Help with layout/location of components/topology?

I have a Maestro 24 I got forever ago because it was on sale, figuring for sure I’ll use this for something. LOL, years and plenty of other projects pass by and finally…I have my something!

My wife mentions she would like a skeleton head animatronic for Halloween. I recall the Maestro sitting dusty in a drawer, and along with my trusty 3D printer I say sure… no problem! (That’s what you say to wives you want to keep happy, LOL.)

This would be 4-6 skulls and shoulders looking over a fence, over say a 20 foot length. The hardware would be behind the fence and not visible. They would basically kabitz and tell horrible jokes.

Movements wont be too complex, I’m thinking jaw/1 axis turn/1 axis eyes … possible LED light in eyes as well but that depends on available controls vs skull count.

I figure I can run 6 skulls using up to 4 channels each, a veritable army!

But… of course there’s sounds to trigger, and… and… and…

My initial thought was to have a Cat6 network cable running to each skull for easy plugging in to a central box with the M24 and sending power and servo out to each skull that way. But then there’s audio, which would preferably be in each skull and not just a single speaker.

I’m not sure sending a serial command over a cable also carrying servo commands and power would work well (or, even that servo signals alone would work well over ~10 feet of cable) so I’m starting to think that maybe I’d be better off having a M6, an Arduino Nano and a MP3 Trigger and Amp in each skull and only supplying power and serial from a master controller? That could get spendy…Hey, Pololu, want to have another half price sale?

Hmmm, or maybe servo and power and analog audio, using a relay in each skull to enable audio on a per skull basis? Hmmm, that would probably be pretty versatile for moving between props/seasons.

Dumb skulls, master controller? Smart skulls?
Some other approach?

My skillset is jack of all trades, master of none… LOL. I can solder, program Arduino and usually get it to play along. I’m also good at general fabrication and prop-making type skills. I can noodle my way through serial commands and such, eventually.

So, for a succinct question… does anyone have advice on how to lay out the larger project?


Ultimately, however you lay it out is up to your personal preferences, as well as what your budget (both time and money) will allow for.

In larger projects, like the kind you are talking about, I typically prefer to keep things as modular as possible. From what you have described so far, I would probably set it up with one master controller, sending signals to each modular skull prop, where each skull prop has it’s own Maestro, servos, power supply, MP3 trigger, amp, and speakers. While this is not the most economic route, it allows you to easily add more of them at a later date, or remove one if something goes wrong, without reworking the entire system.

If you prefer to finish a project and never work on it again, then maybe doing it all as one integrated system is a better choice for you. It might be more limiting in terms of hardware, but this method could also save some money since you could potentially share hardware between your animatronics.

In either case, this sounds like a really fun project and we would love to see more as it develops! If you are willing to share, you might consider posting more about it on our “Share your projects” section of the forum as it comes together.