Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Automata Everywhere

I just found a bunch of automata videos on YouTube, and it's wonderous and mind-boggling. (NB: these take awhile to come in and sometimes only come when you scroll around - sorry; there's just so many!)

In particular, my own obsession is with "mechanical people", that is, clockwork mechanisms that emulate people doing realistic, organic-seeming things - generally called "androids" at the time they were popular. It is stunning to me to see automata which can actually write, or draw, or paint, because they seem so aware of the paper, and their touch is so amazingly delicate. And, that after more than 200 years, they still can be so accurate and beautiful.

There are a series of these French videos (not in English, unfortunately, I wish I understood it better) of these 18th-century automata, which makes me think there's a full-length French documentary out there. If anyone knows what it is, I'd like to know what it is and where I can get it. This one is called The Drawer:

Here is The Writer:

And, in case you were wanting to see (like I did) the insides of the Writer:

This one was made in Paris in 1880 by Vichy, and is unrestored. This comes to us courtesy of the folks at Automatomania, a husband-and-wife enterprise in the UK who restore old automata:

Here is another 18th Century one from somewhere else:

Lastly, here is an amazing animation of a truly amazing wooden robot (from?) the 19th Century - Karakuri Ningyo, in Japanese (thanks to an anonymous reader for the translation) :


Anonymous said...

It looks to me like the clips may come from the first movie listed on this page, just based on the video extracts they offer there (which I can't get to play for me, alas - the Youtube videos were beautiful!)

Love your blog, btw! :)

Anonymous said...

Add another N. Gaiman linker to your list, Heather. I've been wandering amongst your wonderous cabinet and have found delights at every turn. Thank you for your curiousity and erudition.

Anonymous said...

One of the videos you've linked has a reference to a DVD at the end, "ROBERT-HOUDIN, A MAGICIAN'S LIFE"

It looks like it's english as well as french, and that one of the Special Features is "The Mystery of the Drawing automaton" indicates it could well be the source of most, if not all, of these clips.

The DVD is available from here:

Hopefully this is the right source.

Also, thank you for bringing these delightful discoveries together here for us to see.

spacedlaw said...

I can't watch the videos right now, but shall do this evening and let you know if something is being said about a serie of "documentaires" (as we call these things).

Anonymous said...

Yet another Neil fan who found her way here. Your blog is a treat, and these automata are particularly fascinating!

Anonymous said...

actually 'karakuri ningyo' means mechanical doll ...

very cool post!

Anonymous said...

Great minds think alike! We recently did a post similar to this, Clockwork Creatures. Of course yours is chock full of fascinating history. Great post.

Rolly said...

Otona no Kagaku did a mook for katakuri ningyo a little while back.


Rolly said...

Additionally, saw this at B&N yesterday.


ISBN-13: 9780312566692

The models are punch-out, so it is not a good book to look for at the library. Still; seems very easy and very fun.