How to create simple animatronics- part one: using the MAKE controller

Picture of How to create simple animatronics- part one: using the MAKE controller
Here's how to build simple animatronics using inexpensive hobby servos and the MAKE controller kit. I wanted to keep this as simple as possible so there is no programming required and the electronics are kept to a minimum so that anyone should be able to do this with a minimum of tools and experience.

I wanted to create a animatronic head for a costume I'm constructing. I wanted it to be entirely self contained- no exposed wires, etc. and unlike many animatronics used in movies, I didn't want to use radio control due to complexity/control issues. I also couldn't afford a commercial animatronics controller.

Enter the MAKE controller! This piece of hardware allows you to connect readily available hobby servos (as well as motors, lights, etc.) to simple analog input devices (I'm using flex sensors) to control movements. I have this set up running the controller in POLY mode, which doesn't require any computer programming and is very easy to configure. Of course you can always program the controller later on to maximize its potential- it's a pretty amazing piece of hardware.

Here's what the finished animatronic armature looks like (it's mounted to an old welding helmet as a test rig) along with a movie clip and what the finished costume will look like- it's a Horus guard from Stargate.

Here's a video of it working-

There are a ton of possibilities using this controller for animatronics:
Make a Predator costume with animatronic head and shoulder cannon
Build a giant dinosaur with a moveable head, eyes and tail that reacts to movements or goes through a pre programmed routine
Create interactive displays and haunted house attractions

Follow along and I'll show how the mechanism for the Horus head is constructed and maybe you'll be inspired to create your own animatronics....

UPDATE: Makingthings.com, the manufacturer of the MAKE controller has removed the POLY mode firmware necessary for this instructable from their website and it no longer is included in the firmware for the controller. If I can find an earlier version of the firmware necessary I'll post it here. They have also removed all tutorials regarding the POLY functions. Bummer. I have started working with the Arduino platform due to it's lower cost, smaller size and ease of use and have created another animatronics tutorial here:
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TylerS313 days ago

Hi this looks great but would be nice if you din't have to pay for the PDF.

amodinosaur2 months ago
I am working at animatronic animal factory in China , we do another way to that, if you want to made it in your house , you can check our factory picture and website

Hi Honus, I'm very new to this website so I hope I'm posting this in the right place. I have never worked with any kind of animatronics before but I am hoping to make a costume for a convention which would require very basic animatronic features (Mainly eyelids that are able to shift from half open to completely open, lights inside the eyes ((that are constantly on but can be turned off if not in costume)) and a speaker function that plays one noise on command, presumably both triggered with a button). I was wondering if you would be able to give me any advice/instructions with this? Thankyou very much.

Honus (author)  paige.bencraft6 months ago
Hi there! What you want to do shouldn't be too difficult. The first thing to do would be to have a look here-

That will get you started on how to connect a servo to make your eyelids move as well as how to connect some LEDs for lighting them.

For sound I'd use this board- https://www.adafruit.com/product/2210

It's super easy to use and you can use a single button to trigger your sound effect.
RanjaniP10 months ago

Hi ! Thanks for the clear instructions. I am building a tool where I use servos and am looking for crank/ clevis mechanisms similar to the one you have used. Where can I get them from? and how do you fix it to the servo arms? I currently use a Tower Pro SG92R servo

Honus (author)  RanjaniP10 months ago
Check out Servocity. They sell all kinds of servo hardware and linkage parts.



hey makingthings.com site is down as of this posting just to let u know. in fire fox i get (problem loading page)..........
sbgiftshop3 years ago
hi Honus,
I have a project on hand and would like to discuss with you, can you call me (Harry) at 340-513-1995.
tinker2344 years ago
where did you get that hours guard helmet where plese tell i need to make one to go with my jafa armor on my work bench
Honus (author)  tinker2344 years ago
That's pic from the show- I still haven't made mine yet but I'm working on it. It's probably going to be primarily cardboard to keep the weight and cost down. The original movie helmets were fiberglass and I do know of one guy that made a run of Anubis/Horus helmets and they were big bucks- over $1000.00 as they were a tremendous amount of work to make.
tinker234 Honus4 years ago
ohh sorry looked like you in costume should thought about that
Hey I had an idea for an animatronic wolf. Any sggestions on how to make this?
Honus (author)  Jaden Vynark4 years ago
There are a huge number of variables here- it depends on how complicated you want to make it. Is it just an animatronic or a costume? Do a search for wolf costume or animatronc wolf and go from there.
ScottDC4 years ago
Finally got video of my Horus costume.

See the video over at YouTube:
Honus (author)  ScottDC4 years ago
That is awsome!! I really need to get working on mine. I redesigned the mechanism a bit and of course it's now Arduino controlled.
sunnywork4 years ago
Great work! I'm really glad to find it! spidesk.ru
spartan19964 years ago
is there a cheep (probaly not but cheap as in under £30/$30 controller kits with 8 flex sensors??? thanks im just about to make a few prothsthetics of predator and figured id use an animatronic head :) (never made 1 before)
Honus (author)  spartan19964 years ago
The best inexpensive controller out there in my opinion is the Arduino. There's a wide variety of models available and most are $30 or less. I don't know of any flex sensor kits- the sensors themselves cost about $13 each.

