Introduction: University of Cincinnati CCM - Pneumatic Water Diorama

This is my Final Project for "Pneumatics for the Theater" class, Fall 2015. I am a senior Lighting Design and Technology student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. My name is Andrew P. Diamond and I will graduate Spring 2016 with my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree. Feel free to check out my website to see what other cool and exciting projects I've done!

During this Instructables I will take you through what I did, how I did it to make this water based diorama. However, you can take any of the principles to to apply to any other sort of display, whether an old west or a series of Halloween effects.

Step 1: The Concept

The outline of my project was very broad, to use pneumatics to do something. It was a very open to interpretation project, and so I just tried to do something fun and challenging. Since its always difficult to do anything with water, I decided to try and incorporate that somehow.

The first thing I did after deciding that I wanted water, I decided that I would have a night time boat scene. The items that would be motivated would be a boat, a octopus/sea monster, and a cloud uncovering the moon. From there I drew a rough sketch of size and scale, then drew a 3D model of the diorama using AutoCAD 3D (seen above) so that I could more easily build the items.

Step 2: The Carpentry

After drafting everything, I used the above drawings to make the box and the boat, and made the octopus out of scrap I had laying around and roughly whittled it down using a sander and a band saw.

The boat was made of 4x4 glued together, and then also whittled down using a band saw and sander. Then the detail was made using 1/2 OSB, with the little house being made of 4x4, with 1/2" OSB as the roof.

The box itself was 3/4" C/D Plywood that was glued and stapled together. The interior corners were then caulked, and then the interior was lined with 6mm contractors plastic to keep the water from leaking out of the box.

The clouds were 1/2" OSB that got polyfill put on them using spray adhesive.

The Moon (not pictured) was a piece of scrap 3/4" C/D Plywood cut into a 5in diameter circle

Step 3: The Cylinders and Painting

Since this project was largely free form, and I was using pneumatic cylinders that were laying around my school's scene shop, I got the pleasure of deciding that it was a fun idea to use a cable cylinder to move the cloud. To get the 1/4" air hose to the cylinder to run it, I made holes on the back side of the display that way they would not need to be seen.

Since different cylinders can be used for different applications, and I wasn't trying to lift or move anything particularly heavy, I never really had to worry about the pressure I was going to put into the cylinders, nor

Once I finished this step, I realized that I needed to start painting everything before I got too much farther, which then ended. I decided to just go at it, and painted everything blue and blue/green on the box, made the clouds and moon a silver/gray color so that they didn't stand out too much against the dark blue. The boat, turned into primary colors, and the octopus became purple with a little bit of glitter - because it was there and I decided why not?

Step 4: More Construction - Clouds

So after getting everything painted, I started attaching the moon and the clouds to the box.

For the stationary items I pre-drilled through the back, and just used scews to attach them.

The back of the moving cloud I put some short screw in, and wrapped some string aroud two screws on the back and then tied those off to a washer. The washer was above the bracket of the the cable cylinder, so that when I let go, the cloud was suspended (albeit in a cheesy 5th grade project sort of way). I did make sure to have two leads going up to the bracket so that they cloud did not twist around while hanging.

I also made a cover out of 3/4" Plywood so that I could cover up the cylinder.

Step 5: The Underwater Cylinders

This is the part that had the most pre-thought but also had the largest issues. Since I was planning to have the cylinders under the water, I didn't want to just attach them straight to the box. If I had, it would mean I would puncture the plastic, and then more than likely have a leak when I filled the box with water.

So, instead I built a structure out of 1x4 that ideally would keep the two underwater cylinders right were I wanted them. So the frame was cut to fit inside the box, but leaving a little bit of room so as to not be so tight as to drag on the plastic when putting it in.

The cable cylinder and standard rod cylinder I put in were then attached to this structure.

I also had made a wedge with the idea that the octopus would be pushed up the ramp by the cylinder. I had also put the cylinder itself on a hinge to help with the change of height while motivating the cylinder.

I couldn't put the boat on at this point as I needed the water to support it.

(Ignore the water in the second image. I just didn't have a photo of the cylinder placement without water.)

Step 6: Testing Before Water

So before I filled the box with water I ran all of the 1/4" hose for the cylinder and test so that I could troubleshoot them before I had to detach anything to fix it.

I found no glaring errors other than the wedge and standard cylinder not getting the octopus up high enough to really be seen. So, I then taped down the hose, only to find it pulled up my paint, and so I ended up attaching it with plumbers strap to the 1x4 structure.

Step 7: Water

The next step was literally just filling the box with water, which I did with a 5-gallon bucket and water from the sink.

The first problem I hit was that the sub-structure floated (which I had expected), so I used some 1/2" plate steel that was lying around to weigh it down in the water.

Step 8: Getting It All to Work.

Th Clouds Worked great from the start, and had the slight comic feel I wanted.

The boat however, kept capsizing and so it would get dragged along by the cylinder, just on its side. (I had attached it by two pieces of plumbers strap on the bottom and then string going to the bracket again.) When I came back from lunch however, I found the house had fallen off and the rest of the boat was floating fine. The house had just been glued on, as there was no good place to permanently staple, so when it got wet for so long in warm water, the glue no longer did its job. It ended up being a happy accident however, and so I just painted over the missing house part, and said the boat was functional.

The Octopus never satisfactorily worked, so I cut it. I hadn't really thought about the fact that I had built a head out of wood, and then attached it to a cylinder on a hinge, so it just floated. So that, on top of never satisfactorily getting high enough, I just let it be and removed it from the project. The video above though, does show the other aspects working well.

Every air hose had a controlled exhausted as I did not want any of these cylinder to run at full speed. Remember that you always want to control the air coming out of the cylinder, not what you have coming into it.

It is currently controlled by 2 5/2 Solenoid valves with push button activation that we had built for a previous project, which was easy to appropriate into my project.

Then next iteration of this will have LED stars, a functioning Octopus monster and also have some sort of underscored music that will help to tell a story.

Step 9: The Things I Learned and Advice

1)Test everything in the the way it will be running before permanently sticking it underwater

- The cable cylinder running the boat has an air leak, so whenever the boat moves forward, there are bubbles coming from that. However, if I had just put this in the big sink and ran it a few times to test, I would have seen that I needed to re-Teflon Tape one of the connectors.

2) Test how everything that needs to float does float.

3) Water makes everything hard.


- Check that there aren't any rips or tears before filling up your box with water. I found a small rip, and so I then had to do a small patch job.

Step 10: