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Animation Control-Prop Controllers

Animation Control

Animation control is probably the single most asked about topic here at HauntYourHouse.net. 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 HauntYourHouse.net.

The Animation Maestro I and the Animation Maestro II have been utilized and sold here at HauntYourHouse.net 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.

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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What about Fog Machines?

Identification sticker on typical fog machine.

Each fog machine will have an identification sticker on the back or bottom listing its voltage, amp draw, output, and wattage.

Wanted to make a post on fog machines early as during the preplanning stages of a haunt, many of us haunters are looking into the appropriate foggers for our attraction.

There are many different brands and qualities of fog machines on the market including American DJ, Antari, Eliminator, Martin, Chauvet (which is a line carried here at HauntYourHouse.net), not to mention the major department store specials.
All these fog machines will have their own specific specifications for you to go off of when choosing the fogger right for your application. The wattage rating you will pay particular attention to as that will be your best bet in determining the performance of each fogger. These specifications may also list a cfm rating (cubic feet of fog per minute) which could range anywhere from 1,000 to 25,000 cfm (perhaps more or less). As there is no set industry standard of what a cubic foot of fog actually is, this number can only be used as a base guide line when comparing different fog machines. So think about it this way, if I took a clear 1 cubic foot box and put what I thought was 1 cubic foot of fog in it, you could look at that box and say it should have more or less fog in it. So cfm is only a guide line.

The wattage on the other hand is very useful in comparing different fog machines. You can very easily find fog machines rated anywhere from 450 to 1300 watts. This wattage rating is concerning the heat exchanger that each fogger has which is used to heat the fog fluid to a specific temperature, turning the liquid form fog fluid into vapor, giving you fog.

First of all, take into consideration that the greater the wattage the longer the heat up cycle of the fogger before it has the ability to produce fog. Yet a lower wattage fogger will reheat faster, but the cooling effect that the liquid form fog fluid has on the temperature of the heat exchanger, the less time the fog machine has to produce fog before the heat exchanger temperature drops and loses its ability to produce fog. At that time the fogger will go into a reheat cycle like what it does when you first turn on your fogger. When that set high temperature point is reached, the fogger will once again be ready to produce fog. A larger wattage fog machine will also do this when its heat exchanger drops in temperature when producing fog, but being the wattage is that much greater, the more fog you can produce before the fogger goes back into its reheat cycle.

So be aware on how often you think your set will be calling for fog. If you need to maintain a high level of fog, a smaller wattage fogger may not keep up with the demand, and you may find the fogger in its reheat cycle when you need it to be producing fog. In that case a larger fog machine would better meet your needs. On the other hand a smaller set without much airflow to carry your fog away, a smaller wattage fog machine may very well be adequate.

To touch on the life expectancy of a fog machine, I want to stress the importance of using the proper fog fluid and the cleaning of your fog machine. Regardless to what brand and much how or how little you spend on a fog machine, each machine has been designed for a specific blend of fog fluid. Meaning each unit is designed to produce fog at a certain temperature, therefore you should always resort to using the fluid made for your particular fog machine. If you have fog fluid designed to vaporize at a specific temperature, but your fog machines heat exchanger reaches temperatures above that rated for the fog fluid, your heat exchanger will burn the fluid before its leaves the fogger. When the fluid is burned it will begin to build up within the foggers plumbing resulting in a poorly performing fog machine in much need of being cleaned. At worse case the machine will quit working all together due to plugged internal plumbing or a burned out heat exchanger. So make sure you use a fluid compatible with your fogger and if you aren’t certain, stick with using the same brand fluid as your fog machine.

When it comes to cleaning your fogger, you can definitely purchase cleaners. But the use of distilled water and white vinegar work very well. Chauvets cleaning guide recommends 80% distilled water to 20% white vinegar as sufficient in maintaining a clean and clog free fog machine. After forty hours of use, run a full tank of this cleaning solution through the fog machine in a well ventilated area and refill the fogger with the appropriate fog fluid. It may also be helpful to run just distilled water through the fogger until you can no longer smell any vinegar before refilling with fog fluid.

