The key to making high-quality animatronics is in lifelike movement and realistic finishes. You could have the most sophisticated actuator controls and mechanisms in the world, but the effect will be ruined if your character looks like Gumby. Conversely, you could have a character that looks extremely lifelike when it’s still, but that immediately falls into the uncanny valley as soon as it moves. The eyes are one of the most important parts of the puzzle in that regard, and YouTuber Will Cogley is making a series of videos to teach you how to make disturbingly realistic animatronic eyes.
In these videos, Cogley is demonstrating both how to make the eyeballs and how to actuate them using affordable components and 3D-printed mechanisms. All of the mechanical parts can be printed on any FFF (Fused-Filament Fabrication) 3D printer. Those mechanisms can be actuated with cheap hobby servo motors and controlled by any microcontroller development board, such as an Arduino. The most complex part of this project is finishing the eyeballs, and Cogley’s technique does require casting in silicone and clear resin.
In this first video — the only one to be released so far, other than the introduction — Cogley explains how he went about creating the very detailed eyeballs. Those were initially 3D-printed, and then sanded down to a very smooth finish. A silicone mold was created at this stage. After the mold cured, the pupils and irises were carefully painted by hand in order to achieve the intricate detail. Thin strands of red cotton were superglued to the eyeballs to look like capillaries. Then clear casting resin was poured over the irises to provide depth. Finally, clear casting resin was poured into the silicone mold with the eyeballs in place to give a “wet” look. With some sanding and polishing, they look perfect. Be sure to subscribe to Cogley’s YouTube channel so you don’t miss the other videos on how to build the animatronic mechanisms.