Homemade Self-Taught Matrix Costume: Neo, The One
I would first like to thank you for hosting this event which not only allows, but inspires, people to embrace their creative side and strive for innovation.
This costume was first inspired by Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood music video. The video has a very dark, deadly, futuristic feel. I had concert tickets to the Taylor Swift show on September 29th and wanted to dress up because she encourages her fans to be unique and creative.
As I was looking for supplies to make my costume, I came across several Matrix style costumes, and that’s when I knew what I would do for Halloween. However, I like to apply my own interpretation and innovation to common costumes, so I began looking around for inspiration in creating a unique Halloween costume.
I wanted to not only create a Matrix inspired outfit, but I wanted to actually put the Matrix IN my outfit. I began looking for ways to achieve this vision, and came across the following video that shows an artist who integrated customizable lights into her outfit:
This inspired me to see what possibilities were available in the world of customizable LEDs.
After getting exposed to the microelectronics community and seeing all of the possibilities, I dedicated myself to learning the skills necessary to achieve my vision. After two months of research, learning, and experimenting with microelectronics, I had learned enough to put together the costume you see submitted. And as you will see, I did in fact achieve my vision of putting the Matrix IN my costume!
The details of my costume are as follows: I got the spandex suit and trench coat online. The gloves, sunglasses, and usb cables were items that I had lying around my apartment. And I got the belt, the book covers, the knee pads, and the elbow pads at the local Goodwill. The housings for the microcontroller and battery pack were just cardboard boxes that I covered in black electrical tape. I made the harness out of Velcro straps.
I also purchased a 5 meter roll of programmable lights, some wires with pin connectors, an Arduino microcontroller, push button controls, and a battery pack for the LED display. With friends, Youtube, and online forums as my guide, I spent nearly two months teaching myself how to safely wire the portable lighted display and program customizable designs onto the display. The overall cost of this costume was about $100 dollars, with most of that cost coming from the electronics, but the great thing is that I will be able to use that display for hundreds of other purposes! Now that I have learned these skills, all of my friends are asking me to program displays for them. This Halloween helped me learn a skill I can use the rest of my life.
Here are the steps of completing the LED display portion of the costume. I was able to teach myself all of this, so you can too!
1. Cut the 5 meter LED strip into 10 strips of equal length (my strip had 60 LEDs per meter)
2. Solder wires to each of the 10 LED strips (red to power, green to data, white to ground)
3. Connect the ground and data wires from the LED strips to the pins of the Arduino microcontroller.
4. Cut an old usb cable in half and solder the power wire of the usb cable to the power wire of the LED strips. Connect the ground wire of the usb cable to the ground pin of the Arduino microcontroller.
5. Align the LED strips so that the lights are even, and glue them to a backing material (I used cardboard)
6. Cut the sleeves of a black book cover so that you are left with one long piece of black nylon spandex. Glue this book cover around the LED strips so that it looks like one cohesive display (instead of 10 LED strips on a piece of cardboard)
7. Build some cardboard boxes to house your battery pack and microcontroller. Make the boxes black (you can use paint, I used electrical tape). Cut two holes in one of the boxes and fit the push buttons into the holes. The push buttons allow you to sequence through different designs.
8. Program your own unique and creative lighting sequences using the free Arduino programming software. There are a lot of great online tutorials for learning how to program using Arduino. It is very easy to learn!
9. Connect the usb cable from the lights to the battery pack, and another usb cable from the Arduino microcontroller to the battery pack. Put the microcontroller and battery pack in their respective cardboard housings.
10. Power the battery back on and make sure your designs turned out correctly. Enjoy your creation!
Here are the steps of completing the outfit portion of the costume.
1. Stretch a book cover over the top of each of your shoes (if you don’t have black shoes)
2. Cut a hole where your foot would go in. Tape down any parts that stick out. Now you have shoes that match your costume!
3. To make the harness, measure out a piece of Velcro to fit around your chest.
4. Take the opposite side of the Velcro and measure two pieces, each to go from the Velcro on your back up and over your shoulders and down to the Velcro on your chest.
5. Connect the Velcro shoulder straps to the Velcro chest strap, now your harness it ready.
6. Put a piece of opposite Velcro on the back of the LED display and connect the harness to the LED display.
7. Now take a black belt and attach Velcro on left and right side (to attach the boxes)
8. Place the opposite Velcro on the back of the boxes and connect the two. Now you have a mobile LED display!
9. Put on the body suit, then the harness, LED display and belt, then the trench coat, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves, and sunglasses, and finally the shoes.
10. Enjoy your awesome Neo-inspired costume and go out there and manipulate the Matrix!
Here are some additional useful tips . Wrap the individual wires (from the microcontroller to the individual LED strips) in black electrical tape to keep them bundled together. Also, by adding push buttons, it allows you to manually sequence forward and backward through different designs so that you do not have to just let all of the sequences play through without any control. The trench coat helps because it rained on each of the nights I wore it out, and the rubber material kept me and the LED display dry. I recommend using grid paper when you are ready to program your lights. This will make it easier to program which lights need to be turned on. Finally, make sure to choose a portable battery pack with two usb ports, one for the LED power, and one for the microcontroller power.
I would like to say that my costume was well received by every single person who viewed it, but there were less than a handful of people that reacted in a way that I will never forget.
As I mentioned, this costume was originally for a Taylor Swift concert in late September. Unfortunately, when I went to the concert with this costume (containing Taylor Swift LED display programming, not Matrix programming), the Scottrade Center did not embrace my innovation and creativity. In fact, I was humiliated by their discrimination against me. I was first approached by the security officers and told that I would not be allowed into the concert because of my “set up,” despite explaining to them that it was simply a LED display and offering it for inspection. After being confronted by the security officers, I was then confronted by police officers who had what I believe to be a bomb sniffing dog, and was treated like a criminal.