If you’re not going to be using the fogger for quite some time after cleaning, let some distilled water remain in the fogger as this will help keep the seals from drying out over storage. And lastly, assure that the fogger will not freeze over storage.

I hope this post helps you in choosing the appropriate fog machine for your application. I have some additional information on foggers that may be worth while checking out at this link. Fog Machine Info

-Kelly

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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Scare Tactic For Your Haunt Room Theme

When choosing a haunt room theme, you need to have an idea of what the
Hells Bench incorperated into our saw room theme.

Hells Bench incorperated into our saw room theme proved to be a great scare tactic over and over again.

scare will be for that room. What type of scare tactic will you use to initiate that frightful scare that your guests wont ever forget? How will your theme aid in making your scare believable? How will you execute the scare to bring out the best effect for the entire group? These are all questions that you need to ask yourselves as you formulate the plan for your haunt room prior to design.

That’s not to say that you cant quickly throw something together, cause we all have likely faced the fact that at the last minute we may have to fill a dead space such as a corner or a hallway. But that’s another post.
In the early days of planning the rooms of your haunt, you have to decide on room themes. In my experience that tends to set the initial course of action to planning the new haunt. But the room theme is just one point of the design of that room. We need to know where the scare point will be in the haunt room and what the scare will come from. Will the scare be coming from below the group, on top, behind them, from the left or right sides, or from the front. And what will actually be producing the scare?
Generally speaking, we try to scare the groups forward to prevent backup. Where a scare from the front will act to slow the group down (which may not always be a bad thing, and has its purpose), a scare from the back will act to push the group along their way, and this is generally what we want. Although we have to find a balance to this as either way excessively can lead to a backup of groups within the haunt. Haunts have to rely on their actors and actresses to speed up or slow down a group to prevent the individual groups from running together. This can take a greater level of talent by an actor, knowing when to speed up or slow down the flow, having to spend extra time with the patrons when needed, keeping them entertained, and all while staying in character.
Will the scare be coming from an actor/actors or a prop of some sort. What will the actor look like or what will the prop be? If you want a prop for the scare, will it be static or animated? If you use a prop, how and when will you trigger it or if using an actor, when will he or she produce the scare? Another thing to consider when using a prop is if you can make it yourself or if you’ll need to make a purchase. And also, do you have the means to “trigger” and “control” your prop effects and/or animation?

From a different perspective if you constantly scare from one angle within the entire haunt, you will likely not be as successful in scaring every patron within each group. Try and mix up the angle of which you scare throughout your haunt so all of the patrons get the opportunity to experience a scare. If you know how the room before and after yours will be set up, that may help you in determining where you will scare from. On the other hand you may go all out and come up with a plan to scare the entire group at the same time. This has been an ongoing quest of mine and has been extremely fun, but can be rather difficult as not everyone in the group will respond to your scare in the same way.

If your not going for so much of a “startle”, but more of a “gross them out” type of scare, you will really want to tie your room theme into the items your trying to gross them out with. The butcher scene can be done with the appropriate props and a well detailed room with a convincing actor. But you’ll want to take the time to make this room and everything about it look as much like what your trying to portrait as possible. But don’t forget, a well trained and seasoned actor can make or break a room with such a scare tactic.

Regardless to the scare tactic for your haunt room, you want your patrons to be leaving your room as entertained as possible. Hopefully you scared them or a least part of the group. If you’ve even scared one person and got a great reaction from that individual, its likely that you entertained the rest of the group enough to make them appreciate the effort and happy that they chose to come through your haunt.

I’m interested to here how anyone else chooses to set up the scare points within their haunt room and how the haunt theme they chose determined the type of tactic used to initiate the scare. Look forward to hearing your comments!

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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Haunt Room Theme Ideas

Hells bench haunt themed room

This picture taken durning construction of the Hells Bench haunt themed room. From the iron fire door to the saw blade, the detail in this room looked great and proved to be a very memorable experience for our guests.

