Just Keep Swimming

Just Keep Swimming

How do you keep animatronic characters moving in chemically-treated water? This was the engineering challenge Disneyland faced with the colorful and eccentric props utilized in the theme park’s Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride. The animatronic crabs, for example, were recently sent for a rebuild cycle, in which they were inspected to ensure that they are physically and operationally in good shape – and this included an assessment of the bushings on their moving appendages.

Crabs play a small but memorable part of the 2003 Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo – which is the basis for the theme park submarine ride that takes visitors on a journey in an actual underwater environment. Guests are treated to a mix of animated projections and realistic-looking sea creatures as they follow the story of the not-so-funny clownfish, Marlin who is determined to locate his son Nemo.

The animatronic crabs utilized on the Submarine Voyage have to deal with the stress of the physical environment including swimming-pool-quality water, according to Animation Service Manager Mike Morrison.

“We have dozens of figures that operate underwater in this fashion and routinely come into our overhaul shop every six months to a year for refurbishment.The chemically treated water typically causes aggressive corrosion in materials that would normally be suitable for use on land,” Morrison said.

Disneyland’s solution was to use corrosion-resistant, no-swell Vesconite Hilube, a polymer that does not require any lubrication.

Vesconite Hilube is a thermopolymer, designed for particularly difficult operating environments. Hilube is specifically recommended for moist and underwater applications. These include the pump and marine industry, where regular maintenance is not practically feasible or cost-effective. These bushings offer superior wear life, especially in poorly lubricated and dirty conditions. They incorporate an internal lubricant that translates into an exceptionally low friction coefficient.

“As much of our animated figure structures are fabricated from stainless steel, we have found Vesconite Hilube to perform better than metal materials in the underwater environment,” Morrison said. “Hilube is well-suited to our chemically-treated water at Nemo. Unlike other materials, Hilube will not absorb or swell whilst in water.”

The crabs that came in for service stand adjacent to each other and move towards and away from each other to create visual interest for theme park visitors. The bushings on these engineering mechanisms are essential to propel the crabs forwards and backwards.

Morrison reported that the bushings typically last three rebuild cycles and that, each time the bushing is examined, it is rotated 120 degrees in order to distribute wear evenly on the bushings.

Having completed three cycles, the crabs’ bushings were replaced so as to further intrigue Disneyland visitors with their antics.

Morrison added that other sea creatures with moving appendages also utilize Vesconite Hilube bushings, including the lobsters, turtles, scuba divers and Darla, a fish-killing character from the story.

Animation movie enthusiasts nonetheless enjoy these characters, as they represent part of the realistic experience of the ride, which includes bubbles that rise across the viewports when the submarines make a mock dive into the water.

As one theme park visitor put it, “Buy into the setting, let yourself get lost undersea, and enjoy this solid and unusual ride experience.”


Categories: Editors Choice

About Author

Matthew Jaster

Matthew Jaster, Senior Editor, has a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago and has 15+ years of writing and editing experience in automotive, manufacturing, engineering, law and arts and entertainment.

Write a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*