Merriam-Webster Online doesn't have a definition for “animatronics”, but they define animatronic thus:

Main Entry: an·i·ma·tron·ic
Pronunciation: "a-n&-m&-'trä-nik
Function: adjective
Etymology: short for audio-animatronic
Date: 1978
: of, relating to, or being a puppet or similar figure that is animated by means of electromechanical devices.

I first came upon the word animatronics on the Web site of Edge Innovations, a company that does special effects for movies and TV series. Some of their projects include Flipper, Free Willy and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It looks as though if you're shooting a movie that involves an aquatic animal, your best bet for the special effects is this outfit.

Based on the definition of the adjective above and Edge Innovations' use of the word, I would wager that animatronics is a modern word describing the practice of using electromechanical means to simulate living animals or their actions in cineastic productions.

The word is in lively and widespread use; Alta Vista finds 11895 references to it, Google finds 27,500, and fellow E2 user Oolong has provided me with confirmation of my assumption and a very good reference Website.


References
  • http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary
  • http://www.edgefx.com/
  • www.artem.com/2000/effects/animatronics.htm

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