For Costumes

It might seem a strange application…why not make your own noises, and why do you need a remote control for something that’s right on your person? A few reasons, actually…

  • No matter how good you are at voice impressions or growly monster noises, they always sound terrible through a mask.
  • The costume might be on another person who can't operate it themself…a small child, for example…or on a non-person, such as a dog with a talking collar like in the film Up.
  • Costumes and wiring really don’t mix well. Wires get pulled, solder connections break, sweat happens, and it’s more complicated to put on.

To make this project wearable, the connections are all the same as before, it’s just assembled differently…

  • Everything needs to be soldered. Mostly for robustness, but also to make it smaller.
  • If it’s to be worn under a costume (rather than inside a prop item), an enclosure is essential. Even if you don’t feel warm or damp, bodily humidity is always present and a real problem. But don’t use an Altoids tin…the metal enclosure will block the antenna from receiving!

Building It

Reducing the size of the circuit requires some careful planning, testing different positions and configurations before settling on a solution. Part of this depends on the size and depth of the enclosure you intend to use.

I used a “small mint tin size” Perma-Proto board, with the audio board and RF receiver installed “wing style” off the sides, face down to reduce overall thickness.

As installed, the audio board only has headers on triggers 0-3, so it can safely overlap the area used by the 74HC04 chip. Short wires connect the BUS and GND pins to the Perma-Proto power rails.

This arrangement is broad and flat, but yours might be different…maybe it fits better with the boards stacked tall and narrow.

In the photo above, the header pins on the RF receiver have been desoldered and replaced with straight ones. Desoldering can be a major challenge for novices…it’s easy to damage the board. If you’re not ready, that’s okay, you don’t have to build it exactly like this one! Keep the angled pins!

Found this nifty amplified speaker from Monoprice.com, with a belt clip and loops for adding a shoulder strap or lanyard. This made it easy to hang right in front of one’s chest!

A standard 3.5mm audio cable connects between this and the Audio FX board.

As mentioned before, for custom-fitted jobs we have various audio amplifiers and speakers in the shop.

If you do opt for a custom design, I strongly suggest against putting speakers inside a mask. Exhaled breath is very moist and wreaks havoc on electronics! Mounting the speaker on the chest works perfectly well.

The circuit is mounted inside a plastic (not metal!) box (this one once held a bicycle tire patch kit). A piece of scrap plastic cut to size provides a base to which everything can be fastened with foam tape or hot glue…

…this then clipped to the speaker amp (plus some tape for good measure).

The whole package can then hang from one’s neck and is just slim enough to be concealed under the chest of a monster suit.

It’s much easier for characters that wear armor or a big medallion…if the electronics are outside the body of the costume, they need less protection from heat and perspiration!

Triggering Sounds

For the remote control, you have a few options…

Easiest is just to “palm” it…carry it in your hand and try to be discreet. Visibly operating a gadget throws off the effect.

If you’re out with a “spotter,” they might be able to trigger the sounds for you. Getting the cues right requires coordination and practice.

If your character carries a prop like a staff or axe, the remote can be fastened to it with hot glue or cable ties. Conspicuous in broad daylight, but in the dark nobody will notice (put some tape over the LED).

Those tiny buttons can be difficult if you’re wearing gloves. The 2-button and single-button versions of the remote may be easier to work with. You can load up the Audio FX board with a list of sounds on rotation so it’s not repetitive and annoying.

Or if you’re really good with electronics, you can go all Ben Heck and dismantle the remote, running wires to your own customized trigger buttons that are better concealed.

Completing the Effect

Surprisingly, the most time-consuming part is curating the audio tracks — finding or creating just the right set of sounds that work best with the costume. Seems simple, but isn’t.

If you’re skilled at sound effects and audio mixing, then you’re all set. The rest of us will have to scrouge on sites like Freesound or Wavlist.com.

After downloading anything and everything that shows potential, you can then sort through the list to pick the very best ones and convert everything to WAV or OGG format. Then assign filenames so they’re played in succession or randomly in groups for each of the buttons.

The final piece is a little bit of acting. You'll find that some sounds are cool on their own but just don’t work well for performing…cull your list a bit further. Then practice discreetly triggering sounds, because fumbling around with buttons totally spoils the illusion. Also, the remote adds a slight delay. With a little misdirection and body language, nobody will see the remote in use.

This guide was first published on Oct 06, 2014. It was last updated on Oct 06, 2014. This page (For Costumes) was last updated on Aug 20, 2019.