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Silent Library

Nipple Robot – Silent Library

Someday many years from now, my grandkids will ask me “Grandpa, were you ever a television robot star?” And I will be able to honestly tell them “Yes children, I was an EVIL television robot star.

I built this robot out of all sorts of odds-and-ends. A funnel, bucket, two mini plasma spheres to make a head, and two wheelbarrows to make a body. The legs are made from wiggle board and plywood, and then I attached a bunch of wires and junk circuit boards… with plenty of silver paint to make things look futuristic.

Courtland Premo made a remote control base for the robot by dissecting a remote-control golf bag carrier.

It gets very hot in a robot costume!

Toe Snap – Silent Library

I built this machine to sequentially shoot a contestant in the toes with rubber bands.

The mechanism works with screws which are placed around the barrel of a crank-operated winch every few degrees. As the crank is turned, the rubber bands fire off one-by-one.

Pedal Pop – Silent Library

I built this five-passenger bike by cutting apart and welding together the parts from three tandem bikes, and adding a bit of black gas piping where I needed straight tubing. It actually worked too, and I was able to take it for some wobbly rides in the studio! (Though the rear seat was responsible for shifting gears, since my cables weren’t long enough.)

Inflatable hot water bottles were added to make exploding seats (by Jason Singleton and Jessie Voris, I think)


Rugburn Swing – Silent Library

The second in a series of swingsets that made me feel bad!

I created a swing out of heavy black rubber to hold a contestant so that their knees would graze against a carpet as they swung, getting a nasty case of rugburn in the process.

Sorry, contestant!

Flounder Swing – Silent Library

This challenge almost made me puke.

I made a welded steel mechanism that swung three flounders into the face of a contestant as they played on a swingset. The fish are all put in motion by a pneumatic cylinder that rotates the fish in the opposite direction from the contestant.

My stomach was churning as I tried to zip-tie the flounders in place, but Katie Akana not only bravely attached the fish for me – she also broke out a big bucket of slime to make the fish extra revolting.

Motorized Cheek Pincher – Silent Library

I cast these rubber hands and built them to pinch a contestant’s cheeks. A spring-powered clamp was modified to make the fingers pinch. Jason Singleton built the motors which moved the hands from side-to-side.

Groin-Punching ATM Machine – Silent Library

I built this ATM machine with help from Daniel Rasa. The shell of the machine is made out of MDF and plywood, and acrylic components were added for lighted signs and to simulate buttons.

It re-uses the mechanism from the groin-punching slot machine that I’d built earlier, only with a new cast silicone hand that held a fistful of phony money. Courtland Premo programmed a LCD photo frame to act as an ATM screen for the stunt.

Dual-Punch Elliptical Trainer – Silent Library

This was a simple modification that only took a few hours to complete – an elliptical trainer that I welded arms onto, so that it could punch a contestant alternately in the stomach and groin.

Rear Squeeze – Silent Library

I welded together a pair of steel hands to squeeze contestants’ behinds. The hands were pulled shut by bicycle brake cables which were tightened by spinning a crank. I covered the hands with liquid latex coated foam. The arms wear sleeves stitched together by Jessie Voris, and the lower support was re-used from a catapult built by Courtland Premo.

Five-Person Wedgie Machine – Silent Library

This machine was built to give five contestants a wedgie… SIMULTANEOUSLY! I welded together the steel pipe and I-beam frame and hooked up two 12v electric winches to a bar, which in turn was connected to the contestants specially grommeted underpants (by official Silent Library grommeter Jessie Voris.) Courtland Premo figured out a way to operate the winches with a remote control and a small 12v battery.

Running Water – Silent Library

Hitting a contestant in the face with a series of waterbottles was a fun challenge! I made a net out of some surplus green vinyl strapping, and a steel pipe frame to hold all of the bottles in single file. When a motor pulled on an end of the belt, they would drop into a hopper one-by-one. At the bottom of the hopper was a little conveyor belt powered by toy car motors, which would feed each bottle into a tennis ball launcher to fire them at the contestant.

Groin-Punching Slot Machine – Silent Library

I modified an old slot machine to perform a complicated task: First, after the contestant pulled the slot machine’s arm the three tumblers were to spin and then stop so that a fist icon was facing forward. Next, lights were to flash, the winnings drawer was to drop open, and then a rubber fist would pop out and punch the contestant in the balls.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the complete machine in operation on the set, since I was too busy flipping switches and pressing buttons to control the machine. The scissor-hinged punching mechanism was re-used in an ATM machine built for the show, so you can see it there too!

Spanking Chair – Silent Library

This one was fun to make! I traced my hand, scaled it up 200% and then made a foam hand with acrylic nails from the pattern. The arm is made out of 2×4’s glued together and swung with the aid of pneumatics. I scaled up a normal wooden chair 150% and built it out of 2x4s and plywood. The shoes are just clown shoes painted with flat black paint. I made a sleeve out of a trouser leg and Jessie Voris helped out by stitching together some pant legs for the project.

It was tested out by almost everyone in the props department.

