By: Jem Sagcal

Photo & Video by: Curtain Owl


By: Jem Sagcal

Photo & Video by: Curtain Owl

The first mechanical toy he remembers creating was when he was in fourth grade, and even then he could create static display dioramas but decided to elevate the craft levels more by building a moving caveman diorama out of strings, play-doh, and old magazine clippings.

The garage couldn’t fit a car like a normal garage should, instead Roderick “Odick” Bañares uses the space as his own workshop and studio. Tools, cranks, and stacks of boxes laid out the floor; drops of dry paint decorated the table tops along with a variety of pens and gears. But together with the rustic mess was his beautiful, colorful, and fun creations, all lined up on the largest wooden table in the area. For a brief moment, it felt like walking into a toy shop.

Odick specializes in creating automata; singular: automaton. An automaton is a self-moving device that can be created in the likeness of human beings and uses gears and cranks similar to how a clock is made. “An automaton is like a simple machine that imitates life through movement,” he says in a mix of English and Tagalog.

In Odick’s garage display, turning the lever clockwise results in predetermined movements that give life to the colorful, cartoonish characters. For 11 years, this has been his professional livelihood and hobby, as even inside his home are other unique objects that could both light up and move. But flashback before the 11 years of his professional career, when Odick was just a child where mechanical toys were a rare luxury.

A rotating toy Odick made called the “Impatient Patient”

“One of the reasons I learned to build Automata is because it was a necessity. During my time, mechanical toys were expensive and usually limited in stores,” he says as he looks at his creations next to him. “What I did was, whenever I have old toys, and the motors are still running, I would take them out and put them in a new one.”

The table inside Odick’s garage is filled with more toys that he uses for display
Growing up in a family of 10, Odick was not only born a gifted craftsman, he was also observant. His siblings grew up and took courses in Fine Arts and Engineering; he was exposed to the basics of those contrasting practices and then decided to try combining the two together to create something dynamically different and alive.
The first mechanical toy he remembers creating was when he was in fourth grade, and even then he could create static display dioramas but decided to elevate the craft levels more by building a moving caveman diorama out of strings, play-doh, and old magazine clippings.
“I made the cave out of paper, crumpled paper from colored prints from magazine so I don’t have to color it,” he retells while crumpling air. “Then I started sculpting clay, the modeling clay we used to play as children, and I added joints.”
Using his hands to tell the story from his childhood, he motions to create an imaginary line and holds it up on both ends. “I attached strings to a motor, a wind-up motor I got from an old clock, so that when the motor starts up, the cavemen will move.” He describes the inside of the cave, where a cavewoman sits as she cooks meat with a spit roast. Outside the entrance of the cave, Odick built a miniature dinosaur head that’s trying to make its way in the cave while two other cavemen wave their hands preventing its entry. “All those, when I was Grade Four, I was able to make something like that.”
His mother and father did not understand what he was doing and how he did it, but when it moved, he recalls the smiles on their faces. “Creating things like that, it felt natural.”
The hobby that turned career inspired him to share the Automata hobby with a new generation of artists and engineers. He and a friend created a Facebook page called “Automata Manila.” However now inactive, it displays videos and photos of his past works. Notably one, is a steampunked Michael Jackson that traverses on a platform that’s entirely built out of metal parts. He moonwalks back and forth with a turn of the lever, wearing his iconic “Billie Jean” suit. This metallic version has already been sold, but an unpainted sintra version proudly stands on his desk.
The mechanisms of the Michael Jackson automata
It was through creating works like these and sharing it with hundreds that enabled him to enter works in The Mind Museum, who saw his portfolio and entrusted him to submit different kinds of Automata and conduct workshops.
“I have a friend who works with The Mind Museum, and they said that they needed these specific skills for their exhibits. That was how I was first known, and that’s when they told me that I could hold workshops, especially after seeing my portfolio,” he says with great enthusiasm. A once active Mars Rover that he also built for the museum can be seen in one of the exhibits.
He believes that sharing the hobby through the museum can help capture more interest, as right now, the hobby itself is too young in the Philippines despite the art being centuries old.
“This needs to be exposed to us Filipinos, to kids, or everybody actually, whatever the age. I think [exposure] is the only chance we can get for the idea to explode,” he explains. “When I started the workshops, it was hard. They didn’t understand what it is.” He has only held two workshops in the museum because of his busy schedule as a freelancer and Founder of Gizmodetics, a company that specializes in building small to large scale mechanical, special effects  projects.

Odick in his garage filled with tools and toys with room for more

He was playing with one of his creations, turning the lever around as the fingers tapped on the box. “Impatient Patient” is what he calls it, and though simple it was oddly addictive to play with. “Hopefully, I can continue [doing workshops]. I’ve still been fixing my schedule,” he says. “I want to be able to hold one once a month.”

To Odick, it’s more than just a hobby. He built his life surrounded by different ideas of combining a variety of objects. “I always make it a point that what I do involves arts and engineering.”

Some children do not have the opportunity to learn new things

You can help remove those barriers by giving The Mind Museum a hand. Science should be accessible to all.

What else can you do?

  • Learn a bit of the art of automata yourself, nothing wrong with more knowledge
  • Click the link and see how you can contribute to a child’s future

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