3 Axis Skull
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Thread: 3 Axis Skull

  1. #1

    Default 3 Axis Skull

    Hey guys-
    I've been reading up on the 3 axis skulls in other threads, and am looking for some help making one myself. I've never done animatronics before, but- I'm not a complete moron to things either I am going to order one of those 'Pirate Skulls' tonight- so that'll be done. I also want to use VSA as it seems pretty intuitive and I think I can manage using that...

    What I don't know is what servos to buy, what kind of controller board I need- if any, etc etc. That's the part I'm clueless about- how the servos get hooked up to the computer to where the VSA software can control them. I think using a joystick would be good, too. I plan on doing multiple animatronics- so this will be a good starter project for me (yes, I know it's difficult, but I can manage, I think).

    I like TD's setup- using the plastic mounting plate, etc. I plan on using tie end rods for the ball joint tho. I figure I can use a threaded rod through that, and hook the linkages to that main rod.

    Ultimately- I'd like to have a mini camera hooked up in the eyes or nose with night vision- and a wireless mic rigged so I can interact with the TOTs somewhat. I doubt I'll ever hook up lights in the eyes, so I'm not going to install any eyeballs or lights there.

    Can someone help me figure out what parts I need to order and hold my hand a little bit? Maybe this can serve as a good how-to thread...

    Also- is it possible to use a 3 axis joystick (do they make those?) to program/control all the movements?

    Thanks guys- I look forward to taking this on!
    AZ Specter

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  3. #2


    ok- been reading a TON on this stuff....

    I know what SSCs are, what they do, how they work, etc etc. It seems to me that the Parallax USB SSC isn't completely compatible, and requires some 'tweaking' to get it to adapt for VSA. I know they make great products, but my goal is as easy & functional (and cost efficient!) as possible. I also found out that yes, they make 3-axis joysticks.

    I've also downloaded VSA and been playing with it- pretty straight forward, up till now. I think I can fumble through it enough to make this all work.

    So- which SSC should I go with, and which servos? Keep in mind that if I am adding in some additional hardware into the head (not confirmed yet, but it's a potential option for me)- the skull may weigh more than expected. Do I need stronger servos considering this option?

    I'm getting excited to get this all rigged up and going! I can't wait till it's to the point of just programming the movements out to the sound...
    Thanks for all the help guys!
    AZ Specter

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Quechee, VT


    Let's see.... so many questions.

    I will try to address each one to the best of my knowledge. There are others on this board who already have finished products who have more info than I, and I hope they jump in.

    The SSC board I decided to use is the SSC-32 from Lynxmotion (http://www.lynxmotion.com/Product.as...CategoryID=52).

    There are many different SSCs that you can use. I chose this one for 3 reasons. The first is that it is fully compatable with VSA out of the box. Secondly, it has the most outputs for servos out of all the boards that I could find, and lastly, at $40.00, it is one of the cheapest ones out there. I don't have a finished product yet, but I have been testing with this board, and it is working great for me so far.

    I am also using a KIT 74 Relay board. I will be using this to control lights and other motors that I just want to turn on or off at specific times. (http://www.circuitspecialists.com/prod.itml/icOid/5971)

    I mentioned the servos I am using. They are the Hitec HS 425BB servos. They have plenty of torque to move that Pirate Skull around. If you are using a Bucky Skull, you may want some counterwights or tension springs because of the weight.

    As far as the VSA versus a Joystick..... These are two very different things. Here are the issues involved. First, I haven't seen any programs that allow you to control 3 axis motion with a joystick. There's probably something out there, but I haven't seen it. In another thread, I suggested developing something like that to Dr. Morbious who seemed to like the idea. Maybe someone else here on this board is working on this. It is doubtful that you will be able to have both Live interactive control AND pre-recorded routines with VSA in the same skull. It would be a "one or the other" Proposition.

    The closest hybrid I can think of is to use a Scary Terry board (http://www.cowlacious.com/ScaryTerry.htm)to run the Jaw, and have pre-recorded routines that control the skull motion randomly. (Not true random here, it would be programmed...It would appear random to the TOTers) That way, the head will be moving around in a realistic manner, and the jaw will react to exactly what you are saying.

    VSA is best with entirely pre-recorded routines. You can program in all kinds of things. Scene lighting changes, every little motion of your skull, eye movements if you are clever and handy enough to make an eye assembly, etc.

    It can take days or weeks to complete the program with all of these details and sync it to a sound track. Trying to control all those separate motions, while also trying to think of something to say, AND watch a monitor, AND react to what the TOTers are saying ALL WHILE running the rest of your haunt may be a little too much to worry about all at once. This is why you may want to opt for a pre-recorded routine.

    I am using pre-recorded routines for my 3 axis skulls. In another part of my haunt, I do have an interactive skeleton who talks to the TOTers. However, it's movements are random and the jaw is synced to my voice, so I don't actually have to "Control" any of it. I talk, and the jaw moves. I am watching monitors to see the TOTers, and I do have a wireless mic system....sort of. Here's what I did there. I have several mics planted throughout my main haunt area. They are all wired into a mic mixer. A line output from that mixer feeds into the audio input of an audio/video transmitter very much like this: (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...promot_widget). I use three different night vision cameras similar to these (http://cgi.ebay.com/Night-Vision-Wid...QcmdZViewItem). I have a wireless switching mechanism that I made using relays to switch between the cameras for different views. The video output from that switching mechanism goes to the video input of the transmitter I referenced above.

    I take the outputs from my wireless receiver and feed the audio to a mixer that I listen to with headphones, and hook up the viodeo to a TV so I can watch what's going on.

    My servo arrangement is VERY similar to TDs. I do use a threaded rod run through the rod end to attach the linkages to. More on that when I post my pics in a week or so.

