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It is a multidisciplinary field integrating puppetry, anatomy and mechatronics. Animatronic figures can be implemented with both computer and human control, including teleoperation. Motion actuators are often used to imitate muscle movements and create realistic motions. Figures are usually encased in body shells and flexible skins made of hard and soft plastic materials and finished with colors, hair, feathers and other components to make them more lifelike. Animatronics stem from a long tradition of mechanical automata powered by hydraulics, pneumatics and clockwork. Greek mythology and ancient Chinese writings mention early examples of automata. The oldest extant automaton is dated to the 16th century.
Before the term "animatronics" became common, they were usually referred to as "robots". Since then, robots have become known as more practical programmable machines that do not necessarily resemble living creatures. Robots (or other artificial beings) designed to convincingly resemble humans are known as "androids". The term Animatronics is a portmanteau of animate and electronics. The term Audio-Animatronics was coined by Walt Disney in 1961 when he started developing animatronics for entertainment and film. Audio-Animatronics does not differentiate between animatronics and androids.
Autonomatronics was also defined by Disney Imagineers to describe more advanced Audio-Animatronic technology featuring cameras and complex sensors to process and respond to information in the character's environment.