Introduction: Paper Animatronic Dragonfly

About: Just an average guy. husband, father of four, grandpa, civil engineer turned cabinetmaker, jack of all trades master of a few. Enjoys, golf, curling, woodworking, creativity & making things.

I have always loved mechanical things, including animatronics. Many times I thought about attempting to make one, but I always assumed that it would be made of wood. I was recently sent a comment from some one who was interested in making my magnetic keepsake box and said he had just completed Derek Hugger's Colibri. The Colibri is a wooden animatronic humming bird, upon seeing this, the gears in my head started working and I came up with the idea for the dragon fly, literally using gears :-)

Since this would be an entry for the paper competition, I wanted to make it as much out of paper as possible. So except for the glue and the small amount of string used to stiffen the wings the rest is made entirely from paper.



white glue,

2P10 thick ( a spray activated crazy glue )

paper straws ( for the base and shafts )

paper shaft Q tips ( for the connection pins )

writing paper ( I used black to make the shafts and bearings )

sturdy cardboard ( 1 mm thick for the gears and crank handle )

colored construction paper ( body, and tail )

tissue paper ( wings )

black string ( outline the wings )

pearlex powder ( pearl matrics, interference violet. very fine powder )

craft spray adhesive ( sprayed lightly on wings and body before applying pearlex powder )

scotch tape, and wax paper


pencil compass

olfa knife

paper cutter

scroll saw

drill and drill bits

cutting mat

fine tipped felt pen

2 mm diameter brass pipe or wire the same diameter as the Q tip shaft, 200 mm ( 8'' ) long ( to roll the paper shafts on )

More Patience !!

Step 1: Paper Rolls ( Custom Size Paper Straws )

For the paper rolls I don't advise attempting to roll any thing wider than 127 mm ( 5'' ) wide, anything wider and it becomes very hard to maintain a tight roll.

To make all the connecting shafts and bearings first start by cutting the black writing paper into 150 mm ( 6'' ) x 127 mm ( 5'' ) pieces. Using the 2 mm brass pipe or wire, start to roll the paper as tight as you can ( on the 127 mm ( 5'' ) edge ), then apply a very thin bead of white glue along the leading edge and continue to roll the paper up. As you are rolling you will see the glue being forced forward, keep applying small beads of glue as you proceed to roll the paper up.

When you get close to the end apply one last bead of glue, just enough to finish the roll. Roll the last little bit forward onto a scrap piece of paper, always going forward , the excess glue will be absorbed on your scrap paper and not on your roll. Slide the metal shaft out and then repeat, several more times

To make the bearings for the paper straws, first cover a paper straw with a 150 mm x 150 mm ( 6'' x 6'' ) piece of wax paper (shiny side out ) and scotch tape it on. The wax paper is just to make your roll a little larger than the straw because as the roll dries it will shrink, and you want your straws to spin freely in your bearings .

Cut 150 mm ( 5 '' ) x 250 mm ( 10 '' ) pieces of black paper an then roll them around the straw with wax paper just like the smaller ones, repeat using the same straw. I ended up making more as the project went along so I kind of lost track of how many I actually used.

If you want to speed up the drying process place the rolls in the microwave for 20 - 30 seconds each.

Step 2: Gears and Crankshaft

Cut 20 - 50 mm x 50 mm ( 2'' x 2'' ) pieces of your heavy card board, Stack and tape 6-8 together. Using a compass draw a 44 mm ( 1 7/8'' ) diameter circle on the top piece. Drill a 6 mm ( 1/4'' ) hole in the center of each stack, In the 14 pieces used for the crankshafts drill a second hole 16 mm ( 5/8" ) from the center.

