Work parties are great. Especially themed work parties. And trust a group of Engineers to come up with the nerdiest costume idea possible. Although the Tron costume idea isn’t new, we figured it would be something clever that would stand out from the others.
Breaking the design down into components, we figured we needed:
- Skin tight, black suit.
- Neon blue lighting stripes
- Identity Disc
We cleverly decided on the idea a week before the event, so this meant we wouldn’t have time to order any official gear like the Identity Disc from the US. Instead we would need to make everything ourselves, and buy what we needed from local suppliers.
Black body suits aren’t easy to come by. Our first idea was to use morphsuits, but we decided against it. For the guys, we managed to find some cheap body tight, sports tops and pants and Alicia bought some stretchy shiny silver material to make her own pants and top.
The Neon Stripes
I remembered seeing a how-to video a while back on how to make a Tron-style satchel. I figured it wouldn’t take much effort to use the same principal for a full costume. The tutorial used EL (Electroluminescent) wire to form the glowing neon stripes. This wire has a copper core, with a phosphor coating which glows when an AC voltage is applied to it. In order to make this portable however, it needs to be battery powered therefore requiring an inverter. Luckily, the sets you buy EL wire in come with an inverter unit also, making this a quick and simple setup.
We purchased 10m lengths for each us us, with a single inverter each. For the stripes, it was a simple process to cut the wire and rewire in parallel, allowing separate connections for the pants and top. Making the layout really easy to run without needing to be in a continuous stripe. Once the pattern was laid out, we simply sewed the wire in using transparent thread. This was a long process however and took many hours to finish.
The Identity Disc
For the disc, we wanted something a bit more exciting than simply adding more EL wire. Instead we decided to add an array of cycling LEDs. So I needed to come up with a simple circuit to control an array of ~20 LEDs around the edge of the disc. I wanted to have rotating LEDs, which for anyone who knows basic logic circuits can easily be implemented using a Ring Counter. Luckily for me, there’s a IC that does this for me, saving the need to program a micro. The 4017 IC is a 10-bit Decade Counter which puts one bit high every clock cycle. rewiring the output from the 8th bit to the chips reset input, results in a 7 bit counter. This then all I need to do is wire 3 LEDs in series with current limiting resistors and the cycling effect will work. The chip was clocked simply using a 555 Timer in astable mode.
The disc itself was machined from spare pieces of perspex plastic we had lying around. We machined the shape, spray painted black then mounted the LEDs and circuit behind. Below is an example animation plus a shot of the real thing.
The Final Outfit
With only two evenings to fully assemble the costumes, we certainly did not allow enough time. We barely pulled it off, and it didn’t take long for some of the EL wire to fail (dodgy soldering). However, it all came together and you can see a picture of the four of us below. Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo before the first of the EL wire failed. Still pretty impressive though.