Building a Skyrim Quest Marker

I’m working on a Skyrim quest marker. You probably know what this is even if you never have played the game. When a character or location in the game relates to a quest, an arrow floats over it so you don’t miss it. If it’s a book, the book has the arrow floating over it. If it’s a person, it floats over that character’s head. It is that quest marker I aim to re-create.

I sat down in front of my sketchbook and drew the basic parameters. I wanted it to be approximately to scale to the human/elf/orc heads it usually floats above. I ended up going with around 9 inches from top to bottom. In terms of thickness, any amount of blatant dimensionality is bad, as the game element exists in only 2 dimensions. That said, I will be re-creating this thing in the real world, and LEDs and acrylic and plywood and other things need to go inside.

I decided to make it around 1.25 inches thick, which would include enough space for a 9V battery if I so chose, plus a proto board and microcontroller.

Designing the Electronics

Before I finalized the dimensions I had to design the circuit. Originally I looked at Adafruit’s backlight LED panels, but I felt it would be too hard to fit into the pointy parts of the enclosure, both physically and in terms of light distribution. Instead I went with a strand of cold white LEDs, not individually addressable but only require power and GND to light up. However, the strand is WAY too bright straight from the battery. Fortunately, the strand is PWMable so I am using an Adafruit Trinket ATtiny85 breakout to dim it down somewhat.

I chose a TIP-120 for the switching, a part highly recommended by our own [Adam Fabio]. Power supply will be my wall wart; if I were to take it out into the wild, I could put a 9V battery inside the enclosure — there’s room — but I think I’ll just have it at home this time around.

Designing the Enclosure

I decided to be flexible with my design. I was going use the laser cutter to cut each layer of the marker out of eighth-inch material. The front will have a bezel holding the acrylic in place, while the back is just a blank piece of plywood. The interior layers, of unknown quantity (as I designed it) would determine the overall thickness of the marker.

I opened up Inkscape and went to work designing the layers. I did everything in a single Inkscape file with each layer corresponding with a similar layer on the design.

Closer to lasering, when I have a good sense of the projects’s final parameters, I’ll distribute the layers on a series of 12”x12” Inkscape canvases, and I’ll print directly from these. This will allow me to cut some filler projects in the unused portion of the boards, because I’m cheap like that.

The topmost bezel was easy — it’s supposed to look a specific way. I dropped a GIF from the ‘nets into Inkscape and traced it. I duplicated that layer and made the bottom plate, which is basically just a filled-in version of the bezel. There needed to be the vinyl for the light-emitting part, with some sort of bezel keeping it in place. There also needed to be a board for the LEDs, and beneath the LED board there needed to be room for a small circuit board.

I ended up making the whole thing 10 layers thick: Beginning from the top: the outer bezel; then the acrylic and its carrier, which nestle together — I didn’t want any light escaping from the sides. The third layer is an “under bezel” which lifts the acrylic up 1/8” because the LED strips are covered in a little “hill” of plastic. Fourth, the LED plate, painted white with lengths of LED strip attached to it.

I consider those four layers to be the top of the project. The next six are the bottom, consisting of five identical layers making up the electronics compartment, with the back plate, which also has a hole for the power supply and also mounts the protoboard. Each layer is 1/8″ thick, for an overall thickness of 1.25″ — not too bad. It’s somewhat on the heavy side. (By the way, you can find the Inkscape file in the project page.)


The first fifteen minutes of lasering was hell, as I got all the settings figured out. But once I got everything dialed in, it was a breeze.

The layers were split onto 12″x12″ sheets, with two layers per. So I imported 1″x2″ rectangles with horse shapes on them, and you can see them on the right. We use these in my gaming group for horses, with a figure sitting on top of it to show he or she is mounted.

Once I got dialed into my favorite settings, the lasering went quite well. The wood was about one notch lower in terms of quality than what I’m used to, and I felt like the glue was just a little more refractory or whatever. Still, most of the parts came out perfectly.

