Here's a video of the completed costume. It is operated by two "controllers" that I built into the costume, giving me real-time control over whether it's showing up in the mirror or not, the expression, the mouth moving, and the mask looking around.
Here is a list of the required tools/materials
Nylon case tool (optional)
15" LCD Monitor (Preferably 12V in)
Cheap Picture Frame
1x2 Furring Strip
Relevant parts (continued)
Can of expanding foam
Mirror Finish window tint
AA Battery Holders
1.2V NiMH Rechargeable batteries (2000 mAh) (20)
Double Stick Tape
I took the idea of a magic mirror from DIY Magic Mirror and used one of the original puppets from ImaginEERIEing and started putting it all together the other day. I'm planning on building a stone wall costume to wear and mount the mirror on, so this will be a large costume.
I was looking for a way to make this thing without using a heavy wooden frame that wouldn’t give me many options for support, and any of the wooden ones that were of the ornate style that I’m looking for are very heavy. Since I’m going to be wearing it around, weight is an issue.
I started out by picking up a Lenticular from an unnamed Seasonal Halloween store, and when I told the manager that I was just going to tear it up he gave it to me for $4.99 instead of the $24.99. This was the picture that I picked up
Next I needed an LCD screen, so I went pawn shopping. Most LCD’s take A/C directly, but I didn’t feel like trying to find a suitable place on the controller board to tap in with low voltage DC so I went looking for one that used an external power supply, just like a laptop does. After four stores I got lucky, and someone had even misplaced (or stolen) the power supply so they gave me the monitor for half price, which ended up being a total of $20. I used a 15” 4:3 monitor, and because that’s the older style and I’m cheap, it’s a pretty shoddy screen. This takes 12V DC in, which makes it a very easy unit to work with. The only downside is that it is an old and inefficient monitor, so it draws 1.3 amps at full brightness, which will make life difficult when it comes to batteries. A new one with local dimming would have made for a much nicer final product, but that would have meant buying something brand new just to tear it apart.
I took everything over to our local maker space and got to work.
To begin with, I started with the flimsy plastic picture frame, glued in the plexiglass, and built a wooden reinforcing frame.
I filled the frame with (too much) expanding foam and pressed the wooden frame into it, and let everything cure.
Next I disassembled the LCD and discarded everything except the panel, the internal mounting frame, controller board/inverter board, and button boards. I got lucky and the mounting tabs were spaced perfectly for me to use some scrap wood as a bracket system.
These are pictures of the frame, as well as the test fit in the mirror.
Now as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this isn’t a mirror, it’s just clear plexiglass. I picked up some Mirror Finish Privacy window tint from Lowes to take care of this problem. Since the idea is that the LCD will show through the mirror I needed a two-way mirror solution. This stuff works exactly the way I need it to and it’s fairly inexpensive. I looked into some glass options, and even ordered a sample of glass that’s built just for this type of setup, but I don’t feel comfortable carrying around a large hunk of glass. The edges of the tint don’t like to stick well, so I added a strip of clear silicon around the edge to glue the tint in place and prevent any peeling.
Next was getting the puppet software running on the laptop and screen, and setting it up behind the mirror.
There was a fair amount of light shining through from the entire LCD panel so you could see the full outline through the mirror. This is not to my liking.
To fix this I decided to try and use some kind of black to clear color gradient along the edges to help hide backlight where the mask won’t appear. The downside of this approach is that it limits me from using some of their other digital puppets, so I may re-think this again. After hunting for transparency film that I could print in my inkjet printer (and discovering that it costs $60 at Staples) someone suggested that I try Kinko’s/Fed-Ex. It turns out that they print transparencies for $0.75/sheet so I drove on down and had my gradients printed out. I ended up doubling them up to get a better effect.
The first two pictures are without the gradient, the third is of the gradient, and the last two are after the gradient was installed.
Batteries are the next big concern. Since my screen draws 1.3 amps I’m going to need some serious power. My first practical option is to use a sealed lead acid battery (the kind you find in a computer battery backup), which is the cheapest but also the most cumbersome solution. The other is to use smaller rechargeable cells (I tested straight AA batteries, but it appears that they can’t deliver the required current as quickly as it’s needed). I’m using el-cheapo NiMH batteries from Menards for this. They are rated at 1.2 volts, 2000 milliamp hours.
I finished a battery drain test with all 20 batteries installed and at the lowest brightness managed to get 3 hours and 45 minutes out of the thing. I'm expecting between 2:40 and 3 hours on the highest brightness setting. Right now it's got two banks of ten series-connected 1.2V NiMH batteries run in parallel. All of the batteries are rated a 2000 mAh, so the whole thing is good for 4000 mAh.
I attached the battery holders to the frame. I used the same clear silicon to hold them in place that I used for the plexi; it seems like it should be a good choice to bond to the slippery plastic of the battery holders as well as the wood. The holders have little holes in the ends of them, so I also ran some steel wire through each one and tied it of to screws so the silicon isn't the only thing holding them in place, and if it fails the wire should keep them from falling off. Durability is the name of the game here. I also soldered up the wires and put heat-shrink on all of the connections to prevent any risk of shorting or tape coming off. There is some electrical tape on there, but it's only there to help keep some of the wires neat. I also chose to run the wires on the mirror frame, not on the LCD or the mounting bracket. This way I can remove the LCD easily by simply unplugging it.
