Introduction: Let's Go Camping! Interactive Diorama

Ever since I saw an article about an artist who was creating awesome interactive origami wall art, I've been wondering if I could figure out how to do something similar. I like the hands-on nature of origami--the beauty that can be created with just pieces of paper--and being able to make it interactive seemed too incredible not to try it for myself.

I started reading other articles, looking at books about building paper circuits and using things like copper conductive tape and chibitronics LEDs. The problem was, I didn't know anything about programming an arduino or building circuits or anything else, other than how to do some basic origami and how to search Google and YouTube for more information.

Along came a graduate class on computer programming that included assignments on arduino and the "C" programming language!! The missing link!

While I'm no expert at circuits or arduino yet, I wanted to share my very first interactive origami-inspired diorama. I have a way to go to achieve the type of interactivity that I'm shooting for, but it feels great to have gotten started down the road. Maybe this Instructable will inspire you to give interactive art a try, too!

Step 1: Step 1: Materials and Tools


Diorama Elements

I used an origami kit sold by Creatology called "Summer Fun". It has a mountain/campsite scene half-circle backdrop and includes paper and instructions to make turtles, fox, racoons and owls. I added a lotus to float in the pond, a hopping frog and a butterfly to clip to the edge for fun.

You could create your own diorama background and origami creations, as well. If you'd like instructions for the ones I used, they can be found at:

Electrical Components

Wiring and Programming Components and Hardware

(These components, except for the laptop and the alligator clip wires, are all part of the ARDX Experimentation Kit for Arduino or the Sparkfun Inventor's Kit. I had the ARDX Experimentation Kit on hand for the graduate class I was taking.)

  • 1 DC hobby motor
  • 1 servo motor
  • 1 Arduino Uno
  • 1 breadboard
  • Assorted jump wires
  • 1 Piezo element
  • 1 diode
  • 1 transistor
  • 1 potentiometer
  • 1 photo resistor
  • 2 push button elements
  • USB power cable for the Arduino
  • Alligator clip wires (like those found in a Makey Makey--or you can make your own with supplies purchased at any hardware store)
  • 1 laptop computer with USB port

General Household Materials

  • pen or pencil
  • x-acto knife
  • scissors
  • transparent tape
  • small piece of vegetable/fruit netting (I used this to hold my DC hobby motor underneath my box lid)
  • paper (for drawing out your circuits and planning your diorama's interactive pieces
  • small screwdriver
  • rubber back for pierced earring
  • empty cereal box or Xerox paper box lid (to mount your diorama on and give space underneath to run wires to components)

Step 2: Preparing Your Diorama

Since I used a kit for my diorama, setting up the background was simple. I unfolded the backdrop piece, fitted the tabs together to hold it in place, and set it on my upside-down xerox box lid. I didn't tape it down right away, however. I wanted to get my origami characters finished first and do a test setup of the background and the animals first, to make sure I had them in places where it would be easy to later run wires and/or copper tape.

I drew a light pencil line around the edges of the diorama to give me a reference point for the added elements.

Step 3: Origami Characters

I started by folding up my lotus, following the directions on the YouTube site linked in the materials list. I thought having a little lotus flower spinning in the pond would be fun. You can see the small pink-patterned flower against the white background above.

I knew that I wanted the lotus to spin, so I planned to use the DC hobby motor to do that.

I set my lotus down on the pond portion of my diorama and made a small pencil mark where I wanted it to be.

Then I lifted the backdrop off the xerox box lid mount and set it on a thick, folded towel.

Using a small screwdriver, I poked a small hole through the base of the diorama that the shaft of the DC hobby motor could poke up through. Then I put the backdrop back down on the xerox box, lining up with the light pencil mark I made in the previous step, and drew a small pencil mark through the hole I just made so I would know where to put the hole in the xerox box for the DC hobby motor shaft.

Taking the backdrop back off, I put the heavy towel under the box lid and used the screwdriver to poke a small hole through the box lid. This hole should line up with the one in the pond of the backdrop.

You can see the hole in the lotus in the picture above, as well as pictures of the DC hobby motor shaft poking up through the hole in the box lid and the backdrop in the photos above. To get the flower to actually spin along with the shaft rather than having the shaft just spin inside the hole, I needed something to put over the shaft to give it some grip. The rubber back of a pierced earring worked perfectly to slide over the shaft and add some nubby edges!

Finally, to reduce the resistance of the flower against the bottom of the diorama, I raised the base of the lotus just a little bit.

Step 4: Next: the Fox!

1. Fold the fox completely to get a sense of the shape and size and to get an idea where you will run your copper tape so it won't show on the outside.

2. Unfold and poke holes through the eye images to allow the Chibitronics LEDs to shine through.

3. Use the holes you just made to mark where to line up the LEDs.

4. Glue the LEDs down on the marks you just made, taking care that the light portion is centered over the marks.

5. Refold the face and check the alignment. Adjust the holes as needed to fit the LEDs.

6. Start running the copper tape. I cut a length of tape as long as the diagonal of the 6" origami paper, plus a little more. You want enough tape to complete the entire negative or positive leg of the circuit without splicing or overlapping, and you want enough to reach through the bottom of the box lid base and fold over into a tab.

