They would be different from animatronics because animatronics need to be less accurate about pose and more accurate with speed and movement. These would be what I would like to call, "Posebots". Puppets which only need to be accurate with pose and speed and movement would be irrelevant. You could also make the posebot move through a pose potentially making motion blur with each frame. Do people do this?
The poses could be fed to the controller directly from CGI pre-visualization.
I *believe* Gerry Anderson used radio-operated servos for a crude version of lip-sync in Fireball-XL5, The Mysterons etc., but I can't recall anyone going the full Disney theme park experience...
Ron Cole made a couple of puppets (for Fall of Gravity) with a complex cable system to do mouth movements, much as you might do for animatronics, but they were moved a frame at a time so it really was stop motion.
The only comparable thing I can think of is the gear mechanisms for the Corpse Bride puppet heads. Both have a bigger range of mouth movements to do changes of expression and more accurate lip synch, and give much finer control of small movements than just pushing a toggle in the face by hand. But I don't think they would have speeded anything up.
Animatronics is done in real time, so I don't see how you would blend that with stop motion.
Combining stop motion with some rod controlled movements that can be photographed while in motion (to get motion blur) is what "Go-Motion" was all about. It was still shot 1 frame at a time, but some parts were computer controlled to do a limited move during the exposure. Again, it wasn't quicker to do than straight stop motion, it was to add the blur to fast moving parts like wings. These days that is more often done in post production.
You could, of course, do some shots as animatronic/live action puppetry, and others as stop motion. I did a few live shots for a mainly stopmo short (Turtle World) years ago, because I had rain falling directly on the shell, or steam coming out of the turtle's mouth. I used the same foam latex turtle head as a hand puppet, and slipped over an armature for stop motion, so it could do both and always looked the same. That would indeed shorten the time, especially for a film with a lot of dialogue. You could do most of the dialogue muppet-style in closeup and go wider to use stop motion for full body shots. And I suppose you could composite a live head with stop motion background characters, too.
I don't think I'm explaining myself very well. I'm describing a system where you can set it in motion and you can be working on something else while it takes frame shots as fast as it can, like a frame every second. It would need to move to the next pose and stop any small movement before taking the shot or it would need to reset and sweep through a movement. It would be set up to do this without you needing to babysit it.
Ok, clearer now!
That would require computer controlled motors to do every single possible movement, from full body down to fingers. Very complex to build and rig. A human needs only an articulated armature, animatronics need both the armature and the motors cables levers etc to move them. I've done some simple cable and radio controlled heads and they take a couple of orders of magnitude more time to make than an animatable head that only holds poses.
I get your point about single frame shooting giving time for any small bouncing moves to settle down - sometimes animatronic creatures give themselves away by those little secondary jiggles, if they do not have the weight of the actual creature they are representing. But when they do have the weight, they actually benefit from those little bounces, since they bounce like the actual meat creature would. So I feel like there would not be enough reasons to film such an animatronic creature one frame at a time, when shooting it live would also make the shooting time much quicker.
And if shooting single frame, the stage and creature are tied up for the duration of the shot, even if there is no animator babysitting it. I per second is much faster of course, I tend to take from 1 minute to 5 minutes depending on the complexity of the shot. And there are times when I've been animating for 9 hours and my back is hurting, where telling the computer to take over while I go home would have a certain appeal! But I can't even visualise a typical 12" tall animatronic puppet that is able to do even half what I can do with a stop motion puppet - walk and not fall over, moving various body parts. If built bigger, like the scary robot dogs from Boston Dynamics, the sets have to be big too, so more space needed. And while those "dogs" have an uncanny natural movement and sense of balance, they don't have ears, eyes, doggy noses, or waggy tails to convey emotion, they are very boxy and mechanical looking and only have what is needed to run around.
With a combination of programmed moves and a human animator, like Go-Motion, you can get the benefit of motor drive on the few parts that gain the most from it, while still being able to add a lot of other moves without such a complex pile of machinery.
Thanks for your input. I found out that with the addition of a special servo controller board a Raspberry PI can control as many as 16 servos. I'm working on a human head which is life sized. I see what you mean by scale. I have a 3D printer and there's a definite limit to how small you can print workable parts which determines the scale of everything else. One could have different scale posebots for different levels of detail. For instance a full scale human head for close ups, then a body one with simplified controls for the body, head, and hands, for not so close ups. And another one for just hands which would require at least 16 servos for each hand. It's a worthy project.
The pose can be made more precise taking it one shot at a time and would produce superior movement compared to an animatronic. This system I imagine would move the finesse from the puppet to software for pre-visualization. I'm sure many traditional animators would not like that.
The picture above is a to scale human eyeball, 24mm diameter, in a gimbal mechanism. I plan to redesign it so there would be a universal joint in the middle of the ball. Printed in natural PLA.
One possibility might be to use the Arcmoco motion control within Dragonframe. This can control up to 8 stepper motors, using an Arduino mega 2560, and of course they don't have to be used just for camera control. Roos Mattaar and I have recently used the program to operate a simple rise and fall mechanism to simulate someone asleep and snoring. But that employed just one motor and took quite some time to set up. Doing it for lots of movements would probably take more time than animating by hand...
I use Dragonframe. Thanks for everyone's input. I was mostly interested in knowing if other people already do what I have in mind. It looks like that is not the case, which I'm glad because it means if I do and use it to success it will be particularly fruitful. Thanks again.