Build log: Animatronic wings

Work in progress
In the meanwhile you can visit my facebook photo albums for the progress while I’m working on a version 3

This is actually version 3 of my animatronic wings. The first version was built end of 2017 and has seen some revisions since then to the structure!

The basics are the same though: I base my wings on the same structure as an umbrella, but flat and with only two arms to each side. The ‘umbrella’ movement going up, is moved using a linear actuator. But you can replace this movement using a pulley/rope for example! Which would be lighter and no fiddling with electronics, but the weight on larger wings is not suitable for manual control (requires to be up to 15kg in strength).

All my wing joints are 3d printed. You can find hardware replacements for it instead if you don’t do 3d printing, but it may be difficult to apply it to your frame the same way. My 3d print files for this project are my own, as this is a build log and not a free how-to. It’s important to bring some own vision to undertake this project if you plan to make this!

10 meters each of 5/8″ and 3/4″ electrical piping (preferably the ‘good’ sturdy ones), aluminum piping, or other rod/beam material that’s not wood
16x M5 bolts 40mm
16x M5 locking nuts
~64x M5 large washers (act as bushings)
Some ABS plastic or wood sheet

12V Linear actuator 100mm stroke length (150N-200N)
12V 2-channel remote control set, rated atleast 3A
3x 18650 battery pack
12V battery with appropriate charger (see CCTV batteries)
Some electrical wire (22g or thicker)



Tips for the frame:
When designing your frame angles and distances, try to keep the ‘elbow’ of the wingframe (the first corner of the frame), parallel or lower than the shoulder of the wingframe, this will help a ton in stability (your point of gravity)!
If you 3D print your joints, try to keep the layer direction perpendicular to the force exerted on the joints, otherwise they will snap quickly! Experiment with this strength before final assembly.
Keep the space between your joints/moving parts as tight as possible, or your frame will start wobbling.

My skinned demon wings for my Demon hunter cosplay from World of Warcraft

SKIN (for dragon wings/demon wings)

I use chiffon fabric to create the skin membrane for my wings. The chiffon fabric is glued to the frame, and you can burn holes into the fabric using a soldering iron or woodburning tool, as it is a synthetic fabric.
I use upholstery foam, insulation pipes (for inhouse heating pipes) or low density eva foam to create the fingers and paint that with latex mixed with acrylic paint.
I sew a stretchy tricot fabric casing around the armature, before glueing upholstery foam muscles to this ‘pillow case’ and paint this aswell with latex mixed with acrylic paint. The fabric casing is made while the frame is half-extended, for the best fit.

My feathered wings for my Nex cosplay from Runescape

FEATHERS (for angel wings/feathered wings)

For info on how to add feathers to your frame, I suggest visiting the griffin queen youtube (alexis lincicome).
Instead of construction adhesive, I generally use woodglue thinned with water to create large feathers from two layers of fabric with a piece of iron wire inbetween.
The iron wire I use usually varies between 1.5mm and 3mm in thickness (3mm for the largest outer feathers).
The fabric I use is usually poplin cotton, this is very lightweight and easy to glue, but may fray.
Holes drilled into the frame are used to hook the iron wires from the feathers into the frame.
Fishing wire is used to tie the feathers together so they lift up once the frame extends.
I use stretchy tricot to create a blanket over the jointed parts of the frame, and sew real (smaller) feathers to this blanket before using elastic bands to mount it to the frame.
Check my Nex photo album on my Facebook for more detail on how to make feathered animatronic wings.


Q: Can I purchase those 3d printed joints or purchase the STL files?
A: The files are currently not available, this is a build log on how I did mine, not an exact tutorial for your own pair copy. I think it is important for anyone to practice and experiment when building things like these and not imitate or copy other’s work exactly without actually learning anything, especially on a daunting project like this.

Q: Can I purchase a bare frame or finished pair of wings made for me?
A: No. Due to the risk of malfunction, risk of injury and size, I don’t plan on selling them.

Q: How heavy are these kind of wings?
A: The frame weighs about 4 kilograms. A finished pair of skinned (demon style) wings weighs 4.5kgs. A pair of feathered wings weighs 6kgs. Of this weight, 1.5kg is the motor only.

Q: Why don’t these wings fold tighter? It looks better and less wide to move around.
A: It is very hard to skin artificial wings and even harder to fold this skin properly. So it looks better for the skin, easier to make the skin, looks better for pictures as well if folded wing pictures are taken. The wings move 90 degrees to my back to move through smaller spaces and avoid hitting people. Also, the shorter the actuator, then you have more space for power and speed of the folding motion.

Q: Why not use a pulley/rope/brake line?
A: I haven’t tested ropes, but one downside is that a rope will either tighten up or release. When released (to fold the wings) it will still hang or not fold as tightly when a tight system is used.

Q: Your wings rotate to the back, will you motorize this?
A: No. I like the way they move to the back and front using the angle of my own body, it gives it more natural look. A motor would remove this look.

Q: What is the electrical circuit like?
A: Linear actuators are very simple: you feed 12V to the positive and negative line, it extends. When you revert the polarity (positive attached to negative pole, and negative attached to positive pole) the linear motor retracts. It stops and shuts off current automatically when maximum positions are reached, locking the position in place.
Using a 2-Channel remote control, you can use one channel to switch on a positive current, and the second channel to switch on the reverse of the current, so you can use two buttons to control the motor remotely up and down. This is also called a “H-bridge switch” if you want to look into it.
The actuator in this project will consume 3-4 amps of current when on, strong and proper wiring is highly recommended since a short circuit may result in dangerous situations. Lithium ion batteries are also very volatile!