Project Raptor: Getting Started

Why did I decide to build a giant dinosaur costume? Well long story short, I got the idea in my head and thought it would be really cool to make. I once made a costume with foldable wings for a fantasy event, and I really loved the combination of brainstorming and imagination to create something that combines art with technique. So, I wanted to challenge myself, take this one step further. This led to the idea of creating a mechanical dinosaur, and once that idea was planted in my head, I became determined to turn it into a reality.

Due to it purely being a personal project, there was not much to lose, but a lot to gain. The project offered me a needed confidence boost and a fun intellectual challenge. And of course, it’s never a bad thing to have a project like this in your portfolio in terms of career options, even if this wasn’t my initial motive. So yeah, why not?

Where to start?

I looked up some similar projects to gain ideas, but I chose to implement everything in my own way. Partly because I strived for more control over the head and neck than I saw in some examples, partly because I don’t have infinite tools and resources, and partly because I found it way more fun to figure things out myself and create a project that I could truly call my own.

So the first step was to define the idea, write down the main questions that required some brainstorming.

  • How will I carry/wear the costume?

Unless I’d turn it into a powered robot suit, the legs of the raptor won’t carry the weight. So I figured I’d need something to balance the costume on my shoulders (preferably without destroying my back). Some sort of harness would work to keep the costume in place and perhaps distribute its weight.

  • What parts should be movable?

The most important part in terms of interacting with my surroundings, would be the head. I wanted it to move up and down, left and right, and to be able to rotate in order to create head shakes and tilts. It would make sense to move the neck dynamically with the head, slightly up/down and left/right. The legs should move with me as I walk, and the tail should be flexible enough to swing left and right. The mouth should be open/ closeable, it would be cool if I could hold something in my mouth, even cooler if I could pick something up from the ground. But for that to work I shouldn’t just move my head and neck though; I may need to position the body itself up/down without losing my balance.

  • How can I control it?

This required a longer process of sketching and brainstorming to get a clear picture in my head. I figured I’d need some sort of steer to move the head and neck, and some sort of lever to control the mouth. The tail could either move dynamically or perhaps I could attach some ropes to both my elbows.

  • How can I transport it?

Some parts needed to be detachable, most likely the tail and perhaps the neck as well. This was not something to immediately solve, but to keep in mind.

  • How can I put the costume on and take it off?

If I’d wear it at some sort of event, I would need a simple way to put it on and take it off again. This could look like some kind of holder, but I didn’t want to drag a holder with me every time. So the alternative was a way to place the costume on the ground.

Envisioning the outcome of the project based on the previous questions, led to another important question to move from ideas to implementations:

  • What materials can I use?

It would require some sort of sturdy structure. Wood would be either heavy or breakable. Aluminum would work, except for its price and the required welding skills/tools. Carbon fiber? Awesome but again, resources and price? And then I came up with PVC pipes. They’re cheap, lightweight, strong enough to hold a structure together and quite easy to work with. Through heating you can bend them and sort-of fold them around another pipe, thus creating a rotatable joint. Using a combination of 5/8 inch and ¾ inch pipes makes it easy to fit separate parts together, like a puzzle.

So now it was time to start building a frame around me, and generating more defined sketches and ideas based on the use of PVC pipes.