Animation Control

Animation control is probably the single most asked about topic here at Animating your props or sets can add so much life and character to your attraction. Each set I build usually has some type of animation going on. And with the right equipment, it’s usually not too difficult to add just the right animation effects you’re looking for.

One thing to clarify is that animation not only pertains to your haunted house props like a pneumatically controlled zombie reaching out of a box or a monster trying to break loose from a cage, it also pertains to doors, walls, drawers, or a dropping ceiling. Not to mention your lighting, fog machines, and audio effects can all be animated as well with simple animation controls.

Many of the animated props a haunter is likely to encounter in a haunted house or are considering building for a haunted attraction, will be powered by compressed air. However, electric motors are frequently used and in some occasions, hydraulic systems have been used to power larger scale props. But regardless to what type of system is powering the prop, typically some type of electrically controlled valve (solenoid valve), will operate the pneumatic and hydraulic powered props, while a relay will operate the electric props or lighting effects.

Solenoid valve with plumbed into the pnuematics system

This Solenoid valve has been plumbed into the pnuematics system of my Hells Bench haunt room from 2009. This valves coil operates at 24 volts AC. The low-voltage wire shown runs back to a 24 volt AC transformer. One of the wires is hooked up to an on/off switch used to control the benchs pnuematic cylinders. The on/off switch could easily be replaced with an animation controller if the application requires one.

Pneumatically controlled props as I mentioned will likely use an electric solenoid valve to regulate the airflow to the pneumatic components of a prop, such as a pneumatic cylinder. The electric coil of a solenoid valve, (or a relay if controlling electrical) is designed to operate at a certain voltage, AC (alternating current) or DC (Direct Current). It’s important to determine what voltage you will be capable of using before you spend your money on valves or relays. As far as what voltage to use just depends on what you have access to. Every animation I set up that uses a solenoid valve or relay, I prefer to use a ones the operates at 24 volt AC. Reason being that 24 volt AC transformers are easy to get, it’s safer to use low-voltage vs. a higher voltage like 115 volt, and chances also are that the electrical inspector may not like seeing high-voltage wiring ran all over a haunted house by someone other than a licensed electrician.

If you’re trying to animate a prop in an area without access to AC voltage such as in a field haunt, you may have to utilize DC coiled solenoid valves that could be powered by batteries.

Electric props or lighting effects can be controlled just as easily using relays. A relay operates similarly to a solenoid valve but instead of controlling airflow, it controls electricity. So when switching on and off a lighting effect that is powered by 115 volts, all I do is set up a 115 volt receptacle that is switched on and off by a relay, and plug in your lighting effects. (When my effects to be controlled have a standard household plug-in on the power cord, I avoid cutting the end off by wiring a receptacle into the electrical control system, and plugging into that.)

NOTE: I prefer to wire my controls in low-voltage. This is an extra step with additional materials (such as a transformer), but is not nesssaraily required.

Animation Control Box

Here I made myself my own animation control box. I built a metal box from heavy gauge tin. The box housed one Animation Maestro to control the one pnuematic solenoid valve. It housed a timer controller (not pictured). The timer controlled a 115 volt receptical built into the side of the box. It has 1 audio repeater built in. And it also has a 24 volt AC transformer set up to control one 4-pole relay used to activate all the controllers simultaneously. I eventually made a second of these animation control boxs. I never take them apart as each year I can use these boxes to animate a different haunt set from one year to the next.

The Animation Controllers

So now assuming that your props have the pneumatics hooked up to the solenoid valves or your lighting effects and electric motors are wired back to the relays, you will now have to wire in the animation controller and its trigger. There are many types of animation controllers with different features, functions and price ranges. Some controllers require the use of a computer for programming while others can be self programmed on set without computer equipment. I’d like to take the time now to talk a bit about some animation controllers I have used in the past and still currently use as well as some very nice controllers that will be coming new for 2010 here at

The Animation Maestro I and the Animation Maestro II have been utilized and sold here at for several years now. The Maestro I has one single contact of NO (normally-open) and NC (normally-closed) while the Animation Maestro II has two contacts of NO or NC. Both controllers have terminals to wire in a device to trigger the controller to start your programmed effect.

For exampe, if you had a haunt set that requires one single light to turn on at a certain time and then turn off, the Animation Maestro I would do this very easily by wiring from the NO terminal of the Maestro, to the coil side of the relay (or directly to the light). You could take this a step further and have a separate light be on and then shut off just as the Maestro is activated and turn on a second light. This would be done by wiring an additional light to the normally NC terminal. A pneumatic cylinder could be controlled in a similar fashion. The Animation Maestro II will operate the same way but will allow for control of two separate animations (which provides the option to let’s say, animate a lighting effect as well as a pneumatic prop with the same controller).

NOTE: The Animation Maestro’s DO NOT provide the electrical power to operate the prop, solenoid valve, or relay. The Maestros are simply wired in-line with the hot-wire powering the prop, valve, or relay, and just acting as a switching device.

Animation control box

Animation control box. Note the built in 115 volt receptical on the side. This receptical is switched on/off by a built in timer controller.

The 4-Play will be a “New for 2010” animation controller here at Haunt Your House. This device is very cool and ruggedly built. It operates off the same principal as the Animation Maestros and is very easy to program. No need for computers as this awesome controller can be programmed on set very quickly. The 4-play is definitely a step above the maestros though, as this device has four separately programmable NO and NC contacts. As easy as these prop controllers are to use, your imagination will have you setting up all sorts of animations for your haunt sets. The 4-Play allows you the extra room to expand with your detailed animations.

The final step would be setting up a triggering device to activate the animation controllers. The triggering device could simply be a pressure switch-mat, an on/off switch, or a door bell switch. It is possible to use motion sensors or PIR (passive inferred) sensors as well.

The Maestros and the 4-Play provide their own power for activation and they have two terminals for wiring up your trigger device. By wiring in your switching device you are simply adding a contact point within the triggering circuit. When the contact is made, the animation controllers will be activated, and therefore, carry out your preprogrammed animation for your props or lighting effects.

In Conclusion

I hope that at least some of this info I have given in this post sheds a bit of light on the subject of animation control. I realize that the task at hand of animation can be difficult to some but with basic wiring skills and user friendly animation controllers, you’ll find a great way to add additional character to your haunt and have a lot of fun in the process. Any questions please feel free to comment here or email me directly. It’s always fun to here from fellow haunters and about their ideas for haunting.