Posts Tagged ‘puppet’

In Drab Future, The Von Neuman Moderators are the eyes and hands of the network. These agents exist to gather information and track resources, in order to expand the network and build more of them selves. While I could see that the power armored version could be a costume, I realized this character wouldn’t be able to be a person in a suit. Once the armor has been stripped away we need to be able to see their inhumanity.

Its long been a dream of mine to have a real, working, robot. I know a working autonomous bVon Neuman Moderator Animatronic Robot pt1iped with an AI is far out of my depth, but I want one that can be programmed to act in movies, run my booth at conventions, talk to people and hand out flyers. Even something like the animatronic band at Chuck E Cheese.

I have begun these videos as a behind the scenes for some of the construction. As usual I’m relying on as many found and prefab parts as I can to achieve the mechanical production look and move as quickly through the construction as I can. I’ve started with the Wowee toys Elvis Alive, which I was lucky enough to find on Ebay when a warehouse was liquidating their stock. For the body I’m starting with a posable mannequin which is similar in design to the wooden artist pose figures. This was given to me by a friend who was working in an art supply store. It had some minor damage and the store was cleaning out their storage and intended to throw it away. Truly a lucky score, I’ve never seen any others before or since. I’ve often thought about making molds from it to replicate more of them.

I’ve been planning on using the Wowee toys Elvis somewhat unmodified, at least electronically, because its really a great system. It uses a cartridge that contains songs and animation files. There is even a group of very clever folks doing some very cool hacks using them. I figured if I could avoid any major changes I wouldn’t need to teach myself arduino and robotic programming (yet) and follow along with this;

I even attempted to recruit someone to help me etch a custom circuit board part to make my own cartridge, unfortunately it never panned out. Basically this part is a xD media adapter to custom cartridge, which allows this ‘toy’ robot to play back animation files and mp3s.

This thread has a lot of detail about it, as well as included a diagram of the board I’d need to create;

Continued in part 2…

The gynoid tries on the Witness mask #drabfuture

The Witness

All along I’ve been trying to make as much of The Witness wearable as possible. Parts such as the helmet/cowl and vest are removable from the puppet, as well as the leg pads.

More work on the Witness suit

That way for wide or long shots he could move around with a bit more agility without having to resort to stop motion or other puppetry for every shot he was in.

Witness mask #drabfuture

Since the head of the puppet is cast aluminum and too small to be wearable I was forced to create a secondary mask for the actor to wear.


As the character and story evolved the costume version of the character took shape and evolved. I envisioned the witness as having different ‘modes’ and modular limbs, so he would be able to change form as needed. From his wheeled interior-workshop mode, to extended legs


and finally his fully extended exterior form integrating inspiration from sources such as the land striders from Dark Crystal and the Wheelers from Return to Oz.




I tried on The Witness costume in full last night at my workshop in Zero Friend’s warehouse in Oakland with the help of Kyle and Leslie. I’ve been working on the elements for this form separately for a while now, but it was exciting to see them all on at once.

Witness costume #drabfuture

full Flickr Gallery


Posted: December 8, 2011 in costume, prop
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Witness is John’s workshop assistant, his Igor. A crude robot, made to carry tools and provide companionship to John Henry, he has a ‘hacked’ Von Neuman Operating system, allowing him to hear their network chatter, like listening to police scanners. In this way he can also communicate with the VN. He differs from them in that he is individuated, able to see the network and post to it, but not guided by it. He speaks in a computerized approximation of a human voice, his voice is auto-tuned and animated like a show host; attempting to be friendly and reassuring, but artificial.

The Witness goes by many titles and nicknames, Witness, Sudo, Helper… he was born from the necessity or working in a vacuum, the need for a second set of hands,also I wanted to create a method for live broadcasting from the set, a character which could potentially bring the audience into the world.

I really wanted to start with an antique dental unit; sink/stand.

Unfortunately the price to ship one to me has been prohibitive.

I needed a place to start, something I could relate to. The most important detail needed to be right since it’d be what we most associate with the character, his face. I used a cast metal (aluminum) skull. I actually worked out of wax and had the opportunity to pour the metal for this part. I began arranging parts, a mannequin torso, netbook, webcam, worklamps. mini sink.

Everything should be functional with purpose. I’d sketched him with wheels, a work stand, and lights on arms, tools. He was to be a helper robot that lived in the studio, with a computer built in as well as sink, running water, drills, heat and glue guns… The first stand came from an industrial oven,

Tilting the screen of the net-book I started picturing an animated mouth, and a means for him to communicate.I especially liked the look of the light reflecting in/projecting on the visor.

I also realized that a certain amount of the costume would need to be wearable by an actor if the character was to leave the KRAWLR.

