Arrrrr! Thar be 3 Axis Pirates!

It took a year, but it finally happened.  The 3 axis skull project became a part of a haunt this year.  This was a really fun build, and I was able to use a lot of the things I have learned as a member of  the Northern California Haunters Society.

Drive-way Test. My son is operating the joystick and helping me test the systems.  We had just finished getting the skeleton stand figured out and had mounted the wiper motor for the ship wheel.

The skeleton was operated as a puppet using Monkey Basic TrackSkull software connected to a LynxMotion SCC32 Servo Controller.  A joystick connected to a laptop ran the TrackSkull software that was used to operate the Skull.  Boy Scouts from my troop were used as the puppeteer and for the voice.  At the end of the day, it was the scouts that brought the skeleton to life.  It turned out better than I could have hoped.

So how did I get here?  As you can see from the previous posts, I have had the skull for a while.  I just didn’t really have a place to put it in my haunt.  This year the local Kiwanis group contacted me about a haunted pirate cove they wanted to do in conjunction with the Morgan Hill Downtown Safe Trick or Treat night.  Each year about 1,800 or more kids go trick or treat with the downtown merchants.  This was a big group effort and many hands came together to make the haunt happen.  I did this pirate helmsman, a pneumatic spider, and a pneumatic “ground breaker” (that ultimately didn’t work due to a problem with the controller I was using).  We also had a skeleton jail, dragon volcano (which was very cool), singing pumpkins, singing skeleton heads, a spider forest, a pirate ship with animatronic canons, and an awesome scurvy crew of pirates to run the whole thing.

Since the haunt was pirate themed… we needed pirates!  So I came up with idea of a skeleton pirate helmsman.  We had access to a bunch of scrap wood so the construction of a simple “poop deck” was relatively straight forward and we knocked that out in a short afternoon.

After that it was back to my “lab” to figure out how to mount the 3 axis skull to the Walgreens skeleton we had purchased.  The Walgreens skeletons are surprisingly high quality for what they are.  They were $30, I think, on sale.  The 3-axis skull has a little weight to it, and it needed to be solidly attached to the skeleton to work properly.  To resolve this I was able remove the skull that came with the skeleton and then I was able to dissect a portion of the spinal column.  A 2 part resin was then used to fill the spine which gave a nice, solid, mounting point for the 3 axis skull.  The spine was re-attached with a few screws and a couple of zip ties.  Some touch up paint and you could not even tell unless you knew to look.


My daughter was given the task of taking the very white, plastic skull and matching the paint to the existing skeleton color.  I think she did a great job.  A gold tooth, a head scarf and a tri-corner hat was all that was needed.  We had made a tattered vest and shorts, but in the end, I liked the plain skeleton better.  A set of pulsing LED eyes were added for effect.

The wheel was a reject from a decor store.  I took it and aged it with some spray paint and dark walnut stain.  A simple wheel stand was built with more scrap wood and decorative panel was added to the front.  The wiper motor mount was made from the sheet metal side of an old PC case.


The stand for the skeleton was a piece of 4′ U-channel aluminum scrap that was attached to the spine at the back using some small screws and some zip ties.  At the floor I made a “T” from some angle brackets and attached the 4′ U channel to the T.  It had just the right amount of support, and still let the skeleton move a little as he “steered” the ship to make him look more animated.  The fixture was then painted flat black to make it “disappear”.  It was small enough that it was not obtrusive and was not very noticeable in the display.  It looked like he was really standing there.

And the finished product…