It turns out that creating a ventriloquist's mask isn't too difficult, but implementing the articulation can be a tad tricky.
As you may recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote a column about some very funny masks (see Want the Truth? Wear a Mask), such as the ones seen in this video of Nina Conti live at the Apollo.
I just watched this act again. I can’t stop laughing. The thing is that Bob, the guy in the next office who introduced me to this concept, is really enthused by the idea of creating some of these masks for his own use (don't ask). I'm rather keen myself, if the truth be told. In fact, I'm hoping to be able to bring one up to the forthcoming Embedded Systems Conference (ESC), May 3-4, in Boston to have some fun with my friends.
Personally, I wouldn’t know where to start on the mask itself. Fortunately, Bob is a great sculptor (see my Hnaflbaflwhiflsnifltafl column for examples of Bob's work).
In the fullness of time, we would love to implement some form of radio control system. For our first iteration, however, based on a suggestion by EETimes Community Member, Betajet, we're planning on using a remote shutter camera release cord, which you can pick up for just a couple of dollars on eBay.
Remote shutter camera release cord (Source, Max Maxfield)
There's a threaded fixture on the business end of the cord that's supposed to be connected to your camera. When you press the plunger, a thin metal rod protrudes about 1" from the other end. When you release the plunger, a spring inside the handle returns everything to its initial position.
The idea is that we will press the plunger to open the mask's mouth and release the plunger to close everything up again. Take a look at the cheap-and-cheerful mockup shown below. Our plan is that our final mask -- which will be much more "three dimensional" -- will come in two parts: the nose and upper mouth that's attached to someone's head via elastic straps, and the lower mouth and jaw that moves up and down.
Cheap-and-cheerful mockup (Source, Max Maxfield)
If you look closely at the video above, you can see that the mask itself is formed from some really thin material. The upper half can be padded and heavier; it's the lower part that moves, and that therefore needs to be as lightweight as possible.
Our plan is for Bob to sculpt the mask out of clay, then we'll create a silicon mold, and finally we'll cast a thin version of the mask out of resin, which we will then paint.
The big issue at the moment is the way in which we create the hinged joint, attach the camera release cord, and articulate everything. This is where we could benefit from some mechanical engineering know-how, but I'm not a mechanical engineer. I couldn't even play one on TV because I don’t have the hunched shoulders, hang-dog expression, and overall shifty countenance (I'm joking, of course; some of my best friends are I once met some mechanical engineers).
We do have some ideas of our own but, as always, we would very much welcome any suggestions from someone who -- unlike us -- has a clue what they are doing.