Introduction: Realistic, Animatronic Lion Mask With Stereo Night Vision and Amplified Hearing

About: Artist/Engineer of my own company , only been doing the art side of my work for 3 years now
This is the full step by step on building a realistic lion mask with moving jaw
with stereo night vision/color vision system, and amplified hearing augmentation.

This system was first line prototyped in this mask, Others have been made since then
such as the wolves and bear that can be seen on my site along with all my other work at

Lion of the sun

To build this system takes both art and technology. the first part of this Instructable will deal with the
tear down and rebuild of the video glasses into stereo units. There is a huge amount of information
on the whole build. If anyone has questions you can email me through my site and I will try and answer when I can.

Last page of this build has videos for your enjoyment, including demo of how my jaw systems work.

So sit back, this is going to be a long one. and I hope you enjoy this build.

Step 1: Teardown and Rebuild of the Video Glasses

Okay so we start with 2 I-Theater video glasses, these are a dual TFT display system. Units come with a driver system with an internal LI-Poly battery with an average runtime of 8-10 hours. these units run about 250.00 -300 each on ebay

Step 2: Continued Teardown of I-theater Glasses

Hmmm, My sense is that whoever designed these are a Star Trek fan

The basic premise here is to take 2 of these units to make one stereo vision system.
each eye has its own micro TFT display , that we want to drive separately.

Step 3: Units Opened Up

Breaking the units apart was pretty simple, 4 screws and the cover comes off revealing the driver board and tft display units. Look like this is going to be a straight forward build. Each display has its own ribbon cable so turning this into a stereo vision system looks pretty straight forward. each lcd screen has its own ribbon cable which makes things pretty easy.

Step 4: I Theater Tear Down Cont..

Large center connector is the input from the power supply and converter. the two smaller ones are outputs to the earphones

Step 5: Continued Teardown of I-theater Glasses

Now to disassemble the second unit, the driver board is glued into the glasses frame so it took a little work to remove it safely. but everything else is simple molex or clip plugs onto the driver board. the LCD's and optics drop out easily as well

Step 6: Continued Teardown of I-theater Glasses

Closeup of the extracted display driver board. note however the two small connectors at the top of the board. these are connectors that drive the backlighting on the displays. both of these connectors must be plugged in for the backlight driver board to start. it has no effect on the LCD performance. so choose which one you want to use for the backlight driver board

Step 7: Continued Teardown/rebuild of I-theater Glasses

Beginning the secondary driver board installed. Sadly this configuration is not going to work since the illumination of the tft panel is driven by the small connector with the red/black connector. this will not start unless both pezio illumination units are plugged into a single driver board.

Step 8: Continued Teardown/rebuild of I-theater Glasses

A support added for the board on the other side and the cable is installed , a small cutout is made to the other side of the glasses frame for the new cable. It wasn't until first power up tests that I discovered I needed to plug the backlight from the right channel into the original board

Step 9: Continued Teardown/rebuild of I-theater Glasses

Moving the back light connector to the primary/original display driver board solves the issue. the TFT driver section is not dependent on the backlights to be connected. so we are good to go. But as you can see it wont fit with the original cover anymore.

Step 10: Continued Teardown/rebuild of I-theater Glasses

doing it like this instead of creating a whole new cover allows me to support the lens/tft display assembly like it was originally. But as you see we still need to protect the sensitive electronics.

Sadly this had to change later due to space Issues, but for now if you wanted to just make a pair of stereo video glasses I will show you whats next.

But due to getting my first vac-u -form machine , you will see how I solved a space issue during the lion head portion of the build.

Step 11: Continued Teardown/rebuild of I-theater Glasses

Solution! . A modified radio shack project box works perfectly. Even makes it look a little bit "ghost in the shell"

Step 12: Continued Rebuild of I-theater Glasses

Not looking to bad , pretty much done some minor trim work and you have a functioning pair of stereo video glasses

Step 13: Continued Rebuild of I-theater Glasses

A powe rup test for left and right eyes. looks good and now we are almost ready to begin the build of the lion head around this system.

Step 14: Final Test of Video System

Yes , thats me. yes I am THAT much of a geek. Playing with the stereo vision, resolving some parallax issues. the cameras are farther apart than my eyes so the stereo effects are very unique. But now the real fun begins as we build the art around the technology.

Step 15: The Lion Mask Build

With the stereo video glasses up and working it is now time to build the mask. Our customer has provided us with a wonderful lifecast of his head so I can match every part of this mask build and electronics to his head.

