Help creating a realistic animal (bird) "skin" for an animatronic model?


New Member
Hi all,
I have a project on the go that I'm struggling with one aspect of - its skin.

The project is a life-size animatronic Raven & I just cannot figure out how to get a something-like-realistic effect for the neck, where there will be a lot of movement and flexing. The neck can move vertically from its base, with the head fully articulated in three axes.

I've done a lot of searching on line & the only relevant thing I've found was from the Stan Winston preview stuff on Youtube, showing them making a screen model bird - for which they use a taxidermy pelt! .. No..

The only other moving parts will be the wings, just slightly lifting while staying folded and the tail being able to move slightly. Those attachments should be easy enough to hide just with the larger feathers on the body.

A blank or 3D model form for the body shape would also be helpful, as the only ones I've found are for the feathered bird rather than the body itself?

Any suggestions greatly appreciated!


Welcome to the RPF!

I can't help you, but you may want to check this thread, and contact it's creator:

Perhaps using black Pig Skin lining along with foam bits to help create the basic musculature will help.

Something like this will give you a subtle texture that kind of mimics feather follicles and which you can add feathers but also not inhibit movement of the servos. It's inexpensive, lightweight, and flexible.

Perhaps using black Pig Skin lining along with foam bits to help create the basic musculature will help.
Genius! I had my mind focussed on some kind of fabric or elastic, but of course you can't get much more realistic skin than skin!

I wonder how flexible that is? A bit of chamois leather may work in a similar way, that is extremely soft & flexible?
This Pig Skin lining material is very thin, but it doesn't have the same drape as something like lambskin. While you would have a different surface texture, lambskin might yield a better drape (ie. movement) while still retaining the smoother grain as opposed to something like chamois or suede which is napped and could read as fur if you're photographing or video taping this. I suppose as long as whatever leather you choose you cover the whole thing with feathers it shouldn't matter too much what type of leather you use, though I would go for something with a smooth grain vs. napped, personally. And you'll want thin leather because the thicker, the less mobile it will be by comparison.

So perhaps my initial suggestion would likely be better suited to this one instead:

If I were making this, what I would do is to build out some semi rigid foam segmented muscle structure to keep it from resembling a "skeleton with skin" and then attach the lambskin over that- glueing feathers on or using the quills of the feathers to poke through the leather into the foam to make it look more natural.
I found this video on YT but I'm not sure if this is the look you're wanting.

You might be able to glue layers of smaller feathers on the neck (like roof shingles). But of course it depends on what material you are going to use for the neck. The head feathers would drape over and hide the separation.

I found this video on YT but I'm not sure if this is the look you're wanting
I've seen that one, thanks. Some inspiration for the body, but the neck on mine it a lot larger and jointed top and bottom., so it needs rather more flexibility.
Looking at the various types of leather at the minute!
This is just a theory, but you could design an smooth exoskeleton, with joints to cover up the mechanics (much like a knight's armour) and then use a stretchable fabric like spandex or something to cover it up. Then you could glue or sew the feathers in layers to the spandex. the glue would limit the flexibility somewhat, but only at the places the glue adhered to. You'd get the skin stretching and contracting, but without the unnatural folding as with leather.

The exoskeleton would resemble something like this, except with possibly a couple of more joints.

Screenshot 2023-11-03 150546.jpg

Congratulations on your animatronic! It looks amazing!

The main source for 4-way stretch fur fabric is National Fiber Technology:
Pretty much every animatronic, theme park and sports team walk around, or fur suit you've ever seen gets their fabric there!

They sell small pieces through their outlet, Harrymann's Closet, which are perfect for small animatronic projects:

Exclusive distributors of National Fiber Technology's clearance and overrun fur fabrics.

The fabric is attached so it looks right in its rest position - in my case with the neck down- It will easily stretch as the animatronic moves.

For my birds, an aluminum armature was laser cut, and a 3D printed, PETG shell was attached using 4/40 angle brackets:

4-40 Angle Bracket (10pk)

Description Simple angle brackets with one threaded and unthreaded hole Can also be used on the universal plate set for mounting all sorts of sensors Pack of 10 The 4-40 Angle Bracket (10pk) are very handy. Use them for connecting PCBs at 90 degree angles, mounting accelerometers, gryros, etc...

Screenshot 2023-11-04 103313.png

Your idea for a shell sounds workable.
You could also sculpt a shell and vacuform a skin, attaching it your box with standoffs or RC linkages.

Weight is the key concern for your animatronic. Whatever you use I would try to keep it as light as possible.

The feathers can be hot glued directly to the PETG.
Friendly advice: Trim the quill, and use a silicone sculpting tool or popsicle stick to press the feather into the glue. Otherwise you'll burn your fingers. It's embarrassing how many times I burned myself before figuring that out!

Good luck! I'll follow your post with interest!
The main source for 4-way stretch fur fabric is National Fiber Technology:

That's great, thank you! They don't have any black material available at present so I'll have to keep checking back when they update the stock.

OK on gluing the feathers directly; I was not sure if that would work, or it needed a layer of some kind of fabric or thin foam to fix them to.
I'll probably try to print a shell for the body, if the PET bottle idea does not work well.

Now I have a target approach, I'll probably mock it up with some of the non stretch fur fabric to get an idea how it will work & see what sizes will be needed.

From experience so far I'll probably have to re-do things a time or three to get them to go properly!

eg. The neck mechanism in the photos is Mk 4, I think - the first couple of attempts just did not work properly, then the next worked well but was too bulky to fit within the body.. I kept that in case it comes in for something else.

(MG90 servos, the sides are just under 3.5" long).


After seeing yours in the video, I may also add another servo to tilt the body rather than the rigid mount I have at present - the effect is quite dramatic and very looks worthwhile, if I can fit it in.

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