“Why did you make this?” is the most common
question I get. I had seen big costumes at events
before, but I thought I could go bigger. I built it
particularly for the 2013 Calgary Entertainment
Exposition, but due to its size, I was denied
permission to have it walk through the event.
It sat in a storage room growing spider webs until
I was approached by Shannon Hoover from the
Calgary Mini Maker Faire, who brought us out to
the light of day. Ever since, we’ve been delighting
large costume fans.
Sketches, Designs, and the Unknown
I’d like to say I have 3D models with accurate
measurements and blueprints, but I just kind of do things
on the fly. So, in the instance of my Golem, I knew what I
wanted as far as the height and rock-like appearance.
Other than that, I made it up as I went along. The first
step was to take a physical outline of the person who
would be piloting it (not me) by having them stand on
buckets against a wall. Tracing this general shape onto on
old bed sheet gave me an initial height of approximately
10’ 6”, so I started building a skeleton to this size.
As with any adolescent, my Golem grew a bit during
his youth, adding another 18 inches to make an adult size
of 12’ tall. I would do some general drawings, mainly so I
wouldn’t forget ideas I came up with the night before.
What it Takes to Make a Golem
Lots and lots of stubbornness! Leaving the artistic stuff
aside, just learning the electronics to make him come alive
was quite a task for me. I am a novice when it comes to
electronics, but I do have a very strong desire to learn.
Most of what I know comes from years
of taking things apart, hacking kid’s
toys, owning a copy of Forrest Mims’
Getting Started in Electronics, and
plenty of trial and error.
So, this is basically my story of
how I hacked the Golem’s electronics
to life. Although I got it working with
tenacity and determination, I knew I
wanted to make it better and more
reliable. So, I got some help from
Solarbotics Ltd., who is also here in
Calgary with us.
To make Rock Golem what I
envisioned, I needed a gameplan. I sat
down with Solarbotics, and we
documented all the systems I had put
together — including power systems
and labelling all wiring (see Figure 3) —
and what my wish list was for
improvements. After prioritizing these
upgrades (we were on a tight time schedule), Solarbotics’
president, Dave Hrynkiw pinned down the new control
structure and what the features were. Although my hacked
electronics worked, they were twitchy and untunable. We
decided on splitting the 15 lighting effects between two of
Solarbotics’ Ardweeny/Double Rainbow controllers and
three SparkFun Pro Minis.
What it Takes to Make a Golem Walk
The best place to start is at the very foundation: the
skeleton. Engineering a 12 foot, 300 pound costume to
walk with no mechanical aid was a “feat” to say the least.
(I am proud to report that the Golem never fell once.)
For the frame, I had to come up with something
strong, yet light and malleable. Being that my background
is in building maintenance, I decided PVC pex pipe would
be the best to use. The full extent of work that went into
the engineering of the skeleton was quite long, but what I
did was to study how the human skeleton works and
transfer the concepts to the Golem. This was actually
harder than I thought it would be due to the size and the
fact that someone less than half its height had to walk
Rock Golem around.
After trying to use assisted walking devices such as
hydraulics on the legs (which only made him lose
balance), we came up with a technique where the
operator was able to successfully walk the Golem around
while turning his head and moving his arm and hand.
The biggest obstacle in the build process of the
skeleton was attaching the energy crystal weapon which
was much heavier than the rest of the costume. For this, I
created strengthened joints all up the arm and upper chest
to distribute the weight evenly over the upper body. This
left him very front heavy though, so I designed a ratchet
system spinal cord that connected his upper shoulders to
one of his feet creating a core of balance, then used the
Golem’s own weight to balance him.
LEDs — It’s an
I learned my first hard lesson on
the use of current-limiting resistors.
Initially, I ran two wires to every LED
and many more back to a single
resistor. This created a rat’s nest of
wiring and LED grids that were power
hogs that created substantial heat in
the few current-limiting resistors.
There is well over 50 linear feet of
red LED strips mounted among the
34 September 2014
FIGURE 3. Breaking down the
electrical systems for Solarbotics.