So much has happened since my last update! Pumpkin Man was fleshed out, and we’ve “performed” twice now! As the voice of Pumpkin Man, I’ve had a terrifically spooky time interacting with the friends and neighbors who came to see him.

This is a pretty long post, so you may wish to skip to the section that interests you most:

  1. The control interface
  2. Fleshing out Pumpkin Man’s body
  3. Wiring up the valves
  4. Voicing Pumpkin Man

The control interface

Since I last posted, Sam connected the rest of Pumpkin Man’s motions, which consist of:

We need to be able to control each of these actions, so I had to update the interface to support them all.

Pumpkin Man's glowing Jack-o-lantern head

The “head light” provides a flickering candle-like effect

Thankfully, the logic for the rest of these controls was nowhere near as complicated as for the mouth, since they were all simple “press the button and [thing] happens” operations.

Here’s a screenshot of the new interface in all of its glory:

The control interface, a mess of many buttons that operate each of his motions
It isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. The most important feature (in my opinion) is the support for keyboard controls for the head, legs, and arms. When I’m operating Pumpkin Man live, it’s much easier to control his motions via the keyboard controls than clicking buttons on my screen.

The addition of the new controls is the biggest improvement I made to the interface. Aside from that, I made a handful of minor improvements, including some enhancements to the recording playback feature. I added the ability to automatically loop playback of a recording1, to play an audio file in sync with the recording2, and to schedule playback in the future3.

My code is open source but also highly specific to this project (and highly lacking in quality…).

But the coolest work that happened since my last post was Pumpkin Man’s body being fleshed out.

Fleshing out Pumpkin Man’s body

Sam, Kai, and Elizabeth all did a great job of building a body over a skeleton. It started with “corpsing,” the process of covering the frame in “skin” (in this case, shrink-wrap-like plastic). Every part of Pumpkin Man’s body, from the hands to the torso to the legs to the feet, had to be covered and textured.

Pumpkin Man with his ribs, arms, and hands covered in plastic

Pumpkin Man during the corpsing process, slowly building up texture

After corpsing Pumpkin Man, the crew painted and textured him with a beautiful set of greens, and topped that with some fake vegetation and some real squash vines!

Painted Pumpkin Man draped in a mix of real and fake greenery

The vines on the left are real!

Closeup of Pumpkin Man's textured green fingers

Spooky fingers

Once all this great work on texturing and painting was done, Pumpkin Man was ready for his beauty lighting. Sam set him up with a gorgeous palette of green and purple. Spooky!

Pumpkin Man standing up with raised arm and open, glowing mouth, bathed in green light against a purple background

Courtesy of Adrian Lee

I’m proud slash impressed about how good Pumpkin Man looks, and I had very little hand in it. I think the most I did was paint the base coat on the very back part of his head.

Wiring up the valves

In the process of getting all of Pumpkin Man’s movements working, Sam had me help in wiring all of the valves (the parts that control the pressurized air that goes to the cylinders that drive the movements) to the Raspberry Pi (which we established in part one is the brains of the whole operation). He taught me how to strip speaker wire (difficult, in my opinion :) and connect everything up to the relays and to power.

It was pretty cool to get to help with this part, since it was outside of my comfort zone and I learned a new skill in the process. However, my cable management left a lot to be desired.

A plastic tub containing the Raspberry Pi, relay board, and a mess of wires


Voicing Pumpkin Man

On Saturday and Sunday nights, I got to voice Pumpkin Man for about an hour and a half after sunset. It was a cool experience — I camped out in Sam’s backyard with video and audio of Pumpkin Man’s surroundings, my laptop, and a microphone. With this setup, I could move him around and speak as him, and get a decent sense of what he could see and hear. This let me interact with anyone who came to see Pumpkin Man.

In some sense, what I was doing felt like a combination of the worst parts of standup and the worst parts of improv, but when I could have a good conversation with someone, I felt like the character really came to life. The best people to interact with were young children, because they asked the most imaginative questions.

Just sitting there, trying to be entertaining as Pumpkin Man for several hours, I was able to find a bit of a character, and I hope it was entertaining for the people who watched.

During this week, he’ll be performing a brief recorded segment twice per evening, and this coming Friday and Saturday I’ll be back performing live as Pumpkin Man. Sam’s also trying to get a few connections he has to do a stint at the mic…

It’s been a great experience so far, and I’m looking forward to being able to share Pumpkin Man with more people this coming Halloween weekend!

If you’re in the Berkeley area and you want to see Pumpkin Man but you don’t know where he is located4, please feel free to reach out (my email is on the homepage), and I will give you the address.

A brief example of some of the movements Pumpkin Man is capable of

  1. Useful for creating periodic movements, like fog dispersal and “idle” head animations ↩︎

  2. This lets us prerecord an entire performance and play it back ↩︎

  3. So that our prerecorded performances can fire automatically ↩︎

  4. I operate on the assumption that nobody reads my blog, so this category is probably the empty set ↩︎