Project Upgrade – Dancing The Night Away

Now this has been a very productive weekend. Thanks to Raven’s agility show, I’ve had what has becoming an increasing rare amount of time to just sit and chip away at the post backlog. Halloween is at the forefront of priorities as our annual Halloween Haunted Trail is but a few weeks away. Like yesterday, thought I would go ahead and detail the improvements and upgrades to another prop for this year’s haunt.

If you happen to recall, several years back (2017 I believe), we constructed the Dancing Zombie prop based on some linkage ideas we had found on the web. The core of the design was the offset wiper motor that would rotate the torso in somewhat of an ellipse incorporating a smooth forward/back as well as a left to right motion.

Hit the jump to read about all the new offseason upgrades to our Dancing Zombie prop!

You can read more about the details of the design in the original post on this prop (link here). Its debut that year on the trail was bittersweet. For the first part of the event, it was working great. As the night wore on parts of its clothing got stuck in the motor linkages, twisted it up to the point the motor locked up essentially becoming a static prop for the late arrivals. still looked good, but a lot of work went into the animation that ended up falling short of expectations. Fear not, upgrades were made for the following year which consisted of a plastic shell that kept the clothes a proper distance from the linkages.

That following year our scary zombie danced its dead heart out all night long. However, it was still a bit dicey getting the prop down and up from the trail. The way the support structure was made it could easily come apart if it was tilted or knocked in transit. These days the event has grown to a size that we do not have the luxury of babying our props and instead trailer them down in mass. One critical junction was where the moving spine connected to the wiper motor. It basically sist on top of a bolt – easy to pop off, but this allowed for a bit more jerkiness in the movement as it could shift in the larger coupler (see the left side on the top down image below)

Then came last year’s event when our dancing zombie ended up sitting the night out. It was set aside from trailer hauls in order to reduce the stress on it. Then we got closer to the start time and didn’t have the time to individually walk it down into the valley. Heartbroken, we had to stash it away. Very disappointed and vowed to get that addressed before this year’s event. Earlier in the year I brought it out and started work on industrializing it – much like the off season work on the Servo Man (link here), the goal was to strengthen it up for a full night of fright.

Quickly made a couple of relatively easy changes. In the original version I took a hook and loop approach for the arms to give it more of a lifeless dead feel. The effect was great, the execution was hampered by what I had on hand. The hook portion would simply fall of in transit until you got the prop in its final trail position. That was a super easy fix and no impact on the effect – changed out the hooks for carabiners. The plexiglass hips were just not sturdy enough as it had too much flex. I’ve been systematically swapping all my plexiglass hips for wood and it immediately stiffened it up. Simply set the old hip on top and mirrored the hole pattern for the wiper motor- although was a pain to take all appendages off and rebuild it.

With the easy stuff out of the way, it was time to work on the movement structure. Swapped out the overkill cross connectors for T’s on the top rotating pipe. I can’t remember the reasoning being for the first design beyond the likely scenario is I had the crosses handy. While I was at it, I also reduced the pipe size of the back support (just below the neck). It was just to keep the shirt out of the moving spine so no need to be that heavy. The main change was next. I needed a way to be able to lock the spine onto the wiper motor so it wouldn’t slip off but still be loose enough to float. Putting that middle piece on was a pain and the reason the original downpipe had a connector in it so I could at least manipulate it over the nut and still attach it without bending the pipe. Bring in the twist couplers again. Slapped those on both the side supports and I could fix the length of the spine and still easily get it on and off for storage. After doing that I decided why not put a small twist coupler on the spine itself.. duh! Perfect and now it breaks down and stores really nice. like with the Servo Man, all the connector joints were screwed down.

Next up the PWM that allowed me to vary the speed of the rotation. For the most part it was initially just lying on the hips. It would slip off and get tangled in something causing the wires to come loose or break. Tired of fixing that on the trail, finally put it in an extra home alarm box I had laying around (I kept a lot of the leftover suppliers when I built my house as I knew it would come in handy .. just didn’t know when ha). Drilled a few holes, fed the wires in and ta-da – no more electrical issues. Didn’t have a lot of options on where to put it and the motor was taking up a lot of space underneath the hip leaving little choice but to put it where it was easily accessible while confirming our dancing zombie was a male heheheheh.

Zip tied the wires down the leg and also cinched up the neckline of the zombie mask so it wouldn’t flop around. With the first upgrade I used an overhead light diffuser panel for the clothes protection shell. It did bend with the aid of the heat gun, but ended up being surprisingly brittle when it cooled. Since then, I’ve become a big fan of the 4×8 sheets of PVC wallboard. It cuts easy, naturally bendable, strong and if needed will permanently form with a heat gun. For this case, just needed to cut a length and naturally bend it between the main torso supports. Time for the foam chestplate. Didn’t need to make a lot of changes here, just made sure the back was carved out for the new coupler and make sure the bottom of the spine didn’t hit anything as it rotated around.

Didn’t change the props dimensions any so the same clothes went back on – a little known fact is all my Posey’s match my own dimensions so I can use my old clothes to help dress it up.

See, just like twins except I can’t afford shoes and he has very expensive top of the line running shoes. Hey, if you have to dance for an entire night (for multiple days now), you have to protect the feet ha!

And here it is in all its dancing glory.

Really happy with all the new industrialize changes. We’ll see how it all works out in a couple of weeks, but not expecting any issues. Hope you enjoyed the walkthrough of the latest iteration of the Dancing Zombie.

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