home  >  Portfolio  >  Nutcracker  >  Gallery 20 April 2021

Animatronic Nutcracker for The English National Ballet 2011 August 2011
  • Gallery
  • videos

    The main character in the Nutcracker story is of course the Nutcracker Doll given to he girl Clara by Herr Drosselmeyer.
    It seems to be customary now that the doll comes to life on stage before the fight in the nursery between Clara and her brother Fritz during which the Nutcracker's head is pulled off.
    For the 2011 production the doll had to big enough to be seen by the audience and small enough to be carried and danced with by Clara. It also had to come to life and walk on stage.
    The doll has an onboard controller which brings it to life, makes it walk several 'steps' across the stage and then returns it to being a doll again.

    Originally the Art Director wanted the doll to take proper steps with the knees rising high however I had to let him know that it wasn't going to be possible for a doll used before a live audience as the technology doesn't yet exist.

    After that, apart from being told the doll had to be 2ft 5ins tall, everything more or less was left in my hands which meant that before I could design the mechanics I had to design what the doll would look like so the mechanics would fit inside. One feature had to be big teeth for cracking nuts and the Art Director didn't like the spindly legs of commercial Nutcracker dolls.

    I was to create the 'works' of the doll while Melisa Snelling was to dress it.

    Since Herr Drosselmeyer had carved the doll in wood I envisioned the doll body being built up from balsa wood glued to my frame and then carved to shape. Doing it that way was going to be a lot stronger than a carbon fibre/ epoxy shell from a clay mould.
    I decided the doll would glide across the stage on wheels, first moving one foot forward then the other with the arms moving in opposition.
    Since Clara was going to pick up the doll the arms had to be able to move side to side otherwise if she picked it up by the arms pressing them to the body then unless they were very strong, adding weight, something would bend or break.
    The arms can move in against the body and can move out so Clara could pick up the doll by holding it by the waist.
    The head was to be removable, by Fritz, and so was designed to slot onto the extended spine.
    I wanted the eyes to light up blue when the doll came alive but there couldn't be any wires to the head because Fritz pulls it off so I mounted two high brightness blue LEDs in the body and the light could be directed to the eyes by light pipes. Whether they did this or not I don't know.

    The only operator control is the On/Off switch behind the left shoulder. When switched on the doll waits for a preset-time to allow Clara to move away then the eyes light-up and the doll takes five strides forward, then switches itself off. Above the battery are the presets for the initial delay and speed of the strides.
    The animatronic doll, as it glides across the floor with a regular precision allows the audience to share in Clara's nursery daydream preluding the dream to come.

    Apparently when the Art Director was shown the bare doll mechanism he went and danced round the stage with it so I guess he liked it.

    My drawing and the dressed doll

    Although the sound of the motors echoes here, in the theatre on a rubber dance mat the sound is unnoticable.