Awhile back I wrote about the benefits of having a side project, well here is the finished side project I have been working on for the past year. Two animatronic Disney Enchanted Tiki Room drummers.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big fan of Disney and tiki bars. Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room is the epitome of those two passions. So I thought it would be great to bring some of the Tiki Room into my home tiki bar.

After some searching I found the perfect thing, an authentic Disney replica of a Tiki Room drummer on eBay. But it was selling for an astronomical price and the arms didn’t even move like the real drummers! So I thought why not try to make one instead? And maybe I could improve on it by adding the motor functions.

Since I am very familiar with building with foam core, I decided it would be the best material to use to construct the drummers. Foam core is sturdy as well as easy to cut. It would also allow the drummers to be lightweight which would make the motor functions easier to manipulate.

I started by creating paper templates to keep all the parts consistent. Then I cut out the many layers of foam core and glued them together to build up the body of the drummers. I added some thin EVA foam to the surface for smaller details.

When the basic construction was completed it was time to move on to the mechanics of the arm movement. Which proved to be the most complicated and time consuming of the whole project. I am not as experienced with mechanics and had to do some research on what types of motors were available and which ones would work best for my purposes. I chose to go with a DC powered hobby motor to drive the arms. This way I would not have to run any wires to outlets or deal with more dangerous AC electrical.

For constructing the mechanics I placed the motor in the base of the drummer. Then armature wires are attached to opposite sides of the crank arm that run up the back and attach to a lever in the shoulder of the drummer. This then pivots a dowel rod back and forth to creates the up and down movement of the arms. However the motors turned out to louder than expected and some sound dampening needed to be implemented using some EVA foam to fill in the gaps inside the drummers. I found to use only two AA batteries to power each motor as more than two caused the motors to run too fast and make the arms.

Once the mechanics were finalized the outer foam core structure got a few layers of papier-mâché which helped even out the angles and give it some texture. Papier-mâché is something that I have actually never worked with and it was way easier than I had expected. I used the recipe and many tips from

After the papier-mâché dried I was ready to paint. I started with a couple coats of brown over the drummers, followed by two dry brushed layers of a lighter and a darker brown to create a wood texture effect. Then I painted the color details on the faces, arms, legs and drums.

Inside the drums I placed LED lights to shine onto the drummers’ faces through the drums’ translucent top. The LED lights have a setting to cycle through colors which just so happen to appear to go to the beat of the drum.

To complete the drummers I wanted them to have some sort of automation. Since they ran on DC batteries it seemed like I was pretty limited for options. After some research and suggestions from others I settled on a Belkin Wemo Maker. The Maker allows me to set times that they turn on as well as control them from my phone!

This project was a labor of love as well as a learning experience. I’m grateful for all the inspiration, praise, and help that I received along the way. Now I am interested in working on other animatronic projects. The next project I have in mind will be even more ambitious, I’m going to experiment with a talking parrot animatronic! Stay tuned…

Here is the finished Tiki Room Drummer in action: