Animatronics – Sprawl at Washington Ensemble Theatre

In 2015, I worked with Washington Ensemble Theatre on a play called Sprawl which featured characters who are infected with a zombie-like virus that turns them into giant insect creatures. My takes was to design and build an animatronic control system for the actors, which would allow them to move antennae on their masks via control input from a glove. Using flex sensors, Arduino UNOs, servo motors and reg-green-blue-white LEDs, we achieved a fun, low tech horror effect.

Early development consisted of getting control over the servos via the flex sensors, using a wig form as a stand in for the actor’s head. Two flex sensors were fitted to each glove, so that the actor had independent control over each antenna.

Arduino sketch:

Next we crammed an UNO, solderless breadboard, servos, tubing, LEDs and a heap of wire onto bicycle helmets fitted with the mask, jaws adn hair. The solderless components were only intended for testing, but ended up staying in the final version due to time constraints. I ultimately made a modified version of the rig, with the sketch burned to an AT Tiny85 and soldered together onto a wafer in a small project box.