|Sound effects for props
|In many of my laser pistols and rifles, I used a small keychain sound effects toy to
generate the noise. Generic SoundFX keychains have a variety of machine gun sounds,
explosions, whistles and "space invaders" type sounds. I found that
pushing more than one button at a time allowed you to combine some of the sounds. The
machine gun sound plus the whistle sound gives a fast warble. This was used in more than
one of my lasers and in my all-brass alien blaster.
Sound effect keychains - 8 different sounds in one handy package. The circuit board on
the right is from a toy lightsaber.
In my laser rifle, I used one of the Star Trek - Next Generation sound effects
keychains and changed the exposed timing resistor to speed up the playback. The sound I
selected to be triggered with the laser is the sound of the Enterprise going to warp
speed. When this is sped up, the resulting sound is a rising pitch whistle ending in a
thump. As an added bonus, I found that when power is applied to all of the circuitry, the
sound chip activated the Transporter sound. This sound, when sped up, sounds like the
power generator is quick-charging or something similar.
In some of my earliest Blasters, I used the sound playback circuit from a recordable
Hallmark card. At the time these ran about $8, and could record up to 10 seconds of sound.
I would record the desired sound from video, sound effects CDs, or download suitable
sounds from BBS or Internet sites, etc. Once on the computer, I would connect the speaker
output through a microphone mixer and feed the sound directly into the circuit. Once
recorded, the circuit could be wired so that the trigger would start the sound playback. I
used this technique in my Thermal Detonators for my Dark Trooper costume. Instead of a
trigger, I created a short-duration timing circuit that tripped a small relay every 8
seconds. The relay started the Thermal Detonator sound effects that I recorded from the
StarWars video. (I only got about 2 seconds of clean sound, and had to trim and loop this
to extend the duration to the 8 seconds recorded.) In the most elaborate version of the
Detonator, I made one that after 8 seconds, tripped a strobe instead of repeating the
Unfortunately, Hallmark no longer seems to be making these cards, so I had to look
elsewhere for something similar. What I found was the "Yak-Bak". These sold for
about $5 at K-Mart and have about the same features of the cards. What I found when trying
to use one of these in my latest costume is that they do not store the sound unless power
is always being applied. Even then, they seemed to have the problem of forgetting the
recorded sound after some unknown period of time. (The hallmark cards may have this same
issue, but it's hard to tell since the circuit also appears to degrade after 4-5 years.)
A YakBak sound recorder on an exposed Hallmark recordable card.
What turns out to be an even simpler solution, is to look for toys - the smaller, the
better. For Blasters, a number of tiny keychain blaster toys hit the market shortly after
the release of the new Phantom Menace Star Wars film. The price seems to be about 4-5
dollars each, depending where you look. These tiny guns have an electronic blaster sound,
and flash a small LED at the same time. Several different styles of gun are available,
each with a unique sound. When I tore this open, I found that it was the same circuit
board in each. There are abbreviations to indicate one of three possible trigger switch
connections. Each connection causes a different sound.
For my light sabers, I use the sound effects circuit from a Hasbro toy lightsaber. This
circuit has connections for the power up/down switch, a speaker, and connections for a
light bulb. It is a simple matter to use the light bulb connections to power LEDs or other
lighting. Any momentary contact switch can be used to replace the power up/down switch,
and speakers come in lots of different sizes. For my neon light sabers, the light bulb
connections are wired to a small 5-volt relay that switches power on and off to the
12-volt power supply. A 5-volt voltage regulator drops the same 12-volt supply to a
reasonable level that the circuit can handle.
A small toy blaster that was available shortly after the release of the Star Wars
Phantom Menace movie.
The tiny circuit board has three different sound effects. Only one connects to the
trigger switch. The same circuit drives a small LED and a tiny speaker. This can easily be
used in about any size blaster you want, and the LED connections can be wired to a small
LED laser circuit, or another LED.
The toy lightsabers are the source of the sound effects circuit used in all of my light
sabers. Using the bulb connections to power a 5v relay allows me to switch 12v power on
and off to a neon power supply. The small black cylinder on the sound circuit is a
shock-sensitive switch that generates the blade-strike sound.
My thermal detonator prop uses a Hallmark sound chip to play back a recording from the
Star Wars movie.
|Sound effects for costumes
|Since most masquerades do not offer microphones for the presentation, almost all
sounds should be recorded on a tape or CD. Until now, none of my costumes has had anything
special added for sound effects, other than those I used in the various weapons (that
narrows it down to the Dark Trooper costume.) This year, I thought I would add a subtle
sound effect for use during the pre-judging or out with the convention fans after the
masquerade. Unless you plan to carry an amplifier and a large speaker system in you
costume, most people will never hear anything.
One simple enhancement that I quickly
worked out with adding sound effects to weapons, is: enclose the speaker and add a
sounding tube or chamber to focus the sound directionally. In my 2001 costume, I used a
section of cardboard packing tube, and mounted a 3" speaker in one end. First, I
tracked down several animal growl sound files, finally selecting an alligator growl. This
was cleaned up and then extended to run for about 4 seconds of play time. Since Hallmark
cards don't seem to exist, I used one of the YakBak circuits. After mounting the tube and
circuit in the costume, I went back to check the effect - it wasn't there. Thinking I
might have managed to trip the recording feature, I recorded it again. Then I tested the
sound at every step of the way. So far, everything seemed to work. About a week later, I
was testing it, and again - no sound. What I discovered was that the YakBak requires power
applied to the circuit constantly, or it will lose the recording (I don't ever recall this
problem with the Hallmark cards, but I might have just been lucky.) After loosing the
sound for yet another time, I started to look for other solutions. With my Blasters and
other weapons, I have begun to use the sound circuits from toys with similar themes, so
that's where I started. What I finally selected was a sound-enhanced alligator toy. (After
ripping its guts out, the stuffed animal went in our charity donation box - no batteries
The sound box was then rewired to my existing speaker and a remote push button in the
This little fella had a decent sound chip, and an added bonus - a gear motor driven
chomping mouth. (Not any more.)
Sound boxes from stuffed animals. The black one came from the Gator toy, the others are
from Dankin dinosaurs.