52 SERVO 03.2016
• Secure electronic enclosures from water but beware
of overheating components. Provide air flow to avoid any
• Unplug props when making adjustments. You do not
want a prop to reactivate while your hands or other body
parts are in harm’s way.
• Start with low pressure and work up when using
pneumatics. Failure to follow this piece of advice may
cause an unwanted launch or destruction of your prop
• Helpers don’t always do things the way we would
like things done. Accept it or be willing to do everything
• Don’t sweat the small stuff. You
will be the only one that knows about
those planned-for items that did not
• Get a multimeter with
conductivity and know how to use it.
Even if you are not comfortable
repairing electronics, most easily
repairable prop failures are a result of a
power failure of some kind or a broken
connection. Both of these are quickly
diagnosed using an inexpensive digital
multimeter. Double-check power wires
before plugging in as some
components can be damaged by
reversing the polarity (Figure 7).
• Have adequate lighting for your
prop. You can have the greatest prop
and no one will even notice it without
it being properly lit.
• Distress clothing especially if it is
new. Unless your character requires
that straight from the store look, spend some time creating
that worn appearance.
• Hide cords and lines. Use leaves or natural cover.
Black air and Cat5 lines and green extension cords blend
into the surroundings and the dark.
• Use background sounds or music. You want to
involve as many of the senses as possible to create the
• Scents are available to add another level of
believability to your scenes (see Resources).
• Pay attention to the details. We often get caught up
with building the main project and forget to add the
accessories that can bring a scene to life.
• You can “paint” with lights. You do not have to
always use paint to add color to a prop. Consider using
colored lights instead. It is easier than repainting, and
colors can even be changed during a performance.
• Add security clips to servo extensions to keep them
from separating (see Resources).
• Paint mechanisms to protect and hide them.
• Use nylon stockings for neck coverings. These work
great and are available in a variety of colors.
• Pool noodles are cheap and work great for filling out
arms and legs.
• Use black wires and hoses if possible.
• Spiral wire wrap tubing is a simple way to keep your
wires together and organized.
• Dental picks can be handy when you’re working
with small pieces or in tight quarters.
• Have a selection of wire
connectors, adapters, converters, and
• Electrical conduit. This can be
used to construct a quick, inexpensive,
strong, and easy-to-store framework.
You can use a tubing bender to get
the shape you need, or make
connections by flattening the end in a
vise and drilling a hole for a bolt.
• Heavy duty double-sided tape
can provide a temporary, quick, and
secure method of attaching PCBs
(printed circuit boards) to mounting
• Fencing or a rope line can be
used to keep your audience away from
the props so they can’t touch or
damage them. You do not want a
moving prop to be able to hit
• Get an airbrush and learn how
to use it. Allen Hopps has some great
videos about getting started that you
can see at http://tinyurl.com/
grkv99l (refer to Figure 8).
Figure 6. Watch that pressure!
Figure 7. An inexpensive meter can
be a lifesaver.