Updated: Jul 7, 2021
December 28-29 2019
What is it that all fun restaurants have? I don't mean the fun ones, I mean the really fun ones. Animatronics! I never made an animatronic, but COSI had a fun exhibit a few years back called "Adventure!" and it had simple animatronic heads, that would have moving mouths, and maybe moving eye brows or they could blink.
That seemed like a good start, I got my animatronic making supplies, which is Arduino boards, servo's, straws and construction paper mostly. All the things you need to make a prototype of anything from a space shuttle to a deep sea diver.
But I was worried I was in over my head, so I called in Stephanie Eaton who is exceptionally talented. Who put some of her design skills to work.
She made drawings of the "head" then sketched out a larger version on construction paper. Then cut that apart to make prototype parts.
This wasn't just fun art, we spent allot of time debating how the parts would move, that plays a part in how they need to be shaped. There are allot of different ways to give things movement, and I wanted to keep it simple. We as humans are innate ability to recognize faces, and face like shapes. I wanted to tap into that much as I could, let our pattern matching abilities give the face life, rather than complex electronics and engineer to make an article face. After allot of debate and watching allot of youtube vids of other animatronics we settled on eyes that move a little, a jaw that goes up and down, and elbows that move... because they are cute. This is the first phase that proves out if my design for the eye movement would work. I the most concerned about this part of the face, I wanted to test it out first. While you can see by the video sorta worked..... at least it worked enough to prove my crazy design could work. The problem here is that construction paper isn't sturdy enough and it's buckling as the servo moves the slider in the back.
I ran out to the store for some foam board, and after a few hours making more cuts from the design templates, popsicle sticks and craft straws... we were ready to try again.
Here is it, pretty neat for something made out of elementary school craft supplies. This is being controlled by a Arduino Mega. I'll have a link to my sketch board at the bottom of the blog. If watch towards the end of this vid, it will show the how the mechanics is working.
Now it's time for a fun little montage to show the rest of the construction, please hum a upbeat tune while you look the rest of these over.
Here is what the back of the talking head looks like
My plan was the head was going to sing a song, I'll have more to say on that in a bit, but for moment we are going to talk about the code running the board. I had a big technical problem with the code, in that, running single servo's is great. The Ardunio are single threaded to my surprise. If I sent wanted to do two things, like say raise left and right brow. I had a command like "liftrightbrow" it would wait until the servo was done moving, to move on to "raisingtheleftbrow". It can not do them at the same time. One eye brow, then the other, then the mouth, then the eyes. That wasn't very impressive. It certainly looks like it in the video doesn't it? There is a trick, I move right a little bit, then move the left a little bit, then the mouth and eyes, and it seems like they are moving together because the little moves go so fast.
In doing research for that project, I found a fun acappella group. Called Throat Culture, they had a bit of fame in the nineties, and it turned out they live in Columbus. My head filled with dreams of finishing the bar with 5 talking heads and getting them to visit. Sadly it was not meant to be.
I was going to Ardunio board with a MP3 player attachment. It would kickoff the song, then at certain times, move certain things. Like at the .25 second mark, move the mouth down, and .5 seconds move mouth up....ect.
The head doesn't have lips so as long as the mouth flaps are generally in sync with the voice are imagination will connect all the dots, and it will give the effect of singing. This is my source up until I we decided to abandon this idea....... projects are like that. You can't know all the details until you start working, that why an iterative process is important. You must always ask... is this still something that is needed. If not remove it. Sometimes that's a few lines of code, a method, a process..... or in this case the whole project. Rest in peace talking mask prototype....... Thank you for all the lessons learned. Don't worry, the animatronics is about to take a sharp turn into something new and exciting which will be covered soon....