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 my 2020 version.

The frame at the end of 2018

The first version was built end of 2017 and has seen some revisions since then to the structure!

The basics: It looks like an umbrella, but with only two arms to each side. The ‘umbrella’ movement going up, is moved using a linear actuator.
The umbrella ‘arms’ are created with pvc pipe and 3D printed joints.

All my wing joints are 3d printed. 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
Plenty M6 bolts in various lengths
Plenty M6 locking nuts
~64x M5 large washers (act as bushings)
ABS plastic 4mm

12V Linear actuator 100mm stroke length (150N-200N, ~70mm/s)
12V 2-channel remote control set, rated 10A
12V battery with 3A discharge capacity (~7200mah)
Some electrical wire


The motor backpack:
I created a 3D printed frame in which I could clamp the actuator, battery and remote control. Three hinges on either side of the frame allows connection of the wing frame, of which the bottom hinge is moved up and down using the linear actuator (like an umbrella).

A simple, first prototype of this idea (built in 2017):

The 2020 frame looks like below. It has extra features now as the spring and hinges are built so they can swing back and forth for a natural movement (and to move through doorways without walking like a crab). It now also has two hooks mounted to the back, which slide into my vest so the entire frame can be removed easily while worn. Both frames were 3D printed.
I used extra rubber bands on either side to help the motor when the wings are lifted.

The backpack as it looks like in 2020: 3d printed hinges in a 3d printed frame which has room for the motor, battery and remote control. Rubber bands relieve extra stress on the motor.
The vest, it has two bars to slide the backpack on top, so the wings can be lifted and removed while wearing a costume over the vest. The vest is made with 4mm ABS heatformed plastic, canvas straps, foam padding and 3d printed clamps.

How to wire the circuit:
Using a 2-channel remote control board, you can create an H-bridge switch to power, and reverse the actuator while also controlling it wirelessly.
Below is the circuit diagram:

If you need a more visual approach, follow this youtube video. Instead of a DC motor in the video, you’ll be using the linear actuator.

How to create the wing 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.

SKIN (for dragon wings/demon wings)

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

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 foam 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.

FEATHERS (for angel wings/feathered wings)

My feathered wings for my Nex cosplay from Runescape

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.

Making large feathers: two pieces of poplin cotton, brushed with thinned woodglue. A piece of iron wire is then laid inbetween the two layers of fabric, and when it is dry, the shape of the feather is cut.

Holes drilled into the pvc pipes 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.
The process is nearly the same as that from Alexis Lincicome so you can see her tutorial videos on how to do this in more detail.


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, breakdown, risk of injury and large 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, 1.2kg is the motor only.

Q: How large can you make them?
A: Due to the lever effect, the larger you make the wings, increasingly more strength is necessary to lift them up. I recommend not going beyond 5 meters total wingspan, or you need a larger motor which is also heavier and consumes a lot more power.

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 closed system is used.