I do love a good Star Wars 3D print, and I know many others do as well. A popular character in the Star Wars universe is obviously Jedi Master Yoda, and many people around the world were excited to see him in a new light when The Mandalorian live action series premiered on Disney+ this fall. While the adorable character on the show is simply called the Child, the collective fandom knows him as Baby Yoda.
Former Mythbusters star Grant Imahara, a Disney Research consultant and mechanical designer at Spectral Motion, is a fan of 3D printing and robotics…and, as it turns out, Baby Yoda. He used both of these technologies, along with digital modeling, during a three-month project to make an animatronic Baby Yoda that is so cute, the engineer says that “everyone melts” when they see it.
“Pleased to present my newest creation: a fully animatronic Baby Yoda,” Imahara wrote in a Facebook post. “He’s a personal project that I started in early December. I did all the mechanical design, programming, and 3D printed the molds.”
In a recent interview with CNET, Imahara said he knew he wanted to make his own Baby Yoda after only the third episode of The Mandalorian.
“I was an animatronics engineer in the ILM model shop before MythBusters, and worked on the Star Wars prequels as well as the Energizer Bunny, so I had the required skill set,” Imahara said.
Project 842 created the digital model of Baby Yoda, and then Imahara got to work on the robot’s first mechanical system: the eyes. The goal was to fit everything in the head, though this proved quite difficult, as the character has a tiny noggin and huge eyes. Those eyes can move up and down, left and right, and even blink, while the neck can tilt side to side and move forward and back.
“Since they carry the weight of the head, these servos had to be larger and I placed them in the body,” Imahara explained.
After adding a simple mouth flap that could easily handle making the character’s signature pouting movement, he moved onto a less simple mechanism – the ears.
“They’re huge levers and the silicone skin acts as a spring, resisting movement, so I upgraded these servos several times, adding more and more torque (and size) until everything moved smoothly.”
Imahara revealed that he 3D printed almost everything in the robot’s head, along with the molds to make the skin. In his Facebook post, the engineer gave a shout out to his friend Lauren Markland, a prop maker at Universal Studios, who cast, seamed, and painted the silicone skin, as well as completing a very tedious task.
“The hair on his head is individually punched one at a time with a tiny needle, which took days to complete.”
Movie costumer Lindsay Hamilton, another friend of Imahara’s, was enlisted to make Baby Yoda’s coat and jumpsuit, which I’m guessing wasn’t terribly difficult because his clothing pretty much resembles a potato sack, but what do I know?
Speaking of things I don’t know, Imahara explained how he was able to get his Baby Yoda to move around and blink, which you can see happening in the video below.
“Programming the animation is a pretty tedious process because it has to be done with keyframes, but you build up the sequences a little at a time, adding more quirks and little movements to help with the illusion,” he said. “Once I got the animation sequence to a point where I could loop sleepy/grumpy/happy, I loaded that into the servo controller so that it would loop continuously.”
The animatronic robot can’t speak at the moment, but Imahara is working on a solution for this problem, noting that the “servo controller board has several available outputs that can be configured to trigger an external sound board.”
“Eventually, I will be able to have the Baby do a basic keep-alive sequence (blinking eyes, looking around) but also be able to remotely trigger special sequences like happy, sad, grumpy or sleepy.”
One of the best things about this project is that it’s not-for-profit. Next month, Imahara will begin touring children’s hospitals with his amazing Baby Yoda for charity.
“Baby Yoda is universally cute, hands down,” he said, stating the obvious. “He’s a happiness maker. Everything about him is designed to trigger the human nurturing instincts.”
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(Images: Grant Imahara, unless otherwise noted)
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