Create Halloween masks in 5 days and make them as awesome as they can be to win the best costume competition. Therefore, they have to include RGB LEDs, an EL wire and an Arduino to control everything.
Apart from these constraints me and my flatmate Kestas set up some design specifications for our masks:
- Easy to drink and eat while wearing the mask,
- Possible to talk to other people,
- Doesn’t obstruct vision too much,
- Won’t start falling apart while dancing,
- Easy to put on and take off,
After some research on the internet we decided to make our masks from papier mache, because it’s cheap and it’s easy to learn. This was a really good post briefly covering everything we wanted to make.
Here’s a list of materials that we used for the masks:
- newspaper (lots of it)
- corn flour
- masking tape
- table tennis balls
All the electronics were ordered earlier from Amazon and eBay. Here’s a list of what we used:
- common anode RGB LEDs
- red diffused LEDs
- 2m EL wire with inverter
- 100 ohm resistors
- x-acto knife
- brush (we reused old toothbrushes)
- soldering iron
- wire strippers
Firstly, we each made a quick sketch on a balloon to check the overall size of the masks, and some details. Then when we were happy with our concept designs, we had to figure out how to create the papier mache mask.
Neither of us have done anything from papier mache before, so the first two attempts were unsuccessful. We tried using gelatin, but it didn’t set fast and wasn’t strong enough (although, it looked promising at the beginning). Second try was using the flour and water mixture technique, which we found online. But again, it wasn’t strong enough. So the third and by far the best technique was using corn flour (corn starch will also work). Results were amazing. We prepared the glue using this guide on Squidoo.
Essentially, mix 2 tbsp of corn flour with 2 tbsp of cold water. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water, and mix it into the corn flour & water goo.
After putting on about 7-8 layers, we left the masks to dry over night. The next day we took the balloons out and cut holes for head and mouth. When we were happy, it was time to add some detailing. A center fin and lips were added and glued using the corn flour glue.
While the masks were drying we cut some table tennis balls in half and put them on with some masking tape to decide on the eye arrangement. I also tried to cut out some holes for eyes to see, but they turned out useless, and I covered them later on.
When the masks are dry, it’s time to paint! We used spray paint for the background color, as it is the fastest and easiest way. For some details (like teeth and white parts on the mask) we used some white enamel.
After painting the masks, time to put the LEDs in. Although, when I think about it know, holes for LEDs could have been made before painting. Otherwise, you’ll have some white newspaper visible around the LEDs, unless you cover them with something – like a table tennis ball, or LED holders (like we did).
Soldering. When all the were holes cut, we prepared the LEDs. We joined all the LEDs in parallel and then soldered a 100 ohm current limiting resistor on each positive connection. This is an important part. Don’t forget to put the resistors in, otherwise you’ll drain the batteries in 30 minutes or so (it is because LEDs are a little like transistors and will drain as much current as they can. Read more about it online). Also, to make connecting the wires to my Arduino easier, I soldered header pins. They prevent wires from accidentally disconnecting and make a lot easier taking the Arduino out.
When everything is connected, I checked that everything is working the way it should. I uploaded a short sketch to test the LEDs one color at a time. Had to change one RGB LED, as it was faulty. After that was done, we’ve put all the electronics inside and glued the table tennis eyes on.
Masks were starting to look really good at this point. Now we had to decide how to put the EL wires on our masks. After some time prototyping with masking tape, we finally decided on the positioning, and glued the EL wire using some clear glue. As soon as the glue has cured, we put in some batteries. Time for a full test run!
What we noticed from the beginning, is that there’s quite a lot of space around the head and the masks don’t sit the way we want. With all the additional weight from batteries and Arduino it got even worse. For testing we used some cardboard spacers around the head, to hold the mask. Later on we bought some foam from our local foam shop and made a proper lining. Foam not only helped to keep the helmet well positioned at all times, but all the electronics were hidden under the foam, so no additional holders were needed. Win! On my helmet I used a belt holder for batteries. Only the Arduino and EL wire inverter were in the helmet.
After having all the parts cut from foam, dry fitted and tested we glued them in using some multi purpose hobby glue that we found in Homebase. Although, hot glue would do the job perfectly too.
Finally, after putting the lining in, it was time to make the helmets awesome! By that, I meant, it was time to program the Arduino. My code basically iterates the RGB colors and after some time it “pulses” the red LEDs on the top of the helmet. Then repeats all over again. Here’s a link to the code: Halloween Masks.
I was also thinking of putting a button and having a couple of “modes” for the helmet. Here is the code for LEDs with a control button: Improved Halloween Masks.
- Add a microphone and make the LEDs blink to music,
- Combine EL wire and Arduino battery packs into one.
Here’s a video of helmets in action during a party (eyes on the “Nemo” helmet aren’t working in this video):
Share with us what you’ve built using papier mache and Arduino.
Thanks for reading.