This semester I am working on a team project for Give Kids the World, a nonprofit resort in central Florida that provides week long, cost free vacations to children with life threatening illnesses and their families. GKTW has asked us to take Tom Foolery, an existing cable and rod operated puppet character and turn him into an animatronic figure that cab be operated in real time by a GKTW volunteer. They have also asked us to create an immersive experience around him complete with story content, audio, and lighting so that he can lead there evening story time experience inside the Castle of Miracles.
Why redesign Tom
GKTW asked us to redesign tom for several reasons. Number one being access. To get up to the little balcony he lived on volunteers would have to climb a set of attic stars and then navigate along a catwalk above a moving carousel in order to access the back side of his balcony. Eventually GKTWQ deemed this to dangerous and stopped allowing volunteers to go up there for safety. The second reason was that operating tom is not very intuitive and takes a certain amount of practice in order to get any type of performance out of him. Volunteers would have to crouch on the ground behind his chair and use one hand to control a handle in the base of his chair that controlled his torso and head movement. The handle also has a bicycle brake handle on it that they would use to control his mouth. There other hand was used to control a rod that was attached to his left hand which they could use to wave his scepter. All of this had to be done while watching a computer monitor that showed a live feed from a camera mounted in Tom’s hat.
Visiting Give Kids the World
We travel to Florida in January to meet our client for the first time and conduct a site survey so that we would have every measurement and technical detail we would need to design this experience. The other big reason we went down to FL was to uninstall Tom and ship him back to Pittsburgh so we could begin turning him into an animatronic.
My Role on the Team
As the Technical Director for the team and one our experience designers I am performing a wide range of tasks. these include me being heavily Involved in the blue sky and concept design process for our overall experience. Developing a show control system for Tom and integrating it with the buildings existing show control infrastructure. Creating a new lighting design for the castle along with overhauling the existing lighting system. Producing schematic level drawing package for lighting, sound, and show control systems. Negotiating with vendors along with specifying robotics, show control and lighting equipment. Assisting with the mechanical design for Tom. Fabricating prototypes along with assembling and installing Tom back at GKTW when he is complete.
With the halfway point of the semester almost here we believe we are in a very good place. We have disassembled tom and reverse engineered him. Our mechanical design is almost complete, and parts will be going out to be cut on a water jet very soon. Our animation recording system along with our show control system mock up are complete. Our budget has been approved and we will be ordering hardware very soon
Testing Animation Recording System