Step 16: The Lion Mask Build

basic Fit is checked and we are ready to begin the design process. This is a wholly new system, never tried before so this rig is going to be a one off prototype for future systems. the idea is simple. 2 cameras one for each eye of the lion. the video feed fed to the video visor.

This will allow for stereo or binocular vision. Also since the cameras are IR sensitive they will give a low level night vision with IR illuminators.

Step 17: The Lion Mask Build

Okay, that looks about right. Now to decide on a support structure for the head.

Step 18: The Lion Mask Build

Kiss one brand new welding helmet goodbye. well at least the face sheild. An expensive choice but the only one since this has a very nice ratchet system and side bolting supports to hold the lexan foundation for the mask.

Step 19: The Lion Mask Build

Nice top strap looks like a winner in both the support along the brow and the top of the head. comfort is to be a key component to the design

Step 20: The Lion Mask Build

Looks to fit fine, but obviously we are going to need more cushioning for the forhead and the topstrap and we will need to cut down the earpeices on the video glasses.

Step 21: The Lion Mask Build

Trying to make a decision on if I should take off the whole earpeice or just partially. For now we will remove only part of it so it will stay on the face as I make a template for the lexan foundation.

Step 22: The Lion Mask Build

Ahhh, fun with rotary tools. ZIP and smooth. these pieces will have to come off, but first we need to make a lexan support for the electronics, cameras and face structure

Step 23: The Lion Mask Build

ow some foam for the forehead and top strap. this is an open cell foam often found in couches. Cutting notches in it allows it to fit the curve without bunching up., I need to install this onto the welding helmet band before I build the face shield for proper fit

Step 24: The Lion Mask Build

As I document the build I sometimes forget to grab the camera. In tis case I have made a template with some thin plastic and made the holes need to allow a pass trough on the video glasses. this was then transfered to a piece of 1/8in lexan (polycarbonate plastic) this was heat shaped over the wooden table with a torch., be sure to have a fan and windows open. don't kill yourself

Step 25: The Lion Mask Build

again I wish I had taken photos of the process of taking a flat peice of polycarbonate and making it curved. its not an easy task as I took a torch and carefully applied heat as I bent it into shape. very slow job to do correctly. That and I had to make sure I had adiquate ventilation.

Step 26: The Lion Mask Build

oth outer edges of the video glasses snapped into the lexan foundation. It took several hours of tweaking and remelting to get the form to where I liked it and supported the video glasses at the right angle and distance form the eyes.

Step 27: The Lion Mask Build

After coming back the next day I found that the yellow foam really did not spring back the way I wanted it to. So it was replaced with a more robust foam rubber. comfort level is very important to me. We have now added some soft padding for the top strap as well.

Step 28: The Lion Mask Build

Now it is a matter of covering the foam with a soft felt tht will help tuck everything in place and keep stuff on a high comfort curve by spreading out the load

Step 29: The Lion Mask Build

Okay now onto the nest stage, final fit of the foundation and video glasses.

Step 30: The Lion Mask Build

As you can see we have now completely dropped off the last remnants of the ear peices on the video glasses.The edges of the lexan foundation holds them in place without a problem. The knobs on the sides of the mask.

The video glasses are meant to be removable so the mask can be worn without them. (more on that later)

Step 31: The Lion Mask Build

kay looks like everything is finnaly in place. time to button it up and make our spacers between the foundation and the headband.

Step 32: The Lion Mask Build

Final alignment and we are pretty much dead on, One last look and I lit up the displays. judging from the reflections on the eyes of the lifecast , we should be good to go.

Step 33: The Lion Mask Build

3 pieces of structure closed cell foam (used in packing servers) glued in place with my favorite adhesive. E6000! when you absolutely , positively need an rubberized hobby cement that holds, USE THAT.

I vouch for E6000 only because I used it to hold my electronics in my battle bot. When everything else let loose. The stuff held by E6000 stayed in place.

Step 34: The Lion Mask Build

Okay , time for the next step. everythign is locked in place, Now to begin actually buidling the lion portion of this build.

Step 35: The Lion Mask Build

YEAH we got teeth!, we need to now dremel out spaces in the teeth to allow the jaws to close fully. easy to do the dentistry now instead of having to fight it when the jaw is assembled. these are cast copies of a real African lions jaws.

Step 36: The Lion Mask Build

Here is the nose/forehead foundation piece we build everything outward from. Wedded tot he center support with hot glue and E6000 we begin he process of setting the upper jaw into place. this will help me align and map out the rest of the construction

Step 37: The Lion Mask Build

Yes I promise it will be a lion when done, and not a snuffalupagus.

