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Automating a Jazz Band

This was a super fun project that challenged me on so many fronts.

Brief: Automate a Jazz Band (in less than three weeks!).

As with most film industry jobs the luxury of ample time to work on the project was unfortunately just not part of the equation. The producers wanted to feature a jazz band in one of the scenes. The twist… NO musicians! Only the instruments basically playing themselves.

To keep things simple(r) I decided to not use any electronics in the build, but instead have all the instruments be moved by off stage operators via a series of cables and levers. Sounds simple enough right?! In the end I used something like a 120m of bicycle brake cable! Luckily they only wanted the movement and didn’t require the instruments to actually make make a sound. The drums did sound pretty funky though!

In total there were a trombone, a double base and a FULL drum set.

The Trombone was a fairly simple a simple back and forth type lever.


The mechanics of the individual pieces of the drum set was fairly simple. The challenge came in to control the WHOLE drum set by a single person. The operator ended up having to deal with only 5 hand levers and two foot pedals which worked very well. Unfortunately I was so pressed for time I didn’t take any photos of the setup. The working mechanics can be seen in the short video at the bottom.


The Double Base was by far the most difficult piece to design and build. The ‘arm’ that moved the bow had 3 joint… a shoulder, an elbow and a wrist. It also had 4 ‘fingers’ that could be moved up and down individually and the whole hand could slide along the strings. That’s 8 parts/joints that each had to move in two directions! Again the whole shebang could be controlled by a single person. To ad to the complexity all the instruments were rentals and could not be modified or damaged at all.


Below is a some videos taken during construction, on set and a short clip of the final product. Enjoy!!

Automation: Jazz Band – Renault Koleos TV advert

Something I built for a Renault TV ad a while ago.They wanted a Jazz band playing without any musicians present. (Only the movement was needed.) I designed and fabricated all the controls in about 10 days. Everything was mechanically controlled with cables by off-stage operators. If I remember correctly there was over a 100m of cables in total.The double bass/chello was by far the most challenging. The bow had a 'shoulder' and 'elbow' movement as well as 4 fret fingers that could move and slide up and down the neck. All controlled by a single operator.The drums had 5 hand and 2 foot controls also manned by a single operator.(I didn't do the piano)Although there wasn't much time, I did managed to take a couple of clips during the build and also on set. Part of the advert is at the end of the video.

Posted by HardeKwas Houtwerke on Friday, 3 November 2017
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Building Peppa’s Car

This was a fun project. Challenging, but fun!
Brief: Build a life size driving, working car for the Peppa Pig SA road show.

As with most projects this started with a computer 3D design using parameters as specified by the client.
Below you can see the various stages of design. (reference image above)


I managed to find a scrapped golf cart as donor vehicle and used the rear diff, steering mechanism, steering rack and steering wheel. The wheel and rims were sourced at a local scrapyard. I started off by making complete new chassis and so began the whole process of building Peppa’s little car.

After the chassis was finished and steering linkages and angles figured out I could shift my attention to the body. First I had to build a tube roller to form the ‘skeleton’ of the car’s body and then I could tack weld the sheetmetal panels on to the frame. There was not one single flat panel! Everything was curved. In the end everything worked out okay, but it was one major learning curve.


With the body finished it was time to figure out how this thing was going to stop and go. Due to the the massive feet on costumes the actors were wearing it was decided to go with all hand controls. I found a 36 volt dc motor that came off an electric scooter and mounted the smallest v-pulley I could find on the shaft and the biggest possible pulley on the input of the diff/gearbox. The diff/gearbox had 3 settings; forward neutral and reverse and was linked to a lever next to the dash. To engage the clutch was as simple as adding tension to the dive belt by pulling a lever. To brake you pushed the same lever in the opposite direction. The handbrake was engaged at the end of the brake travel and released with a bicycle brake lever. The dc motor was switched on via a little micro switch and relay.

The electrics turned out to be quite a headache for my mechanical orientated brain, but after many blown fuses I managed to figure out how to run the 36V motor with 3x12V batteries AND charge it with a single 12V charger. This was all done with simple switches and relays. Apart from the running/charging system there had to be driving lights and a horn (and NOT be able to start a fire!). I also added a volt and ampere meter to monitor the batteries.


I had the body filled and sprayed by a professional and could then start fitting the floor panels and boxing in the diff/gearbox. The last step was laying some nice carpet after which I could then finally head off to deliver Peppa’s car!


To date Peppa’s car have done 3 seasons and traveled ALL over the country and I’m happy to say after 2 years is still going strong!