Category: The Morphoids

Animatronics Project- Nephropoleon

Here is the first semi-successful attempt at animating one of the Morphoids – Nephropoleon.

Nephropoleon panel

And a little about Nephropoleon.  As you can see, the awkwardness is appropriate, but I am still debating whether or not I will attempt to make the movement more efficient.  It could be more efficient, but right now, I’m not totally sure it’s worth the effort.  The nice thing about working with Nephropoleon (and Arduino, actually), is that I have more than one, so could make a second version without destroying this one.  Arduinos are infinitely re-programmable, so I can tweak as much as I need, and re-use the ones I no longer need for another morphoid, or another project.

This particular part of the project has taken me some considerable effort, even though it may not look like it.  I needed to figure out how to build a sufficient structure to hold the mechanical parts so that they would work the best they can.  I had to figure out how to program the Arduino to control the servos to move as they should, in the range and timing that they should, and how to get it to pause the program when there is not enough light- as in, when someone approaches the morphoid.  (This is not evident in the video, but it’s an important part of the project.)  Also, how to deal with seemingly simple things, such as how to turn the power on and battery changes.  It is important that there’s not an obvious opening on the outside, so I’ve actually sewn the battery packs right inside, and needed to come up with a way to have access to the power switch (and be able to find it!) without it being really obvious from the outside.  Also, a big challenge with these is the fact that they’re stuffed- the stuffing interferes with the mechanics on the inside- the resistance is enough to overpower the servos.  I had to rig up a few different ‘guards’ to keep stuffing away from places it might cause problems. I also went through a couple of days of frustration when I kept having a problem where one of the servos wouldn’t work- trying everything, replacing hardware, reprogramming, redoing the circuit, etc.  All the components seemed good, and nothing helped. I only got past it when I started over from scratch, although I still have no idea what the problem was, so hopefully it doesn’t return.

I am learning a lot.

Animatronic Morphoids!


I’ve been awarded a production grant from the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, to develop some of the Morphoids into ‘living’ creatures over the next few months.  To do this, I am using Arduinos, electronic circuitry, servo motors, sensors, and developing the mechanics for the inside of the Morphoids to make them move and interact with their environment.  As you can imagine, this is a little complicated, so I’ve been starting with a lot of reading, and a few experiments.


I’ve been playing with the Arduino, and servos, and using sensors to control them.  It’s quite the learning curve (but I can handle it).  The mechanical part is going to be a challenge too, especially since the Morphoids are soft.  I ran into an unexpected roadblock when I was trying this stuff before, in that the stuffing provided enough resistance inside to interfere with the motor. I will need to be aware of that, and figure out ways to get around it.  I’m up for the challenge.


This is a project I’ve wanted to do for some time, but haven’t been able to find the time or money for materials, so the grant is much appreciated, especially in that sense.  The other nice thing about this project is that I see these skills being useful in future work- it’s a great time to focus on this and expand my skills.

You might remember this animatronic Morphoid from the opening of The New Alberta Contemporaries.

And this shows the internal circuitry.

I’ll be posting updates as I go, but I don’t know how interesting it will be until I’ve got something more concrete to show.  The goal is 3-5 animatronic Morphoids by the end of July. Stay tuned.

In the Studio….: Finding a bit of Traction.


The other day, I managed a whole 12 hours in the studio, and actually felt somewhat productive by the end of the day.  Far from the most productive day I’ve had, but I felt like I had finally managed to get a bit of traction, so to speak.  These are just a few shots from the studio.  Doesn’t look like much now, but it’s definitely a start!

This is the start of a Nephropoleon skeleton.  Full size, although it doesn’t really look like it.  The stuffie is just there to give it form while I build it up.  It will have a long tail of vertebrae.  Below are some parts of the claw, and a couple of Bacterio poops thrown in for good measure.  (Gotta do something with that extra material!)


I might end up having to redo the whole thing, if it doesn’t work out quite like I intend.  That is just part of the process, although the material I am working with is more adaptable than you’d think.

Stay tuned for the finished skeleton!

Morphoid Alive!

A short video of my success today… a physically animated Morphoid!

It has two separate circuits in it, one for the sound, and one for the vibration.  Both are affected by their relationship to light.  The only thing I don’t like is the rattle, but for a first go, I’m pretty happy with it. (Now, I need to learn to solder… right now it’s all taped together on the inside!  Temporary is okay for a prototype, but if I’m going to make more, I gotta learn to solder…!)


I’m still here!

I apologize that I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, but I have a good excuse!  I have a new job!  I’m working for a local arts group, and it has been quite the learning curve!  It is a really good job for me, and seems like a great fit, but because it’s new, it’s taking me some time and energy to settle into the role. So that’s where most of my energy has been going lately.

I’m working on finding a better sense of balance.  Because the new job is working between home, the office and other places for meetings, etc, I am finding it a bit of a challenge to separate work from studio time from down time.  As a result, my studio practice has been temporarily (*I swear!*) on the back burner (which is a little strange for me).  I will pick it up again soon, but it did happen to happen at a natural time to take a bit of a break, so I don’t feel guilty about it.

And, as timing would have it, I have a show up right now. I’ve probably mentioned it before- it’s called Meet The Morphoids, in the Untitled Art Society’s +15 window in the EPCOR Centre.  The opening was last night.  It wasn’t my usual crowd that went, but I did run into some people I haven’t seen in quite a while, and it was great to talk with them, and to go have a beer.  It was a nice treat.

Anyway, let me see if I have some images of the show on this computer. This is in no way an excuse for you not to go see it. What do you think?


Photo by Jeff Chan
Panel information.  There is a skin sample on the actual panel.

This is my work in the ACAD’s Grad Show.  I dressed up in my lab coat and name tag, and talked to people about the Institute of Morphoid Research, and handed out my informational brochures.  (Barb said her sister was confused, because she had never seen creatures like these where she lives in British Columbia.  Point illustrated!)


I guess this is a bit overdue…. I’ve been showing the Morphoids in Stride’s +15 Window in the EPCOR CENTRE, and haven’t really posted any images, mostly because I am finding it really hard to take photos in that space.  However, here are a couple images…. There is a photographer taking photos every time the space changes (twice a week) although I don’t have access to those photos right now.  I’m really hoping he’s doing a better job than I am.  Anyway, these are photos from the beginning…. Things are a little different now.  My opening is Thursday (March 3rd) at 7:00!

I have vinyl!! (Photo by artist)
Photo by artist.
Photo by artist.
Photo by Sean Dennie.