Animatronic E.T. Puppet

How a 3D printed eye mechanism came to life for Halloween

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After debating for months whether or not it was feasible, I decided to build my own E.T. animatronic 'puppet' that I could use for my Halloween costume. The guts are based on an existing animatronic eye mechanism posted on Thingiverse with several key modification, most notably a longer baseplate to accommodate a wider distance between the eyes, concave eyeball irises, wider eyeball screw holes to fit 2-56 ball links, and a baseplate holder to prop up the mechanism on a flat surface.

In early August, I decided I wanted to dress as Elliot from the iconic scene in E.T, complete with the title character sitting in a milk crate that would hang in front of me. I'd seen pictures of other people who had pulled off the costume, but deciding to make E.T an animatronic puppet felt like enough of a challenge to make it interesting to build. Google searches kept steering back to some site called Thingiverse, where a handful of users had posted 3D models and parts they used for creating their own animatronic eye mechanisms. Upon checking Instructables, I found a few posts that pointed back to one specific Thingiverse post where, not only did the eyes move and blink, but the eyelids were able to also follow in the direction that the eyes would be looking. Clever stuff.

The mechanics sounded doable, but since I didn't have a 3D printer, I figured I'd have to farm out the printing and factor in enough time for tweaks and reprints. Luckily enough, my boss brought their Flashforge Dreamer 3d printer into the office for us to play around with, and I volunteered to become point person for setting it up.

I also had recently attended a Hackaday meetup in Pasadena, where, after describing my idea for this project, I was given a Fubarino Mini to aid in building the project.

Not everything went according to plan though. I learned a lot in the process, but I always kept in mind the Mythbusters mantra: Failure is Always an Option.

  • 1 × Arduino Uno R3
  • 1 × Pololu Micro Maestro 6-channel USB Servo Controller
  • 1 × Acrylic Paint
  • 2 × Pair of DC Power Adapter Connectors
  • 1 × Jumper Wires

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  • 1
    Step 1

    More details to come, including build out plans and implementation

    • Find & paint milk crate
    • Eyeballs: sand eyeballs; paint irises, cover with XTC-3D epoxy
    • Build 3d model of head via photogrammetry
    • Print positive mold, then paper mache over mold
    • Fubarino Mini? No time. Arduino Uno
    • Pololu Micro Maestro 6 Channel
    • WiiChuck adapter (SparkFun)
    • Connect servos to rods & ball joints
    • Secure head to hardware skeleton
    • Add wire supports to mask
    • Glue felt to mask, shade with black marker
    • "Turn on your heart light"

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medeiros1 wrote 11/12/2017 at 12:03 point

Hello Danny,

if you want to fill your model with life, you may have a look onto my project

It provides motion / sound animation out of the box.

Regards Rolf

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Shulie Tornel wrote 03/08/2017 at 00:06 point

Yas! :) Congrats on your first project on

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