If there’s something weird in your Network Neighborhood, who you gonna call? If you want your WiFi troubles diagnosed in style, try calling [Travis Kaun] — he might just show up wearing the amazing Pwnton Pack. Built from a replica Proton Pack similar to those used in the 1984 classic Ghostbusters, it’s a portable wireless security diagnostics kit that should be able to pinpoint any weaknesses in your wireless network.
Inside, it’s got a Mark VII WiFi Pineapple, which is a portable device designed for security testing purposes, as well as a Raspberry Pi running Pwnagotchi: a deep learning-based WiFi sniffer that aims to capture those network packets that help maximize your chances of brute-forcing the WPA key. These two devices are connected to an array of antennas, including a cool rotating 5 GHz panel antenna to scan the surrounding area.
Naturally, the Pwnton Pack also includes a Neutrona Wand, which in this case contains a 2.4 GHz Yagi antenna hooked up to an ESP32 programmed to perform deauthentication attacks. An Arduino Nano drives an LED matrix that shows scrolling Pac-Man ghosts, while a dedicated sound board provides movie sound effects. The whole system is powered by three LiPo battery packs, and can even be remotely operated if desired.
It’s no surprise that the hacking and making community has traditionally had something of a love affair with movie props, especially those of the science fiction variety. Over the years we’ve seen folks put untold hours into incredible recreations of their favorite pieces of fictional gear — and by the time this post goes out, our 2022 Sci-Fi Contest will be entering into the final stretch. So it’s a safe bet that if you make your living by creating the electronics behind all that Hollywood movie magic, you’ll find ours to be an especially welcoming community.
We were fortunate enough to see this in action this week when Ben Eadie stopped by to host the Hack Chat. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s been living out what most of us would consider a dream, having worked on films from iconic franchises such as Star Trek and Predator. But perhaps his most enviable credit is that of propmaster for 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, where he got the chance to work on the proton packs and ghost traps; arguably some of the most well-known props in the history of cinema.
Not bad for a guy who only recently got in the game. Ben spent 20 years working as an aerounatical engineer until a friend from his local maker space mentioned they were working on a film and could use a hand. Suddenly he found himself behind the scenes of Star Trek: Beyond in 2015, helping to design and fabricate one of the largest rotating sets ever made. He figures he must have done something right, because Hollywood has been calling ever since.
This anecdote about his first time working on a feature film helped answer what many wanted to know early on in the Chat, which was how one manages to get into the prop and special effects industry. Ben once again confirmed a truth well known to this community: that what you’re capable of is far more important than where you went to school and what you studied. There’s not a lot of formal education out there that can train you to make the impossible possible, and Ben says the majority of his day-to-day knowledge came from a lifetime of fiddling around with electronics. In fact, he attributes much of his professional success with hanging out in maker spaces, reading Hackaday, and watching YouTube. If that’s the recipe, then we should all be in pretty good shape.
Over the last few years, Ben has been trying to pay that forward by documenting some of the tricks of the trade on his own YouTube channel. In a particularly interesting piece of marketing on Sony’s part, some of Ben’s videos have even been featured on the official Ghostbusters YouTube channel as part of a “Maker Monday” series. In fact, we first got in contact with Ben when he left a comment on our coverage of his “PKE Meter” prop build. This is the kind of advertisement we can get behind, and wish more companies would embrace the hacker and maker culture with this kind of interactive content. Ben says the best way to make initiatives like this more popular is to consume it — if Sony sees people watching and sharing this kind of content, hopefully more will follow.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Hack Chat unless some arcane compartmentalized technical knowledge was dished out. In this case, several of the questions were about the unique challenges posed by operating custom electronics on a movie set. For example, Ben says he always uses addressable LEDs controlled by the APA102 chip as it offers an external clock pin that he can feed with a different frequency to avoid on-screen flickering. The radio spectrum also tends to be pretty noisy on set, so if at all possible, you want to make sure your gear has a wired connection. Otherwise, you’ll need to get intimately acquainted with what other RF signals are being used on set so as not to interfere with the production.
But while some of the challenges he has to deal with might seem pretty foreign to us, the technology itself is in some cases more familiar than you might think. It turns out there’s plenty of Sparkfun and Adafruit gear behind the scenes, with Ben specifically mentioning the Feather nRF52 as one of his go-to microcontrollers. Sometimes the graybeards on set grumble about his “consumer grade” tech, but when his gear is up and running in half the time, it’s usually he who gets the last laugh.
Towards the end of the Chat, Ben says the most important thing he’s learned over the years is to always have backups. His motto is “One is None”, and if he can help it, he usually builds four of everything: that gives him two to learn from, and a pair to actually use for whatever the project is. Even if our own projects don’t quite rise to the level of a key prop from a summer blockbuster, there’s no certainly no harm in being prepared.
We want to thank Ben Eadie for taking the time to talk with the community and sharing some of his fascinating stories and tips with us. At the risk of sounding a bit sappy, stories like his are what motivates us here at Hackaday. If we can provide even a small part of the what it takes to help people like Ben achieve their goals, that’s reason enough for us to keep the lights on.
The Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t make it live, these overview posts as well as the transcripts posted to Hackaday.io make sure you don’t miss out.
As you might expect, the release of last year’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife has not only lead to renewed interest in the old 1980s toys and tie-in merchandise, but has spawned a whole new generation of blinking plastic gadgets to delight children of all ages. Of course, for folks like us, that means more hardware to hack on.
