work with electric-driven figures. It’s as absolutely close to a real-life Star Wars alien as you’re ever likely to meet.