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How To Video: Set up an animated talking skull

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How To Video: Set up an animated talking skull

4:52 /

Spice up your Halloween decorations with scary props and sound effects. CNET's Donald Bell shows you how to connect and operate an interactive talking skull.

Hey, I'm Donald Bell. Halloween is my favorite time of the year because it gives me a great excuse to try out some high-tech Halloween props. Today I'm gonna show you how to set-up an interactive talking skull. This one comes from FrightProps. It runs about $350 which sounds pricey, but you're getting a real prop grade piece of gear here and when we crack it open later on, you're gonna see that there's some really interesting technology going on inside. But first, let's take an inventory of all the things we're gonna need to have to make this work. I've got the skull here which comes with a power adapter and an audio splitter. You'll need a Phillips head screwdriver. You'll need some powered speakers, though you could go with something as small as one of these little portable speakers. You'll need a microphone. It could be a cheap karaoke mic or something a little nicer. And you'll need a little mixer or a preamp that can work as a hub between the microphone, the skull and the speakers. A small 2-channel mixer or 4-channel mixer is more than enough to get the job done. You also need a few audio cables- one for the mic, one going to the skull and one going from the skull to the speaker. All right, now it's time to crack open the skull. On the back here you're gonna see 2 screws. We're gonna take those out and then we're gonna slide it apart. Here's what's going on inside. Here you're gonna see that there's a little motor here for control in eyes in the front. Another motor down here for controlling the jaw and then you've got this guy. This little box here is called the PicoTalk. It takes any audio signal. You plug into it and it uses the volume of that sound to determine when to open or shut the jaw. It also controls how the eye is dart back and forth. Let's get everything connected together. We're gonna run the power cable through the base of the skull plate here through the hole and then through the little hole here off to the side and then plug in to where it says power. Now we're gonna take the audio cable, the little splitter cable that comes with it. We're gonna run that through the hole here and we're gonna plug that into where it says audio. Now you've got both of cables running through the hole here. This other hole here in the middle- this is meant for mounting on a pole, so we're not gonna run cables through that. And then we're going to put the back of the skull back and screw it back together. Now, if we plug this into power we should hopefully see a little twitch. It's alive! Next, we're gonna feed some audio into this thing and get the jaw working. I've got my mixer here, got a microphone plugged into a channel here on the mixer and the main volume is turned all the way up and while I'm talking here, I can see that the volume meter is responding. Now, to get audio from the mixer to the skull, I'm gonna run the cable from the output of the mixer into anyone of the 2 inputs here from the splitter cable. Okay, it's starting to work now, but the jaw isn't opening quite as much as it could be. So the simple fix is to crank the volume here on the mixer until you get a more natural jaw movement like that. Now if you really wanna geek out, you can open this thing back up and mess with the PicoTalk controller inside. You can adjust the audio sensitivity. You can adjust how quickly the eyes dart back and forth. You can adjust the range of the jaw itself. All of that is possible, but I'm gonna skip that for the sake of time here and jump ahead to the next step which is hooking up the skull to some speakers. Any cheap pair of speakers will do, but I'm gonna go with a little small rechargeable speaker that I can fit inside the skull, so there's a little cable here wired to the bottom of the speakers, so all I need to do is plug this into the other output on the splitter and turn up the volume on the speaker and we're good to go. I'm gonna turn the volume back up on the mixer here. I can hear myself coming from the skull. He looks like he's doing a reasonable job mimicking me. Now I've got my own little undead buddy- I can hang out with all Halloween. All right, so where do you go from here? You could attach a whole skeleton to the rest of this thing. Another way to take this further would be to take out your old guitar pedals, that's something you have some and you can use some crazy effects on the voice- this one's a reverb pedal, plug it in and then you can get some extra spooky echo Halloween sounds- Ha! Ha! Ha! You can also take yourself out of the equation entirely and have the skull react to recorded audio. Over on CNET How To, I have a video tutorial on how to turn your computer keyboard into an interactive soundboard. I also have an advanced one on programming your own Halloween sound and lightshow using a prop controller called a keybanger. Combining all of those techniques along with this interactive skull will make for a super nerdtastic Halloween and I'm all about that. So, for CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell to wish you a spooky Halloween. Ha! Ha! Ha!
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