I tested many different options with motorcycle helmet, and dryer vent ducting for the arms, in classic robot style,

Needed a method to secure the arms and something to mount the netbook to…

Testing it for wearability;


placed the Witness on a wheel chair, his ‘wheeled mobility unit’

added two workstands to the Mobility unit, old CRT monitor stands. These things are burly and made of steel.

Welding the work-stands to the arms of the wheel chair at Fonco.

I moved the Witness out of the chair’s seat to a box on the back,

I’ve tried a lot of parts for the neck joint, I knew it needed to be articulate as well as detailed, here I’m testing a puller and part of a golf bag. and stretching wires, conduit and hoses to his head.

The neck more tied together, golf bag support in place, stump capped with PVC, It was obvious he needed more articulation, a great idea from Kyle; the ball and socket from a shower-head!

I could think about detailing the mask. Since he is an observer, I liked the idea of using this movable turret of lenses from an 8mm camera;

Another option for the wearable Outdoor mask was this Transformers mask with integrated (awesome) voice changer, but it needed to be taken out of context and repainted it with chrome.

Tilting the mask back to join the armor/hood.

Kyle test fits the Witness rig.

He needed a mouth, and more details, so we began a lower jaw from plumber’s putty and an old microphone.


Here we’ve constructed hips from PVC and are started some folding/retractable legs, using desk lamps for the base.

I wanted the legs to seem human and functional, but also seem changeable for the Witness’ modes.
Bulking out the legs with wire, insulation and conduit, and plastic parts.

The hood got the lens rig attached at it’s crest, and can be detached from the body to be worn as a helmet.

Once again Kyle tries it on.

Swapped out the neck, used the old neck for the hood/helmet and added the head of a tripod for his new neck, and mounted the webcam;

Now his neck is locking, and poseable as well as extend able.

The Witness in front of the blue screen.

Real time Blue-screen extraction done on my iphone.

(Print available at Unethical Productions)
The Gynoid was the first part of this world I envisioned. Inspired by the opening sequences of ‘Hardware’ and ‘Battle angel’. I knew this would be the story of a salvaged fembot, found in the wasteland, and repaired.

I knew she had to have a sense of beauty, of sex appeal, but not seem quite human.I looked all around at reference, at Japanese Ball-joint dolls, like super Dollfie and handmade ones, I looked to surrealist Hans Bellmer, to anime style and 80s horror, fashion and fetish. I even trolled through the forums of RealDoll owners, looking to the way they store and even fabricate their own versions.

South of Market, Apr 7, 2009

I began her construction with a PVC armature. Planned out all the joints with 90 degree angles and i strung it together with elastic string like tent poles. This gave me a rigid body but was still able to hinge via the rotation along the angle joints.

South of Market, Apr 20, 2009

Then I blocked it out; attached pink insulation foam blocks to the armature.

Van Ness, May 31, 2009

I applied cans of ‘Great stuff’ spray foam to fill gaps. I really love this stuff, its tricky and drippy, but once you get the hang of it it can be like 3D spraypaint.

Carved the blocks and spray foam once it cured;
Novato, May 30, 2009

repeated that process until the shape felt close;
South of Market, Jun 15, 2009

I’d also shape the foam by hand a bit as it cured by layering it with foil to prevent it from sticking to my skin. I also considered making her body chrome.

South of Market, Jun 1, 2009

South of Market, Jun 15, 2009

The last stage was using a high density two part liquid foam to fill any remaining gaps and get a really uniform surface.

South of Market, Jun 15, 2009

South of Market, Jun 18, 2009

I chopped up some Furby eye mechanisms and rigged them together
Twin Peaks, Jun 22, 2009

Cut the eyes out of the foam
Twin Peaks, Jun 22, 2009

Twin Peaks, Jun 19, 2009

Twin Peaks, Jun 19, 2009

I created a geared mechanism from lego parts to move the jaw.
Twin Peaks, Jun 22, 2009

I was able to find a pair of wooden artist model hands, which found their way to her at this point.
The next step was to cover over the body with fiberglass, an extremely difficult and time consuming process.
South of Market, Jun 25, 2009

Each part had to be wrapped individually with woven fiberglass cloth, and sealed with resin.
Twin Peaks, Jun 25, 2009

once the parts had been sealed there were the occasional wrinkle, it was too hard to get the cloth completely smooth,
Twin Peaks, Jun 29, 2009

I spent a lot of time sanding the parts smooth again
South of Market, Jun 29, 2009

Until she fit back together
Twin Peaks, Jul 2, 2009

She needed some mechanical detailing, so I added tubing, some brass fittings and the top of a can to be her feul tank
Twin Peaks, Jul 8, 2009

It was tricky but I found a proper wig for her and started dressing her up in real clothing;
Uploaded - 7\129-34

Some black wash of paint, to ‘dirty her up.’ Using thin ink/acryllic like this seeps into the texture and cracks to give her the old porcylin texture I was looking for.;
Uploaded - 8\259-1



Gynoid WIP gallery on Flickr