Step 38: The Lion Mask Build

Okay now mounted the upper jaw in place, this is alighned along the same line as the upper jaw of the mask wearer, this helps in making the moving jaw action come to life. and when you open wide, it looks like you are looking down the lions throat.

Step 39: The Lion Mask Build

Now we can begin trimming the forhead/nose peice and adding material on the end of thenose as well.

Step 40: The Lion Mask Build

While the glue on the top half of the mask dries, we might as well get to work on the lower jaw assembly. We start with support foam like we used in the top half of the mask and construct and "A" form, this will be the support for the lower jawset and the mechs for the moving jaw

Step 41: The Lion Mask Build

Next we trace the outline of the lower jaw and remove materal to the depth of 1/4 inch to recess the lower jaw into the foam

Step 42: The Lion Mask Build

here is wow the jaw should sit when done, you should have enough material left to shape the lower chin and jaw with a sander or melting it into shape with a heatgun

Step 43: The Lion Mask Build

In a flurry of carving madness we carve the lower jaw/chin into shape. then with abit of heat we remelt it smooth.

Step 44: The Lion Mask Build

We now get to carving and shaping the foam for the forhead.the muzzle portion will mostly e defined by the aluminum mesh. As you can see we have added a peice to the very forward part of the upper jaw.

Step 45: The Lion Mask Build

Another angle so you can see the shaping method

Step 46: The Lion Mask Build

Okay now we begin with the aluminum mesh. this is a streach hobby mesh that I use to sculpt the mask. Mostly I sculpt each peice and lay it down with hot glue then I take a stainless steel chopstick and begin sculpting the forms from the back side. of the mesh.

Step 47: The Lion Mask Build

Another picture, Not looking too lion like yet, but its getting there.

Step 48: The Lion Mask Build

Continue to shape the mesh into place , adding curves and forms in it that will later be covered in celluclay, this will turn it into a light but tough composite

Step 49: The Lion Mask Build

Now I build up the forhead and start the eyebrow arch formthe nose. Keeping in mind I need to make sure i leave enough room for the cameras on order. Had some nice color units. But decided to spend the extra money for the more expensive nightvision/color units that will not only support good color, but IR sensitivty that will allow for practical night vision. Also the optic on the units bought are interchangeable to wider fields of view.

Step 50: The Lion Mask Build

The base for the lower cheekbone and eye ridge goes in.

Step 51: The Lion Mask Build

Adding material for the cheeks on both sides. still needs to be shaped however.

Step 52: The Lion Mask Build

start working finer details of the upper jaw and cheeks into the design, upper brow and forehead pieces go on, waiting for shaping on those when I get the camera mounts installed

Step 53: The Lion Mask Build

shape the upper brow more. hmmm starting to look more lion like isn't it. still have to work on the cheek area and transition of the nose and brow.

Step 54: The Lion Mask Build

continued shaping of the muzzle. I work from photos an all my work , so it is a painstaking time to make sure to remove all forms and angles that are not lion like

Step 55: The Lion Mask Build

now to move to the electronics side of things again. we need to know how much room we need for the camera eyes

I found better cameras to do both the color and IR vision, Sadly they came with a ring of IR leds hat were not going to work for our application since the camera optics were going to be surrounded by plastic eyes.Since these allready came with IR LEDS it seemed a good idea to remove them and recycle them into the IR illuminator for the nose.

Step 56: The Lion Mask Build

Whats this?, well with the new cameras they were just not going to fit in the same space as the much smaller ones I originally bought for this build. So the front cover was going to have to come off.

This means we need to create a new smaller cover for the sensitive electronics. Enter the vacuform machine and the left over second video assembly to make my piece.

Ebay saves the day as this machine is only 350.00 plush shipping , a must have for any crafter .

