The key to a scary sci-fi movie monster is understanding the threat. A wolf’s snarl signals danger, even if that wolf’s fur is actually grass. The latest video from Movies Insider shows how new technology means more realistic movements from even the most fantastic beasts. The team at Spectral Motion designs animatronics for movies and TV, including the grass-covered wolf from Lady In the Water. When bared teeth aren’t enough, they add animatronic movement in the eyebrows and tail. The tour of technological advances also includes monsters from Stranger Things, The Tomorrow War, and Hellboy.

Mark Setrakian is the head of animatronics at Spectral Motion. He shows off a variety of joystick-controlled robots in the video. Every project has different demands of these animated robots. One needs a huge troll hand that needs to pick up a small object. Another needs a wearable Demogorgon mask with animatronic tooth-lined petals that open. And still, yet another requires tentacles that move independently.

How Do These Animatronics Work?

The same relatively simple design is behind all of these feats. Servomotors, also called servos, are motors where the rotation position and speed are controllable. RC cars and planes pair with handheld dials or joysticks. Other uses of servomotors are weight or motion-controlled conveyor belts and automatic doors.

Mark Setrakian radio controls a motorized rig in this screenshot from a YouTube video to create his animatronics. These animatronics are used in shows such as Stranger Things.
Movies Insider

In animatronics, servos act as joints within the skeleton. Rapidly advancing technology means the team can make more realistic monsters. Servomotors that operate on six axes instead of two correspond to a head that can look left and right, tilt, and even retract instead of just moving up and down. Setrakian designed software to control all of these parameters. So with two joysticks and a laptop, he can optimize the movement made possible by servomotors. Whether it’s animatronic characters roaming Disneyland or robo-dolphins, we keep finding new ways to improve and apply animatronics technology.

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The Insider YouTube channel has other cool videos, including a series called “How Real Is It?” Experts ranging from trauma surgeons to paleontologists weigh in about how what you see on-screen compares to real life.

Now that we know how some of the amazing animatronics we see work, we can’t wait to revisit our favorite ones when Stranger Things season four (volume one) releases on May 27.