No-Code LEDs and Animation: Getting to Know Bekonix for Lights & Props

Costumes, Cosplay, and Props Craft & Design Electronics
No-Code LEDs and Animation: Getting to Know Bekonix for Lights & Props
This article appeared in Make: Vol. 86. Subscribe to Make: for more great articles.

You’ve just 3D printed the most astounding prop, crafted an epic cosplay glow sword, or fashioned a head-turning trendsetter piece. But your masterpiece needs that little something extra to make it truly memorable. You’re considering LEDs, but the thought of generic blinking lights feels underwhelming, and you don’t exactly boast prowess in microcontroller programming …

Fear not, fellow makers! This guide will introduce you to Bekonix, a no-code programming interface that’s been a game-changer for me in the movie industry and made me a hero to my kids with cool LED effects for their projects.

Drag-and-Drop Timelines

Bekonix is a GUI-based timeline programming interface that’s all drag and drop. Very rarely do you need to type any code out. No figuring out what coding function is needed, variables, enabling pins, none of that. You can program most things using only your mouse; the only time you hit the keyboard is to type in the name of the project to save it.

To help you grasp Bekonix’s function, consider this analogy: Imagine a simple video editor. Now replace videos with LEDs, servos, buttons, and sensors. If you can trim down a basic video, you can program addressable LED lights with ease. Also, on the UI you can preview how your build will look and how it will react — the lights, buttons, servos, everything — without having assembled any electronics. So you don’t even have to buy any components until you have the build all set up on your computer.

The cherry on top? You can connect and program your microcontroller over Bluetooth, no cables! Even use your smartphone or tablet as your remote control. Don’t be deterred by the software subscriptions on the Bekonix site; their free plan is more than adequate for any hobbyist. 

Adding LEDs to Cosplays

What can you do with this timeline interface? If you have an LED strip or matrix (Figure A), you can have it run an animation timeline (Figure B) over and over again — or have it turn on once and throb red to white with a switch, for example. Even better, once you get your teeth into this, you can set up inexpensive Grove sensors (Figure C) to make your LEDs react to noise in the environment, or light things up when a person approaches with a proximity sensor.

All of this is already in the programming environment. You just buy the recommended sensor, attach it to the pins laid out on the user interface, and hit play (Figure D). It really is that simple. Here’s a video I did showing you how to make a Ghostbusters Ghost Trap light bar with the system

But there’s more! In asynchronous mode, all your animations can run independently from each other, so if you want one part of a prop to light up but the other to stay dark until you hit a button, no problem. Or, and this is super cool, imagine you have an Iron Man helmet. You can run the servo to open and close the faceplate and have it run the glowing eyes and voice modulator too! Yes, you read that right, Bekonix can manage servos and audio functions, and they can all interact with each other as well. Once the faceplate is down, you can have it automagically light up the eyes. Really the only thing limiting you on this system is your imagination.

Whether you’re comfortable with soldering and setting up RGB LEDs with a microcontroller, or you’re a beginner who’s not so keen on soldering, Bekonix has something for you.

Don’t want to solder?

Start simple with the nLiten boards from MakeFashion. Their Basic Dual Edge Kit is an all-inclusive starter pack featuring LEDs, nLiten microcontroller, cables, and a USB power adapter. Just plug in the USB to a power source, connect the LEDs to the board, launch Bekonix, and you’re ready to start programming! Bekonix and nLiten offer comprehensive online tutorials to help you navigate the system and kick-start your light animation journey. Check out the inspiring creations on the MakeFashion.ca site for a taste of the dazzling projects that have been crafted using this system. 

Then check out Bekonix’s Components Library where they recommend plug-and-play parts — sensors, servos, motors, LEDs, switches, etc. — that you can use immediately. It’s a great place to start.

Don’t mind soldering?

Consider investing in a Seeed Xiao microcontroller board and a strip of addressable LED lights. A little research will reveal that your total cost could be less than $20. Xiao boards are not only tiny and inexpensive, but they’ve also received rave reviews from Make:, making them a compelling option for the budget-conscious maker.

There’s an extra step with Xiao where you’ll need to upload the Bekonix OS backend system to the board via USB using the Bekonix app. It’s straightforward and, after I’ve done countless boards, has proven to be reliable and super easy. Just boot the board, connect it to your PC, and open up Bekonix. Select the board in the drop-down to do an initialization process and it’s done. Once uploaded, you can disconnect from the computer and program the Xiao via Bluetooth, just like in the non-soldering option. For all of this, you can get easy-to-follow tutorials at their website.

Within Bekonix, simply drag and drop the Xiao board into the GUI window as well as your LEDs. The system will even guide you on the correct pin connections for soldering. Then you’re set — get creative and start layering various LED effects like crawl, pop, strobe, and more, using the user-friendly interface.

My New Go-To System

What have I used this for? Ghost Traps, Proton Packs, and PKE Meters (Figures E and F)! I discovered this system after I worked on Ghostbusters: Afterlife; now any time I’m asked to make props with lights, it’s my go-to system. Period. Here’s a clip from a video I did for Ghost Corps after the release of Afterlife on how to take a Hasbro toy PKE meter and make it look 10x better using Bekonix.

YouTube player

As makers, we are in a constant quest for innovation and creativity. This quest often leads us to amazing discoveries like Bekonix that open up a whole new world of possibilities. With Bekonix, anyone can breathe life into their projects with captivating LED animations and sensors, motors, and servos. It’s time for you to stop thinking “I can’t do electronics” because now it is simply not true. You absolutely can.

This article appeared in Make: Volume 86.

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Ben Eadie

Ben Eadie is a movie prop maker, practical special effects designer, inventor, nerd, and former aerospace engineer. You can see his work in films like Star Trek Beyond, The Predator, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

View more articles by Ben Eadie

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