Dragon Central - Make: Community
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Dragon Central

By Mark Enright

Dragon Central - an interactive educational display, for events. Stardust and Steel are two 'baby' dragons, each over 2.4m long, pulling the Evil witch Fortuna’s carriage. Kids can learn about animatronics and how to make monsters move!

Type: Commercial, Artistic, Education

Website: https://podpadstudios.wixsite.com/dragoncentral

State: Wilts
Country: United Kingdom
Affiliation: None
Team Members:
Anna Enright - Lover of dragons. Operator of the laser cutter, painter of scales, person to bounce ideas off and co-funder. Social media stuff. Swept up made the tea.


What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?

We wanted to make our most interactive prop EVER!

We have attended many events with our handmade props: Comic cons, car shows, STEM educational events, and Makers fairs, at ever yone the magic happens when visitors interact with our props. We reviewed what we liked about what we did (I guess everyone was evaluating their lives during the pandemic...) ....and the one thing we loved was the interaction. This project developed that idea further. We wanted to make something completely original, and educational. So we set out to make an interactive prop that also educated children about how props move, and as we were designing the project the characters and backstory developed.

Making off video https://youtu.be/gw3bRfN9Fpw
Sales video https://youtu.be/TvS3gSGA3v8
Video for life in a day: https://youtu.be/RLI8-4Ktmwo

DragonCentral is (C) Podpadstudios Ltd all rights reserved 2021

What is your project about and how does it work?

A 3m x 8m display incorporating 2 'baby' dragons and a coach which they are forced to pull by the wicked witch Fortuna. Children can sit on the coach and pull levers and push buttons to make the dragon's wings, tail, and head move. We talk to them about the movement. Aimed at 6-10 years olds, it introduces the concepts of analogue vs digital, autonomous movement v.s. puppetry, how to inject character into movement.

The display also shows the backstory: Fortuna, the wicked witch, fought and killed the baby dragon's mother and then stole the eggs. When hatched they imprinted on her and now must do her bidding. They approach adolescence…

The coach and dragons are scratch-built with metal frames. The dragons are paper mache, with (laser cut) neoprene scales. The claws and teeth are 3-D printed. They have autonomous movement using Polonu boards and a sound system

What did you learn by doing this project?

We learnt that it's hard to have 2 baby dragons cooped up waiting for the world to come out of lockdown! We also learnt that using the laser cutter was a very effective way of creating the kind of uniformity that you find in nature (snakes scales) and that the Rowney system 5 acrylics cover neoprene very well, it was a great choice of material as it is soft, felt alive - but was also a little cool - like a snake.
We used plastic material for the roof of the coach which warped in the sunlight a bit - but now has the look of leather and this has added to the character of the coach - as it needs to look home crafted. We found a fabulous supplier of coach parts to get the wheels from, local to us in Somerset. Inside the coach is fur lined: it needed to be waterproof, but it is also very soundproof
Servos: https://youtu.be/VPxhw5-t6Ig
Actuators https://youtu.be/k8VLm1RUQdw
Paint https://youtu.be/y3hp65rAT2E

What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?

We like to think that interacting with Stardust and Steel and the coach will inspire the next generation of makers. We always aim to link the magic of our props to everyday things - e.g. we talk about how we used bicycle brake cables to control the dragon's heads, something most of the children that operate the dragons can relate to. Then there is the sheer joy and excitement of saying " I made a dragon's wing flap", regardless of your age, the awe is there no matter how much we explain how it all works!

Of course, there is a practical impact of adding another prop to our collection that will bring us income - but far greater is that we have become dragon builders, and dragon custodians: the owners of the story of Stardust and Steel.

We have many ideas for the future - the biggest one is - if Fortuna killed the dragon's mother - where was Dad? If the Dragons are 2.4m long as children, HOW BIG IS DAD?
We would love to build Dad and create his back story, we just need the funds.