Sickie Ickie's Cheap 'N' Easy Talking Skull
Click on the picture above to see the movie. [No Sound]
After looking through projects for talking skulls on several sites, I was surprised nobody described how to make a cheap, simple and quick talking skull. Not everyone has the $$$ it takes to buy a motorized talking skull, and not everyone has the know-how to create a motorized skull from a kit- plus add circuitry for sound, power, etc, etc, etc....
Several years ago I came up with an original idea to create a talking skull that was cheap, quick and easy to make even for the most mechanically challenged! Surprisingly enough, through over a decade of abuse, it has held up without any major problems. The skull is powered manually...er...by a hidden man...or by a hidden woman...or by a hidden ghoul...
As usual, I give more details than are probably necessary.
Red Rubber Band
1 Nail (or something to use as a "placeholder")
1 Large Paperclip (or something else to use as a "Pusher/Puller")
1 Small Eye Screw
99 Cent Black Craft Paint + Misc. Corpsing Paint
Years ago, I bought a cheap Skilcraft Skull on sale from a toy store for $5. I LOVE SALES! I don't know if Skilcraft makes skulls anymore, but Buckys are better built and are popular now. If you have a better Bucky (try saying that 5 times fast!), you may be able to skip the next part, however the budget Buckys sometimes have missing hardware, so...
The jaw on the Skilcraft model is disengaged by gently pulling on each end to pop it out. Drill a small hole (or use a sharp object) into the back of the jaw near the bottom where it can't be seen, and screw a small eye screw into it. Dimensions of eye screw are moot at this point because size of eye screw depends on size of jaw.
Unbend a large paperclip into an "S" (or use another Pusher/Puller). Take a red rubber band and place the nail (or another placeholder) in the middle. In the photo I used a toothbrush head because it showed up better...and because this guy sure could use some brushing! Place the loose end in back of the nasal cavity and pull it through to the front by the paperclip (or other Pusher/Puller). Don't pay attention to the rubber band on the finger, yet.
The nail (toothbrush head) should keep the band from coming through. I know, I know...Looks like a big booger...
Pull the band OVER the middle nasal bone and push the end of the band through to the back. I tend to grip the tensioned band with my left hand, and push the relaxed half over the nasal bone and through the hole with my right hand. The "S" paperclip is useful to pull through the nasal cavity.
Secure the band with a another nail (or placeholder) where the finger is to make sure the band stays where it is for now.
Stick the edge of one side of the jaw through one loop of the rubber band... Then the other side of the jaw through the other loop.
Put the jaw back on by popping in one side, then the other.
A different angle.
Align the rubber band on the jaw so it lays flat and is toward the rear.
Tie the nylon string around the eye screw on back of the jaw. Cover the knot with some wood glue to keep from untying (or CAREFULLY use a match and melt the knot a little.) Why nylon? The "slickness" causes less friction than cotton or twine and holds up better without fraying.
Now, I suppose you could stop here
and use it "as is" for a sign...
Paint the string black and attach the back of the skull to your sign or coffin or ??? by a method of your choice. Use screws, epoxy, grandma's chewing gum, or whatever, but be sure the jaw opens without hitting the "back wall."
Insert the nylon string into a hole roughly 16" down from the jaw, paint it the same color as what it is attached to, and run it through to behind the scene. Then have your chosen actor work the talking skull.
- A black background helps hide the string.
- The red rubber band can be touched up with paint if desired.
However if you want the manual skull head to turn and nod while talking- continue on...
*Purple is the old method, **Red is the updated method.
*6" Piece of Scrap Wood
*2 Drywall Screws
**Epoxy (and you can skip the purple supplies!)
4' Dowel Rod
1 Small Eye Screw
A 4' dowel rod was bought to place into the hole of the bottom of the head where the spine would go. In the case of the Skilcraft skull, a 1" diameter dowel rod was bought and then the end was whittled down a little with a kitchen knife (because it was a little big in places for the uneven hole) until it fit in the bottom skull hole snugly. Measure your skull/spine hole to figure out the diameter of dowel you need. This is also a good time to paint the dowel black.
Ignore the rubber band and extra eye screws in the pic above. Those were actually used to pop the eyes out of the skull at unsuspecting visitors years ago.
**UPDATE: Just Epoxy the Dowel Rod in the skull hole, and you can skip all the stuff in purple!
*A 6" piece of scrap wood is rough cut to fit inside the skull.
*Wood glue is placed on top of the dowel and pushed into the hole from the bottom. While still wet a screw is screwed through the scrap wood from the top and directly into the dowel below.
*Another screw is screwed into the scrap wood, through the back of the skull, to keep it from coming loose. You can see that at one time the head of the screw was painted with a dab of paint, and is now wearing off.
Make a small hole by drill (or use a sharp object) in the FRONT of the dowel. Screw in the other eye screw.
Dimensions of eye screw are moot at this point because size of eye screw depends on size of dowel. Thread the string through the eye screw on the dowel. Pull the string BEHIND the dowel if the actor is standing behind a black backdrop. Standing behind the backdrop is one method, but not the best. If this is the decided method, however, the actor has to wear a long black glove so it is not seen when it comes through the backdrop to grip the skull's stick..
The actor uses the rod as a large joystick so the head can move semi-naturally while talking. Pulling the string opens the jaw for talking. In my opinion, the best method is with the actor below a horizon line...like a puppet stage. The eye screw keeps the string at the correct angle to the jaw and from flapping too much.
In my opinion, the best way to do the skull puppet is to keep the actor below eye level and hidden behind a short wall (or box, or other prop) to be used as a puppet stage. The actor can be in front of the backdrop operating the long dowel and string.
- A black background helps hide the string.
- The red rubber band can be touched up with paint of desired.
- The skull cap may need to be secured with tape or epoxy so it doesn't fall off.
- The dowel can be cut shorter and "bouncing" or "floating" can be done if it rests on the actor's "bouncing" knee.
- Felt can be used where the teeth touch when the jaw is closed to stop the "CLACK!" sound.
- Actors may need to be switched out from time to time depending on stamina and to give their arms a rest.
- OPEN the mouth with each syllable, and DON'T BITE THE WORDS!
Repairs Due to Old Age ...to the skull ...not me!
After years of using the model skull, the plastic molded pins holding the jaw to the head broke...
I was able to do a quick and simple repair by taking needle-nose pliers and heating up a tiny nail (for each side) over a stove flame. Then I just pushed it through (with the pliers) where the plastic pins would have been while the plastic melted around the metal I've never had a problem with the connections since.
Age is definitely showing on his paint job and connections.
Also Yorick started with most of his teeth...but after falling face first a couple times, has knocked several teeth out. Hockey anyone?
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