Monday, September 21, 2009

Mr. Bones and the Gourditos - HOW TO

So I've had a number of people ask me how I made my singing pumpkins and skeleton.  Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures of the process (mainly because I didn't have a process - I sort of flew by the seat of my pants).  I did go back and take a few photos that should give you a rough idea of how I created the prop.

Here are the basic ingredients:
  • foam pumpkins (from Michaels or any hobby store)
  • SSC-32 servo controller board (or similar assuming it works with VSA)
  • Brookshire Software's VSA (for programming the servos)
  • "Tiny Tim" skeleton (for Mr. Bones' body)
  • Lindberg skull kit (for Mr. Bones' head)
    • You could probably use a Bucky or similar skull, but Lindberg's are the lightest I've found which puts less strain on the servos
  • Lindberg 3-axis skull kit
  • Servos (these are just what I had lying around - feel free to experiment)
  • Aluminum angle bracket from Lowe's or Home Depot (to make the servo brackets)
  • 1 foot 3/8" threaded rod from Lowe's or Home Depot (to mount Mr. Bones' head on)
  • Random Servo parts from a local hobby shop
    • nylon hinges (for the pumpkin mouths)
    • 2-56 threaded rod
    • ball and socket servo linkages
    • small diameter tube (going through the hay bail for the piano wire to travel through to move the leg)
    • piano wire
    • nylon "Y" shaped "thing" (attached to the piano wire and to the small skeleton's leg)
Basic Assembly Procedure:

I started by cutting the eyes, nose and mouth out of the foam pumpkin using a sharp Xacto knife.  I then cut slits in the bottom of the mouth piece and where it would attach back to the pumpkin. Here is a picture of the hinges.

I used some 5 minute epoxy to attach the hinge to the mouthpiece and to the pumpkin.  Make sure you don't get any epoxy on the bar of the hinge or it wont open and close smoothly.

I then mounted the servo into a homemade bracket using the aluminum angle stock.  It doesn't have to be perfect.

Using 2 ball joints, screw one into the servo horn and the other into the middle of mouth (as seen above and below).  Cut a length of 2-56 threaded rod so that the servo horn can move enough to open and close the mouth.  Attach two socket linkages on each end and snap them onto the ball joint.

Mr. Bones: has a good tutorial on how to assemble the Lindberg 3-axis skull kit so I won't duplicate effort here.  Check it out HERE.

Take the head off of Tiny Tim (I used it later in the Mr. Bones and the Gourditos gravestone sign).  I sat the body on a hay bale that I purchased from Michaels.  I ran a piece of 3/8" threaded rod through the hay bale and attached a fender washer and nut to the top and bottom to keep it from falling through.  I positioned the Tiny Tim body in front of the threaded road to hide it and then mounted Mr. Bones' head onto the threaded road.  I adjusted the height of the rod so that it sat low enough to hide the top of the rod, but high enough that the jaw wasn't obstructed by the body when it opened.

I then pushed a brass rod through the back of the hay bale so it was right behind Tiny Tim's heel.  I cut a piece of piano wire to length and attached one of the nylon "Y" adapters to it (using epoxy).  I was able to snap the Y adapter around the back of the leg (see below).  Thread it through the tube and attach it to the servo horn. 

Here is the back of the hay bale.  I just zip-tied the servo to a piece of scrap wood and then ran some wire around the piece of wood to attach it to the hay bale.  The hay bale has a couple lengths of wire around it to keep the hay from flying everywhere.  I just wrapped my wire around that.  It sort of looks like a diving board hanging off the back of the hay.  If you follow the piano wire from the servo arm to the hay, you can (barely) see the brass tube that goes through the hay (so the piano wire can move easily).

Here is another view of the back of the hay bale.

Hard to tell, but I attached a PVC pipe behind the skull to run the servo wires down.  Not pretty, but it works.  I covered it with electrical tape (because I was lazy and didn't want to wait for spraypaint to dry :))

Here is the back of the tombstone with "Tiny Tim" stuck in it.  It is just a servo with piano wire fed through a small hole.  The skull stays in place just by friction with the foam.  The servo is held in place with Velcro - seems to work fine.

Underneath view of Tiny Tim.  For this I used another ball and socket set.  I drilled a small hole in the back of the lower jaw and epoxied the ball in place.  Then I took the socket part and cut off the socket and epoxied it back on so instead of the socket pointing to the side, it pointed straight ahead (hope that makes sense).  Then it goes through the hole in the foam to the servo behind.

I added some LEDs to the pumpkins to give them some color (I just drilled a hole in the back of each pumpkin the diameter of the LED and friction fit the LED).  These were hooked up to the SSC-32 board so they could be turned on and off programmatically.

I made some spotlights out of brass tubing and LEDs and put those in front of everything to act as stage lights.  Again, these were hooked up to the SSC-32 so they could be turned on and off.

I set up VSA by following the instruction manual (setting the baud rate, setting up the channels, etc.  I also found hooking up a joystick/gamepad made recording the servo movements MUCH easier.  

For each song, I decided who I wanted to sing which lines and then recorded the movements channel (servo or light) by channel in real time by moving the joystick while the song played.  Once I had that down, I moved on to the next servo or light.   I had 4 Gourditos each with 1 servo and 1 internal LED and 1 spotlight and 1 Mr. Bones (with 4 servos and 1 spotlight), 1 Tiny Tim skull with 1 servo and a spotlight, and 1 additional spotlight for the "Next Show In One Minute" sign.  That adds up to 20 channels.  That translates into listening to the song at least 20 times and as much as I'd like to say I got it perfect on the first take, I would be lying :)

This was a great project and even though I spent HOURS and HOURS on it, it was well worth it.  Plus, there is always something more I can add to it.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I'll try and answer them here (and/or modify this post).


  1. is there any way you would post you vsa file?

  2. Man, I have to say that was very cool!! I am just building a 3-axis skull and was thinking of maybe creating a pumpkin that could talk, but man, you have totally kicked anything I was thinking of doing out the window!! I am very inspired. Thanks for posting this. You rock.

  3. Awesome display! Where did you get the LED lights to plug into the SSC-32 controller? Did you have to make them?

  4. Thanks! Yes, I made the LEDs. Had some LEDs lying around and a ton of resistors.

  5. Thanks for sharing Jared, it takes time to post this but your efforts are greatly appreciated. Very creative, I am going to give it a try, if it comes out half as great as your's it will be a hit. Keep Creating!!!. Cheers from Canada

  6. OMG this is so cool! I just need to figure out how I can add this into my Vixen Light show.....Any Ideas? -Rebecca