Xodiac's Wings

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The wings on most costumes that require them had previously been largely static. They were either permanently closed, or permanently open. Furthermore, they were usually far too small to for the person wearing them to actually fly, even given a siginificant suspension of disbelief.

However, we had set out to build costumes that were as realistic as we could make them. This first meant having wings that were significantly large. Something as large as a human needs a wingspan akin to that of a hang-glider to fly. While this naturally would be a bit outside of practicality, we could make an armature that would be rather larger than the wearer's body, which would do a suitable impression of huge wings, which was enough. We didn't intend to actually jump off buildings with these, after all.

We also needed wings that would open and close without any obvious opening gestures. Pulling on wires or holding them out manually were definitely not the way we wanted to go. So, then... what?

What was needed was a self-powered motor compact enough to hide within the costume and simple enough that a remote control wasn't needed. This is easier said than done. Compact and controlable by the wearer we had little problem with; it was the power that gave us trouble. It takes more lifting effort than we expected to open and close wings against gravity. We went through at least four ways to do it before hitting on one that works well. For simplicity's sake, I'm only going to show that one here.

You can click on any of these images to see a larger version, of course.

The folded wings, seen from the side and minus the "finger" rods. This is how the wing pack looks closed, as they normally are (with the exception that they'd be resting vertically on my back instead of horizontally along the floor). For reference, the top of the pack is to the left. The wire there runs down the costume's arm and connects to the switch in the fingers. The padding that surrounds the top members of the armature are foam inulation tubes. They were added to help round out the edge and make it look more organic. Otherwise the thin metal would have shown in outline against the fabric.

Here is the left wing, still folded but now out parallelling the wearer's body. The finger rods have also been attached for this picture. the rods are made out of delrin, a very flexible substance. With a paint-stripping gun found at nearly any hardware store, it can be heat-bent into nearly any shape you desire. In this case I left it mostly straight (the slight curve they aquired on their own due to gravity) except for one end, which I bent at 90 degrees an inch or so from the tip. I drilled a small hole in the bent tip. Thus I could run the rod out from the armature, slipping the bent end through a hole drilled into the metal (you can see one of the holes on the leftmost piece in the second picture above). With a cotter pin through the hole in the delrin, it wouldn't slip out.

It could, however, rotate. To stop this took two methods. One of the rods would be in the same plane as the rest of the armature. It would just run out along the metal and so was easy to fasten down. A short piece of plastic tubing wrapped tightly around both it and the metal keeps it securely in place.

The other two, however, were not going to be in the same plane as the armature itself. Instead, they would angle away from it, both in front and behind, in order to help give the wings a cupped, three-dimensional look. These rods went through the eye-bolts that stick out perpendicular to the armature. The eyes keep the rod under control as the mechanism opened and closed while pushing them away from the wings.

This is an illustration of how the wings appear as they are unfolding. You can see the angles on the fingers changing. The eye bolts let them do this; if they were cable-tied down, the angles would be set and the armature would stop opening far too soon. The eye bolts also let the rods slide laterally through them as the distance between them and the ends of the rods change.

The center of the wing pack. The box up top contains the electronics to control the valve, which is just below it. The CO2 container would be at the bottom-center of the pack. It's a rather small container that I obtained from a paintball supply store. It holds a pound of liquid CO2: more than enough for a convention. The pressure regulator is a beer keg CO2 regulator, and the pneumatic cylinders that are attached to the wings are bicycle pumps that we took the one-way valve out of. We could have gone with true pnuematic parts and controls, but most of this stuff is not difficult to find, and far cheaper.

Here's a close up on the wing mechanics. The right picture is diagramatic, with everything labeled. Or rather, it will be labeled, once I get the hang of Photoshop better. If I knew java, I'd do it all with rollovers, but I don't, so I can't.

Here's a closeup on the activator switch. It's slightly out-of-date, actually; now there's only one lead. At any rate, it's a magnetic reed switch, so the circuit inactive until I bring a magnet near it. The switch goes into the pinky and the magnet's in the thumb.

Here is the cloth covering for the wing, being painted. The back is this vibrant green, while the inside --not shown here, obviously -- is a nice almost-white. I'm not sure what the green fabric is called, since it was just labeled "costume fabric" but the white stuff is a very thin, light, cheap material called silk essense. I have the feeling I'm going to be using that a lot in future costumes, at least in certain areas. You can see pictures of the inside in the gallery area of this site.

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