The Arduino Nano and Fio both have eight analog inputs and the Mega has even more but it's much more expensive. The Fio is the only Arduino that has eight analog inputs that costs under $30.

There's a spreadsheet here that shows all the different Arduino versions-

I've actually already designed an animatronic Predator head (I haven't yet built it) so if you need help with it let me know. I'll have my Arduino animatronics tutorial up soon- I'm just putting the finishing touches on all the code examples and organizing all the photos, etc. It's going to be a fun one!
thanks I have never even looked into animatronics so I'll probably start with an arm lol but still can at least try :).
N3v3rm0r34 years ago
Can you add more than two flex sensors? If yes, how?
Honus (author)  N3v3rm0r34 years ago
The board supports up to eight analog inputs so you can have up to eight bend sensors. You connect them just like the other two regarding power and then put the sensor's output signal into each additional analog input pin. In order to use them you would need to write your own firmware for the controller, which I haven't done.

I am almost finished writing all the code for my Arduino animatronics tutorial and I've designed a board that will allow you to connect six bend sensors to six servos (amongst other things) so stay tuned!
N3v3rm0r3 Honus4 years ago
One question: the firmware is some kind of code concerning the MAKE controller?
Honus (author)  N3v3rm0r34 years ago
The firmware is the code that tells the controller what to do.
N3v3rm0r3 Honus4 years ago
Aha, can you find the controller somewhere else than the Making Things site? I'm asking because they are out of stock :(
ChaoBreeder5 years ago
Hey, how's the Horus costume going? I heard you were swamped with projects. I picked up the original Stargate at Walmart for $5, and was wondering, how the hell are you gonna make the mask shrink up into the back? :p
Honus (author)  ChaoBreeder5 years ago
It's going well- I'm redesigning the electronics right now. The mask doesn't shrink up up the back. The only thins that move are the head and the fans on the side of the helmet. The eyes light up as well.
Haha, I was just joking about the mask shrinking up in the back. I have a question for the costume, are you going to do the Movie or TV series armor considering the cold weather?
Honus (author)  ChaoBreeder5 years ago
Probably the TV series- unless I get in REALLY good shape!
Sorry for the constant questions but, how are you going to see out of this costume?
Honus (author)  ChaoBreeder5 years ago
There's a mesh screen on the upper section right below the head- that's how they did it on the TV show helmets.
Thanks! That'll help me with the scaling of the pepakura file.
ScottDC6 years ago
I had this idea to make an animatronic Horus costume from Stargate... so I started searching for reference material - I couldn't believe it when I found this site. Ordered a MAKE Controller within 10 minutes of reading about it. One problem is that the latest firmware does not have POLY mode, so you would need older firmware for these instructions to work. I've started writing my own controller code...so far so good.
Honus (author)  ScottDC6 years ago
That's a bummer about the firmware issue. Lately I've been using the Arduino a lot- it's nowhere near as powerful but it moves servos around just fine (I'm currently using it on my Predator project) and they're dirt cheap.

As for some help with the Horus you may want to have a look here:

This guy does unbelievable work!
ScottDC Honus5 years ago
I did finish my Horus costume for Easter 2009, had issues with the flex sensors so switched to an old PC analogue joystick mounted in the head with mouth/chin control.


It didn't win any prizes, but it was popular at the Swancon Masquerade.

About a week later it almost got destroyed when a car crashed into our house.

My latest project was an flexing tongue for another costume using an Arduino, cheaper, smaller and less power hungry.

Thanks for a great Instructable.
Honus (author)  ScottDC5 years ago
That is freaking fantastic! Did you make it so the fans moves up and down? I figured I'd have to make mine using Pepakura but I still haven't got around to modeling it since I've been so busy with other projects.

Bend sensors can get pretty noisy, especially when you have to use them with long wires. I've redesigned my Horus control system to be wireless using the Arduino platform.
vfitch5 years ago

how much should the total price be around.

Honus (author)  vfitch5 years ago
For what? It depends on what you're trying to do...

Servos can be purchased for around $10 or so unless you need a servo that is very fast or strong. The MAKE controller with application board costs $109. Lately I've been using the Arduino platform, which is much easier (for me) to use and is significantly less expensive. When I finish the Stargate helmet project that is what I'll be using.

mskogly Honus5 years ago
I read that the i-cybie robot dog was supposed to have 16 servos on board, so I was a little disappointed when I opened it up and found this cheapo elektrical motors you find in every other toy. I got one that had short circuited, and wanted to try to bring it back to life with an arduino as a servo controller, but i ended up just connecting it up to a toy keyboard to be able to trigger some kind of movement. Can be checked out here http://pappmaskin.no/2009/11/frankendog-diy-animatronics/
Sorry, I just have another question. You mentioned that as the wires to the flex sensors get longer, there is an increase in noise and therefore a decrease in the accuracy of the sensors. How long were the wires which ran from your hand to the MAKE controller? and approximately how long would you suggest I allow the wires to be?
Thanks =)
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