Using a scroll saw cut the circles out. Whenever I do a small project such as this I tend to make a few extra pieces "just in case" ( odds are something will go wrong and they did several times )

Step 3: Gears and Sprocket

To figure out the location for the pins on the gears, we first have to lay it out on a piece of paper a circle divided into 12 equal sections. drawing #1. using a compass draw your 22 mm ( 7/8'' ) radius circle. drawing # 2. draw a vertical line thru the center of the circle giving you points 1-2 . using the same radius on the compass use points 1-2 and draw a half circle thru the circle giving you points 3-4-5-6. drawing #3. draw straight lines thru points 4 & 6 and 5 & 3. drawing # 4. from all six points draw a half circle outside the original circle using the same radius. Where they connect draw a straight line, this will give you the rest of the points 7 thru 12. For the larger gear divide the sections one more time by drawing a larger circle and use the compass again to by-sect each section to make a 24 equal spaces.

For the gears, start by taking one of your small paper rolls and cutting into equal lengths 8 mm ( 5/16'' ) long, ( using a scroll saw or knife ) you will require 12 pieces per gear, 24 for the larger gear. Place a cardboard circle on your paper layout of the circle and draw the corresponding lines to break the circle into 12 equal spaces.

Using a bit of crazy glue carefully glue each segment of paper roll on each line about 1.5 mm ( 1/16'' ) in from the outside of the circle. To align the other side of the gear, use a 6 mm ( 1/4 '' ) drill bit to drill a hole into a piece of scrap wood. Remove the bit from drill and place in hole, then slide the gear down the drill bit, apply crazy glue on all the pieces of segmented paper roll and then slide the other side of the gear down the bit gluing it all together.

The larger gear, 92 mm ( 3 5/8'' ) in diameter is made the same as the smaller gears except has 24 gear pieces instead of 12.

The sprocket is done in the same manner, but instead of using pins use two layers of cardboard glued together and cut into 6 mm ( 1/4'' ) strips 25 mm ( 1'' ) long. Once you have both sides glued onto the sprocket cut all teeth on the sprocket to the same length 6 mm ( 1/4'' ) outside the circle. sand and shape the sprocket teeth to fit into the gears ( applying a bit of crazy glue to the cardboard teeth makes them more ridged and easier to sand ).

Step 4: Frame, Crankshaft, Crank Handle

The frame is constructed of paper straws glued together with crazy glue ( see drawing for dimensions ).

The crankshaft pieces are made by sliding a straw a straw through the center of two pieces of cardboard and a small piece of straw 22 mm ( 7/8'' ) with a 16 mm section of bearing on it. Do not glue any of the crankshaft pieces in place until they are correctly lined up in your frame. Cut additional pieces of 16 mm ( 5/8'' ) bearings to place in-between your cranks on the straw that will later be glued to the frame work as your main bearings.

The section of the main shaft, between the crank shaft pieces of cardboard will not be cut out and removed until all the bearings and crank shaft pieces are in position and glued in place. This ensures that the crank shaft remains straight.

The crank handle is made up of two 125 mm ( 5'' ) diameter pieces of cardboard with straws glued in between and then cut out to make the arm of the crank. Drill a 6 mm ( 1/4'' ) hole for your handle.

Step 5: Body, Head and Tail

The body of the dragon fly is made up of strips of colored construction paper rolled around one of the small paper rolls, with the strip gradually getting narrower giving the body it's desired shape.

The head, eyes and nose are all just strips of different colors of construction paper rolled up and glued along the way. Once the glue has set you can use fine sand paper to round the pieces to the desired shape

The tail sections are 12 mm ( 1/2'' ) strips 255 mm (10 '' ) long of construction paper rolled to a cone, on one of the small paper rolls.

Step 6: Wings

First, find a picture of wings that you like on the internet and print to the desired size. Tape the picture down to your mat and the put a piece of stretch wrap over it and tape it down, This will keep the glue on the string from sticking.

Lay one piece of tissue paper over top and tape it down. Put some white glue in a container to run your string though, saturate the string and run your pinched fingers down the string several times to make the white glue penetrate into the string and to clean excess glue off. Have a wet rag near by to wipe your fingers off before the next step.

