Friday, September 2, 2016

Halloween and More: Star Wars Kylo Ren Costume Build

My blog isn't always about work related activities, sometimes I need to focus on fun projects; even if they are design related!
I recently started a new project after stumbling across the Hasbro Kylo Ren Black Series Voice Changer Helmet at a local Toys 'R Us on sale for $59.99. My three-year old and I always play with the inexpensive half-helmet at Target, so I figured why not indulge my geek side. After discussion with the family it was decided this Halloween we would all go with Star Wars themed costumes; my daughter is assembling the components for Rey, my wife is going with a Jyn Erso inspired look, and my son (who LOVES "Bebop") is going for a BB-8 street look. On a side note, we can also use our costumes for the upcoming Star Wars Celebration, which will be held in our hometown of Orlando, as well as side-trips to Walt Disney World (i.e., Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween, sadly no masks allowed).After some research I decided to gut my helmet and replace the stock voice changer, which is plagued by numerous issues, with a couple of options that will support future customization: 1) a trigger-able soundboard loaded with Kylo Ren voice clips, toggle-able (via DPDT switch) 2) aux input, connected to voice modulation.                    
 
 
Kylo Ren Helmet Mod
Here is what I have done so far for the modification of my helmet (about $75 for all components):

  1. Removed stock audio board (clipped connections) and wired speaker to an RCA plug (input)
  2. Wired ten momentary (tactile) buttons, power source cable (JST input), and an RCA cable to an Adafruit Audio FX Sound Board (2MB; loaded with trigger *.wav files; see their excellent tutorial for details)
  3. Wired two RCA cables (input and output) and power source cable (JST input) to an Adafruit mono 2.5w amp
  4. Created Y-adapter for power cables (one JST input, two JST output)
  5. Created an "audio toggle adapter" using two RCA cables for input; an RCA cable for output; wired to DPDT switch
  6. Created a USB power adapter; cut one end off USB cable, isolated power and ground, then wired to JST (output)
  7. Modified 3.5mm Apple headphones (with mic) by clipping LEFT earbud off and soldering signal and ground to an RCA (output; very difficult task); also clipped and sealed right earbud
  8. Plug all elements together, as follows:
  • Adafruit Audio FX sound board to audio toggle adapter input 1
  • Apple 3.5mm headphones with mic to audio toggle adapter input 2; slip Apple headphones mic into helmet vocal focus cone (i.e., parabolic dish)
  • Audio toggle adapter output to Adafruit mono amp input
  • Adafruit mono amp output to speaker RCA input (in helmet)
  • Power cable Y-adapter output 1 to Adafruit Audio FX soundboard power input (3-5.5V)
  • Power cable Y-adapter output 2 to Adafruit mono amp (2-5.5V)
  • Connect USB battery to power cable Y-adapter input

I also drilled out holes for each of the buttons (glued into place) in a plastic project enclosure and then placed the amp, audio toggle adapter, and Audio FX sound board inside, with the power adapter input, audio toggle input 2, and amp RCA output leading out through another drilled hole (for connections, as noted above).

 
For now, I'm using Voice Synth Pro with Willfoxification's [Will Foxwell] Kylo V2.vsp file (check out his great post, adapting Luke Daley's "Voice FX method" here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KnightsOfRen/1743040749315613/?notif_t=like&notif_id=1460050067551553). However, one of the challenges with using this design is the need to leave the iPhone with the screen OPEN (e.g., significant power draw, risk of incoming calls/texts, accidental control engagement, etc.; unless I missed a setting in VSP), so I will also be exploring integration of a hardware-based solution, such as the Velleman Mk171 Voice Changer board, with my setup. I've also added foam to the interior to muffle my voice and am considering permanently bonding my helmet, filling in gaps, and repainting (maybe in the Spring). I'll try to get some videos up exhibiting some of the new helmet features, soon.
Further Costume Details
Initially, I was going for a low-cost costume build (est. $50-100), but I ended up diving in a little more for the background research and was floored by all the options. I eventually ordered what I consider to be a "mid-range" costume" from overseas (approx. $115, including S/H; multiple layers, patterned cloth, etc.), that should be arriving within the week. I also picked up the Toys 'R Us exclusive Kylo Ren Ultimate FX Lightsaber (it's a bit short, but should be Disney World friendly) and have some workable options for my baseline costume (black lace-less boots, gloves, balaclava, etc.). However, as I continue to learn more I plan to upgrade, piece by piece (e.g., full pleated tunic, gorget, Black Series Lightsaber, etc.). I've not decided if I want to go all in and build a 501st certifiable kit yet. For now, I'm happy with what I've been able to accomplish over the last two-weeks since starting down this path: "Forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will..." (Yoda, 1980, ESB). Truer words could not be used to describe this endeavor.
     

A lot of folks have been working on their own Kylo Ren costumes and are amazing contributors to this massive fanbase. If you would like to learn more, I recommend starting with the following:

 
PART DETAILS

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