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Set up an animated talking skull

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.

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Halloween geeks typically fall into two camps. There are the costume geeks who go all out with their homemade Boba Fett costumes, and then there are the haunted-house geeks -- the ones figuring out how to rig blacklights for the fake gravestones in the front yard.

I definitely gravitate to the latter group. I'd rather engineer a working killer robot than get dressed up like one. Any other time of the year, an Arduino microcontroller would sit on my desk gathering dust -- but come Halloween, I will put that thing to work.

Last year around this time I showed you guys how to roll your own Halloween light show using a prop controller called a keybanger. This time around, I thought I'd up the creepy factor a bit, and show you what it's like to work with an interactive talking skull.

Photo of the FrightProps Talking Skull.
The FrightProps Talking Skull. Donald Bell/CNET

I went for an off-the-shelf, preassembled solution from FrightProps ($350), but if you have spare time and an adventurous spirit you sink just $60 into the PicoTalk controller that provides the critical functionality and then source the servos and working skull parts on your own. If you've always wanted to make your own Disney Hall of Presidents Abe Lincoln, now is your chance.

Unfortunately, the skull alone is not enough to fulfill your dream of hosting "Tales From the Crypt." To get everything working you'll also need a small audio mixer or preamp, multiple 1/8-inch audio cables for routing audio to and from the skull, a microphone, a pole mount, and a powered speaker of some kind.

Photo of PicoTalk controller.
The PicoTalk controller is literally the brains of the operation, transforming incoming audio volume into servo movements that control the jaw. Donald Bell/CNET

To see how it all fits together and to watch the skull mimic me from beyond the grave, check out my full video walkthrough of the FrightProps Talking Skull.

Whether or not you go high-tech for Halloween, I hope this gives you a small glimpse at what's possible in the world of Halloween prop controllers. And if ol' skully here inspires you to take on a cool Halloween project of your own, be sure to share it with me over on Twitter.