Hold one end of the string in the air and use the edge of a knife to press down and maneuver the string on the tissue paper following the outline of the wings ( starting at one end working your way around ). Use the edge of the knife to press down on the string ensuring it is completely glued down. Repeat this step for the inner string on the wing.

Let dry over night and then remove tissue paper from the saran wrap and place on your cutting mat, carefully cut around the entire wing. Place the dry wing on top of your picture and lightly tape down, use your fine tip pen to draw all of the other lines on the wing. Be sure to test your pen on a scrap piece of tissue paper first.

Then trace, and trace, and trace...This is where Patience comes into play :)

Once you're happy with the wings lightly spray some craft spray adhesive on the wings. Using a fine tip paint brush apply the Pearlex powder, repeat for the underside of the wings.

Once dry the wings will have a transparent appearance.

Step 7: Wing Mechanism

The wings will be attached to two small sections of the black paper roll on a pin supported on each end by pieces of cardboard shaped and glued to the back of the body section ( one for each side), the photo shows a tooth pick but for final assembly use a Q-tip shaft.

Make up small L shaped sections with a small piece glued on the end for the connection arm, then glue the L's on to each wing rod ( see photo )

Make up four identical connecting rods with approximately a 30 degree angle on the short section. These rods will be cut to exact size once the body is in position.

Step 8: Assembly

Once the basic frame is assembled, position the main shaft ( the sprocket and one camshaft ) in the center and glue the bearings to the frame. When you are happy with the location of the sprocket and the crank arm glue them to the straw with crazy glue . Now the section of the main shaft can be cut out between the two cardboard crank arms.

Repeat this step with the two outer crankshafts ( the gears and two crank arms ), make sure that you have the crank arms in the same position on both sides and that the front crank arms are at 180 degrees to the back crank arms. You want both front wings to go up at the same time and the back wings to come down at the same time.

Now your center crank should turn both the outside shafts.

Position the lower gear and single crank arm below the sprocket and glue into place. Now everything should turn with the main crank shaft.

Step 9: Connecting Rods

Drill a straw size hole in the bottom of the body directly between the location of the front and back wings, position and glue in place. Now determine the length the connecting rods need to be and glue a small section of black paper roll to the top to line up with the wing rod L's. Use a small section of Q-tip as your connecting rod with a small piece of paper roll to act as a retainer. Next glue the lower end of the connecting rod to the bearing directly below on the outer crank arms.

For the head drill a Q-tip size hole in the bottom and insert one end of two Q-tips that were glued end to end. Feed the other end through a section of paper roll glued through a straw. On the bottom attach a small piece of cardboard to act as the swing arm.

The head movement is controlled by the lower crankshaft, connected to a swing arm by means of a connecting rod. The swing arm is attached to a straw running vertically upward, at the top of this straw is another swing arm, this swing arm and the one at the bottom of the head are joined by a connecting rod.

The tail movement is controlled the same as the head except using the upper crankshaft on the main shaft.

Step 10: Tail, Wings and Legs

Using the same string as you used on the wings cut four pieces and tie together on one end, glue this end into the hole in the back of the body. Feed the string through the holes of the tail section pieces, on the last section pull the string snug. Then glue the string to the last piece of the tail, trim the strings off leaving two small pieces.

Position the wings on the wing pins and glue in place carefully making sure they have clearance when they pass each other.

The legs are small pieces of string soaked in white glue, shaped into position and left to dry,and then glued to the underside of the body.

Step 11: Conclusion

I hope that some of the methods I used to make the animatronic dragonfly in this Instructable will help you make your own animatronic project. It was a lot of fun to figure out the mechanics to make everything move at once, not as easy as I thought, but the next one should be easier. ;-)

With the help of my wife and several takes we managed to get a pretty good video. It's uncanny how he moves his wings to the beat of the music, hope you enjoy !!


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