How-To: Singing Busts Hack

Credit where credit is due: I did not figure out how to do this. All the glory, fame, and rose petals should be showered upon the guys at my-mania.com for figuring out how to do this. This is just my page showing how I followed their directions, with some notes about what I found while following along.

What Came Before

Talking Bust of Sheridan

In 2006, Target stores came out with a series of talking busts as part of their Halloween offerings. They played some rather cheesy (although better than most Halloween store-bought props) audio when you walked past them - if it actually triggered - and lit up as the jaw moved.

We were looking for things to spice up our graveyard walk, and these were the ticket. They were relatively cheap, had some ambiance to them, and could be embellished to create a scene.

You can see what we did to spice up these props on our 2006 tour page, but in a nutshell, we created marble pedestals to put them on and added little fences around them. These were used to user guests to the Mausoleum at the back of the little graveyard area.

Moving On

But what we want, of course, is to provide our own audio and have the busts sing along. Enter the guys over at my-mania.com and their how-to on hacking the busts to use custom audio. (Thanks, guys!) They had a complete, well-documented walkthrough on how to hack the busts to do exactly what we wanted. And they even used the same lightning FX box we had!

At right, you can see the effect we wanted. We wanted to be able to speak into a microphone, or hook the busts up to a prerecorded audio source, and have them move their jaws along with the audio.

Unfortunately, we had a few bumps along the way, and ours didn't go as smoothly as it did for my-mania, so this page is an attempt at heading off problems for other people trying to do what we did.

We're not going to replace my-mania's instructions; instead, these are intended to augment them. If you want to do this effect, you should start with their instructions first, and just read up on this in case you run into trouble.

What Went Wrong

Materials needed, sort of, for the singing bust hack

At right, you'll see the screenshot of the materials we'd gathered together to do the singing bust hack. Look how optimistic we were.

The problem is that power adapter sitting there. We picked it up at Radio Shack for over $10 after comparing it to the one used by the my-mania guys. It was a 3V 500mA AC-to-DC Power Adapter of the Radio Shack brand.

This did not match the one used by the my-mania guys, but it was the closest thing they had. It matched in every way but one: the one the my-mania guys used was 300mA, and this one was 500 mA.

My understanding from talking to them was that as long as the need I had was less than 500 mA, I'd be okay, so I bought it. We took it home, followed the instructions, and plugged it in.

Instead of the expected result - the mouth opening and staying open when power is applied - it did a strange thing. The mouth would alternate between being open and closed, open and closed. Whatever the reason, this was not going to work for what we needed. (I think that the problem is that the Radio Shack adapter is designed for cell phone use, and has some built-in "filtering" of the power or something. Or maybe the 500 mA thing was causing problems. If you're an electronics whiz, feel free to tell me.)

Closing the Deal

Gameboy adapter

Determined not to be burned again, we started scouring local electronics supply stores and the internet looking for a wall wart that matched the specs given in the how-to. Nothing really seemed to fit until I found this little reference at Electronic Goldmine: power adapters for the original GameBoy! At $1.29 a pop, the price was right.

The short of it is: these adapters work with the singing bust hack.

But they're a little different than the ones shown in the original instructions. Instead of two wires that you separate by clipping down the middle, it's an internal wire (actually, a lot of thin copper wires) wrapped in white plastic sheath, with more thin copper wires encircling it, and then the whole thing is wrapped in the purple outer plastic.

But the instructions are essentially the same. Clip off the end plug that used to plug into the GameBoy, and strip a good deal of the purple plastic off. This will reveal the outer wire wrapped around the inner white wire.

Materials needed, sort of, for the singing bust hack

Gather these wires up and twist them into a single wire that diverges from the white wire, and then strip away the white plastic around the inner wire, far enough away from where the outer wire diverges that you won't risk the two touching. That will reveal the inner copper wires. Twist them together.

You can then follow through with the rest of the instructions at my-mania. It turns out that you don't have to unscrew all the layers of the bust that they did; that was merely to find out which wire goes to the jaw motor. You only need to unscrew the bottom one, and with careful comparison to the photos at their site, it's clear which wire is the one which goes to the motor. Snip it, attach the wires, and you're done.

For Posterity's Sake

More for my own records than anything, I'm keeping an archive of the original article in case it goes away for some reason.