Step 57: The Lion Mask Build

Here is our new cover for the video glasses after trimming away the excess. Ah prototype builds. the things you learn

Step 58: The Lion Mask Build

here is a better look of the unit

Step 59: The Lion Mask Build

Here it is married to the video glasses, it reduced the space it took up severely. Had I thought about it I might have used some clear vaccuform plastic

Step 60: The Lion Mask Build

As you can see it takes up allot less space now in the head, this will require adding some more foam support for it, But overall we can now mount our new cameras

Step 61: The Lion Mask Build

Okay , with some 1/2 aluminum l brackets make by hand we mount and align our cameras. Hmm "Q" looks impressed

Step 62: The Lion Mask Build

WE HAVE EYES! . well camera eyes. but now we are ready tO do a little more shaping of the face and begin paperclay work

Step 63: The Lion Mask Build

Okay, you will have to forgive me here. I really wanted to show stages of the celluclay over the mesh. but 2 things work against me. 1, I dont want to touch my camer while covered in goo. 2) I get into a crazed state of sculpting and stopping to take pictures just doesn't work

Now you may notice that the angles of the face are exaggerated some. well celluclay when it dries , shrinks. also it leaves me enough material to sand and do final shaping before laying down the fur.

Step 64: The Lion Mask Build

These are second phase photos of adding features to the face. Often I have to take it to near cracature of a face due to the fact that the fur will soften and fill areas of the mask.

Step 65: The Lion Mask Build

we sand away all the rough bits and do some final shape work. This helps smooth out the form so the fur goes on evenly . Some defects I may leave to give the face character.

Step 66: The Lion Mask Build

Next I define dead center of the mask and decide where my glue line is going to be. Since he will have a full mane I need to make sure that I dont glue down any fur past that point since I will need a place to lay down the mane.

Step 67: The Lion Mask Build

Starting from the center of the face I lay down a line of hot glue And lay down my fur, After it is cool I work , inch by inch streaching the fur over the face whil laying down line after line of glue.

Step 68: The Lion Mask Build

Working down the face on each side one at a time the face takes form

Step 69: The Lion Mask Build

stretching the fur as I go I work down both sides of the face., very time consuming but you get a nice effect with it as it prevents creases

Step 70: The Lion Mask Build

With the face covered I really cannot begin defining the muzle untill I get the nose on, And I cannot get the nose I sculpted on until I mount the LED's we recovered from the cameras.

Step 71: The Lion Mask Build

so I take the LEDs and mount them into the nose in parallel 3v lights them up nicely and I simply pigtail a wire from the back of the nose and mount it into the head . but first a test to make sure they all light

Step 72: The Lion Mask Build

All are lit and looking good, The purple light you see here is how my camera sees IR, Human eyes cannot see in IR so I used my digital camera to make sure they were working. These will illuminate the area in IR so the cameras will allow the person to see in even complete darkness.

Step 73: The Lion Mask Build

There we go, with the nose in place I was able to define the muzzle of the lion and get the desired fur pattern for the customer into place. Yep he's gonna be a realistic looking lion

Step 74: The Lion Mask Build

now we break out the airbrush and do a little trim work around the muzzle and upper lip. Time to mount the lower jaw

Step 75: The Lion Mask Build

Checking fit and removing glue from areas that prevent the jaw from closing. looks good so far

Step 76: The Lion Mask Build

Removed section of plastic from the back of the jaw since it was not fitting correctly

Step 77: The Lion Mask Build

Next is to make a wire frame that will support the jaw, Elastic is temporarilly put into place to test the jaw action and make sure it closes properly

Step 78: The Lion Mask Build

Lower jaw is then furred and detailed. Next tis to get the corners of the mouth to match the rest of the head

Step 79: The Lion Mask Build

Checking the lower jaw fit with the mouth closed

Step 80: The Lion Mask Build

Well he is looking lion like now. Looks like we need a toung and some ears next

Step 81: The Lion Mask Build

better picture of the face structure, you can see the tendon and muscle in the jaw, this was done during the paperclay stage of the build

Step 82: The Lion Mask Build

And time for toung! Silicone rubber toung with texture, It is held in place with E6000.

Step 83: The Lion Mask Build

Now for ears, made of vaccume form plastic they are heat shaped into the correct form and mounted to the head. Holes in the base of the ears are for the mirophones for amplified hearing.

Step 84: The Lion Mask Build

Now we begin to fur the ears, Hot glue and greative trimming witll give us the look we want

Step 85: The Lion Mask Build

ears are furred and correct marking in place for the "earspots" are airbrushed in

Step 86: The Lion Mask Build

Tufts added to the interior folds of the ears.

Step 87: The Lion Mask Build

ep. Lion has ears now, now to move on to some more detail work on the muzzle

Step 88: The Lion Mask Build

Minor detailing around the nose with the airbrush and coloration for the whiskers worked in. More detail work to come

Step 89: The Lion Mask Build

continued trimming and brushing around the muzzle. some glue based flocking and hand punch of fur

Step 90: The Lion Mask Build

t seemed allot smarter to go ahead and fit the amplified hearing system before doing the mane. So that exactly what we are going to do. Using an off the shelf unit we are going to hack 2 of these units for stereo amplified hearing. Now hese are ready mad systems and not the units I sell now with the ultrasonic conversion.

