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Props Department Students Show Their Skills with Automatons

The display cases in Krannert Center's lobby have been updated, this time with a mechanical twist. The wildly creative automaton creations by three Krannert Center students are now being featured, each with a different story to tell.

Hanna Bowen, a senior undergraduate in Scenic Technology, along with first-year Props MFA candidates Emery Smith and Josh Doniek, set out to build an automaton, pull toy, or kinetic sculpture for their prop class that gave them a better understanding of the inner workings of mechanics and how to machine small parts with precision and accuracy. The automatons were mostly constructed using wood, and the students were given full creative control on the design. "We were instructed to make models so that we could start experimenting with the movement," Smith explained. "After that I built the base and the crank and followed up by carving the shapes and painting."

Bowen’s automaton, “Cat and Mouse,” shows a tuxedo cat in pouncing position as a little mouse spins on a disk, avoiding his predator. Smith’s creation, “Chicken Truck,” shows two chickens goofing around on top of a farmer’s truck. Doniek’s mechanic, which he calls “Night on Bald Mountain,” was based off of "...theme park rides and Disney's Fantasia," according to Doniek. The three automatons, each varying in size, theme, and mechanical makeup, are all jam-packed with their own inspiration and narrative.  

"As an incoming first-year props student, I knew to expect this project, as it’s a class favorite," Emery Smith commented. "For months, I would stumble upon different automatons and kinetic sculptures online and I saved different videos and clips and the ones I enjoyed the most were of animals. My partner loves chickens, and he's my biggest fan, so I wanted to make something that he would love."

The process of creating an automaton seemed to be a new endeavor for Smith and Doniek, who were familiar with the aspects of woodworking before this project but had never been in the position of creating a mechanic. "I was a high school Art Teacher before I started this program, and my brain does not really think in terms of mechanics, but this experience has opened new areas for me to explore and I find that really exciting," Josh Doniek commented.

The automatons are featured in the display cases in the lobby of Krannert Center, near Intermezzo Cafe, for the next few weeks.


"Night on Bald Mountain" by Josh Doniek

"Night on Bald Mountain" by Josh Doniek


"Cat and Mouse" by Hanna Bowen

"Cat and Mouse" by Hana Bowen

"Chicken Truck" by Emery Smith
"Chicken Truck" by Emery Smith


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