Animax Designs launches Innovation Lab to harness new technologies for entertainment

PHOTO (L to R): Chuck Fawcett, Louis Richardson, Rob Gosnell, Jordan Neal

PHOTO (L to R): Chuck Fawcett, Louis Richardson, Rob Gosnell, Jordan Neal

Animax Designs has announced the launch of its Innovation Lab.

The primary focus of the Innovation Lab is to leverage existing technologies and launch new ideas to transform the animatronics industry. A secondary focus is to aid Animax’s internal project teams in the creation of new technology and processes so that individual project schedules and budgets are not burdened. By providing these teams with state-of-the-art solutions, Animax can better ensure the realization of its client’s IPs in an aesthetically authentic, technically enhanced, and cost-effective manner.

The launch of the Innovation Lab follows a recent strategic rebrand of the company from a live performance and puppetry studio to one that focuses on highly engineered animatronic characters. It also comes as Animax enjoys a period of rapid growth. In just two years, the studio has swelled from 35 to 130 employees and has transferred from a 22,000-sf workshop to a state-of-the-art, 80,000-sf facility. “With the explosive growth of the industry,” said Fawcett, “now is the perfect time for Animax to launch a think-tank like the Innovation Lab to help shape the future.”

To lead the Innovation Lab, Animax founder Chuck Fawcett tapped Rob Gosnell, a military veteran with over 15 years of electrical and software engineering experience. Gosnell’s team will include specialists in the fields of electrical engineering, mechanical design and engineering, computer systems, robotics, and material science. For Gosnell, one of the team’s marching orders is to source solutions from outside the theme park box. “We’ll explore cutting edge technology that may not be intended for the theme park industry, grab it, and manipulate it for entertainment. For example, we’ll go to an industrial automation trade show to find that shiny new mechanical arm that can be skinned for themed entertainment or take something from the aerospace world that can be used in an entirely new way. By opening our minds to multiple technology solutions, the possibilities of what we can create are endless.”

The Innovation Lab’s initial focus will be on electromechanical actuators, which Gosnell and Fawcett feel present the biggest design and engineering opportunity in animatronics. The team will assess past and present solutions, as well as what they envision for the future. As Fawcett explained, “by combining new and existing technologies in such areas as advanced materials, media, light, and robotics, we can create fantastical ways of engineering characters that continually enhance the guest experience.”

Fawcett and Gosnell see risk mitigation, greater production efficiency, and new advanced solutions as the key returns on investment.  The Lab will report directly to Fawcett, the only department at Animax to do so. By having a dedicated team and only one layer of approval, the company will not need to divert production staff from client projects to R&D. At the same time, the trial and error of engineering new solutions can be done separately from the project process, meaning that by the time a new idea gets in front of the client for the first time, it’s already been realized and fully tested in the Lab.  As Gosnell explained, “the beauty of the Innovation Lab is that we are producing solutions just because we can versus producing out of necessity, which gives us more time to perfect the end product.”

“Speaking plainly,” said Fawcett. “I want our competitors to say, ‘damn, I wished we’d thought of that,’ and our clients to say, ‘damn, I want that in my attraction.’”