One of the true “Wonders” of the Disney theme parks worldwide are the Audio-Animatronics figures that set the stage and tell the three-dimensional stories that we becomde immersed in at the parks. Here is a brief timeline of the history of these amazing figures.

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To hear our discussion of Audio-Animatronics figures as a true “Wonder of Walt Disney World,” listen to Show #6 of my WDW Radio Show Disney podcast.

Early 1950s
Walt Disney purchases a mechanical bird while vacationing in Europe. The
souvenir becomes the inspiration for Audio-Animatronics technology.
1951
Work begins on “Project Little Man” Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers,
pioneers in Audio-Animatronicstechnology, create a miniature figure
that is programmed with cams, cables and tubes to mimic tap-dancing
routines performed by the late Buddy Ebsen.
1963
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opens at Disneyland. It’s the first show to feature Audio-Animatronics technology.
1964
The world’s first fully animated human figure, Abraham Lincoln, debuts at
the New York World’s Fair in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The
figure causes a sensation, not just with the audience, but with Disney
Imagineers, who were able to complete the figure in half the time they
anticipated.
Audio-Animatronics figures are also in three other World’s Fair shows designed and produced by Disney: Carousel of Progress (featuring figures animated using a programming harness, a precursor of today’s motion capture systems), Magic Skyway and it’s a small world.
1964
Two Audio-Animatronics birds, Robin and Umbrella, appear in Mary Poppins. Walt Disney reinvests profits from the film to create MAPO, an
organization within Walt Disney Imagineering dedicated to creating and
innovating Audio-Animatronics figures.
1965
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln featuring the Audio-Animatronics figure of
Abraham Lincoln (actually, a duplicate since the original was still
performing at the World’s Fair)  opens at Disneyland.
1970
Audio-Animatronics technology enters the computer age with the use of DACS (Digital Animation Control System), a computer-controlled playback system for Disney shows and attractions. Imagineers also begin using the
Anicon-Animation Console for animating and programming figures.
1989
The first A-100 Audio-Animatronics figure, the Wicked Witch of the West,
debuts as part of The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
(then known as Disney-MGM Studios) in Walt Disney World Resort. A-100
figures incorporate compliance technology that gives the characters
more fluid and realistic movements.
1992
Pirates of the Caribbean opens at Disneyland Paris. Attraction features sword-fighting pirates figures.
1998
Hopper, the grasshopper from the Disney-Pixar film A Bug’s Life is the most sophisticated Audio-Animatronics figure produced to date. Featuring 74
functions, the character appears in It’s Tough to be a Bug
2002
The first portable, all-electric Audio-Animatronics figure, Meeko, the
raccoon from the Disney animated film Pocahontas, appears. He’s in a basket carried by Pocahontas.
2003
The first totally autonomous Audio-Animatronics figure, Lucky the Dinosaur, makes his debut, at Disney’s California Adventure.
2006
The Yeti, a major element of Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, is the largest and most powerful Audio-Animatronics figure ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering. Standing more than 18 feet tall, the
thrust of the Yeti’s arm has the equivalent amount of force as a 747
jumbo jet.
2007
The Muppet Mobile Lab, featuring Muppets Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his
assistant Beaker, marks the first time that free-roaming
Audio-Animatronics characters can interact and converse with each
other, as well as with guests they encounter along their way.
2008
Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story Mania! at both Disney’s California Adventure
and Disney’s Hollywood Studios marks the first time that an Audio-Animatronics figure features lips with such a wide range of lifelike movements, can remove and re-attach a body part (his ear) and has digitally animated eyes that can look directly at the particular guest with whom he is conversing. Also, since Mr. Potato Head has more lines of dialogue than any Audio-Animatronics figure ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering, it has required more programming hours than any other figure.

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