Animatronic Singing Beaker-bot




Introduction: Animatronic Singing Beaker-bot

About: Vigo is an electronics enthusiast with a passion to bring back the nostalgia of the past. His goal is to share major projects that anyone can follow and do, especially those on a tight budget.
Hello Instructables readers! I'd like you to meet my buddy Beaker-bot. As you probably already know, Beaker is the Lab Assistant at Muppet Labs and hapless victim of numerous lab accidents. Well, I set out to create a Muppet calibur style Beaker out of stuff that I had lying around in my basement. The result is a example of an animatronic character that can be created out of some old materials and holiday decorations.

What is Animatronic Beaker-bot? Well, the Beaker-bot is a animatronic puppet that will "sing" to the sound that I play through him. Meaning, If I hook up an iPod or other music playing device, he will lip-sync his mouth to the music or words. He is also a fully functional puppet with Beaker style head and hand control. He also has a electric button to control his animatronic mouth, and for fans of more classical puppetry, Beaker-bot does have a classic rod to control his mouth as well.

Beaker-bot, for me is both an excellent puppet for someone like me who does not have good enough puppetry voice skills to talk on my own. I also can have him on display, and he can talk and sing without a puppeteer, which is one of the major advantages of animatronics. I plan on having him on display during holidays such as Christmas. 

I better mention right here that this is my first attempt at anything puppet or animatronic related. I am very happy with the results for my first try. I have no clue what the professionals use in their methods, and I am pretty sure that the methods I use are not the same as what is done professionally. That being said, the methods I used turned out very well for my needs.

Here is a demonstration on Beaker-bot's automatic speaking and singing abilities:

I had a demo of Beaker singing some songs here, but I decided to move it to the last page as a finale. Feel free to cruise to the last step to see Beaker singing! I also have a demonstration of using Beaker-bot for traditional puppetry. Beaker has full head rotation and can duck his head as well. 

Here are a few ideas of what to do with the Beaker-bot:
  • Dress him up for holidays and have a memorable singing decoration
  • Have a Fun prop to display
  • Play pranks and jokes
  • Learn about puppetry and gain new skills
  • Hook up to Karaoke machine for added singing fun
  • Set him up to play with your music collection

Step 1: Parts and Tools: Can We Build Him? Yes We Can!

Most everything I used in Beaker-bot is from old junk and scrap I had left in my basement. The only thing that I actually intentionally purchased for Beaker was fabric for his skin and hair. Here are the  a list of parts I used.

Parts I used for Beaker-bot's Head:
3 Inch PVC drain pipe
2 Plastic Christmas ornaments
1 Plastic Easter egg
White and black paint to color eyes
Orange feather Boa
Orange felt for nose
Pink fleece for skin and hands (Peach can be used as well)

Parts I used for Animatronic Mouth:
1 Douglas Fir singing tree (This is the "brain" used in Beaker-bot)
Strapping material
Plywood for mounting motor and for mouth motor plate
Audio cables with RCA ends and 3.5 headphone jack ends
Old handle from sawplade
Nintendo NES reset switch
2 flat metal plates
Wood dowel for rod mouth movement.
2 Ice cream bucket lids

Parts Used for rest of Beaker-bot 
4 inch PVC pipe for moving collar
Plexi material for stop bar on collar
Old lab coat
Old shirt and tie

Tools Needed:
Hot glue gun and LOTS OF HOT GLUE
Saw to cut PVC
Dremel rotary tool for complex cuts
Sandpaper or sander to smooth cuts
A good clamping workbench
Printer to print face template
Heat gun
Sewing kit

Step 2: Eyes and Nose Made From Holiday Decorations

For the eyes of Beaker-bot, I used two old plastic Christmas ornaments. I sawed off the tops, spray painted them white to look like eyeballs, and put a couple black dots down for pupils as well. 

The nose if far more complicated. An egg was not the perfect shape to use for beakers nose because his is longer. I used putty to fill in the back of the nose, but I wish I had something that would work better like Shapelock. The putty did not adhere to the glue at all, so it took a lot of work to get it working, and even then I had to reapply glue a number of times before the felt would stick. In the end, I made the nose look nice enough, but I might redo it at some point. 

What I did was take felt and stretch it tightly over the egg. Then I laid down hot glue section by section, pulling the felt tight over each hot glue application. When I had felt overlap, I cut the felt and glued the seams tightly together. After roughing up the seams and cutting away bulges, it is hard to tell where the seams are. I still put the largest seam on the bottom of Beaker so it is even less noticeable.

All I can say is that if you need to make a nose, Start with a practice one. I took me a while to get the process down and I dont think I would have been able to do it very well on my first attempt.

