Hand puppets are a great place to start your journey into animatronics. Many of our animatronics workshops begin with distributing hand puppets and asking kids to play with them. They imagine a character, and bring it to life with their hand. You have a sneaky cat? Show me what sneaky looks like. How does that cat relate to the other puppets? Is it shy? Aggressive? Pompous? Show me. What does your cat care about? How can I tell? Show me.
We love building animatronic shows using hand puppets because they provide an easy way to try out characters and story ideas. And seeing how we use the puppets by hand suggests what sort of mechanisms we might need to bring these characters to life. Beautiful hand puppets are available from companies like Folkmanis. But you can also build your own.
Animating a hand puppet involves building a mechanism that takes the place of a hand. Hands have lots of degrees of freedom (you can move them in many different ways) that would be hard to replicate, so instead, we focus on getting the most expressive capability with the fewest number of motors.