For the Junior Stars’ show Coal, which is about the Elf who is in charge of the Naughty List, I created this beautiful Naughty List Tracker…

The story involves Coal the elf feeling pretty sad about all the kids on the naughty list, and a little bit guilty perhaps that it’s his fault, so he devises a scheme to pitch a 3-strike program to Santa, to give kids a couple chances to do better.

Among the props and constructions for this show, this was the most interesting one, it was running quietly in the background through the second half of the show.  It’s design is based on flip-clocks, which are surprisingly expensive and don’t come in very large sizes.  These flippers were cut from quartered cardstock sheets, with (mostly) random names printed in a script font on them.

Each card had to be split in half and attached with a long wire “hinge” to cardboard tube rollers with small hinge wheels to hold each card like a rolodex.  A small wire catch at the top of each opening keeps one card in place at a time, until the roller drags it down far enough that it flips and the next card is displayed.

The flippers are powered by continuous motion speed-controllable servos and the “strikes” are flipped by 12 individual mini servos, which are controlled by a single PWM controller card and microcontroller.  The program is designed to randomly process multiple name and strike changes based on a simple set of rules.  There is no external control for this peice, though it is powered by an external supply to avoid the weight and short lifespans of alkaline batteries in a motor-heavy application such as this.

If we stage Coal again someday, I will double the size of everything, when I began 11 inches seemed more than big enough for the name cards, and poster-sized foam board too, but the effect would be more spectacular twice as big and no change would be needed to the number of motors or circuitry.

Here’s a closer, if less eventful video.  Most of the time this tracker was supposed to be rather quiet so as not to distract from the performers, I had to take a lot of short clips of nothing happening to get some good action shots.

I worked with Director Rick Bronson on this giant 6’x8′ storybook to drive the narrative of his play, Polish Joke.  I contributed the idea of using large-scale paper-mache techniques, sketched draft drawings on standard paper, copied (more or less) the sketches onto the giant sheets of paper he, myself, and volunteers created using newspaper, white glue, and muslin, and finally painted/inked in with the help of talented artist Rose Gillespie.

For the Gulfport Community Players’ Junior Stars children’s theatre production of
The Phantom Tollbooth, I created this vehicle.  It was based on a powerwheels vehicle intended for 2 children, but I have hot rodded the heck out of it!  I cut it in half, added length with 1x2s and plywood, swapped the stock accellerator switch for a PWM motor controller for variable speed, forward and reverse, added a big 20W speaker and on-board sound effects, fully dimmable headlights, tail lights, animated under-mounted light strips as well as independently rotating hubcaps to simulate motion when the car is not actually moving, and even a motorized fog FX spraycan actuator that can create a spray of exhaust.  All of these features can be triggered with a touch-sensitive remote control I built.  This was a really fun project!

I just finished some quick test code for my first unit of polyps, so I thought I would share what they look like so far.

The skeleton is made from mini Popsicle sticks riveted together with circuit board eyelets, through which I have threaded narrow gauge wires.  I attached 3/8″ polyethylene tubing with polyp bodies made from silk flowers and googly eyes.  The wires are attached underneath to a heavy gauge wire frame that can be raised and lowered by a mini servo motor.  5mm ws2811s are tucked into each tube and daisy chained.


In the finished product, every connection you see between the popsicle sticks will host one of these light-up polyps, and exterior textured “skin” will be applied between the tubes to mimic the appearance of a surreal coral reef.

Now, the picture above gives a good impression of the construction, but it’s much cooler to see the contraption in action:

In this preview, I simply spray painted black on some tissue paper to create some cover, as stated above the finished product will be a textured sculpture and not tissue.

Also, in this demo I am only showing off the mechanism and lights.  I have infrared LEDs and phototransistors, as well as multiplexer ICs that will allow my circuits to monitor anything suddenly getting closer to the polyps (at 50 different points in the sculpture) and the polyps around the proximity sensor will draw into the reef, while polyps that are not disturbed will remain external.

Each servo/sensor unit will interlock frames with it’s neighbors, so that there will be a gentle “slope” of polyp disturbance between sensors.

I bought a cheap LED projector from amazon that boasted a “water effect”, hoping I would be able to hack it for my own purposes, and I was not disappointed.

I picked up a 700mA LED constant-current driver board and some cheap 365nm UV LEDs from China, took out the original RGB LED, soldered a couple of connections to the board where the DC adaptor plugs in, and voilà!

The 365nm LEDs are the best, because most of that light spectrum is really invisible… Unfortunately, the plastic lens material on the LED itself flouresces a cyan color under the powerful UV light, which ruins the effect.  To solve this, I glued a broken peice of incandecent blacklight bulb glass over the lens inside the projector.  The glass used for these bulbs is called woods’ glass, is deep purple and blocks all but UV and IR light, and the bulbs are much cheaper than fancy photography filters made of the same material, so it worked perfectly for this need.

What you see in the video are small containers of UV-responsive pigment that will be used to color reefs and fish, against my off-white tile floor in the dark.  I left the packaging off to the side, because that white paper picks up the UV too, but the wider area it covers better shows the texture of the water effect.

I spread the containers out so you can see the contrast between the UV-reactive materials and non-reactive tile floor, it’s stunning how well these pigments fluoresce, as if the light came from within them.

Michael created this technical effect prop for the St. Petersburg City Theatre for their production of “A Christmas Carol”, the crown for the ghost of Christmas Present.   Two of this crown were made, one as a backup in case the first one had any technical issues or needed new batteries at an inconvenient time.


The crowns have animated fibers, trimmed so that light appears to emanate from the head of the wearer outward and upward, while a chain of hand-soldered mini WS2811 LEDs on thin enameled wire sloly pulses random warm white lights and flickers an occasional red or green flash.