I was mostly worried about the acrylic. I took a chance with some translucent white acrylic I found on Amazon. Having never used it before, or had a clear understanding (sorry) of how translucent it was, I bought it sight unseen. Furthermore, I had enough real estate on my 12″x12″ sheet for maybe 3 cuts, so I wanted to get the right settings ASAP.

It worked better than I could have hoped. Someone at the hackerspace had written the best ratio of speed and power on the laser cutter room’s whiteboard walls — 15 speed, 8 power. I ran it through twice to be sure, but it came out perfect, and slid into place like a charm.

The Build

I glued the bottom six layers right there in the hackerspace, as well as the two-layer carrier for the acrylic. All I needed to do was paint the thing, add the electronics, and bolt it together.

Originally I’d envisioned a battery pack inside a harness of some sort, with a black-painted PVC pipe hoisting the marker overhead. That seems like a lot to tackle between now during my first run at the project, so I converted the idea to a tabletop version that uses a wall wart.

When I was prototyping the electronics it had occurred to me that I might be a little ridiculous about the Trinket — what if it didn’t need to be PWMed down? Oh, but it does. LED strips run at full brightness are awfully bright, and that cold white that has all the subtlety of a klieg light. They definitely need to be PWMed down.

The strip comes with a 3M adhesive backing, which was great, However, the solder pads that were most accessible were on the underside, as the top is covered in a plastic bubble that is hard to cut away, even with a sharp knife.

For  the future development, I plan to swap in an ESP and use it as a Twitter alert. In addition, the enclosure was hastily designed and lacked a certain polish. For instance, I would like to use trapped nuts on the top three layers to secure the front bezel from behind, so it doesn’t have those intrusive socket heads showing — or at least inset them somehow.

But all in all I’m happy to have the enclosure work out so well the first try. After countless lasered projects with every grade of success from “abject debacle” on up, maybe I’m starting to get a hang of it! Check out the project page on

Servo-Controlled Eyeball Makes a Muggle Moody

Even when you bear a passing resemblance to the paranoid Auror of the Harry Potter universe, you still really need that wonky and wandering prosthetic eye to really sell that Mad-Eye Moody cosplay, and this one is pretty impressive.

Of course, there’s more to the [daronjay]’s prosthetic peeper than an eBay doll’s eye. There’s the micro-servo that swivels the orb, as well as a Trinket to send the PWM signal and a pocket full of batteries. The fit and finish really tie it together, though, especially considering that it’s made from, well, garbage — a metal food jar lid, a yogurt cup, and the tube of a roll-on antiperspirant. Some brass screws and a leather strap evoke the necessary Potter-verse look, and coupled with what we assume are prosthetic scars, [daronjay] really brings the character to life. We think it would be cool to have the servo eye somehow slaved to the movements of the real eye, with a little randomness thrown in to make it look good.

Marauder’s maps, wand duels, Weasley clocks — the wizarding world is ripe for creative hacking and prop making. What’s next — a Nimbus 2000 quadcopter? Please?

Continue reading “Servo-Controlled Eyeball Makes a Muggle Moody”

Star Wars Speeder’s Finishing Touch: Mirrors

[Super 73] make electric scooters, and they made some Star Wars Speeder Bikes with a twist for Halloween; adding some mirrored panels around the bottoms of the bikes made for a decent visual effect that requires no upkeep or fancy workings. Having amazed everyone with the bikes, they followed them up with a video of the build process.

The speeders are shells built around their Super 73 electric scooter, with bases of what looks like MDF sitting on anchor points. Onto the base platforms goes cardboard and expanding foam to create the correct shapes, which are then sanded then coated in fiberglass and bondo. Then it’s time for paint, weathering, and all the assorted bits and pieces needed to make the speeders as screen-accurate as possible. The real finishing touch are the mirrored panels to conceal the wheels and create a levitation illusion. As long as the mirrors are angled so that they reflect the pavement when viewed by a pedestrian, it works fairly well.

Top it off with costumes and a ride around town (with plenty of cameras of course, they naturally wanted to grab some eyeballs) and we have to say, the end result looks nifty. Both the showcase and making-of videos are embedded below.

