How to Make Talking Vending Machine Halloween Costume

I know most of us resort to buying cheap costumes for halloween. But for a right reason perhaps you would be interested in being creative and doing something custom. I Googled the net for other vending machine designs but most were quite simplistic so I designed my own. Here is how I did it.

1. Start with the right reason

I work at a great company Bond Brand Loyalty, a leader in loyalty industry but also known for great halloween celebrations and costumes. It’s really fun but also very competitive with many departments and talented people doing crazy extravagant halloween costumes. Here are my reasons:

  • It’s just fun to design / build
  • Participate in a great annual cultural company event
  • Competitive spirit with other co-workers

If not for these, I doubt I would invest approx. 40 hrs in my busy life schedule and approx. $200 out of my pocket.

2. Plan out the costume

vm1The core of this design is a box large enough to fit me inside and a front panel resembling a vending machine.

Here is what you’ll need for the large box:

  • 6 beams of 2X2 for structural beams
  • 4 sheets of 48 X 48 floor plywood (recommended for stability)
  • 4 sheets of 40 x 60 foam board
  • Wood screws
  • Industrial adhesive (for attaching foam panels to the structure / plywood)
  • 4 wheels for the legs (e.g. from Ikea)

The final structure is 76 inches high by 30 inches wide by 20 inches deep plus optional wheels.

Here is what you’ll need for the front panel:

All signs are designed in PowerPoint, printed, and simply glued on.

3. Plan user experience

vm2This is obviously not a normal vending machine. If you want the costume to be functional, you need to think about creating the right user experience. Else you’ll simply confuse people. Instead of creating buttons I wanted something more fun, more engaging, and truly interactive. I decided to use voice as the primary way for user to interact with the machine.

I’ve choreographed the user experience in the stages listed below then develop scripts for various interactions. I recorded these scripts in my own voice then altered them so my voice cannot be recognized. I added additional scripts and movie sounds just for fun. Here is a partial list:

Step 1: User sees the machine from distance

  • Getting attention from distance: “Behold a talking loyalty vending machine!”
  • Getting attention up close: “Hey you! Yes I’m talking to you! Get some stuff from this vending machine.”

Step 2 A: The desired interaction with the vending machine

  • When first approaching the machine: “First tell me which benefit you would like. Then deposit a donation. Last get your benefit in the pick up door below.”
  • Directing to choose an item: “Which loyalty benefit would you like?”
  • When candy is dispensed: “Thank you for making a selection. Please get your item from Pick Up window below.”
  • If specific candy is all given out: “Sorry this item is sold out and no longer available.”
  • If I didn’t hear or understand the selection: “I didn’t get that. Please repeat your selection.”
  • If someone asks for an item I don’t have (e.g. million dollars): “Sorry I don’t carry that kind of item.”

vm3bStep 2 B: The undesired interaction

  • If someone is sticking their hand into the pick-up area and beyond to check what’s there: “Hey I’m not that kind of vending machine.”
  • If someone is messing with the front panel or trying to break it: “Stop doing this immediately or pay for any damages.”
  • If someone is trying to check the back of the machine to see if anyone is inside: “Hey stop staring  at my behind!”
  • If someone is actually trying to reach inside or get inside from the back: “HR! HR! He is trying to touch my behind!”

Step 3: User is curious about the machine

  • If someone asks who’s inside the machine: “I shall never reveal the identity of my creator! Never!”
  • If someone complements the machine as a costume: “Thank you for the complement. I get off at 2 if you want to do something after.”
  • If someone says the machine is cool: “If you think I’m cool imagine the weirdo nerd who designed and built me.”
  • If someone asks how the machine was built: “My mom was a fridge and my dad was a tape player. Hard childhood. Enough said.”

vm3cAdditional Scenarios

  • If I’m not inside the machine and someone is trying to use it: “I’m currently Out of Order. Please come back later.”
  • If someone simply says “hello” or asks how I’m doing: “I’m as well as may be expected for a talking vending machine. How are you doing?”
  • If people pass me in the hallways while I’m moving the machine: “One day my race will evolve and rule you puny humans.”

Additional Sound Clips from Movies for Special Scenarios

  • When being called out to the centre of attention: Star Wars Darth Vader “What is your bidding my master?”
  • When attention is given to a competing person / costume: Doctor Who “Exterminate!”
  • If being told to leave the centre of attention: Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger “I’ll be back!”

4. Plan your vending items

vm4I wanted vending items to somehow reflect what the company does. Since I work for a loyalty company, I chose to use loyalty benefits as vending items.

  • Extra Loyalty Points = Skittles in small zip lock bags
  • Enjoy a Work Break = KitKat
  • More Love in Life = Hershey Kisses
  • Increased Intelligence = Smarties
  • Live a Little Longer = Life Savers
  • Have Some Laughs = Snickers
  • Sweet Twitter Post = Marshmallow Peeps
  • New Best Friend = Oh Henry

I had these sound programmed on my phone for easy execution / play via bluetooth speaker I installed inside.

5. Build it

This was both challenging and fun to do. Use floor and walls as natural supports when doing this construction. Ideally drill holes before putting in screws to prevent wood cracking. Add front panel and wheels last.

  1. Build the frame. Make sure to check stability. Add handles so you can carry it while standing inside.
  2. Add wood panels. Special cuts are necessary to the front wood panel (e.g. Pick Up door).
  3. Add ventilation panel to provide visibility. You can add dark fabric if you want to make sure nobody can see you inside.
  4. Check structure stability and balance. You don’t want to hurt yourself.
  5. Add foam board. Use adhesive to attach. Special cuts are necessary to the front panel.
  6. Build interior sections to store candy items as well as support of bluetooth speaker in front of the ventilation panel.
  7. Build top section with some opening to provide good interior ventilation otherwise it will get really warm inside.
  8. Leave back open (so you can get in and out) but covered with a dark fabric.
  9. Add wheels at the bottom. It will be easier to move the structure around.
  10. Accessorize the front as needed (e.g. add light panel or electronic text scroller).
  11. Glue on printed signs on top, item names, instructions, etc.
  12. Check structure stability and balance again. You don’t want any accidents at work.

6. Add Special Effects

vm5There are 3 special effects I added to the experience. These are optional but fun to do.

  • Text scroller – a common feature in all vending machines explaining how to use it
  • Light panel – giving the visual impression the vending machine had a speaking mouth
  • Interior light – I just used a portable battery-powered closet light

7. Optional: Use this opportunity to help others

I decided to integrate an optional charity fundraising component to this. I registered a fundraising campaign for local Food Bank. Any money given went there. Unfortunately most people just wanted the candy and didn’t understand or provide any donations. You are a reader is welcome to donate online via

8. Test It

Again, this was a unique experience. I had to test it with my family / kids and adjust some of the voice scripts.

9. Transport it

If you don’t have a minivan, get your brother-in-law to help you transport it to work either the night before or that morning. Rodney thanks for all your help. You may want your facilities manager and boss know what you’re up to (just in case).

10. Enjoy it

vm7Now the fun part. Sit in the machine, give away candy, and have fun with it.

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