The software uses the keyboard for control, but it’s not realistic to have an open laptop inside the costume. My first idea was to make my own control interface by stealing the matrix controller from a keyboard and soldering my own buttons onto it. It’s possible to do, but the board doesn’t lend itself to soldering. To get around this I purchased a cheap USB numberpad for $7 and used free software to re-map the keys to match the ones that the digital puppet has for control. Since I’m going to be operating this by feel I popped off the keys from the numbers that I won’t be using. This way I will know which keys I’m on just by feeling it. I’m probably going to add a second one that will just operate the mouth for my other hand. It’s very difficult to control both the movement and expression of the puppet as well as operate the mouth all on one hand
Next it was time to move on to the wall. After having a lot of success on my Pacman costume I decided to build the wall frame out of CPVC pipe. CPVC has a few major advantages for making a frame: It's light weight, it's cheap, it's easy to assemble, and there are tons of joint options out there so you don't have to get creative with ways to connect two pieces.
It's not that sturdy on its own, but by attaching it to cardboard you create an extremely sturdy structure. Expanding foam works well to make the attachment.
This is the wall frame. It's mostly made of 1/2" pipe, but those two crossbars are 3/4" and are where the mirror itself will attach as well as the harness.
I'm using an external-frame backpack frame for my setup. It came from a surplus store (Not military surplus, they charge a lot more than normal surplus stores) and I discarded the bag portion of the backpack.
I attached two pieces of 3/4" CPVC to the pack frame to act as attachment points. On one I used some zip ties and a lot of electrical tape, the other is just attached with electrical tape. It doesn't sound like it would be sturdy, but it works wonders (and is cheap if you buy a 10 pack of the cheap stuff)
This project needs a hip belt to work correctly since the weight will cause the whole thing to tip forward. A hip belt will prevent this from happening, and my pack came with one built in.
I realize that a simple sandwich sign or something similar would have been much more simple, but it's fun to overbuild things and I like the process involved.
I added some pipes coming straight out from the wall crossbars to attach to the backpack frame. I should have planned better, but because I didn't the pipes are too narrow for me to fit in between the way I had planned, so I had to modify things and put a 90 degree bend in t make room for my shoulders. I was worried about this design idea because the pipe isn't the strongest thing in the world, but decided to give it a go anyway.
When I finally got things all glued together I tried it on. While it did work, there were problems. As I'd feared, the pipe wasn't nearly rigid enough and there was a lot of sag in the system. That was without all of the extra weight that still needs to be added, so clearly this wasn't going to work.
After bouncing some ideas around overnight I decided that a whole new idea might be the best solution, but that's not really an option since I have money/time into this setup. I decided to go buy some angle aluminum stock from Tractor Supply (It was a lot cheaper than Home Depot or Lowes) and use that to brace things. I put in four diagonal braces. One from each corner to the backpack frame, and also attached the aluminum to the pipes that connect the wall and backpack frame. I just used electrical tape for this too.
I finished foaming the supports in and went on to attaching the cardboard front. I used more expanding foam to attach the cardboard to the PVC. It's a messy way to do things, but it's cheap and you get a lot in one can, so that's my route. I also cut out space for my shoulders in the foam at the top of the backpack frame.
Once the foam was set it was time to start attaching the mirror to the frame. I used four PVC straps to do this. I don't have a picture, but they're with the rest of the CPVC joints at the hardware store. I'd designed the wall frame to match up with the wood in the mirror and it fit perfectly. I cut a hole slightly smaller than the mirror and used the brackets to attach the mirror to the wall frame.
I though about using a pre-printed stone wall backdrop, but I like to have something that looks 3D, so I decided against it. It would have looked much nicer though. Instead I decided to go with upholstery foam that I got at Michaels. I used Super 77 spray glue to attach the foam, and then tacked each corner of foam down with hot glue. A friend helped me spray down the whole thing with gray primer paint, and then I hit it with some stone texture spray paint.
In my over-tired haste I somehow forgot that I might want to see out of this thing and "bricked" right over the area I'd planned to cut a hole to see through. I removed two of the foam blocks, cut a hole out, and glued in some black see-through fabric.
I also realized that the black fabric covering the back of the costume would be resting on my head, so I made a quick CPVC hoop and taped it to the frame. That way it will rest on the hoop, not my head.
When I built Pacman I learned that even if it's dark inside the costume, people can still see light colored objects through the sheer fabric. The fix for this is to paint the inside of the costume black. I sprayed the whole upper portion of the insides black. I got areas that wouldn't make a difference, but I'm trying to get rid of some old spray paint, so anything worth doing is worth over-doing.
Then I finished spraying down the new foam blocks in gray, and put down another coat of stone texture paint.
I got my friend Victoria to help me sew two pieces of black fabric together to make it thick enough that very little light comes through. We started attaching the fabric to the costume using straight pins. Once it was all lined up I started attaching it with Amazing Goop Plumbing Glue.
Two pockets appeared at the folds in the upper edges, so I hand-stitched these together.
I realized that I still needed a way to hold the laptop, so I took an old backpack and strapped it to frame.
Since I need access to this I couldn't glue the fabric all the way around. To fix this, I glued velcro onto the frame and onto the fabric. This will give me easy access to the backpack, and allow me to close up the costume.
Now it's time for the finishing touches I glued the two USB number pads into the costume, installed some foam to make the frame less-uncomfortable, and zip-tied all of the wires to the CPVC to keep things nice and tidy.
And that's all.
Here are a few pictures of the finished costume.
I got into the finals at a local costume contest; unfortunately the only picture of the finals that they posted is when I'm at the back of the stage.
Third Prize in the
Halloween Epic Costumes Challenge