Step 3: Cut the Head and Mouth; Sometimes Chopping Off a Head Is a Good Thing.

First, I cut a couple feet of 3 inch PCV pipe to give good room for Beaker's head. I will need to cut more off later, but this will give me good room to work with.

Then, I tape on graph paper and measure up the eyes and nose on the paper. From that I can draw up a good looking mouth.

I then take my graph paper and make a vector image of his face so I have a smooth shaped mouth, I cut the mouth out from the vector, tape it on the pvc pipe, and measure out and cut the mouth using a dremel tool.

Step 4: Time to Trim the Tree: Parting Out the Douglas Fir

OK, all the elctronics we need is pretty much in the Douglas Fir tree decoration. First we will need to pull out both the mouth motor and the pcb board.

The mouth is screwed in, so unscrew and pull out the mouth motor. This will also be Beaker-bot's Mouth motor as well.

Now remove the PCB board from the tree base by unscrewing it. There are a number of wires on the board, but many can be removed. The wires that go to the tree's motion and sound sensors can be clipped completely. The wires for the eyes can be clipped as well. Save those eyes for another project!

Now the speaker can be clipped off, but we want to solder an RCA female jack on the wire, then we can have an audio out to any source.

Now it is time to place the PCB in it's new case. Using 2 ice cream lids that snapped together, I glued the pcb on the inside of one lid, and cut a hole for the access panel. The other side will be there to protect the PCB. This will serve as a lightweight housing for beaker-bot's electronics. This will be hidden under his clothes.

Step 5: Make Beaker-bot a Real Motor-Mouth

I am using the motor arm from the Douglas fir tree to get mouth movement, but getting a mouth that moved freely took a long time trouble shooting to get an acceptable and free movement. I finally found that I could attach the motor to the mouth using a hinge made I made from strapping material. I also used a strap on the outside of the head to hold the mouth in.

What happens in the mouth is that when the PCB board reads a certain decibel and range of audio run through it, it triggers the motor to move. The motor then swings up, pushing up on the strap hinge. This hinge mechanically adjusts the motion to an outward swing of the mouth. A spring loaded wire returns the motor back to its starting position when not triggered.

I made a wood platform for mounting the motor, and glued that in place. Then I glued on the motor and added a white hollow sleeve to allow for rod movement. That way power is not required to make beaker-bot's mouth to move. On the motor arm, I made a wood platform to push up and down on the strap hinge.

Here is my first demo test of the mouth in action:

Step 6: Skin Beaker-bot

Now that the mouth moves, put on the skin. Now the mouth is the critical part here, so I first cut a hole for the mouth. Always make sure that the skin is not restricting the mouth, and be prepared that the skin will take away a degree of mouth movement that was present earlier. Now hot glue around the mouth in small sections and always wiggle the mouth after every application to make sure you are not adding tension to the mouth.

Now after the mouth area is done, stretch out the rest of the skin and glue on. you want the skin to be taught, but not tightened to it's limit. now cut and glue the back seams just like the nose.

Now with the skin on, you can test fit the Eyes, Nose and Hair. Take them back off for now, they will only get in the way.

Step 7: Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb

To make the hands, first trace your hand on a piece of paper. Put your little finger and ring finger together when you do. Leave about a half inch space around the edge of your hand. Cut the paper out and use it as a template to cut 4 hand shapes out of the fleece.

Now take two cutouts and stitch around the perimeter of the hand. When done, fold the hand inside out and you should have a beaker style hand. This can be sewn directly into the sleeve of the lab coat.

Step 8: Clothes Make the Beaker-bot

Clothing is nice for beaker, because he has worn a few different outfits over the years. You can get creative and still be very true to his character.

Start by cutting about a 6 inch section of 4 inch pvc piping, this will be beaker's collar. 

Place it on an upright pvc so you can work with the clothes in a natural way. Now start with the collar shirt underneath. Hot glue it around the perimeter of the pcv pipe.

Next, put on a tie. Clip on ties work great. I chose a bow-tie for Beaker-bot. Why? Because bow-ties are cool.

Now put on his lab coat with the gloves sewn in. After that, place down hot glue to keep things like his lab coat collar in place. Use a photo as a guide to make sure he looks true to life. You can cut slits in the back of the arms of the Lab coat so you can slide in your arm, and ultimately control Beaker-bot's hands.

Step 9: Don't Lose Your Head!

Now we will make a guard to keep the collar from falling off of beaker-bot's head. Cut 2 strips of plexi about 1 inch wide and heat them lengthwise over a spare piece of 3" PVC pipe. The will soften and bend into the shape of the pipe. Now get out some epoxy and glue on on the inside of beakers collar piece. The other piece of plexi can be screwed into the bottom of Beaker-bot's head after the collar is slipped on. This will both lock the collar on and allow for smoother head turning.

