As a restorer and engineer of mechanism, I could easily analyze the automaton’s general principles of operation, and I distilled my observations into a brief description for Brian. He sent me a copy of his manuscript and some of his drawings for the book, and we continued our correspondence mostly by telephone.
I was delighted to read the story, which was already essentially complete, and felt an immediate affinity for Hugo. I suggested which tools Hugo would use for certain tasks (“For the metal tabs on the mouse, Hugo would more likely use a small screwdriver to lift them, and then a needle-nose pliers…”). My own background, repairing similar toys when I was a boy, made all of this second-nature to me.
As I read Brian’s manuscript, in my mind’s eye I would see Hugo doing certain things that weren’t described in the text; just a few small details that I imagined he would do. For example, after reading of Hugo winding a clock in the train station walls, I pictured him tilting his head to one side, attentively listening to make sure the clock was running evenly before making his way to the next one. As I read what Hugo was doing, I was always thinking, “What would a clockmaker, or a mechanician’s perception be if they read the book?”
In another scene, Hugo enters his little room in the train station walls and turns on the light. Although these words were on the paper, I pictured the room remaining dark. Though it wasn’t in the text, I imagined Hugo so preoccupied that he’d once again forget that the bulb was long-since burned out.
Brian is a meticulous researcher. My communications with him were always a pleasure, and it was gratifying to see some of my contributions in the final work. Brian in turn, included this thoughtful acknowledgment at the end of his book:
“I also extend my appreciation to Andy Baron, mechanical genius, who spent hours with me on the phone going over the technical aspects of gears, pulleys, mechanisms and motors. Andy told me that he saw a little of himself in Hugo, and I’m sure Hugo would be flattered to hear that.”
When The Invention of Hugo Cabret came out early in 2007, the Franklin Institute was independently planning a display that would feature Maillardet’s automaton as a prominent part of an exhibition to open in 2008, called The Amazing Machine. And yet the automaton remained quiet and still, waiting for its time to be tended to. During the final months of work on his book and in the eventful weeks beyond, Brian renewed communication with his contacts at the museum, and made sure that my prior accomplishments were made known to them. I followed up at this time as well, submitting lists and photographs of my machine restorations and intricate creations.
Now the book was out, and the spotlight was on Maillardet’s automaton in a way it hadn’t been in years. It was time for The Franklin Institute to act. On February 25, 2007 I received the following email from the Senior Curator, John Alviti:
“Thank you very much for sending me your profile of your work as a paper engineer and restorer of things mechanical. I hope you would be willing to come to Philadelphia to have a first-hand look at the Institute's Maillardet automaton and of the Institute's Theremin. Based on your extraordinary knowledge and background, you appear to be someone who could actually help us restore and refurbish both of these wonderful artifacts. Looking forward to your response.”
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