I very politely tried to explain to them that I had created my own LED display for the concert, but they would not hear me out, and beyond telling me that I wouldn’t be allowed in the concert, I was told that I needed to leave the premises immediately. I could not have been more humiliated. I had taken the initiative to teach myself new skills, build and program something innovative, and my reward was being treated like a criminal. Furthermore, I watched as dozens of other lighted displays were allowed into the concert venue that evening. I definitely feel that as a male attending a Taylor Swift concert alone, that I was singled out and discriminated against. Every Taylor Swift fan that I talked to was outraged at the treatment that I faced, and they were all amazed at the costume and lighted display that I designed. In fact, my treatment led to an article being published in the St. Louis Post. If you are interested, you can read more here: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/bad-blood-between-taylor-swift-superfan-scottrade-security-over-costume/article_e3fda65a-1937-57f1-aabc-3dad539112d5.html
So after that entire ordeal, I questioned if I should dress up for Halloween at all. After a few weeks to think it over, I eventually came to the conclusion that instead of letting this situation define me, that I would stand up for my creativity and curiosity to learn and try new things. I wanted to stand up for people, especially young, who have a passion to be unique, creative, and innovative. I want them to know that even though they will be faced with challenges and potential discrimination, that they shouldn’t let these obstacles define their path in life. For young minds which are so easily shaped by the opinions of others, who are at risk for changing their entire life path from an event like this, I want to encourage them to be strong and pursue their passion despite what their critics say.
So I refocused myself and came up with several new Matrix-themed programming designs, only two of which could be included in the pictures I submitted. I nervously went out to celebrate Halloween, fearing another experience similar to what I faced at the Scottrade Center, but I was gratefully surprised that not only was I not criminalized, but I was enthusiastically embraced. Over 100 complete strangers stopped me on the street to complement me on my costume as I walked around town. They wanted to know everything about it, and when I showed them that I could “control the Matrix” by sequencing through different programming designs, their minds were blown. No one treated me like I had a bomb. Everyone was so amazed at the Matrix style costumed I created with the LED display that I programmed.
In addition, every single establishment that I entered let me in without question. They didn’t call the police or even bat an eye at my “set up.” They all just commented at how cool they thought my costume was. This embrace felt incredible, and translated into winning 5 different costume contests. A few thousand people saw and voted on the winners of these contests, and I was lucky enough to receive 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, and 5th in the contests I entered. But I was just happy to see people’s eyes light up at the innovation and creativity I showed, and I believe I inspired people to try something unique themselves. I hope Coolest Homemade Costumes sees and embraces the creativity and innovation I have created, and if I am lucky, hopefully it will place me among the top costumes for 2015.
I feel what makes my costume a winning costume is the fact that it cannot be adequately captured with a picture. It is not simply a static costume that can be fully appreciated with a snapshot; it is a dynamic costume that changes over time, and changes based on how I command it.
In order to fully understand the costume, I invite and encourage you to view the attached clips. It will help you to understand why it was so well received by thousands of people. I hope that these clips illustrate the innovation and creativity that I came up with for this costume.
Additionally, beyond my costume, I hope my story resonates with your team. Coolest Homemade Costumes specializes in allowing people to explore their inner creative side and provides the supplies and encouragement for people to express their innovative and unique ideas. I embraced my creative side and used it to motivate myself to learn new skills and make the vision in my mind a reality. The initial humiliation and discrimination I faced represents the challenges so many people face when they try to think outside the box. People get bullied, ostracized, and stereotyped when they don’t fit into a certain mold that society defines. Coolest Homemade Costumes breaks down that wall and celebrates those differences. I also helped to break down that barrier by not giving up on my vision when being faced with adversity.
By collecting myself, refocusing my efforts and summoning the courage to give my vision another shot, I not only avoided the treatment that I faced at the Scottrade Center, but ended up having an incredibly fun and rewarding Halloween experience. I not only got to see the look of awe and surprise of everyone around me, but the look of inspiration and motivation as well. I could hear people as they walked by telling their friends that they wanted to learn how to do that. I can’t wait to come back next year and see how my costume inspired innovation in others. Coolest Homemade Costumes brings this same innovation and creativity year after year, and I appreciate now more than ever the service that Coolest Homemade Costumes provides and the thousands of people who benefit from it every year.
By selecting my costume as one of the top Halloween costumes of 2015, Coolest Homemade Costimes would be making a statement endorsing innovation and inspiration. A statement that it is okay to think outside the box and express your creativity in unique ways. A statement that taking chances, motivating yourself to learn new skills and try new things is something that should be embraced, not discriminated against. A statement that pursuing a vision, despite the challenges you may face, will be rewarded if you refuse to give up. And finally, a statement that no matter how hard a few oppressive members of society try, they will never succeed in smothering a nation that has an insatiable thirst for creativity and innovation.
Thank you for your consideration, and thank you for sponsoring this costume contest to encourage creative minds to share their ideas and experiences, and to celebrate everything that makes us unique and incredible. I would be honored if Coolest Homemade Costumes selected me as a top costume and as a representative of the creative spirit for 2015.
P.S. I can’t help but notice all of the reboots they are doing recently in Hollywood. Star Trek, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, etc. have all made their way back to the big screen, and I have an intuitive feeling that you will see a Matrix reboot within the next 5 – 10 years! Just imagine a storyline where Neo had a child that he never knew about, and he/she reshapes the post-apocalyptic world using the unique set of skills that he/she possesses, but there is a secret that will change everything… Remember, you heard it here first, Matix reboot prediction!