I am looking at building a vehichal puppet, kind of like the Chevron Cars.  The two things I am not quite sure to approach are the steering/suspension and the lights.

As far as the steering and suspension goes do you have any ideas to keep the motion lively? I first looked at using RC parts to get steering components but it almost seems like it might be easier and comparable cost wise to just use parts like this Animation Supply parts to craft a suspension system. If each wheel was on it's own arm it seems like this is seems like it could be pretty expressive:

Is that a good design to go with, or are there better ways to approach this? It also seems like in some of the commercials the body is detached from the wheels, likely mounted on some rig independently to let the wheels be manipulated independent from the body. I figure I might be able to make the attachment point be a bolt that can be removed if it need to be independently animated.

As far as lights go, does anyone know if there is a way to hook LEDs up to an arduino or something and control them through Dragonframe, or would you have to control lights through some kind of DMX setup?

Here are a bunch of commercials with the Chevron cars:



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I remember being impressed with how the big truck in Chicken Run dipped down and bounced up on its suspension when it braked.  

The balljoints used for the suspension might have trouble supporting the weight of the vehicle if they are small and intended for use inside puppets.   But if they work, they would be fairly quick and easy to animate for the bouncing action.   Possibly one balljoint would be enough, if it were bigger, because it could twist to allow one side to dip more than the other. 

If you want more precision, you could have screws to turn that raise and lower the body.   If they are vertical, getting a screwdriver to the head might be impossible, but if they were hex headed bolts you could turn them from the side.  In a shot like the Chevron ad you could just have the screws coming up through the set floor and turn the screws from underneath, but if the vehicle was going to bounce on it's suspension while driving around, it would have to be built into the car.  Slower, if you have to turn a screw at each wheel, but precise.

I faked it with one shot by having a loose hinge for the front wheel assembly mount (where you have the two balls), and slipping different thicknesses of card, mdd, and blobs of plasticine into a gap to raise and lower it in steps.

Based on the Wallace and Gromit truck I used in curse of the wererabbit and the ice cream truck we built for Mary and max, I have been building a 1:10 scale Holden commodore (which unfortunately looks more like a Volvo thanks to my sub-par sculpting efforts!)
Here is a blog I started on the making of. I used the principles mentioned by Nick and have some close up pics and blueprints you are welcome to use (go to the bottom for the clear ones!)
Hope this is of use to your project.
Ps: all except the wheels and wheel mounts are hand made. The tie rod ends through to the tyres are rc parts which cost about $20 all up.
Cheers. Jason.

Thanks Nick, and Jason that blog link is incredibly helpful, I don't expect to build anything quite that big but I think those blue prints and all that info should be very helpful for what I am trying to do!

SHOW REEL RECENT SET AND MODEL WORK from Displacement1 on Vimeo.

Made a few vehicels over the years for little things standard joints are prob cheaper and easier to animate . But for big stuff you prob best going the screw or even  jack  approach :)

See vid gives rough idea


Some beautiful work, thanks for sharing, nice to see the behind the scenes bit for each prop!

The pics in Jason Lynch's blog map to what I would expect, which is that the car has a free-floating axle that is positioned using screws.  The screws act sort of like the hydraulics in low rider cars that are rigged to hop around.  At any point in the extension of the screw/hydraulic cylinder, the car is stable and can support weight.  Kind of like a deformable chassis.

So you wouldn't use ball joints to position the control arms.  But even if you did, you'd want to have the wheel on a separate axis so the ball joint wasn't used for both the spinning wheel and bouncing.

I had a bunch of other projects to finish before I really started this one in force but I am actually moving forward on this now. I really appreciate all the advice folks have offered.

I started things by building a scale model to make sure I was happy with all the proportions

And here is the full model

There are a few issues with it but that's why I built a scale model out of foam core before building the actual model, main issue being the rear is about one inch to short. There are a few other minor adjustments but building this has given me a lot of incite on how I should approach the final model.

Nice job with the foam core mock-up! I had to make my daughter a Lightning McQueen "hat" for Halloween when she was in preschool, foam core to the rescue! lol. You've got a lot of character in it already!

Thanks Dennis, I always keep it on hand for light reflection or blocking but sometimes I just need to cut up foam core to make something in a hurry, it's a real handy material.

One issue I was having was the wheels I was looking at were just to big or to small, I picked up a neat wheel set on ebay for about $8 but they were only 1 inch wide, I was looking for closer to 1.5 inches, the wheels in the mock up are about 2 inches and are just to big.

After a frustrating 1.5 hour bus ride out of town to a model story that told me on the phone that they had a 'huge selection of wheels in many sizes (they had 6 sets of wheels in the same size I got off of eBay) I was kind of desperate to find something that worked.

Then I had a brilliant idea, I would take the hub caps from my eBay wheels and just make bigger tires! So I covered the tires in clay so the hub caps would fit in correctly and added to the girth of the tire.

However the first mold I cast of my new tire was a disaster, the mold I cast fused to the resin I poured into it and was a total lost cause. After doing some research I came to the conclusion that maybe I got the wrong mold material for the resin I was using, so I found what I needed and called a local art store to see if they had it in stock, and as luck would have it, they did!

But then I went online and re-read the instructions for the silicon mold mix I had used on the first disaster cast and found out I had done it wrong. (I think it's been a decade since I last worked with silicon molds) I needed to spray the releasing agent before pouring (I just forgot this, I had even purchased it) then let it dry for 30 min after brushing with a soft brush so it gets everywhere, and then heat the mold right before the pour.

I was willing to give the silicon another shot, but in case it didn't work I decided to cast two clay tires first (so if the mold fused to the resin again I could make two copies of the tire quickly with the clay tires) So after making a new mold, I poured two clay copies then cleaned it out good, applied the release agent, let that dry and then blasted the mold with my heat gun and gave the resin a second shot. Then while the resin set I biked downtown to the art store to pick up the new silicon, even if the new mold worked I would still need more for this project.

When I got back later that day the resin tire popped right out! It had been user error all along! After I washed it off I sprayed it with a rubberized coat and put the hub caps in, I think they look nice but a lot more hand made then the original tires and will likely match the style of the puppet better in the end.

You can see the original tire on the left, the rubberized resin tire in the center and on the right the disasters first mold.

And this is what the tire looks like next to the scale model, the wheel wells will be a bit smaller to match the custom wheel size.


That was an extremely long story, I feel like every step of this project is a huge learning process for me.

We had a saying at the model shop I worked at years ago: "There are no problems, only solutions!" 

Congrats on sticking with it until you fixed it! 



Words to live by!

Before I can really get started on the body I need to know what sort of frame is going to fit in it, so I started with steering. I did order some RC car steering parts but they were just way to large for my needs, so I picked up a bad of random brass bits at an art store and started scrap building everything, now I don't have access to a metal shop (or even a regular shop, so some of the metal work is pretty rough, but I managed to do this in my little apartment!

I was actually a little unhappy with the tires so I recast them with some correction, but I used the two I did cast to give me a scale reference while I worked on this.

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