World-leading animatronics company Garner Holt Productions has been on full display recently as its newest project, an expressive Abraham Lincoln robot, on display at the Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, the San Bernardino County Museum featuring an exhibit of the company’s history and accomplishments, and the Redlands Unified School District recently entered an agreement to bring animatronics programs to two of its schools.
Founder and San Bernardino-native Garner Holt first became inspired to build animatronics himself after a visit to Disneyland, and he founded his company at the age of 16 in 1977.
In those 41 years Garner Holt Productions grew from Holt building machines with junkyard windshield wiper motors in his garage to the premier animatronics company building the most ambitious characters and attractions for movies and theme parks worldwide.
Some of the most well known characters include Chuck E. Cheese, Thomas the Tank Engine and Disneyland’s World of Cars.
“I like to entertain,” Holt said. “And here we’re building the entertainers.”
It’s a story that the county museum, 2024 Orange Tree Lane, Redlands, is showcasing with an exhibit that opened on Saturday, July 14, and will continue through Nov. 25.
“I love the challenge of making things look realistic and making things look alive,” Holt said.
This drive is leading the company to push into new technologies for raising the bar on animatronic facial expressions with its “Reflections of the Face of Lincoln” exhibit now on display at the Lincoln Shrine, 125 W. Vine St., Redlands.
“We’ve pushed animatronic facial expression beyond anything done before,” Holt said of the Lincoln.
The company used miniature animatronics to create 40 independent facial motions and advanced materials on the face to create nuanced and natural-looking facial expressions.
The multimedia exhibit also features a 10-minute presentation written by Bill Butler with Disney voice actor Pete Renaday creating Lincoln’s voice.
The exhibit will be at the Lincoln Shrine until Dec. 29. Tickets are $5.
Helping to strengthen the area’s influence as a center for animatronics is Garner Holt Productions partnerships with San Bernardino City and Redlands school district to create animatronics focused career pathways.
The science, technology, engineering and math program has been at Bing Wong Elementary since 2016 and entered an agreement to create programs at Franklin and Victoria elementary schools in Redlands on June 12.
About the future of the company, Holt shared that his team is continuing its work of facial expression as well as developing interactive animatronics technologies. The company is also planning a move to bigger facilities in Redlands.