People invented animatronics for entertainment, for imitating the life actions, and for exploring the scientific truth behind our material body. Along with the development of technology, people want to make the animatronics more and more like real living beings, and try to make their movements as accurately as possible. However, I think there are still many gaps and problems for us to fix. The biggest challenge area of the animatronics is to imitate the precise and unconscious micro-movements of live creatures. These micro-movements are so subtle and hard to catch and imitate, but they are so important in making us live and nature. Nowadays really advanced CGI can almost achieve the precisely realistic micro-movements as live creatures do. I have seen some examples. (Here is one: https://vimeo.com/80879503) And I think for animatronics if we want to extremely and precisely control a system of really heavy mechanism, there is still a long journey to go.
Going back to my final project, I am not going to make such a precise work of art, but I would like to experiment and create a tentacle mechanism which can be used to make ears move. My inspiration comes from the Disney animated characters such as Stitch and Dumbo who have a long pair of ears, and they use their ears to express their feelings. Most of the time when people talk about emotions, they always refer to the facial expressions and body movements, but few of them think about ears. Because usually they treat ears only as a medium of the audition, and mostly our ears can do not have the ability to move. (Some people can move their ears a little little bit by consciously controlling the ear muscles.) In this sense, I hope to experiment and create a pair of human-like ears that can move organically and softly like those animated characters, and use the ears to express the emotions.
I hope the mechanism can imitate the situation of happy, sad and relaxed. For example, when the person (or the subject who own the ears) feels happy and excited, the ear will move quickly up and down, little a little fan; when he feels sad and upset, the ears will point down, like what puppies often do; and when he feels relaxed and comfortable, the ears will slowly move like tentacles, free and soft.These emotions are common and universal, so it’s easy for people to recognize and distinguish them.
There are two pieces of artistic works that inspire me and help me construct the approach to achieve the result. The first one is this Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears. By testing the person’s brainwave generated differently according to different emotions, the person who wears the ears can move the ears with his emotions. And the other one is the tail mechanism of Zathura’s Zorgon. It’s a pretty advanced animatronics based on the tentacle mechanism, and the bionic structure works really well and it actually moves like a real dinosaur tail. I would say the idea of the brainwave cat ears are quite similar to mine because we both want the ear to become a medium of reflecting and expressing emotions. But what I concern more is to imagine how human ears would actually have the ability to express emotions. How would the ears react, and how would they move. It’s not just a pair of fluffy animal ears which extend my expression. They are our own ears. And I want my project to drive people to further ask the question: Do human necessarily need ears to express their emotions? If in the future, human ears have the ability to express their emotions, is that an evolution or degeneration?