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  • Writer's pictureMichael Horn

Little Mermaid Trident and Shell

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

I created these props for a local production of the Little Mermaid musical.

The trident head was made by shaping a styrofoam trident form, coating it with epoxy and dissolving the styrofoam form with acetone. I shaped dense WS2812 strips, ahered to one another facing opposite directions, in each fork of the trident. The three two-sided strips terminate near the hub. In the staff itself, there are likewise 3 individual strips, stuck to a steel tube a’la garden center green plastic coated tree stake. All 3 run all the way from the top to the bottom, and have polyfill fiber diffusing the light. There is a USB on-the-go power stick inside at the top that provides strong portable power, and an arduino and plugs that get stuffed between the trident head and the staff. It’s all self-contained. It looks like it changes from a regular gold trident to a magically charged one that is going to cause some crazy effects! I misted the whole thing in gold mirror paint just until it was opaque in daylight or indoor light, but the LED would still shine through brightly without having total darkness on a set. It’s essentially the same technique of a scrim or a one-way mirror. I wrote the software/art myself, using only basic hardware libraries like neopixel. It’s particle-based, one effect is a rushing fire effect and the other is a bubbling colorful swirl effect. Both are 3d, they take advantage of the arrangement of the strips from one to the next in a cylindrical way. The trident is controlled with a touch interface that is designed to look like a copper emblem at the head of the staff. It stays gold until you touch. A quick touch will cancel. leaving it alone will build and hold the effect as long as you want, until you touch it again to let the effect destruction sequence run until it is back to plain gold.

Ursula’s shell is designed to respond to music with different colors. Unfortunately the color range doesn’t show on camera quite as nicely as it does in person, but you can certainly get the idea. The shell has very powerful 10W RGB COB LEDs controlled by a teensy 3.2 that listens to the frequency of audio in a microphone, all hidden inside the shell. It runs on little 4 3V lithium camera cells that fold into a spiral plane and fit inside the shell.

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