Step 91: The Lion Mask Build

Close up of the circut board, this is a proven unit that I have used before. we are going to go ahead an desolder the microphone from the board so we can remount them in each ear. Also going to remove the earpece since we will be adding a 1/8in stero connector

Step 92: The Lion Mask Build

Removed the eletret microphone element and have now pigtailed from the original solder points a foot long wire to the microphone. this is a really tiny board so you have to be careful

Step 93: The Lion Mask Build

We take our leads and solder them to the mic element. be sure that you get polarity right or you will loose sensitivity.

Step 94: The Lion Mask Build

Next we add solder wires to the tbs where the original earpiece was connected. again about a foot long.

Step 95: The Lion Mask Build

we do this for both units and then solder a 1/8in stero phono plug (female )

Step 96: The Lion Mask Build

Holes made into the base of each ear will support out microphones. these go in at an angle as to get as much amplification from the conical shape of the ear.

Step 97: The Lion Mask Build

Microphines added and we tuck the wiring away. we will come back to this when it is time to pad the interior of the mask and do final detail work

Step 98: The Lion Mask Build

Time for a mane. I use hair extensions that I hotglue a tab at half their leingth. and twist them so I get as tight a density as I possibly can. this will aloow me to trim later and still look full and rich. But make no bones about it. this boy is getting allot of mane put in today

Step 99: The Lion Mask Build

each group or tab of mane is placed individually and hotglued into place. as you can see the fur is pulled back so it can be covered later to hide the hotglue

Step 100: The Lion Mask Build

a little trim work and we begin to see the mane take shape, but no bones about it. we are not nearly done

Step 101: The Lion Mask Build

s you can see we have mane going in 2 directions here one down the back of the head and one forward. you can see how dense this is packed, again we are going to trim the mane in the end so it needs not to have any gaps.

Step 102: The Lion Mask Build

Taking a break from the mane, we open the eyes and hand punch the 30pd test fishing line into the upper lip . then paint it with krylon for plastics with a off white

Step 103: The Lion Mask Build

We open the eyes abit more and do the detail paint around them , then fit the plastic lenses around the camera optics again,then work on finer details above and around the eyes

Step 104: The Lion Mask Build

More Shading and dye work along the sides of the face

Step 105: The Lion Mask Build

now the top of the head with Prismacolor dyes

Step 106: The Lion Mask Build

trim work around the edge of the mane and fades from one color fur to the other with dyes give a more natural look

Step 107: The Lion Mask Build

Now the Audio and video cables are created for th system , with video outs and ins. YES you can watch your IPOD inside the mask

Step 108: The Lion Mask Build

Multiple ins and outs will allow the mask wearer to share and receive video and audio

Step 109: The Lion Mask Build

Now trying to get all the cables into place and some sort of order , since the mask is a composite shell, there are many voids in which to guide wiring

Step 110: The Lion Mask Build

Here is one of the battery packs to drive the cameras , I used 1/2 in audio jacks for this. all the connectors were either different sizes or different types to prevent a connection mishap

Step 111: The Lion Mask Build

With the all the wiring pretty much run , we take time to mount the padding for the face on the interior of the mask, the idea is to spread the weight of the mask out over a large area for comfort sake

Step 112: The Lion Mask Build

Here are the supports in place on the inside of the mask

Step 113: Felting the Interior

Now we begin the felting process of the foam on the inside of the mask.

Step 114: Cable Ties

Now it is just a matter of tying cables into place , split loom tubing and clips to the back of the head, then to the pocket made for the electronics.

Step 115: Final Placement

Electronics in place along with the ear amps on the sides of the head, volume controls for each ear

Step 116: Electronics Pocket

Everything fits in a custom pocket made for the batteries and electronics. this would be on the inside of the lion suit with the mane over the back.

Step 117: The End of the Story

And here is the finished mask in all its glory

I hope you enjoyed this trip through this madness. Included here are some videos of how the systems work (as documented for a wolf with the same system) pelase feel free to peruse my site and other videos of my work .

I have only been doing my art for 3 years now and I hope to continue creating these pieces. Perhaps one day you will see my stuff in the movies. who knows.

but now some videos

The Instructables Book Contest

Participated in the
The Instructables Book Contest