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Laser Elmo!

By Ward Shrake - images & text © 2005

This is something I built for a young nephew of mine, a few years ago, as a holiday gift. Not a very serious project, by anal-modeler standards . . . but fun anyway.

It started life as a Power Ranger™ action figure. The modifications were inspired by a Christmas newspaper toy ad, which gave parents a choice of either a toy machine gun OR a cute, cuddly little Elmo™ doll. (I found that choice to be mildly disturbing on some level: sort of like a day care center that's owned and operated by Darth Vader?) When I went holiday shopping, I had those two images in mind.

When I saw the unmodified Power Ranger action figure, it had an arm that would spin and throw helicopter-type blade things when you squeezed the legs together. I wasn't overly excited about that idea, but the huge gun-looking thing on its arm seemed like it was about the right size for installing an LED lighting system. So I picked it up. (I bought it at Toys R Us around late 1998. Haven't seen this exact figure in any store, since that time. Sorry!)

[Click to enlarge - if you dare!]

Image: Step 1 - arm laser

Image: Step 2: Fitting it all in

Image: Step 3: Wiring the switches

Image: Step 4: Putting it all together

Image: Step 5: Final touches

Image: From behind

Building It

I carefully cut the package ope, at the glue seam between the cardboard backing material and the vacuum-formed clear plastic covering the figure. (So I could put it back together again, to look like it was made my way originally.) I took the figure apart; it was mostly just screws, but the vinyl head sort of popped up and off. I took out the mechanical innards, discarding most of them. I tied the one movable leg to some metal posts inside, so it would no longer move. Then I ground some things flush inside the chest cavity to make room for some electronics. I visited Radio Shack to pick up a large, bright bi-colored LED. (If you run current through these, in "one direction," it shows one color. Run current through it in the other direction, and it shows one other color. Sort of like having two LEDs in one package.) I found some small batteries similar in size to an A76 model, maybe smaller. I worked out the exact voltage drops, etc., and picked up appropriate resistors to limit the current. I also got two small "momentary contact" push button switches as well. I already had very thin ("wire wrapping") wire at home, along with solder, tape and so on.

See the pictures; they will give a good overview of most of what I did to it, electronically speaking. The only thing that may not visible, even after close study of the pics, is how I mounted the actual battery leads. It's simpler than it looks. I stripped some of the insulation off of two wires, leaving about an inch or so each of exposed wire. I sort of made a spiral with each wire. I then stuck one wire on the bottom, and one on top of a two (or three?) battery stack. This way, one wire became plus and another was minus. I just taped them both carefully into place, using electrical tape. (Wiring to the switches, and then to the single LED, is a bit trickier. You may wish to check out John Lester's article -- "Turn It On! Light It Up!" -- which appeared in the print magazine "Modeler's Resource," way back in the Oct/Nov 2001 or #42 issue. Other articles exist online, on Starship Modeler and elsewhere, to help people who aren't that familiar with lighting.)

As far as the so-called sculpting job I did on it: I only changed the head. I did nothing to the body in terms of shape (or paint). I cut away any parts of the original vinyl helmet, which didn't look like "Elmo" and then painted the new details. (I know the facial proportions are off, as are details. This is because I started with a given size, and cut down. The young person it was intended for didn't care. He instantly recognized what it was supposed to be, as did his friends. So: close enough for government work!)


The back-story is probably cuter than the actual toy is, so I'll discuss that a bit. One year, when this nephew was maybe three years old, everyone kept asking him for suggestions on Christmas gifts. He kept saying that all he wanted was "a purple Power Ranger". (There is no such thing . . . which amused him all to heck. Other colors, yes: but not a purple one.) Lo and behold, he got one, anyway! I had carefully taken a red one out of its package; repainted it; then glued the package back together, so it looked like it had come that way from the factory. (An older nephew, who could read just fine, wondered aloud why it said "red" on the box . . . but played along after being "shhh'd"!)

By next Christmas that now-four-year-old nephew was technically in on the gag. However, he was still partially convinced that I'd just found some special store somewhere, which sold things that none of his little friends had. So, he tentatively put in his "holiday order," as it were: he wanted a Barney™ Power Ranger™ that year. (His older brother, being old enough to be sick of Barney stuff, put in an order for a G.I. Joe™ Power Ranger to beat up the Barney Ranger from time to time: something about a kid's song which involved both characters.) So, they got those. And then their orders got really silly, from that point on!

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This page copyright © 2005 Starship Modeler™. First posted on 1 August 2005.