The Quacken: Overview

This thing was so much fun to work on! This was easily the most technologically advanced project I have had a hand in. Animations and effect triggering were handled on a laptop using TouchDesigner, with code developed by Tavia Morra and myself, and animations primarily designed by Tavia. Effects were triggered by a game called “Duck Duck Boosh” created by Tim Alexander. The flame effect physical layer was built by Tim, and the LED physical layer was built by me.

LED control was via a Falcon v3 pixel controller from Pixel Controller, LLC. TouchDesigner animations were pushed via DMX ArtNet to the Falcon board. You can read more about the animations here. Power was handled via several 12v power supplies, stepped down via passive buck converters at the LED strands to minimize voltage drop across the power runs. Flame effect communications were sent via USB serial to the custom micro-controller that handled both the game and the valve control.

The propane flame effects physical layer consisted of the feed tanks, a 30 gallon air compressor tank re-purposed as an accumulator, two 3/4″ 12v solenoid valves for the tentacles, and a 1.5″ solenoid valve for the large effect in the mouth, along with a 3/4″ valve for the pilot, regulated to low PSI with a needle valve. The ignition system for the smaller tentacle effects were hot surface igniters (HSI). The ignition system for the main effect was an HSI/pilot combination (60PSI of propane through a 1.5 inch throat is somewhat difficult to light reliably with just an HSI!). The valves were controlled via a custom made micro-controller running firmware written by Tim.

The same micro-controller also served as the processor for a game, similar to Simon Says, that we called “Duck, Duck, Boosh.” For those of you who never played Simon Says, it is essentially a color and sound matching game that progressively gets more challenging as you play. In our case, the sounds were agitated duck calls, and each correct button push would cause one of the two tentacles to fire its effect. When you won the game, it would arm the main effect. This was indicated by the game buttons being locked out, as well as a change in the animations of the tentacles. A separate button in the head then had to be pressed, which would trigger the firing sequence. This consisted of increasingly frenetic animations in the tentacles to build anticipation, culminating in the large effect firing. For those of you that have never experienced it, when a 1.5″ pipe unloads several pounds of propane at 60 PSI all at once, what you get is a massive fireball about 25 feet long and 12 feet in diameter at its peak. Quite startling for people that did not expect it.

As mentioned previously, the micro-controller communicated with the TouchDesigner program via USB serial. The game would tell TouchDesigner to trigger an animation, and then TouchDesigner would signal back to the micro-controller to open the appropriate valve. All in all, a very satisfying project!

A note about the eyes: While they were not part of the game/animation/fire control scheme, they deserve a mention of their own. They were designed by an amazing artist, Eric Shiele. Each eye was fully articulated on two axes, had adjustable LED irises controlled by an Arduino that could display a wide variety of colors and patterns, and included a kaleidoscope that one could look through at the event unfolding below. Just an amazing piece of highly machined and well polished work that added to the sense of panic that poor duck must have felt as it was dragged into the depths by Chthulu!

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