Not since Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting master class as America’s 16th president have we seen a more realistic Abe Lincoln. Created by Garner Holt Productions, one of the world leaders in animatronics, a photo-realistic rendition of “Honest Abe” combines 40 unique motions, 1,000 “animation frames” per second, and some amazingly realistic synthetic skin. The results are facial expressions so lifelike they could happily fit in among the robots of Westworld.
“As a company, we’ve been around for 40 years,” CEO and founder Garner Holt told Digital Trends. “We’re the largest company that provides animatronics to the theme park industry and others. We’ve provided more animatronics to the Disney parks than any other company, ranging from small songbirds to enormous fire-breathing dragons. We also do our own internal projects to try and push the limits of what’s been done before. A while back, we embarked on a project to try and create the most realistic human head that’s ever been made. We wanted to take this to a level that’s never been done before by anybody.”
You only have to watch the above video to realize that Holt is not kidding. While the animatronic head’s facial expressions can appear exaggerated at times, Holt says that that is because the robot is designed to show off just how much expression can be exhibited by a modern-day animatronic model. Think of it like an actor’s showreel — running the gamut from subtle performances to out-and-out slapstick. Interestingly, some of the technology it uses was actually developed for the military, which previously brought in Garner Holt to help create training exercise models for the Marines’ Infantry Immersion Trainer at Camp Pendleton in California.
The Lincoln bust was first shown off at Disney’s D23 Expo extravaganza in July, and will eventually form part of a series titled “The Living Faces of History.” The plan is that it will tour theme parks and museums, accompanied by other memorable historical players. The finished product will be like Madame Tussauds brought to life.
All of which leaves us with just one question: If animatronics are so insanely good these days, why do so many Hollywood blockbusters still insist on serving up unconvincingly weightless CGI effects? Someone get Garner Holt on the job, stat!
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