Continue reading “Star Wars Speeder’s Finishing Touch: Mirrors”

This Mask Will Make You A Psycho

Videos games are a cornucopia of project ideas well-suited to the talents of makers and hackers, and Halloween is as good a time as any to show them off! Reddit user [Tavarin], a huge fan of the Boderlands video games, whipped up a plaster mask — replete with glowing eyes — of one of the game’s signature enemies: the Psycho.

[Tavarin]’s secret to forming comfortable plaster masks is to open his jaw while the wrap is setting  — that way he’ll be able to talk without breaking the mask off his face. Hot gluing in and modifying a 60mm PC fan and a pair of lenses meant that the only thing standing between him and a lot of sanding to shape the mask’s details was a few layers of thick plaster mix.

Continue reading “This Mask Will Make You A Psycho”

Stormtrooper Voice Changer Helmet uses Teensy to Mangle Audio

Halloween has come and gone, but this DIY voice changing Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet tutorial by [Shawn Hymel] is worth a look for a number of reasons. Not only is the whole thing completely self-contained, but the voice changing is done in software thanks to the Teensy’s powerful audio filtering abilities. In addition, the Teensy also takes care of adding the iconic Stormtrooper clicks, pops, and static bursts around the voice-altered speech. Check out the video below to hear it in action.

Besides a microphone and speakers, there’s a Teensy 3.2, a low-cost add-on board for the Teensy that includes a small audio amp, a power supply… and that’s about it. There isn’t a separate WAV board or hacked MP3 player in sight.

Continue reading “Stormtrooper Voice Changer Helmet uses Teensy to Mangle Audio”

Monstrous Suit of Power Armor 3D Printed over 140 Days

fallout-armour-3d-printed-no-helmet[hirocreations] printed an entire suit of enormous Fallout power armor on his Monoprice Maker Select 3D printer, which took some 140 days and over 120 pounds of IC3D PLA filament. Happily, [hirocreations] was able to arrange a sponsorship with IC3D for the build – who would be crazy enough to use so much filament over so long for an entire 7+ foot tall suit, right? Over those 140 days, the belts on the printer needed to be replaced twice but it otherwise chugged right along.

Most of the parts were printed at 0.46 mm layer height. Individual parts were welded (melted) together using what is essentially a soldering iron with a flat tip; many parts were too thin for any kind of joints or fixtures to be practical. Parts were smoothed with drywall spackle, lots of filler primer, and painted. Some of the parts – like the chest armor – are mounted on a frame made from PVC tubing. [hirocreations] may have gone through 120 pounds of filament, but the end result doesn’t weigh that much; the suit itself weighs in at 85-90 lbs, the rest of it went to support material, skirts, and print failures.

It was known from the start that weight could become a serious issue, so [hirocreations] went for a very light infill (10%) and 3-4 perimeter layers; he also extruded at a high temperature (~230C) which he said seemed to provide a very strong layer bond with the settings and filament he was using. So far, he says it’s taken some very hard knocks and nothing has broken or cracked. He has a short video series documenting the assembly, and you can see some of the raw armor parts before any finishing in one of the videos, embedded below.

Continue reading “Monstrous Suit of Power Armor 3D Printed over 140 Days”

Put Words in Your Dog’s Mouth With A Talking Dog Collar

It’s just a little past Halloween, but Adafruit’s talking dog collar, modeled after the movie Up, is still a nice fusion between crafting and hacking.

One reason that Adafruit is so popular is that every time they sell us something, they give us some of the worlds best tutorials and libraries for free. For this project they’re using their Bluetooth LE board and their Audio FX board with a few more mundane vitamins to construct the collar. We’re sure the enterprising hacker could find alternatives if they so choose.

The collar is made of leather and 3D printed props. They went with alkaline batteries rather than lithium, to keep their doggy companion a little safer. All the electronics are hidden under the various props and the wiring is routed behind the belt. To control the app, the different sound bytes are mapped to buttons on their Bluetooth-to-serial phone app.

It’s a good starter tutorial, and the concept applied differently would definitely be good for at least one good prank on a coworker or friend.