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In 2011 I made a giant tarantula. The body was hollow, made of cardboard and plastic. The legs were made of pipe insulation and foam, and the whole thing was covered in long fur. I tried to give it moving arms, but my string-powered arms never worked right and it required an actor inside to wiggle the arms around. It was sitting on a big pile of eggs (to hide the person that was under the spider, puppeting the arms.)



For 2013, I wanted to mod the spider to be free-standing as I thought that would be scarier. I also wanted to animate it with a prop controller and a motor.


To begin with, I needed better moving legs. Following the excellent PVC hinges guide by discozombie , I made legs out of 1/2 inch PVC. To grind down the PVC into a rounded shape, I used rough-grit sandpaper (the rougher, the better) and used a smooth scraping motion. It went surprisingly fast. Then I drilled the hole and then used a finer grit sandpaper to smooth the inside of the hinge.





The hinge is secured with short bolts & locking nuts, and in-between the two PVC I put a smooth nylon washer.



I ran into my first problem: when I tried having a single hinge, I could easily make it go up and down by pulling a string. But when I tried having two hinges (like a finger), only the hinge on the end worked - the second one wouldn't lift.

After a lot of trial and error, I learned that the farther away the string is from the hinge, the easier it is for it to pull the arm up (the magic of leverage?). So I needed to create something that would provide that distance, and also could limit the range of motion to something natural.

Eventually I created this: a limited hinge made out of tin can lids and lots of bolts. The bolts limit the motion of the arm and support its weight when it's not being pulled by the string. There are also four screws that form a 'arc' shape across the top - they have plastic tubing on them so that the cord can slip smoothly through them. They will hold the cord far enough away from the joint so that pulling the cord will move the arm.







The cord is some cheap clothesline cord I got from Home Depot. If I were doing this again I wouldn't use this cord because it's stretchy, which is not good when you're trying to maintain a precise tension. It did fit perfectly inside the ice cube water line (which protects it from snagging on things.)



For the non-mobile legs I used 1 inch PVC. I drew a guide to the leg on a large roll of paper and then used a paint stripper gun to heat the PVC up enough to bend it. (Remember to do this outside as there are fumes. )

 

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The body of the spider is made of two planks of wood which sandwich a bunch of PVC 4-way connectors. Due to the weight of everything, the PVC was not very stable and legs kept working themselves loose. So I drilled holes through the connectors and the legs and dropped in bolts to act as pins.



The wood planks are where I attached the wiper motor and the MonsterShield prop controller. There are also holes for the 4 moving arms, which drop in and then are secured with bolt pins.



I cut a hole in the top plank to allow the motor to nestle between the two planks, and then attached it with zip ties through holes.

As the cord came into the body, I wanted it to be about level with the motor so that the motor was only rotating level and not having too much force pulling it up or down. So I used eyehooks to channel the cord.

I had a heck of a time devising an arm for the motor. I tried a coathanger, but it was just too bendy. Finally I found a pair of sliding hinges (such as you'd get on a chest).

Once the arm was on I stopped the motor at the most extreme position and the pulled the arms up very tight. Then I tied the cords to the motor arm. Unfortunately the cord was very good at streching and even pushing knots back, so the arms would soon have too much slack. I experimented with lots of things but nothing would stay tight. Finally my husband tied a figure 8 knot that worked pretty well.


On the underside of the belly I mounted the MonsterShield prop controller. It controls the motor and strobe light, and also plays the sound. It is triggered by an IR sensor. It was very exciting to see it actually working!


I used a lot of foam to bulk out the legs of the spider. I had wanted the legs to look quite accurate, so I studied tarantulas and sculped the foam, but I'm afraid it all gets lost under the fur and in the dark.





I was up hot-gluing fur till 2am the night before Halloween. But I got her done in time.

And here she is - 8 feet across and the legs reach up about 6 feet in the air.






I barely finished the spider in time, so there isn't much of a background - lots of cheesecloth and some giant 'eggs' which are just cheesecloth and elmer's glue, as well as a few skulls and bones. It looked pretty good in the dark, though!



