Since I created 5 new figures for our Boxcar Fair video last fall, I knew eventually I would incorporate them into new pieces. The High-Diver, (of course this is the swimming version), is first. It seemed an obvious choice to create a fully articulated automaton using this figure.
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This wonderfully distressed case was given to me about 5 years ago by 2 good friends in Philadelphia. It must have been sitting outside for a few years - it is perfectly aged, but it needed some nails and glue to hold it firmly together. I thought it would be perfect to house my swimmer marionette. I really wish I could find more pieces like this - I love the look, and all the wood (poplar I think) is very smooth and splinter-free.
BTW Ernie and Brian (2 friends in Philadelphia) have a wonderful eye (eyes?) for all things distressed and beautiful. Check out their furniture, etc here.
In it's past life, someone put a coat of turquoise paint on the bottom part of the case. Here I'm stripping away the paint - the color was way too intense for what I wanted this piece to be. I got most of it off, and later, antiqued it down with a wash of raw umber.
Three small lights were put in which will add a warm glow to the underwater scene. A top piece will be added to cover all of this.
The back of the case showing where the mechanism will be hidden.
Testing the layout of the motor, cams, and levers. The piece is powered by a 6 RPM gearmotor, which will move the cams via a 1/8" polycord belt.
The cam stack, before the cams are cut. There's a 3/8" bearing on top and bottom, and a pulley underneath which you can't see in this image.
The 5 levers, each with precision bearings that reduce the friction on the cams.
Here's how I make sure all my levers are perfectly balanced. (Note - I put a piece of masking tape over the hole.) Pieces of lead are added to the short side and holes are drilled in the long side. I figure there will be less wear-and-tear if the levers are balanced. All of the levers I've made in the past were balanced like this.
The 5 cams, all cut and ready to go. You can see the spacers on each cam too.
The cam stack ready for instillation. I saturated the edges of the cams, which are made from lauan, with thin CA glue to make them more durable.
Test fitting the decorative carved basswood pieces before painting.
The decorative pieces after painting. I wanted to create an underwater cavernous feeling similar to the video.
I've never shown this rig before. When we shot the Boxcar Fair video, the marionette had to be operated from the side because it was underneath the main set. I made a trigger-like mechanism that made her arms and legs move simultaneously. Unusual, but it worked great.
Here I'm testing the placement of the figure. Luckily the case is the perfect size for the figure - and visa versa.
I made the mechanism's base hinged on the case so I could gain access to it quickly. This raises the figure up, as you can see. I had a pole on the other side to catch the case and hold it in position. When working on a piece like this, I'm constantly building and testing. I probably tilted this open and closed dozens of times.
Final arrangement of the mechanism. The motor moves the cam stack via the orange belt. The cam stack is held in place with a washer and pin.
The detail of how the levers are stacked. I use a 1/4" steel rod and cut 2 notches for each "E" clip that hold the levers at the proper height. Another standard procedure learned from working on past pieces.
Detail shot of the levers on the cams.
The polyester strings for the figure go up inside the column on the right side of the scene.
I'm about 99% finished with the piece - I plan to add a quote to the "book" up top. You can see how the lights illuminate the scene, and also see the final finish on the base. The piece measures 21" x 33" x 12". I will post a final image when it is shot.
Here is a close-up of the swimmer in action. I also will post a movie soon....