Photo: Jim Vetter • Model: Lisa
- Concept: Brainwave-reactive, animatronic horns and wings based on fantastical beings. Beautiful and animalistic.
- Materials: Necomimi, leather, ribbon, metal, feathers, LEDs, wire, yarn.
- Construction: December ’12 – January ’13
Part 1 of 3
Six months ago, I presented a couple of brainwave accessories at Hot Couture, a “fashion sculpture” show at the Crucible in Oakland. It was unforgettable. As I wrote to Kristy Alfieri, the chief producer: the whole thing was stressful and took up much of my life for the time I was working on it, and I’m glad it’s over… but WHAT an experience! I joined the crowd whenever I could, goggling at the artistry of my colleagues, the swagger of the models, the mind-blowing production quality, and the sheer overwhelming excitement of the entire weekend. I’ve rarely (if ever) been so intimidated by a project, nor so proud to take part in an event. I couldn’t believe my own work was up on a runway alongside the others’, flanked by fire, being flaunted by such cool and talented women.
I proposed two sets of brainwave-reactive accessories, including a set of horns and one of wings. There’s so much to say about their construction, I’ll break it down into a couple of chunks. This part covers most of the wings, while the next will cover the remainder of those and their companion hat, and the third will explain the horns and their harness.
Many thanks to my good man Stephen Aghaulor for taking video!
To start off with, both of my pieces were based on Necomimi. I’ve posted a full teardown here, which shows the bulk of the electronic/soldering process I went through to pull off the servos and extend them on wires for my wings. Caveat modder, though: the servos don’t hold a lot of weight, which caused issues that I’ll complain about later. So, where I last left off, we had two servos removed from their plastic headband-rails. I snipped the wires at each end of the rails, so I could come back and reattach them later, if need be. Inside the servo mounts, I wound the wires around the posts (where the screws go), then hot-glued them in sturdily, to insulate and reduce strain on the soldered joints.
On the other end, I cut the cables from the rails to the circuit board, and patched mine in.
The next order of business: attaching the servos to a harness. I made the structure out of a pair of black leather pants from a thrift shop – always a great source for inexpensive leather, and it’s almost too ethical. (If it’s real leather, it may have the shiny side out, but the other side should be good, usable suede. The lining usually isn’t attached at the bottom, so you can check before buying.)
I built a couple of prototypes, before settling on one that looked good, felt sturdy, and wouldn’t be a nightmare to put on or take off.
To be honest, I started out with totally the wrong idea. From my robotics days, I remembered how easy and satisfying it was to use pop-rivets. You make a hole in each piece of flat material, shove the stubby end of the rivet through, then insert the long, thin end into your rivet gun. When you separate the legs of the gun, the aperture around the rivet opens up. When you press them together, the aperture clamps down and also pulls on the long end. This causes the stubby part of the rivet (which actually stays in the hole) to shorten, which in turn makes the end bulge out on the other side of your material. Once the rivet gun can pull no more, it clips off the long end, leaving a fairly smooth dome on the outside.
Ready for the gun! (This would be the outside.)
However, I forgot one thing: These rivets aren’t for fabric – or for anything that has noticeable stretch. I thought I could get away with it, having used pop rivets before on my steampunk Leeloo harness. Mais non! I was horribly wrong. This leather was plenty thin enough to deform around the rivet as it bulged out, meaning that there was no friction fit, and they pulled out easily. Turns out, they have ones for fabric, and they are called cap rivets, and they are not available near TechShop on a weeknight. :(
In the last few days before the show, I scrambled to find an alternative. Casting about at the local Blick Art, I lit on a box of silver thumbtacks. Lightbulb!
These, it turns out, are a godsend for the desperate leather crafter. Functionally, they’re like paper clips! They’re easy to put in, are super-cheap and ubiquitous, hold well enough, and don’t require a premade hole (or leave much of one when removed). Plus, they look surprisingly polished!
How do you affix them, you say? First, as the designer, you must undergo the requisite investment of pain. Just stick ‘em through the leather and try on your piece. Once you’re satisfied with the placement and fit, turn over your joint and bash down on the points with a hammer. Continue until the point of the pin actually enters the leather; the visible side will still look great. And aim the point away from the direction of tension, like a hook holding the two pieces together. (These joints have withstood dancing at DNA Lounge, so I’d say they’re sufficiently durable!)
I tried a couple of different harness configurations before settling on the final design. These considerations went into the design:
- Strength of joints
- Lengths of leather available
- Ability to support the wings and keep them from sagging
- Adjustability (since these would be worn by other people)
Here’s what those looked like (from Ryan’s tablet camera, used in place of a mirror):
The overlapping kinda worked, but was not easy enough to put on / take off.
Even less practical, but way cooler!
Final design! Tired designer.
Checking the back, before adding further pins for reinforcement.
The arms go through first, and then you wrap the bottom strap around and fasten it in back.
The next step was mounting the servos, so that they would be sturdily in place before wing-ification. But first, I had to do something about that mangled, tangled handful of wires. I decided to employ a technique I’d learned at Spanish camp in 9th grade.
That’s right: my cable-control techniques are secretly friendship bracelets!
This one is pretty simple to learn, and takes a while, but is mindless enough to easily complete while watching a movie. Plus, it looks a hell of a lot better than heat-shrink: this technique produces a gorgeous, organic, tactile spiral ridge around the wires. In a nutshell:
Take a single length of yarn, perhaps 3 times the length of your project – though this depends upon the thickness of whatever you’re wrapping. You can always tie on more length later. Tie this around the top of your project (in this case, inside the battery case, so that the end wouldn’t show).
I’ve also placed a twist tie at the place where the cables will split to either side for the wings.
Next, take the yarn and loop it around your core: Hold the yarn in your left hand, and move the free end over to the right, over the cables. With the middle part still held to the left, and the vertical core, this will look something like a number “4″.
Take the free end and pass it *under* the core, and through the loop you’ve been holding open with your left hand.
If you’re working with a long strand of yarn, roll up the free end into a bundle to make this easier.
Pull it tight, yanking to the right and to the left to secure the knot and snug it up against your previous work.
As you practice, you’ll grow adept at doing this with one hand, so you can use the other to put food in your face, start the next episode of Cowboy Bebop, or… well, I’m sure you can come up with some ideas.
Perhaps this will be more comprehensible in video form:
About an inch before I got to the split in the cable, I stuck another piece of yarn in with the central core and began wrapping around that as well. At the fork, I separated it again. This gave me a sturdy base so that I could complete the right side with the original piece of yarn, then use this new length to wrap the cables from the joint to the left servo.
Finally, I attached the servos to the harness with wire (passed through where the headband-rails used to go). Since the wings are animatronic, I was extra-scrupulous about aligning them correctly, such that they would flap alluringly and not get all janked up when somebody called my name.
And that’s where we’re gonna leave off for tonight, as this is already growing gigantic… Parts 2 and 3 coming soon! I’m excited to finally have this written up. :)
Sweet dreams! – Merlin