On a base made from wire wrapped with floral tape, bundles of optical fibers are attached to groups of 4 high-brightness white LEDs, driven by supporting circuitry that can gradually raise and lower the brightness of each.  The fibers are bundled so that there are 4 “sprays” made up of fibers flowing from each of the 4 LEDs, each spray is trimmed to show the emanation affect at different locations as the 4 LEDs are cycled.  There are 3 such branches on each crown.  On top of the light-base and circuitry, pieces trimmed from Christmas floral garlands have been arranged to create a wreathlike appearance that creates pleasing silhouettes against the light show.

Michael created an iron man Cosplay, starting from a plain red shirt and gloves.  the chest part is attached to the shirt magnetically, with threadlike wires going through to allow the glove and chest components to share power and communicate.

There a touch switch built into one of the gloves that causes an animation of the chest lights and light bursts from the hands.  Unfortunately, a video could not be located, so two still photos were put together into an animated GIF to give a hint of the effect.

The  chest piece is made of warm-temperature moldable thermoplastic pressed into a mold, stripped copper wire, clear plastic cut with an X-Acto knife and painted silver with opaque markers.

Beneath the thermoplastic disc and “bowl” there is a WS2812 addressable pixel ring which displays different patterns on a loop.  The gloves have holes cut in them, with clear glass cabochons, wrapped with a popped white balloon skin and snapped into a molded thermoplastic ring painted with gold paint.  under the cabochons 2 more smaller WS2812 rings are mounted.  AAA batteries are mounted behind the chest piece.

Michael volunteered to create art/technology props and effects for the parody show “Star Chix” at the St. Petersburg City Theatre.  A couple weeks into work, he was also given the role of the villian, which put a bit of a time crunch on what technical effects could be completed, but the work completed is impressive nonetheless.

Have a look at the tech reel, which is an edit of the filmed show to include just the portions involving technical effects.  You will see the the backlit black hole screen, color-changing console, “time-altering life suspension laser ray”, infrared-activated phaser fire strobes, and the programmable ship’s engine.

The phasers were made from toy plastic guns, which were taken apart and retrofitted with circuitry to recognize when the the trigger is fired and set off a small infrared burst, just like hitting the power button on a TV remote.  The IR emitter was tucked into a black paper tube so that only a very narrow beam is emitted, allowing the shooter to target only one girl and not set off all phaser strobes at once.  The redshirt girls carry tricorder bags (shown in the title image), which have a 100W COB LED and IR sensor built into the strap and disguised with colored sheer fabric, and have 3 AA batteries and supporting circuitry inside that can generate a 100W pulse when the IR sensor picks up the right signal.

Here is a close-up of the life-suspension laser ray, with a slow motion replay at the end.  This prop is supposed to freeze all the characters on-stage (and unfreeze them).  It is made with mirrored cardboard, automotive vinyl wrap, computer fans, 30W green COB LEDs, EL wire, supporting circuitry, a huge capacitor bank, and a big green arcade button.

Part of the show was a lip synch battle in which two members of the audience were invited onto the stage to participate.  Michael made this sign to encourage participation and make sure that the audience would see the sign-up sheet while milling around in the lobby.  It’s made from black posterboard, EL wire, sheer fabric to mask the “turned off” EL wire, and supporting circuitry on the back.

Here is a close-up of the Data PADDs.  The redshirt chorus starts off the show from the back of the audience dancing their way up the aisles, and these tablets were an accessory that could be used in the dancing while the redshirt girls were out of the stage lights in the audience, and can be slid into the tricorder bags (in the title image above) when the dance is over.

They are made of 2 pieces of sturdy plexiglass, sanded lightly on the surface that was to glow, with LED strips and watch battery holders with an on/off switch between them, sandwiched between two peices of heavy cardboard with vinyl skin and sharpie.  The holographic strip is made from bird scare tape.  The light-up graphics are made of two back-to-back layers of printed transparency on top of the sanded backlit plexi.

starchix padds

There is one close-up of the starship engine that was taken during early construction, about a month before showtime.  The engine is made from a large piece of PVC pipe bent into a semicircle and attached to a metal L-brace in the back, drilled and fitted with wooden dowels, which are connected at each vertex with clear vinyl tubes bundled with a brass brad (the type with fold-able tines).  The skeleton is overlaid with cheap frosted shower curtains cut up into the correct shapes, and WS2812 addressable LED strips ere used for the animation.  The engine needed to be light and safe enough to lift up on top of the stage flats, you can see it completed in the tech demo reel above.

The engine animation patterns are controlled by a radio-enabled remote that can switch modes, with sliders to control speed and brightness.  This remote was operated by one of the actors on stage.

The word “Illumanation” in the title image is misspelled intentionally, after a song by the Gypsy Punk band Gogol Bordello; these duds were put together for a concert.

Michael created the animated light-up purple fascinator, an animated glowing slingshot newsboy hat, and a neon-lettered shirt.

The newsboy hat was fitted with a slingshot logo based one of the bands’ album covers, appearing to shoot a star toward the viewer.  This was created by cutting up an EL panel into many layered pieces, grafting in new electrical connections to the peices, and overlaying the logo with a printed transparency.  An EL controller circuit and battery case are inside the hat.

The fascinator includes a pulsing purple opal, glowing curly wires along feathers, and flashing strobe lights hidden in the feathers.  It looks more impressive in lower light, but this is the best video available.  The fascinator itself was purchased with curled feathers, then the plastic opal was removed, an LED inserted inside, EL wire accents and strobing LEDs were tucked into the feathers, and a very small microprocessor circuit and 2 watch battery holders are mounted under the feather pelt.