Step 10: Get a Grip!

Now we will add a handle and mouth rod to control beaker. I used an old handle I saved from a rusty, broken saw and chopped it down to fit the slim profile of Beaker-bot. I drilled a hole where the trigger finger goes and shoved in a Nintendo NES Reset switch. The wires will later go to the PCB.

Then screw on a metal bracket and epoxied that on to the bottom inside of Beaker-bot's head. 

Now, take the wood dowel, and slide it up into the head and into the rod-guide sleeve by the motor. Cut the dowel to a comfortable length to operate. Take some spare fleece or felt and glue it on one end as a handle. You can put material on the saw blade handle as well.

Step 11: It's Alive! the Final Electical Work

Wire up the wires from the mouth motor to the same leads that the motor was attached to when on the Douglas Fir tree. Now wire up one of the wires from the nintendo on the positive lead, and the other on the positive wire from the mouth motor. This will trigger the mouth to move when the button is pressed.

Hot glue straps on the PCB case and then glue the straps on the back of the shirt. This will keep all wires behind your hand for when using Beaker-bot. 

Step 12: Attach Nose, Eyes and Hair, and You Have Yourself a Beaker-bot

Like the step titles says, permanently glue on the nose and eyes. For the hair, I stuffed the boa down the top of the head and made it fit in tight by wedging in a scrap of wood. The hair can be trimmed to taste with a pair of scissors. If you clip away the obvious feathers, what is left is a down that looks a lot like fluffy hair.

Here is a fun little clip of the Finished Beaker Singing.

Last, if you want to make a stand for Beaker, just take a section of leftover 4 inch pcv, and prop in upright on a piece of wood., Then place shoes down and it will look like Beaker is standing. You can see my first video on step one to see the PCV Stand in action.

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    7 years ago on Step 9

    Wow. I REALLY want to make this but I am having a hard time following the electronic part. do you have any video of the electronic part?


    7 years ago on Step 10

    Wow. I REALLY want to make this but the instructions for the electronics part is hard for me to follow. I want this to use in my classroom. Are there any video instructions that you have made that might help me follow more closely. Thanks so much. Great idea.


    8 years ago on Step 1

    I like you Idea but I can't under stand on how to wire up the audio cable RCA and the audio jack to the bored can you tell me how to hook it up by word Or a video. I also don't know what the cord looks like so can you send me the name of the cords and a picture


    8 years ago on Introduction


    Great idea.

    What can you substitute the Douglas fir singing Christmas tree. I have looked on ebay but most are old and dated 1995.

    Are there othe units that do the same job.


    What do i need to look for in a unit \

    any help would be great.


    9 years ago

    wow! that is a lot of work but its something I want to make!


    9 years ago

    This is truly outstanding! I have had some experience making hats out of felt and so I thought I might add one little tip: if you wet the felt with dilute white glue (PVA) it will stretch remarkably! I have made many hats using this trick. A single piece of felt wet this way will stretch enough to creat the top of a top hat from the crown to the brim! I bet it will work great for his nose and make for many fewer seams (which you hid masterfully, I might add!). I am envisioning pulling it down around the egg/putty form and tying it at the neck (like a balloon). Once dry, you can cut away the neck and string and cover that bare spot with one more tiny circle of felt to help attach it to Beaker's face.

    Again, amazing work!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Rather than an electronic trigger "switch" for manual operation, why not a potentiometer? This would allow you "subtle" mouth movements without the need for the stick.
    The rest of it is quite well done though, and I enjoyed it a lot.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! You are right, a potentiometer would be ideal, the only thing is that I would need to find a trigger style potentiometer like a power drill would have, or rig a clever way to control a rotary or slide one easily with one finger. I was trying to build him from stuff I had lying around so I just ended up using a leftover Nintendo button.

    This is definitely a great improvement suggestion, thanks for posting it!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Look at cheap remote control car controllers. May are a small steering wheel with trigger throttle. You might be able to get a broken one cheap or on ebay.
    What I would wind up doing most likely is a potentiometer with a Popsicle stick hot glued to it with a light pull up spring - but I'm cheap like that! LOL!
    In the absence of a spring, I'd probably use an elastic band.

    spring trigger.jpg

    9 years ago

    That's amazing


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I'd like to see the animatronics demo without your hand, or as you say, without a puppeteer.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hey funkytaco, you are in Luck! I just completed a better demo of Beaker in action! Feel free to check out the First video of the first page. It has a great demo of the mouth working without my hand. Thanks for the input!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    That is great. My fiance loves The Muppets. I'm going to make this for my wedding.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks a lot man! That means a lot coming from an artist such as yourself!