This was our first year in the neighborhood, and we got about 50 kids. I asked them "Do you want to meet my pet?" and then as they walked into the very dark garage the IR sensor would catch them and turn on the spider. (Alas, my nighttime video didn't turn out, so here's the daytime version:)


The reaction was pretty good, the little ones freaked out and then wanted to see it again and again. The bigger ones right-out declared it wasn't scary. One of them walked away and said "It's not scary...but it's cool!"
I'll take that :)
 

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That is some great ingenuity. Just a couple of tweaks and I think you would scare the big one as well. Great work.
Especially if they were to walk around a corner and it triggered right as they saw it. But I have a lot of props that aren't scary. They are cool and add a lot of ambiance to the scene, like my animated cocooned body in a giant web. People love it but it doesn't send them screaming. Not everything has to be crap in your pants scary. I think you did an amazing job on that and it is a very impressive piece of work. And kind of scary too.
 

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Very good results for how you were trying to make it work. Would 1/16th steel cable work better? It is very cheap, yet very strong. I use it a lot.
I love building things, but I hate fixing them.
I have always been in awe of spiders. How can they have so much co-ordination in such a small head to operate all of those appendages?
I follow the really "Old School " scare idea of slight movement, sometimes so slight, they have to ask themselves:"Was that just My imagination?"
When you get them second-guessing their own eyes and ears... then you can take them .. anywhere!
OK, so I'm evil, but not overly so. I always tell them afterwards if I was "doing it".
 

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Very detailed post. I appreciate the effort that you put into the project and the effort to document it on the website. I especially like the up close video of the wiper motor and strings attached. I had never seen the mechanism so nicely video taped before.

Did you post a video of your haunt on Halloween?
 

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Thank you all very much for the comments! I really appreciate them, they have filled me with glee :)

Very good results for how you were trying to make it work. Would 1/16th steel cable work better? It is very cheap, yet very strong. I use it a lot.
I think it would work much better and I would certainly look to using some kind of metal cable in the future. Can I ask where you get it, and how you terminate the ends? I saw that radio-controlled planes use metal wire inside plastic tubing and that's what I wanted to get at first, but I couldn't figure out how I could "tie" the ends so to speak.

I follow the really "Old School " scare idea of slight movement, sometimes so slight, they have to ask themselves:"Was that just My imagination?"
When you get them second-guessing their own eyes and ears... then you can take them .. anywhere!
OK, so I'm evil, but not overly so. I always tell them afterwards if I was "doing it".
Oo, I do like that! I would love to have a long walk-through that just subtly creeps you out and really immerses you into the experience. With slight movement, sound, and smell, and maybe air currents too.

My favorite Disneyworld thing is the Epcot dinosaur ride (yes, the silly one with Ellen DeGeneres), because of the massiveness of the dioramas, the smells, the lighting, the great audio - it's incredibly immersive and that's what I think of when I think of my dream haunt experience.

Especially if they were to walk around a corner and it triggered right as they saw it. But I have a lot of props that aren't scary. They are cool and add a lot of ambiance to the scene, like my animated cocooned body in a giant web. People love it but it doesn't send them screaming. Not everything has to be crap in your pants scary. I think you did an amazing job on that and it is a very impressive piece of work. And kind of scary too.
Thank you! I agree very much - ambiance is really important. I go back and forth between how far I want to go on the "just creepy to screaming fear" scale. Last year I had a mummy theme and about 1/5 of the kids (mostly younger) would not even come in the garage at all, which was very disappointing, so I toned it down this year.

Of course, I'd love to thrill everyone, but I know that's impossible, so I honestly was happy that many people said it was 'cool'. Parents in particular seemed to really enjoy coming through after their kids saw it, I've never had that happen before.


Very detailed post. I appreciate the effort that you put into the project and the effort to document it on the website. I especially like the up close video of the wiper motor and strings attached. I had never seen the mechanism so nicely video taped before.
Thank you! I am always curious how other people get their stuff to work, and I love a 'good behind the scene'.

Did you post a video of your haunt on Halloween?
I have a regular camera (Nikon) that takes video and I did try to capture a walk-through, but I guess the camera's digital sensor didn't pick up the strobe light very well, so the video it made is just the glowing red spider eyes, and not much else. I think I need to get a real camcorder before next year as I really enjoy everyone else's nighttime videos.

For the human eye, the strobe did add an interesting effect (it was hard to tell how fast the spider arms were moving, but you could tell they were moving). Still, it was pretty hard to see overall, so I think I need to improve my lighting next year.
 

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Great work and thanks for taking the time to post detailed pics and descriptions. It certainly helps those who are trying to do similar things see how others have come up with solutions.
 

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Incredible amount of work you put into that- very nice. Love the details and those bigger kids will be watching to see what you do next year. Maybe make a stalkaround spider as a follow up to this one so it actually comes at them! Then they'll scream:D
 
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