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Answer Box: The Spinning Disco Ball Hat

Jay Lasnik • Answer BoxApril 2021 • April 1, 2021

This story can be read below or in our April 2021 digitial edition

When you’re a props & costume crafts designer and artisan, you can never say, “Well, now I’ve seen it all!” because inevitably something even crazier than your last crazy project will come along soon enough.

Just after I moved back to the San Francisco Bay area from Las Vegas, (where I was the Props Lead for Cirque du Soleil’s Criss Angel: BeLIEve,) a performer in the show, one of the clowns, approached me to build something for him for Halloween. Eric Newton said, “I want a disco ball on top of my head, and it needs to spin and light up.” “Okay,” I said, “I can do that.” As I’ve written before in a previous Answer Box article here, sometimes we don’t know how we’re going to do something, we just know that we can, (and sometimes we aren’t even sure if we can, but a gig’s a gig, and there’s a certain thrill in jumping in the deep end.) This project did seem pretty straightforward to me, though. As artisans we all draw on every material, resource, and ounce of imagination and creativity we can muster.

Design and Planning Stage

Besides the ball moving, lighting up, and just being on top of a head, I had to mostly consider the balance issue; that is, where on his head the center of gravity needed to be and how to attach the rig to Eric’s head so it would stay on and be comfortable. After all, he would be walking around and moving about quite a lot in the party atmosphere of a Vegas Halloween party. The 10” diameter ball was not really heavy at all, but when the top of it would be about 12” above Eric’s head, there are considerable leverage issues involved. As we all know, the further a point is away from its base, the heavier it becomes.

Luckily, I had previously made a plaster life-cast of his head so the rig would be custom made. On something like this, the piece needed to be built for him exactly. Using a generic head shape would not suffice. The other reason I needed his plaster head was that I was now living in Sonoma County, CA and Eric was back in Vegas. And I wasn’t going back to Vegas for a fitting. Where are his ears, his eyes, his brow, how far should the shape go down the back of his neck?  Other measurements to consider were the length and tightness of the chinstrap.  

I Made a (Mirror Ball) Hat

I used several layers of overlapping heavy gauge Varaform thermoplastic mesh as the base structure. I covered the head with aluminum foil and then a thin coating of PAM cooking spray, just to make sure the Varaform came off. I bought a motor and attached it with Adapt-It™ thermoplastic pellets that I made into malleable adhesive. When building things, one of my rules is to use as few materials as possible and when I do use multiple materials to try my best to keep them in the same ‘family‘ as possible. It makes for a much stronger object. 

The motor unit was protected by a ring of PVC tubing. The last thing we wanted was the frizzy synthetic hair getting twisted up in the motor. Next up, I removed several mirror squares from the disco ball to make a hole at the bottom with a hole saw for the rod that was attached to the motor. The rod, in turn, went all the way to the top of the ball. Then I removed one mirror square and drilled a hole so I could insert an Allen wrench that would loosen or tighten a shaft lock collar that I had previously mounted inside the ball top with another favorite adhesive, PC-7 epoxy. (For shipping to client, the ball had to be separate from the rig, so choosing to use a simple Allen wrench to put the two pieces together would make it easy for Eric to reassemble in one step).

Next, the electric lights went on followed by the wig. The wires from the motor and the lights traveled down the center back of Eric’s neck into a sleeve of his costume jacket. These wires had an on/off switch at the end, so Eric could turn the spinning ball and lights on at will. The battery pack sat in a jacket pocket.

The project was a success, and I even sent along a complimentary walking stick with its own mini spinning disco ball. Eric rocked Halloween that year! 

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