In a recent post to the official Ghostbusters YouTube channel, professional prop maker [Ben Eadie] shows off some of the tricks of the trade when he takes a $15 USD “PKE Meter” toy from Hasbro and turns it into a screen-quality prop. Even if you’re not looking to get an early start on your Halloween costume, the techniques demonstrated in this video could be easily adapted to other projects. For those whose next ideal home improvement is a fireman’s pole and an ectoplasmic laser-confinement grid, you might want to grab a couple of these toys while they’re still cheap for eventual conversion.
The biggest takeaway from the video is probably the finishing techniques, as they could be used on any sort of realistic prop build. [Ben] starts by using a cabinet scraper to smooth out the lines on the plastic toy, and any holes are filled with the familiar baking soda and cyanoacrylate glue trick. Once the surfaces have been prepped, all the principle parts are sprayed with an adhesion promoter, followed by a coat of silver, and then the final black color.
This allows him to create a convincing “chipped paint” effect by strategically sanding or scraping through the top coat. Dabbing some toothpaste where you want the device to look worn down before spraying the final coat makes the process even faster, as it will prevent the top coat from sticking to the silver in the first place.
Unfortunately [Ben] doesn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining the electronics side of things, but it doesn’t look like there’s anything too complex going on. All the original gear is stripped, and it gets replaced with a microcontroller which we believe is an Adafruit ItsyBitsy nRF52840 Express. This is connected to two strings of tiny APA102 addressable LEDs which are run down the “wings” (we especially like the 3D printed lenses used to replace the original solid pips), and one that’s used to provide the iconic sine-wave display.
(We know, this is a little late for Halloween 2019, but just think about how early you’re going to be for Halloween 2020!)
While not actually capable of trapping and harnessing entities from the spirit realm, the replica pack nonetheless is impressive. Constructed primarily from EVA foam and PVC pipe, it’s built on a custom built Alice pack frame to make it easy to carry. The cyclotron scores some LEDs, and EL wire completes the neutrino wand. A rough-and-ready paintjob make the gear look well used, and the laser-printed labels go a long way to completing the look.
Fans of Ghostbusters will remember the PKE meter, a winged handheld device capable of detecting supernatural activity. Precious little technical data on the device remains, leaving us unable to replicate its functionality. However, the flashing, spreading wings serve as a strong visual indicator of danger, and [mosivers] decided this would be perfect for a Geiger counter build.
An SBM20 Geiger tube serves as the detection device, hooked up to an Arduino Nano. An OLED display is used to display the numerical data to the user. The enclosure and folding wings are 3D printed, and fitted with 80s-style yellow LEDs as per the original movie prop.
The device is quite intuitive in its use – if the wings flare out and the lights are flashing faster, you’re detecting an increased level of radiation. In a very real sense, it makes using a Geiger counter much more straightforward for the inexperienced or the hearing impaired. Naturally, there’s also a buzzer generating the foreboding clicks as you’d expect, too.
[John Fin] put a lot of work into his Ghostbuster’s proton pack prop with full-featured user control and effects. What appealed to us well beyond the exquisite build is the extra effort taken to write down the whole process in a PDF for anyone wishing to imitate him.
We all know that a lot of famous props are creatively rearranged household items. The famous Mr. Fusion from Back to The Future is actually a Krups coffee grinder with some logos adhered.
[John]’s prop is no different. The cyclotron is a five gallon bucket. A garlic powder container fills another function. As you look at it more and more items can be picked out. Is that a spark plug wire? The handles on that are suspiciously similar to a power tool case’s. It all comes together, and while it’s not screen accurate you’d have to be an extreme prop fanatic to tell.
Naturally, the core of [John]’s prop is an Arduino. It stores the sound files on a SD Card shield. It controls all the lights sounds and motors on the prop. This isn’t quite a point and shoot. You must toggle on the power, generator, and arming mechanisms before actually firing. If you do it out of order, the electronics will issue an alarm as warning, and each step in the process has its own unique audio and animated lighting.
Since the Proton Pack went so well, he also built a PKE meter and Ghost Trap to go along with his backpack. He’s ready to take on Vigo at anytime. You can see a video of his prop in action after the break.
Have some .40 cal shell casings sitting around with nothing to do? How about some bullet earbuds? If you’ve ever wondered about the DIY community over at imgur, the top comment, by a large margin, is, “All of these tools would cost so much more than just buying the headphones”
Here’s something [Lewin] sent in. It’s a USB cable, with a type A connector on one end, and a type A connector on the other end. There is no circuitry anywhere in this cable. This is prohibited by the USB Implementors Forum, so if you have any idea what this thing is for, drop a note in the comments.
Let’s say you need to store the number of days in each month in a program somewhere. You could look it up in the Time Zone Database, but that’s far too easy. How about a lookup table, or just a freakin’ array with 12 entries? What is this, amateur hour? No, the proper way of remembering the number of days in each month is some bizarre piece-wise function. It is: f(x) = 28 + (x + ⌊x⁄8⌋) mod 2 + 2 mod x + 2 ⌊1⁄x⌋. At least the comments are interesting.
Arduinos were sold in the 70s! Shocking, yes, but don’t worry, time travel was involved. Here’s a still from Predestination, in theatres Jan 9, rated R, hail corporate.