Making Mad Props for meltmedia's Interactive Superhero Marketing Launch: Techno HAMMER

I believe I've mentioned it before: I work at an amazing web and software development shop called, "meltmedia." We have a gaggle of highly talented software engineers, web developers and designers. Sometime back in 2011, meltmedia was in search of  a new tag line to kick off a for-real live marketing campaign. Marketing was something melt hadn't worried about before then. While in San Francisco at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developer Conference, in a bourbon-fueled barrage of submissions to the company's on-line suggestion box for new company tag lines, I came up with, "We are Interactive Superheroes." It stuck and I won a $90 bottle of bourbon. Woohoo! To be clear, I am fueled by many things: Caffeine, sugar, soda, etc., not just bourbon. I like chocolate milk. I happen to be a major bourbon geek and had been sampling fine bourbons at a speakeasy in San Francisco called, "Bourbon & Branch" before I went back to the hotel and started submitting dozens of mostly silly ideas for meltmedia's new tag line.

For the short attention span version of this, here is a photo of the three partners of meltmedia in their full costumes with their props:

meltmedia Partners in Full Costume and Props

We'll start with the biggest prop: Mike's Techno HAMMER (Highly Active Mike Moulton Energy Repeater). I needed this thing to be big. I didn't have much time for any of these props, especially the HAMMER. To sturdy up the thing and to keep it as lightweight as possible, I started with green foam from Michael's:

HAMMER Foam Interior

The handle is a piece of PVC pipe from my pool equipment upgrade last year. I knew I'd eventually find a use for the pipe!

At first, I wasn't going to get all electronicky on this thing, but it just didn't seem right to have a TECHNO HAMMER without random blinking LEDs on recycled circuit boards, so, this thing needed a circuit to make random LEDs blink. It also needed a way for Mike to turn on and off the LEDs at will. I did this by embedding a standard pushbutton in the handle:

HAMMER Pushbutton in Handle

I cut a hole for the button, then cut a BIG hole behind it to allow me access for glueing. To be sure the button would be at least somewhat difficult to push through the handle, I jammed a piece of leftover green foam into the handle and behind the button before I closed up the back of the handle:

HAMMER Foam in Handle

To crappily simulate leather wrapping on the handle, you can see in the image above that I took strips of Gorilla® tape and folded one edge, then wrapped up the handle at an angle. It kinda did the trick. Ya do what ya can in the time ya have, ya know?

The button was in between the batteries and the LED blinking circuit. A simple momentary power-on functionality. The circuit was an Atmel® ATmega328 AVR® microcontroller (same one used in certain models of the Arduino). It was programmed to strobe the LEDs (rifle through each of them and turn them on or off many times per second, like a TV scanline). To keep the current draw to a minimum (to prevent the AVR from cooking), I had all of the LEDs cathodes return to ground through a dinky little constant current devices (CCD) from ON Semiconductor (part number NSI45020T1G). There are 12 LEDs. 12 pins on the AVR are randomly set to be on during their time slice or off. The little CCD kept the current to 20 mA for each LED. This allowed me to use red, green, yellow, and orange LEDs, regardless of their required forward voltage, since the current was always 20 mA, which they all liked. The other reason for doing it this way instead of a resistor was power consumption: The CCD is way more efficient that a resistor that dissipates heat to get the current to where it should be. The circuit was powered by two little AAA cells, so the voltage was about 3 volts DC. Since the microcontroller drew very little power and the LEDs were only on one-at-a-time, the batteries should last for days and days if left on continuously. I did run a test and they stayed lit for about 4 days before I had to assemble the HAMMER circuit. Here's the circuit and batteries:


And here is the ugly underbelly of the circuit (again, time was not on my side, therefore beauty was not on the HAMMER's side):

HAMMER LED Circuit Underbelly

The next part of the LED circuit is the 12 LEDs that poked through the recycled circuit boards (I'll get to the boards shortly). I drilled holes in old boards pulled from an old (and quite large) oscilloscope that was given to me but that did not function. Each LED was given its own wires and a nice heat-shrink tubing treatment:

HAMMER LED with Heat-Shrink Tube and Leads

Two fairly similar old circuit boards were used for the two sides of the HAMMER. I drilled appropriately sized holes in kinda-random places and poked the LEDs through and grouped the wires together, connecting the grounds together:


Each side's wire bundle would go through little holes in the foam core of the HAMMER and into a secret compartment that held the circuit main board and the batteries:


The compartment was crudely cut (like most of this sad but fun project) into the foam core:

HAMMER Compartment for Circuit and Batteries

The LEDs looked right at home in the old PCBs:

HAMMER LEDs Sticking Through PCB

The shell of the HAMMER was just cardboard faces stuck together hideously and hurriedly with Gorilla® tape. The cardboard was coerced into shape around the foam core:

HAMMER Cardboard Shell

The entire thing was eventually covered in Gorilla® tape:

HAMMER Gorilla Tape Shell

Next came the primer and silver metallicish paint for the shell. Turns out, Gorilla® tape doesn't take primer as well as I had hoped. But, it was good enough for the intended limited use:

HAMMER Silver Paint

In the image above, you can see the circuit/battery compartment door and the makeshifty little riveted Velcro® closer... Thing:

HAMMER Compartment Door

Yes, it's cheesy and not at all indicative of a quality or sturdy product, but, again it serves its purpose well enough. Here's what all the crap looked like crammed into the compartment:

HAMMER Compartment Packed with Circuit Board and Batteries

Finally, I soldered all 14 of the LED leads to the circuit board and connected the batteries and pushbutton and it was ready to go!


The photo doesn't show it randomly lighting LEDs, of course, so here's a video of the LEDs in action:

And finally, here is Mike actually being an Interactive Superhero with his Techno HAMMER:

HAMMER and Mike