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The Mini Monster Book of Monsters (animatronics)

A fun project with my daughter to make Harry Potter prop. We love the growling book, even if it's less than we initially intended.

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I love working on small projects. When my teenage daughter asked me if we could make a Harry Potter prop, I said yes. She just finished reading the books and was fully engaged in the magical world of wizardry. We started with wands. Easy and quick — maybe not that quick. But we have a dozen of different creations. But that wasn’t challenging enough. So, when she proposed to do the Monster Book of Monsters. I said yes. How hard it can be to make a book that flops the cover. But then a few more features were requested to make it authentic. One word – authentic - changed to scope. But I’m a sucker to spend time with her and do anything to get some more quality time and keep her out of brainwashing YouTube videos. Thus, the journey to make it before she loses her interest started. This prop was not my first animatronic, and I could easily over-engineer it — a personal gift and a curse. But the point was to do the project together before ‘we’

The point of the write-up is to inspire makers to make things with their offspring. I know it’s hard and sometimes impossible. It takes much more time and energy, but his/her accomplishment is priceless.

If you wonder why this shaggy cardboard box has two (instead of four) eyes, you will need to keep reading. If you don’t like tech talk and the journey we took, please skip to the end. I’ll highlight there a few technical things that I learned during this project. The following sections are my way to re-live the fun moments and reflect on some of my decisions. Please don’t complain if you’re bored.

I love the first phase: the design, the dream, limitless potential. It’s fascinating to see the kid’s free-thinking, not scarred by reality — requirements, quality, cost, and deadlines. It’s time for me to be quiet and try not to strike every idea — collaboration without emotions (oxymoron.) We looked at some pictures and went to a craft store to buy fur and eyes. It looked like many people created those books and provided how-to-make webpages and videos. My assumption was to buy a few things such as faux fur, use modeling clay for teeth and tentacles, and print the internals from the internet. Often I’m too optimistic with projects, but this time, I missed every aspect of it! Thus, the few hour’s projects took several days.

The store had many shaggy faux fur, but none of them look like an old gray used piece. All were beautiful and colorful. We compromised to make a newer looking shaggy book. No gray color, so we got brown – we will have a Grizzly Book of Monsters. We picked a smooth brown vinyl fabric so we can stick gold vinyl letters for the title. We spent a lot of time searching for plastic eyes; there were plenty of eyes, but nothing we liked. We picked a pack of four medium and small teddy bear toy eyes. Unfortunately, the eyes were brown, so we would need to change them to yellow. We could order some on Amazon, but we hoped to do the project quickly. All items cost around ten bucks. It seems like a rough start, but we longed to do a new project, and we have experience making them.

To gauge the size for all parts, we picked a cardboard box to see how big the book should be. We played with fur and eyes dreaming of a quick path forward. Now that we invested money and time, we (or me) needed to create a plan so we can collaborate without emotions. To my surprise, there was no examples of how to automate it. I was overly optimistic that I will find something already made on Thingiverse. I just wanted something that I could scale with four eyes. There are many ‘gifted’ artists making those books by gluing the fur on a box, stub eyes on top, sculpt teeth and call it done. That was not what I signed up for. I wanted animatronics, electronics, and servos! That is my strong engineering side – something I can shine in front of my kid. The shaggy parts and sculpture – this was the part where I want my kid to step up and help. It was her idea after all – even if I encouraged it. 

When you do a project alone is easier to give up and say it’s not worth it – no one will know.  When you do a project professionally, and complexity increases beyond your capability, you increase the cost and involve others, or marketing kills it. But when you make it with a kid, you don’t want to give up. You don’t want to be the bad example. The project has to move on and has to be fun. I like 3d designs, and I am proficient with Fusion 360. The eye controls shouldn’t be that hard. They needed to move right and left, open and close. Plus, go up and down, pulling the heavy fur, and be low profile. And four eyes, with two different sizes and different offset. At this point, I thought it would be easier to make four puppets than one book. I told myself: don’t panic – divide and conquer. 

I never drew an eye mechanism, but research it and I saw a common strategy. One servo per function and wire links span to couple of eyes. I study...

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  • Servo Movement Visualization

    YodaLogic04/01/2021 at 13:44 0 comments

    To visualize and synchronize the sound file to the servo movements, I created a simple python script.  The cross lines indicate that the servo position changes before reaching the final position. 

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William Becks wrote 05/30/2021 at 17:51 point

Wow, it looks so great and exactly as in the movie. I'd like to have such a book in my library. I've read this book recently, my dungeon shook summary and it's quite interesting, you can ensure it by reading this short review. But I think that covering is also important today. The book should catch the eye from the first view. And your project is a leader in this sense. 

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