Art cars and flame effects with Kevin Bracken

Kevin Bracken will be joining us to talk about using electronics to control fire on art cars.

Friday, July 6, 2018 12:00 pm PDT Local time zone:
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Kevin Bracken will be hosting the Hack Chat on Friday, July 6, 2018 at noon PDT.

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Kevin Bracken is probably best known as the founder of International Pillow Fight Day, an event which has now taken place in over 200 cities around the world. But these days, he finds himself the project lead of Heavy Meta, Canada's largest art car and fire-breathing dragon sculpture/stage. Originally from Long Island, New York, he defected to Canada in the Bush years, and is also the author of the book What's Different in Canada

Heavy Meta is three things: it is a 30 foot-long mutant vehicle with animatronic and flame effects and a 15,000W soundsystem, it is The 4tress, the 2000 sqft workshop founded for the purpose of building it, and it is the Toronto Art Car Community, a group whose purpose is to manufacture more of these metal beasts. Kevin will be discussing how the crew transformed a GMC school bus into a dragon, how the team learned how to build flame effects and have now passed inspections in a dozen cities with different rules and regulations, how the pneumatic effects work, what it's like to be on tour to half a dozen Maker Faires, and all the complexities that arise when you manufacture a 30 foot-long machine with a team of professional amateurs. 


What we'll be chatting about: 

- What is an art car? 
- What tools do you use to create the electronics ? 
- What precautions do you take to keep it robust and working while on the road? 
- How do you control flame effects? What hardware and software do you use?  

  • Transcript

    Lutetium07/06/2018 at 19:44 0 comments

    Alright! Lets get started. Welcome to Hack Chat @kevin ! While we wait for people to post their questions to can you tell us about about yourself ?

    kevin3:02 PM
    Certainly! First, thank you very much Lindy for inviting me here - great to join you

    kevin3:02 PM
    I think I am probably best known for creating International Pillow Fight Day, an event that began in Toronto and has now taken place in over 150 cities worldwide

    kevin3:03 PM
    But over the last two years, my life has been fully dedicated to building mutant vehicles - first, The Prodigal Swan (which now lives in downtown Las Vegas) and Heavy Meta, our 30 foot-long fire-breathing dragon

    can you tell us a bit more about The Prodigal Swan? I've seen pictures of the Heavy Meta.

    kevin3:05 PM

    Stephen Tranovich3:05 PM

    kevin3:05 PM
    Sure! The Prodigal Swan was our first mutant vehicle, built on a Taylor-Dunn electric warehouse cargo mover

    kevin3:05 PM
    It has a football-shaped body and a series of concentric rings for the neck, along with a flame effect in the crown

    kevin3:06 PM
    We loved it very much, but its major drawback is it could only hold about six people

    Wow, super cool. Our first question comes from @Stephen Tranovich " When building an art car, what is the ideal chassis to start with? "

    kevin3:07 PM
    Great question! People have religious feelings about this, so here goes: I believe a diesel mini school bus is the best chassis, and here's why:

    kevin3:08 PM
    Electric carts are extremely sensitive, mostly because of the speed controller and the batteries. They are very prone to heat-related failure, and any number of things can set them off. Unless you are an electrical engineer, it is not likely you'll be able to find many people who can fix a speed controller in a pinch

    kevin3:08 PM
    Cars are great, especially small Japanese cars like Toyotas and Honda Civics because the parts are easy to come by and almost anybody can fix them, but their maximum capacity is small

    kevin3:09 PM
    We are metalworkers, mostly, so our tendency is to weld a bunch of steel on top of whatever we make

    kevin3:10 PM
    Mini school buses, however, are guaranteed to be in great shape when you buy them. The chassis of Heavy Meta is a GMC Savana, which is about 45% of all vans on the road. It was 15 years old when we bought it, but because we got it from a school, it was rust-free and many parts were brand new

    kevin3:10 PM
    And because they are intended to shuttle ~20 people, with the safety factors you can probably fit more like 40 people on there

    kevin3:11 PM
    or 20 people and a bunch of steel ;)

    Thats a good point about making sure you have someone who can fix it!

    Our next question is from @Jarrett " Flame effect fuel? Are there different kinds? Pros/cons?"

    kevin3:12 PM
    So we use propane for a few reasons. Mainly: it's extremely safe. It requires a very specific fuel:oxygen ratio to ignite, and is not prone to exploding if something goes wrong, only catching on fire for a bit

    kevin3:13 PM
    Liquid flame effects are out there, but they are more dangerous, have a tendency to keep burning/light something on fire if something goes wrong, and occasionally, trace back into the fuel source

    kevin3:13 PM
    See: cheap isopar systems, such as the one implicated...

    Read more »

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xBeau wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:21 point

What do you like to use for vapor/accumulator tanks, and maybe talk a little bit about the process of LPG to BIG BOOM VAPOR (puffers), do you use any particular pressure regulators along the way, or run up to full tank pressures?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:13 point

What if you break down in deep playa?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:13 point

Ever have any car-related MOOP disasters?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:12 point

What kind of control systems are in use for the non-car extras?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:11 point

What do you do with them after the festival? Is there an art car graveyard somewhere? (or: raveyard, if you will)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Richard Hogben wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:10 point

What electric power system considerations are involved, is it similar to a normal vehicle or completely custom?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:10 point

How do you transport them?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:09 point

Flame effect fuel? Are there different kinds? Pros/cons?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Lutetium wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:07 point

How do the flame effects work? Are they manual or electronically controlled? 

  Are you sure? yes | no

Stephen Tranovich wrote 07/06/2018 at 19:04 point

When building an art car, what is the ideal chassis to start with? 

  Are you sure? yes | no

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