When Sparkfun started carying EL wire, I knew it was time to build a Tron costume for Halloween. This was my first e-Textiles project and it was certainly a learning experience and a lot of fun.
I started by buying a new black denim jacket and pants. I wanted a jacket because it is easy to put on/take off and gave me a bit of insulation since it tends to be chilly around Halloween where I live. The pants were slightly darker than the jacket, but it didn’t matter – in the dark, the EL wire is all that could be seen. Next, after much searching, I found an inexpensive black motorcycle helmet on eBay for about $40. The cheap materials in the helmet made it easy to hack to suit my needs – I’m just not sure I’d ever actually wear it on a motorcycle.
I found a great blog on instructables.com on how to add EL wire to a coat. I carefully placed painters tape on the jacket and pants and sketched the EL wire layout using measuring tape and rulers. I used a Buttoneer to attach the wire to the denim with plastic rivits. There was a major learning curve for this and I wasted over half the connectors as I learned to use it properly. In the end, my fingers were torn up and bleeding – ah, the sacrifices I make! Once the wire was attached, I carefully removed the painters tape. I used EL tape down the arms and glued it onto the sleeves using E6000 fabric glue. Finally, I sewed on 3 Lilypad buttons on the inside sleeve to control the circuitry.
I wired all the EL wire with thin 24-gague wire inside the jacket and pants. I ran all the wires to the inside jacket pocket and terminated them with JST connectors. I used a Sparkfun EL Sequencer to terminate all the EL wires and drive the circuitry. I also connected the Lilypad buttons to analog ports on the EL Sequencer – the only ports left open – this was not optimal, but I made it work. Button 1 turns the EL wires on/off. Button 2 starts all EL wires blinking at once – the more you press, the faster it blinks. Button 3 starts all the EL wires blinking in sequence – the more you press, the faster it sequences. I used the Arduino IDE to write the sketch and upload it to the EL Sequencer.
Next, I bought a Tron:Legacy Identity Disk from Toys R Us. It had built-in LEDs that matched the EL wire, but also did other things I didn’t want (sound effects, etc.). So, I cracked it open and ripped out the circuitry, then re-wired the device to simply turn on/off the LEDs. I used hook & loop fasteners to attach the identity disk on the back of the jacket so I could take it off if I needed to. It ran on its own batteries, so I didn’t need to connect it to the rest of the suit.
I made some major modifications to the motorcycle helmet. I pulled out the extra inside padding to make room for some circuitry. I evaluated several voice changing circuits and finally found one that met my needs in a cheap megaphone toy from ToysRUs. I tore out the circuit and added my own speakers and microphone. I pulled the speakers from an old Toshiba laptop – they were really thin and fit perfectly behind the mouth guard of the helmet. I also pulled a microphone through the mouth guard so it would be as close as possible to my mouth inside the helmet.
Next, I added a “cylon eye” circuit I created using a PICAXE 14M2 chip and 9 red LEDs. With the dark visor on the helmet, you can’t see my face – only the LEDs – it’s a cool look. I removed the fabric padding and carved holes in the Styrofoam in the top of the helmet to embed the circuit board and battery. I also cut channels for the wiring to the LED visor. I used transparent plastic to create a visor to mount the LEDs and slid it up in between the layers of the helmet over my eyes.
The two helmet circuits are independently powered to avoid wires between the helmet and the rest of the costume. I wired switches down the onto the left and right sides of the helmet so I could easily turn on/off the circuits while I was wearing the helmet. They scraped skin off my face every time I took off the helmet – something to fix for next year.
- I’m still not sure how, but I think I over-flexed the EL tape on my left shoulder and it caused the layers of plastic to peel a bit. The night before Halloween, I was doing last minute tweaks when it started to get very hot and smoke. I had to quickly peek the jacket off to avoid getting burned. After that, I installed a kill switch and wired it into my front pocket so I could get to it quickly. I had to go trick-or-treating with the left arm disconnected since I couldn’t get a replacement EL tape fast enough. When you’re playing with high voltage, things like that can happen, I guess.
- On more than one occasion when working with the EL sequencer, I touched the wrong spot and zinged myself with electricity. After that, I started wrapping the circuit in a mylar bag to avoid accidental contact.
- I learned too late that walking in a dark room with the dark helmet visor down and the LEDs flashing, it’s very hard to see. I was grateful for the ability to turn off the LEDs quickly and easily.
I made minor modifications for Halloween 2012 including:
- Replaced the red LED in the visor with Blue ones that match the EL lights – seriously, what what I thinking!
- I replaced the EL Sequencer with an Adafruit EL Wire 12V Sound Activated Pocket Inverted. I unsoldered the microphone and added my own on a long pair of wires. I then hid the microphone above my left breast pocket on the jacket. This made the costume much more interactive and fun.
I wore the costume to a Halloween party and it was a huge hit. I had a 5 year old boy follow me around for most of the night clapping at me to trigger the sound-activated inverter – so cute! His fascination got me thinking about doing a more interactive costume for next year.