7. I ran the tape across the negative end of both LEDs first, then over the edge of the face and back again to run down the inside of the fox's leg when it is refolded. Only a little of the tape shows under his chin.

8. Repeat the process to connect the two positive ends. DON'T allow the positive and negative lines of tape to touch one another when the figure is refolded!! You might want to draw some pencil lines first, refold the figure and check that the lines don't run into each other before you actually place the tape down.

9. Once your tape is run, set the fox in place on the diorama (where you want him to be) and make small pencil marks where the lines of copper tape land. Use those marks to tell you where to cut your holes for the tape to drop down under the box lid base.

10. Using the x-acto knife, cut holes through the diorama and box lid base that are large enough that you can thread the ends of the copper tape down through without a lot of pulling and tugging. The tape isn't very strong and you don't want to break it!! You'll get the best signal with long, unbroken lines of tape rather than joined/spliced/layered ones.

11. Replace the fox and thread the copper tape down through. Fold the ends of the excess copper tape in half against itself to make tabs underneath the box. Layering the tab against itself makes a stronger end for the alligator clip to attach to later.

12. You can see the picture of what the underside of my box looks like...where the copper tape comes through for both the fox and for the LEDs that I put in the sun's eyes.

13. We'll talk about the DC hobby motor in the next step.

Step 5: DC Hobby Motor Mount

I mentioned it in the lotus step but didn't show the actually mounting technique I used for the DC hobby motor.

In order to hold the motor up tight against the bottom of the box lid, I cut a square of netting from a bag of clementines, threaded the hobby motor wires through the holes and stapled the netting to the bottom of the box lid, checking to make sure I had it tight enough that the motor wouldn't sag down again when the box was flipped back up.

The netting is perfect because it holds the motor snugly, doesn't impede the shaft from spinning, and won't hold any heat, either!!

The motor wires hang down nicely to connect with alligator clips later on and are already color coded for positive and negative. No need to label.

Step 6: Light Up the Sun!

Adding LEDs to the eyes of the sun on the diorama backdrop is fairly straightforward.

1. Using the screwdriver, I poked two small holes in the backdrop, one for each eye of the sun.

2. I ran one LED through each hole and folded their legs open across the back of the backdrop. I marked the positive legs with a red Sharpie to keep them straight once they were folded open.

3. I used copper tape to connect both positive legs on one side and down to the bottom of the backdrop. (Shown in picture above.) I found out that it helps the quality of the connection if you run a short length of copper tape UNDER the legs of the LEDs, too, as well as the tape over the top. Paper/cardboard is a natural insulator; having the tape both under AND over the LED legs seems to make for a better result.

4. I repeated step 3 to complete the negative end of the circuit. Keep the positive run and the negative run separate! No crossing over one another or touching.

5. As I did with the fox, I made small pencil marks on the box lid to note where the copper tape landed so I could cut holes through the box lid base for the tape to drop down through. As before, it's important not to tug too hard or break the tape in pieces.

6. Mark which one is positive and which is negative both here and on the underside of the box lid so you can tell easily later!

Step 7: Green Speckled Frog's Turn

For the frog, I used some green speckled origami paper I had on hand from another kit and folded it using the directions linked in the Materials step. I had some eye and tongue stickers handy, which made him much more frog-like to look at, but aren't strictly necessary.

Since I'm going to use a Servo motor to make the frog hop, I didn't wire him with any LEDs or copper tape that would make it impossible for him to move. All he has to do is sit in the diorama, ready to hop!

  • Once I decided where I wanted the frog to be, I tested the action of the Servo motor arm to see how I needed to put that in place in order for the frog to hop. It works best if the arm of the Servo motor hits almost in the center of the frog's back. You'll want to keep that in mind when you are cutting the slot for final placement of the Servo motor.
  • After running a few tests to make sure the Servo motor would make the frog hop, I taped the Servo motor to the base of the diorama and made a small pencil mark where the wire of the Servo motor would need to drop down underneath the diorama and box lid base. Then I removed the motor and set it aside.
  • Using the x-acto knife, I cut a slot through the bottom of the diorama and the box lid base large enough to accommodate the end of the Servo motor wire.
  • I ran the wire back and forth through the slot a few times, being careful not to pull the wires loose from the plastic clip at the end.
  • Once the slot was ready, I ran the wire back down through so it was under the box lid base and taped the Servo motor back in place.
  • Now I could set the frog next to the Servo motor, ready for it to activate and help him hop away from the hungry fox!

Step 8: One Last Check. . .

One last check of the copper wire tabs and DC Hobby Motor connections before we move on to our Arduino and breadboard and sketches!

If all looks well, we're ready to bring our diorama to life!

Step 9: Let's Spin That Lotus!

Here is the basic breadboard/Arduino set up and sketch for "Spinning the Lotus"!

(In all breadboard/arduino steps, it is assumed that you will connect your arduino to your laptop via USB and upload the included sketch.)

1. Use an alligator clip and a jump wire (for the breadboard end) to connect the positive wire of the DC hobby motor to the matching row of the breadboard.

