A former MythBuster has crafted an animatronic Baby Yoda that will tour children’s hospitals to cheer up kids — and potentially bring balance to the Force.
Grant Imahara, a longtime robotics expert on “MythBusters,” recently completed an animatronic of “The Mandalorian” Season 1’s breakout character and unofficial mascot of the 2019 fall television season. The resemblance to the little green character, whose official name is The Child, is uncanny: There’s the little brown robe, big green ears, and tuffs of wispy white hair. The creature also boasts the same cute movements that helped Baby Yoda make for some of yesteryear’s most viral TV moments.
CNET interviewed Imahara, who currently works as a consultant for Disney Research and as a mechanical designer at Spectral Motion, about the animatronic and its complicated design process in an article published Monday morning. Imahara began building the animatronic by crafting a digital model before creating mechanical systems for the eyes. While a variety of mechanical factors went into the design, Imahara used 3D printing, rather than machining parts, which significantly expedited the process.
While digital modeling and 3D printing made for an easier project, Imahara still had to invest significant time into programming the animation and handling the animatronic’s small head, where most of its levers and servos are located. Imahara also discussed crafting the animatronic mouth flap, so it could convey convincing emotions, and added that his Baby Yoda’s giant floppy ears made for one of the process’ trickiest steps.
“I opted for a simple mouth flap so I could make sure that was capable of doing his signature ‘pouty mouth’ movement,” Imahara told CNET. “The mechanism that took the longest was 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. In the end, the struggle with the ears was totally worth it. They help convey so much.”
Imahara, like countless other “Star Wars” fans, was immediately enamored with Baby Yoda when the creature popped up early in the popular Disney+ “Star Wars” show. By the series’ third episode—by that time Baby Yoda had already used the Force to lift a giant alien, got handed off to and subsequently rescued from a villainous Werner Herzog, and met a handful of skeevy Jawas—Imahara was thoroughly convinced the creature had clear animatronic potential.
“After the third episode of ‘The Mandalorian,’ I knew I had to make my own Baby Yoda,” Imahara told CNET. “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. And it could be a character I could bring to children’s hospitals for charity work, which is something I’ve been committed to doing.”
Though the animatronic can’t talk yet — Imahara said that will soon change — Imahara’s Baby Yoda is already capable of displaying different emotions including sleepiness, grumpiness, and happiness.
Imahara didn’t discuss which hospitals (or how many of them) his Baby Yoda animatronic will visit but noted that the first hospital visit would be in mid-April. He noted that coordinating such tours takes months of preparation but added he’d love to eventually set up a widespread tour of hospitals throughout Southern California.