Actroid’s ancestors

typed for your pleasure on 1 October 2005, at 2.52 am

Sdtrk: ‘Square wave’ by Ecstasy of St.Theresa

One of the many things I’d like to do before I expire would be to make a pilgrimage to Switzerland. Apart from the streets being paved with Nazi gold and fountains overflowing with the world’s finest chocolate, it also contains a city named Neuchâtel, which is the home of three of the most well-preserved examples of automata from the 18th century.

The Draftsman, the Musician and the Writer

The three automata were built over a period of four years by the Swiss-born father and son team of watchmakers, Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz. The first one, the Writer (oddly enough, none of them have names) sits at a desk, dips his quill pen into an inkwell, and skilfully writes out one of a handful of phrases. His head moves as he writes, and his eyes follow th motion of his hand.

The Draftsman, the second automata, is a little more fun, as he’s a wee artiste. He can draw up four different things — a profile of Louis XV, profiles of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, ‘my doggie’, and a cherub in a butterfly-drawn chariot (?) — and much like his brother, his head and eyes follow his work. Additionally, as he draws, he moves the hand not holding the pencil away from the paper, so he can evaluate his work, and he actually blows away any dust the pencil makes. An anecdote tells of during an exhibition where Jaquet-Droz was showing off his automata, he was asked to have the Draftsman draw a picture of Louis XV, and the Draftsman drew ‘my doggie’ instead. Luckily, no-one was beheaded.

Both the Writer and the Draftsman are similar in appearance; they both resemble very well-dressed, androgynous, baroque toddlers. The third automata, however, is a young maiden in probably her late teens seated behind an organ. As it says on Lutèce Créations:

This automaton, whose body, head, eyes, arms and fingers have various natural movements, plays itself five different music pieces on an independent organ, with much precision : its head and its eyes are mobile in all directions, so it alternately looks at the music and its fingers. At the end of each tone, it curtseys to the audience, bowing its body and nodding its head. Its throat alternately lifts up and down regularly, so that the spectators believe they can see it breathing.

Very ace, and despite the Jaquet-Droz kids not necessarily being the first automata ever made (I might well cover that topic at a later date), they remain stunning accomplishments for the technology at that time.

I’d just like to point out here that it’s a wee bit difficult finding decent photos of the trio of automatons, and finding footage is even harder. During a break in our filmmaking, Allison De Fren informed me that there’s only one videotape available of them in action, and that’s only because only one person has thought to film them. The somewhat-overpriced tape’s available from the gift shop on the site linked above. *shudders* Ugh, videotape. But yeah; one of the many reasons for me to visit the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel would be to get some more film out there in the world, at the very least..

What I personally think would be absolutely perfect, would be if the Osaka lab staffers were to bring the Ando-san version of Actroid to the Museum, and have her present a video segment about them. I’m sure Jaquet-Droz père and fils would approve

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

An idea whose time has come on April 10th, 2006

Once the Elvis Presley is mass-produced, we'll be able to crush the Federation in no time on January 2nd, 2008

2 have spoken to “Actroid’s ancestors”

  1. SafeTinspector writes:

    I could have sworn I saw these in motion on an episode of Ripleys Believe it OR Not back in the 1980s.

  2. Davecat writes:

    I wouldn’t be surprised.. They also had an episode with a segment featuring Shunichi Mizuno’s animatronic Marilyn Monroe. rrrowr. 😉 Probably the same episode..

    ‘Believe it.. *hissss* or not’

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