2. Use an alligator clip and a jump wire (for the breadboard end) to connect the negative wire of the DC hobby motor to the matching row of the breadboard.

Starting from the breadboard side it will be:

  • jumper wire out from "d9"; alligator clip from end of jumper wire to positive (red) wire of the DC motor
  • jumper wire out from "e13"; alligator clip from end of jumper wire to negative (blue) wire of the DC motor

The second photo shows the sketch I used to make the lotus spin!

(Thanks to Sparkfun and Arduino for making their programming open to everyone!)

Step 10: Light Up That Sun!

To make the sun more interactive, I wanted to use a photo resistor to activate the LEDs in the sun's eyes. The photo above shows the Arduino/Breadboard set up showing a photo resistor in conjunction with an LED on the board for testing.

(In all breadboard/arduino steps, it is assumed that you will connect your arduino to your laptop via USB and upload the included sketch.)

As with the previous step, I took jump wires from the breadboard to an alligator clip to the copper tape tabs under the box lid base.

The progression is:

jump wire from "h15" to an alligator clip; alligator clip to the positive (+) copper tab under the sun

jump wire from "h16" to an alligator clip; alligator clip to the negative (-) copper tab under the sun

For a little more realism, I set the arduino sketch up so that as the light level decreases, the LEDs turn on. The second photo above shows the sketch I used. If you cover the photo resistor, the LEDs should come on. If you uncover the photo resistor, they should go out.

If the LEDs aren't reacting strongly, it could be because you are in a very bright or somewhat dark room. Try using a flashlight on the sensor if you are in a darker room, or turn some lights off or close the blinds if the room you are in is very bright.

(Thanks to Sparkfun and Arduino for making their programming open to everyone!)

Step 11: That Fox Is Hungry!

Fox are wily critters, and this one is no exception. He likes to sing a happy song and use his blinking eyes to mesmerize poor unsuspecting frogs so he can gobble them for dinner.

(In all breadboard/arduino steps, it is assumed that you will connect your arduino to your laptop via USB and upload the included sketch.)

The picture above shows the basic arduino/breadboard setup I used to both make the fox sing and blink his eyes with the push of a button. Like the previous sketches, it includes an LED as a tester and also to indicate where to run the jump wires out to meet the alligator clips.

As in the previous steps, the progression is:

  • jumper wire from "i24" to an alligator clip; alligator clip to the positive (+) copper tape tab under the fox
  • jumper wire from "i25" to an alligator clip; alligator clip to the negative (-) copper tape tab under the fox

To start the fox singing and his eyes blinking, push the button!

Since this program is significantly longer, I uploaded it as a file rather than a photo.

(Thanks to Sparkfun and Arduino for making their programming open to everyone!)

Step 12: Hop, Froggie, Hop!

Poor froggie! That clever fox is trying to trick him into sitting still long enough to gulp him up for a meal! Hop, froggie, hop!

(In all breadboard/arduino steps, it is assumed that you will connect your arduino to your laptop via USB and upload the included sketch.)

The photo shows the basic arduino/breadboard set up for the potentiometer and Servo motor combination. Because the Servo motor has a longer triple wire of its own, you can put a jumper wire right into the end of each of the three slots on the servo motor wire and drop them into the same holes as shown on the breadboard.

In my xerox box/diorama setup, the Servo motor wire reached all the way down through the slot I cut, under the box lid base and out under the front edge of the base. It was pretty simple to run a longer jumper wire from the ground slot on the wire to ground as shown for the motor on the breadboard; from the power slot on the servo motor wire to power as shown for the motor on the breadboard and from the third slot to pin 9 on the Arduino.

To help froggie jump out of the grasp of the fox, place the frog so that the center of his back lines up with the arm of the Servo motor as you placed it on the diorama. Use a small screwdriver to turn the potentiometer and thus the arm of the servo so that it presses down on the frog's back until it slides off the bottom and makes him jump!

(Thanks to Sparkfun and Arduino for making their programming open to everyone!)

Step 13: Conclusions...

You can use the techniques outlined here to create a similar interactive diorama or a completely unique project of your own!

My own next step is to find a way to have all of the interactivity capable of working at the same time...although I'm not sure how to do that without more than one breadboard...or at least one much bigger than the one I have! If/when I get that figured out, I'll update this tutorial to include that option.

If you already know how to do that, I'd love it if you'd share that with me!

Happy Arduino-ing!

Note: I created the video using iMovie.

Step 14: Conclusions, Take 2...

Thanks to an absolutely awesome assist from Dan McCreary of CoderDojo in the Twin Cities, I now have a combined-function arduino sketch that enables ALL of the components to work simultaneously through four separate triggers!! Getting that figured out was outside the scope of my current "C" programming language skills, but Dan, being the super-nice guy he is, was willing to help me out. Thank You, Dan!

The sketch is here in four separate screenshots--labeled by number--so you can tell which order to follow them in. The video shows the four triggers...two buttons, one potentiometer and one photo resistor...mounted on the front edge of the diorama base. All of the wiring is run underneath the base, along with the arduino and breadboard.