Creature in a Jar – Silent Library

This one was a challenge! I made this creature out of all sorts of materials: lobster claws, doll parts, shells from the beach, latex gloves, ping-pong balls, dust masks, shark jaws, lots of latex, and a toy octopus… a real potpourri of stuff.

Katie Akana thought of the pneumatic mechanism to suddenly open the creatures’ eyes, and Courtland Premo wired up a remote control device which used CO2 cartridge tire inflators and servos to operate the pneumatics.

Candy Television

At first I tried making this breakaway glass TV screen out of expensive plastic casting materials, but to keep things within our budget I switched to a sugar-glass recipe.

I made a silicone rubber mold of the actual TV screen, so that the mold could be carefully flexed away from the screen without cracking. The super-hot melted sugar and corn syrup mixture was poured into the mold and spread evenly onto the form until it cooled.

The best benefit of candy glass over plastic breakaway glass was that instead of needing to wear a respirator, I could eat the casting material! Also, I was surprised that the candy glass could be carefully sanded and painted… though it did deform over time, so it needed to be used within a day or two.

Jason Singleton built the pneumatic punching mechanism, and Dario Gimenez modified the TV’s wooden cabinet.

Indian Burn Machine

Designing and building this machine was one of my biggest challenges on Silent Library.

Figuring out a way for the hands to rotate around a point where I could place no pivots was tricky – so I made a semicircular track for a set of rollerskate wheels, and attached a pair of silicone hands to the wheels. The hands are moved by steel bars which slide in tracks to convert the circular motion of the motor into the back and forth motion of the hands. Some bearings helped to keep everything running smoothly.

Egg Gatling Gun

My task on this project was creating an automatic mechanism that would fire a dozen eggs at contestants on Silent Library.

I experimented with a tennis-ball-style launcher first, but settled on a gatling gun setup, powered by a disassembled t-shirt gun. The revolver chamber is made out of sections of PVC tubing ringed with UVA foam to prevent air from leaking out of the gun. A one-way mechanism rotates the revolving barrels to advance a new egg into place whenever the chicken cycles. A cable pulls on the gun’s trigger when the chicken is in the horizontal so that the eggs will fire out of the rear of the chicken at the right moment. Dario Gimenez sculpted the chicken-shaped cover for the machine.

Below is a video of the mechanism at work (with the air gun removed,) followed by a clip of the egg gun firing a few eggs at a contestant.

Wrecking Ball Crane

This seven-foot-tall crane was made to strike game show contestants in the groin with a sand-filled plastic wrecking ball. The frame is made from steel, with plywood panels, heater vents,  lawnmower wheels, and some video arcade switches.

Courtland Premo helped with the electrical system, and I managed to hit the poor contestant in the groin in two out of my three attempts. Yay!

Phony Ostrich Eggs

This was a fun challenge!

The writers for Silent Library wanted to hit the contestants with ostrich eggs… but since ostrich eggs are expensive and are so hard that they need to be opened with a hammer, I needed to create some fake ostrich eggs that would make a mess and not kill anyone.

I started by creating a two-part plaster mold from an actual ostrich egg (the egg might have cooked from the heat of the curing plaster, though I never found out since the egg stayed unopened in the refrigerator for the rest of the shoot.)

Porcelain was poured into the plaster mold and left for a few minutes to form a thin shell, and after the porcelain had dried melted parrafin wax was poured into the porcelain shell to make it waterproof. Each of the dozen fake eggs that I made contained the goo from eighteen chicken eggs (thanks to Craig Burghardt for teaching me how to open eggs with one hand, mess hall style.)

The fake eggs were sealed with more melted wax, primed, and then spraypainted. Courtland Premo made a catapult to launch these eggs, and they totally didn’t hurt anyone!

Machine for simultaneous Punching AND Kicking!

I’ve made things that punch people, and machines that kick people, but here’s a machine I made that kicks and punches people at the same time! Increases productivity by 100%!

The foot and fist are both set in motion by pneumatic cylinders, with a foam foot inside the boot and a foam fist, so that no bones would be busted.

Hand Tenderizer

I made these urethane rubber hammers to smash the hands of Silent Library contestants, and set up a pneumatic mechanism to make the hammers swing up and down.

Wheel of Rulers

I cast my hand a whole bunch of times on the third season of Silent Library – in this case, six times to make a machine to slap contestants with rulers.

The vinyl rulers are sewn to the hands with fishing line so that they don’t go flying off in dangerous directions, and the wheel of rulers is put into motion by a bicycle crank and a long stretch of chain.

Stinky Gelatin Octopus!

I’ve never had to cast an animal before, but there’s a first time for everything.

To keep the hot plaster from melting the octopus into a pile of reek, it was frozen. Its tentacles were flattened against a sheet of aluminum foil so that there wouldn’t be too many undercuts on the mold.

Katie Akana cast the octopus in gelatin (with some sort of secret ingredient to make the creature especially stinky!)

Executive Stress Machine

This prop needed a revised mechanism to clobber Silent Library contestants in the head (I changed it to work with pneumatics instead of the original electric motors .)

I also cast the giant foam balls which did the clobbering. The balls have volleyballs in their centers, to save the cost of some expensive polyurethane foam.

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