Good hauntings all! As it is September, we are currently in full throttle preparing for this year’s Haunted Trail of Tears (link here). Truth is, the trail efforts are an ongoing effort throughout the year, researching ideas, building new props and unfortunately, rebuilding or upgrading props that didn’t live up to expectations. I covered the efforts involved in the Westworld 2.0 line rollout with Servo Man back in July of last year (link here). That line made its debut in the 2019 event.
Unfortunately, that version ended up experiencing a malfunction late in the evening. The best I could tell at the time, the fabric got caught up in the servos which added a bunch of drag to the mechanism – end result, nearly burned out servos. I got it put back together for the 2020 event and hauled it out to its spot in the trail. turned everything on and nothing. Apparently, something got knocked out of whack during the bumpy ride down into the valley. With no time to repair it, it simply became a static prop for the night – completely bummed, especially with all the offseason work that went into it. You can check out all the details in the previous post on that version, but wanted to throw in some quick shots just so you know the upgrades that were done for this year.
… and the simplified version showing the main linkages. Note specifically the neck area as that turned out to be where a lot of the issues turned up. That little neck on the servo was basically holding up the entire weight of the head and carrying all the torque for the rotation.
Hit the jump to see the latest additions in the Westworld 2.5 Posey line.
For this year’s version I wanted to make sure it could last the night and handle hauling it down and back into the valley where the heart of the trail is. First step was to harden all the connection points. Every PVC connection was screwed in so nothing could jar it loose. Note, I rarely use PVC glue as that prevents any future design changes without having to buy all new pipe and joints. The screws work perfect and allow for any necessary changes with very little effort.
Gave it a much sturdier stand and supports for the static legs. That is my standard stand for my characters now and is very stable even before staking it into the ground. The first servo design stayed pretty much the same as the original using my proprietary designed spinstops to allow the spine to be rotated by the servo without having to carry any of the weight from the rest of the body. What I did do was redesign and 3D print servo holders.
The first version allowed it to slip back and forth and required tape to keep it in place. Worked okay for horizontal movement, but if the torso was pulled up or down vertically it could let go. I could use the old design for the coupler that the new rails attached to nicely allowing for it to be easily attached over 3/4″ pipe. Just have the rails also allowed for better heat dissipation.
I then upgraded the head servo with the exact same servo mounts and moved the linkage down into the body so it wouldn’t be as exposed to damage as in the first version. At the same time, I upgraded the way the arms attached. The previous arms are whipped together the night before its first trail and kept falling off in transit – they could not be attached until after I had the costume on and then setting the screws was a bit of a pain. I’ve been using the twist couplings for several years now without issue. Slapped a pair of those on each arm (see left and right of the upper servo). No need to screw in/unscrew any hold screws now to get the prop dressed – simply untwist the connectors and put them back on once fed through the costume sleeves.
Why not add some eye lights. Pretty much make LED circuits in my sleep these days. Whipped up a pair, got some tubing that was laying around, drilled some channels through the foam head, laid in the tubes and then fed the lights through. This would be a new animation feature and required some modifications to the controller.
Will zoom out a bit and let you see the changes in full. The prop now consists of two servos and a set of eyes.
Per above, I had to modify the controller to handle the new set of eyes. While I was at it, decided to go ahead and clean up all the wiring. These days I have switched to a single larger conduit box where an Arduino board is needed. For convenience kept the two box approach for this line. Hardlines to the servos were replaced with connectors (see left side of image) and a new connector was added for the eyes (see right side of the image). The two lights are for code debugging purposes and light up depending on which body part is moving.
Things were looking pretty good with all the structural changes and the updated connectors. Oh, I also doubled up the spinstops on the lower servo. They were turned upside down and pushed up against the original ones. That allowed me to put screws in those so it was impossible to separate there.
With it all put together, something was still bothering me about the upper servo. Although better, it still felt like a weak point in the design. Should have thought of this a lot earlier, but now that the linkage was dropped further into the chest, I could add the same spinstop apparatus to the neck servo.
Tore it all apart again (this is where the screws come in REAL handy vs having to use all new connectors. Added in a new cross connector and reduced the neck pipe to fit into it. Had to change the location of the twist couplers. Doubled up the spinstops again, changed out the head coupler to fit the reduced pipe size and presto – feeling a lot better now. I do not mind the extra work redoing everything if it makes a better product in the end.
Next up, add back in the foam chestplate. This had to be modified due to the changed support structure and the new location of the head servo. Opted to lock in the pose of the arms. A long time ago I bought rotating PVC connectors to give myself new flexibility in poses – didn’t really add that much to the prop so went for a static solution. Shaped the chest for a better shoulder look and did a lot of foam removing in the back to make sure the moving pipes didn’t get obstructed.
Here is the back side and you can see the carving/shaping that was done. Made sure the bottom of the chest wasn’t hitting the pipes on the bottom as that would be moving across them. Covered the arms with pool noodles and zip tied those on to handle the trip to the trail.
The spinstops generally move pretty smoothly in the larger PVC connector as it is plastic on plastic, however, over time it will start squeaking a bit. Definitely not loud enough to be heard over the rest of the sounds on the trail, but I did go ahead and put some lithium grease on them just to make everything move a bit smoother.
All looking really good and solid now. Last thing to do was get the rest of the costume on.
Literally ran into a bit of snag at this point. When I put the costume on, the fabric wanted to catch on the rougher surface of the foam chest. This might have been what caused the extra drag on the servos the first year and just didn’t notice it at the time.
Ended up putting extra fabric directly on the foam. This allowed the outer costume material to move freely across as it turned from side to side. For those that are not familiar with the twist coupler, here is what they look like and how they easily come apart to put the costume on and to reduce the storage space. No idea what these are supposed to be used for, but I am sure the store owners keep wondering why they have to keep ordering so many ha!
Did forget to mention one element related to the new eye lights. The eyes light up for the entirety of the movement whenever the head is randomly selected to move. If the “snap” mode comes up where the head and the torso move instantly to the exact same spot, the eyes will stay on an extended period of time to give the impression that it saw something that is holding its attention.
Above is the final product for the Westworld 2.5 Posey Line Servo Man. All ready to take on the bumps and knocks from the prep phase and hopefully a successful full night of scares for our guests. At this point I am compiling upgrades to incorporate into next year’s planned 3.0 lines. Top of the list right now is to have a sensor that will trigger the snap position direction – would likely have that pointing at the oncoming direction so it would snap to look at the guests. The other addition will likely be to have the arms moving.
Hope you enjoyed this walkthru of the upgrades to Servo Man – very happy with how it turned out.