Art and Technology are viewed as very different things in most schools. The “arts” might include subjects like Drama, English, Music or Art. Technical subjects might include Math, Science, Computer Tech, etc. Most people are better at one of these groups rather than the other. Or so goes the thinking.

But in reality, all of these subjects are incredibly intertwined and always have been. For example, Leonardo Davinici made detailed studies of human anatomy which let him paint very life-like figures. Great architecture has always been beautiful, structural and functional.

In today’s world, the ability to work across disciplines is even more important. From the owner of the local crafts store that has a big web presence, to the smartphone engineer that must appeal to the fashion sense of teenagers, those that can master both the technical and the artistic and how they interrelate will have a major competitive advantage.

In the U.S., our culture of self-reliance and proud individualism tended to foster an ability to work across fields. But in recent decades, we have come to embrace more of a model of teamwork and specialization. While there are many positive aspects to this change, it can encourage dependency on others, and a sense that we don’t have to know everything. The danger here is that compartmentalization of knowledge does not allow for a true understanding of how all the pieces fit together, and how to tradeoff between different domains. For example, the pharmacist that recommends pain killers, the surgeon that recommends back surgery, and the ergonomist who recommends a new chair may all offer solutions to back pain, but the best answer may be a combination of these things beyond the knowledge of any one of them.

The Animatronics Workshop is an attempt to show kids how to work across disciplines. They get to see first hand that technical and artistic considerations are not independent – that you must understand both, in detail, in order to get great results. Their ability to create mechanisms directly determines what sort of artistic content is reasonable, while the needs of the show drive what sort of mechanisms they should be attempting. Throughout the process, they will accumulate basic skills (How does one machine a pan-tilt mechanism? How should a script be structured? How can you convey emotion with a limited setup?) as well as exercise their creativity (What sort of story can I tell with these characters? How do I design my setup to best tell the story?).

If all goes well, kids that graduate from the Animatronics Workshop will leave with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. They will know that they have done something that, until recently, was the exclusive province of highly skilled artists and engineers. But more importantly, they will learn that when you work on a project, you bring all of your knowledge, skills and creativity to the table and that the more you bring, the better.