    Well, that's probably enough for this post. I am happy to answer any other questions and hope that others with more experience jump in here to offer tips.
    Living as if every day were Halloween!


  5. #4


    Awesome! This is a great help! I can't wait to see pictures of it all! I'm ok with not being able to interact at this moment in time. I can always do a more simple prop for something like that. My haunt is still fairly small- so it's not necessary just yet- but it would be fun to have.

    Just to clarify- I really thought I read that VSA can handle a 3-axis joystick input- can it not? I realize now this would be for programming only (not live interactive use), but it would be easier to get the initial movements keyed in with a joystick, I would think. You can always fine tune by hand once that's complete.

    Where did you get the tie rod ends from, and what size? Do you just use the 1 for the main joint? How do you secure the main rod to the rest of the body? I'm sure these types of questions would be easier with pictures.

    If yours is built- how well is it working at this time? Did you need to counterbalance or rubberband it down to keep it from shaking too much? I'd love to see some video of the thing.

    Question- how much memory do these things have? I guess I should first ask if these are operated remotely and program stored on the SSC, or does it have to remain connected to a computer the entire time? If they are stored- how many songs/programs can they hold? If it's connected to the computer the entire time- how many different props/scenes can the computer run at the same time?

    Also- what kind of trigger inputs do they have? ie- is there a way to rig a sensor up to trigger a program to run?

    Lastly- how easy/hard would it be to coordinate 4 of these things at the same time (ie- a band or group of them)?

    ok- I think that's all for now- I'd love to hear from TD and what he's using as well- maybe we can coax him in on this thread...

  6. #5


    ok- more questions here...
    Any reason to go with the Digital servos? Seems like they're the same speed/torque offered- but digital offers more precision?

    Also- how is the speed of these servos? Are they fast enough to where you can do quick, head snap movements? I know VSA can slow it down for a more dramatic movement- but not sure about how fast the servos can go.

    Something else I just thought of- I plan on corpsing and costuming my prop- not sure how much weight that will add to it. So, I'm concerned about bogging down the standard servos. Maybe I should get the higher torque ones? Your thoughts on this?

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Quechee, VT


    In the FAQs on Brookshire's website, they mention the following:

    12. Can I use a joystick with VSA?

    Yes, servo/motor positions can be entered with a properly configured joystick. As you move the joystick, the "virtual servo" follows the action. Click here for more information on how the virtual servo works.

    When I clicked there, I couldn't find any information about Joysticks. I have not looked into it further, so I guess that you *can* do it, but I am at a loss to find any information as to how.

    I believe the rod ends I am using are part number 59915K271 from McMaster-Carr.com

    They are small, but can easily support about 100 times the weight I am using. I am having parts machined that will allow me to connect these skulls to the rest of the body using threaded rods and couplers.

    My first skull is almost complete. Everything still needs to be bolted down and hooked up to the computer for testing. I'll know soon, but I doubt I will need springs or counterbalances with this lightweight skull.

    The VSA program can control quite a bit. I am limited by the fact that my SSC board only has 32 outputs for servos. So unless I buy another SSC, I can only control 32 servos at the same time using VSA. I also have my KIT 74 board hooked up which gives me control of 8 relays as well. Check out the configuration pages at Brookshiresoftware.com for more info on how much VSA can control at once.

    You can get RAPU boards which you can program with a routine. Once programmed, they take the place of the VSA software and run their own SSC boards (amoung other things) independantly. I don't have one, so I can't really comment more on them.

    There are several people on this board who are working on 3rd party solutions that will interact with VSA to allow for remote triggering, Running multiple instances of VSA and sequencing routines. Hopefully they will chime in here.

    Coordinating multiple items is what VSA is all about. It is why we buy it. I will be running 4 skulls with mine. I am building a singing group based on Mike C's incredible work. I am adding some features, but basically, I am copying his idea because it is simply the coolest thing I have seen in years. Do a search for Graveyard Quartet on this site and you will see what I'm doing.
    Living as if every day were Halloween!


  8. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Rocklin, CA


    Quote Originally Posted by azspecter View Post
    ok- been reading a TON on this stuff....

    I know what SSCs are, what they do, how they work, etc etc. It seems to me that the Parallax USB SSC isn't completely compatible, and requires some 'tweaking' to get it to adapt for VSA.
    Not sure what you mean by the Parallax USB Servo controller not being compatible with VSA??? It works great out of the box and only requires the FTDI Chipset drivers and settings be correct in terms of port selection and port speed set at 38400.
    The skulltronix skull uses this same combination of hardware and software.

    VSA does not work for a realtime interactive show...The joystick is only good for recording your commands one servo at a time in "capture mode". It will work with a 3 axis joystick...but only one or two buttons are operational under VSA.

    Tip Wav files seem to sync better in VSA than Mp3 files.

  9. #8


    oh! I wasn't aware of that! Yeah, I'll check out Parallax again then- I hear great things about their products. I figured the joystick could only program 1 servo at a time.

    So let me ask this- are there any other solutions out there that allows you to program a show with VSA, then have it disconnected and running freely away from the computer? Are these SSCs hooked up via serial port, or USB? If it has to stay hooked to the computer- what's the max distance we can run a line from the SSC to the computer?

    Now that I'm thinking of it- I guess you COULD keep the SSC close to the computer, and just run all your servo control wires out to the prop. That could add up to a ton of wires tho. What are the options here?

  10. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    In a house far up on the highest hill where the cemetery ends beyond the winding path.


    You could use a RAPU. It's a device available from brookshire, the VSA folks. It is designed to hold a VSA program to run it independently from a PC, but I have heard it is buggy at best.

  11. #10


    Now THIS is impressive... check out the guy's website!


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