One question I’ve been asked time and time again is “Where do you get these crazy ideas”. The fact of the matter more often than not is “I don’t really know“. LOL! But the first few years for me I had so many ideas for scares or for room themes it drove me crazy. Couldn’t hardly sleep at night as I would lie awake thinking of how to turn these ideas into scary haunt sets. But after several years it seams that I really need to think hard about what my new haunt room will be. And being my rooms tend to be quite involved, it can make a final pick of a theme harder yet.
 
Some of the actual scare ideas for the rooms would result from things that might actually scare myself and some from things I think might scare our patrons. But to get the initial theme could come from any place. I like watching horror movies so I know that plays a factor in my ideas. Previous rooms I built or rooms others have built might spark some imagination as well. The haunt forums can be an excellent source for ideas too. I like reading articles that have to do with certain aspects of haunting. At times I may get an idea that sounds interesting that I can build upon to make better by my own creative will. And if your really into haunting as I am, I talk about it almost all the time. I have many close friends and acquaintances that are into haunting as myself so just casual conversation has produced some of the wildest ideas and room themes we could imagine. But the interesting thing is after I get an initial idea and sleep on it, I may wake up the next morning and decide to change it all around anyway, making it even better.
 
I’ve never been a big fan of basing a room theme off a movie as it can be quite difficult to express the exact feel of that movie onto the patrons for many reasons. Although this past year after six years of haunting, I veered from my normal path and did let a movie influence my room in a way that our guests could recognize. But being I like and will always like doing my own thing, I designed a scare that no one would anticipate and it went over extremely well with the guests, and I don’t look back for doing so.
 
 
 

When I have an idea for a room, my design of that room and the executing of the scare has to be unique. That’s what makes it so fun. Even if I got the idea from another haunt room, whether one of my own or someone else’s, my new design has to be made different, for even a better scare. Your guests will like to see something that makes your haunt different than the haunt down the street, and hopefully better.

So when you get your heart set on a certain theme, now try and envision what the room will look like in the end. And think about everything it will take to complete the building process to express the feel you want for that room. How much space will you need? What kind of materials will be used? Do you have props already to detail the set? And if not, can you purchase props or do you have the ability to make props or detail on your own? I know first hand that when I get hooked on an idea I want to just go with it and sometimes get hung up in some spot and find it tuff to move forward. But that’s when being very open minded and thinking creatively will pay its rewards. You may also want to make a list of all the things you want to accomplish with that room. Everything from how the room will look in detail to what the scare will be. Once your sure of the theme you can move on to carrying out the scare for the haunt room.

Its always interesting to here where haunters get their ideas from….So, where do some of you get your haunt room theme ideas from? I’d like to invite all of you to register with Haunt Tech and start commenting.

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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Working a Haunted Attraction

I’ve worked for our haunted house, the “House of Shadows” now for just over seven years. My background prior to joining the haunt was mainly in the heating/cooling & ventilation field. My experience with building construction proved to be a great asset when designing my haunt rooms. Given the lack of experience I had my first few years with creating the fine detail to the haunt sets one typically sees in a haunted attraction, I based much of my work on designing  rooms that would simply allow me to scare the tar out of our guests, without devoting a ton of time to what the room would actually look like in the end. Although with some searching, I was able to find some easy things one can do to dress up a room without spending a fortune and of course, taking up time that could be used creating the next scare.
I would first off design a room for a certain effect, or a certain type of scare. Although my first years shrinking room and the success I had with it may have been beginners luck, it did reinforce the fact that how a group is positioned in the room can determine the best way to initiate the scare and how successful it will inevitably be. And that began the process, for me anyway, of analyzing what the scare tactic for the room will be prior to design. Because how you build the room, sets so many points that can determine the success of the scare for that room.
As I’ve never claimed to be an actor, I try to design my rooms to assist me in executing the perfect scare. I want there to be some thing going on with or within the room initially and then in a split second I can finish the deal with the best scare I can personally give. Hence my moving room, which after locking our guests in a hallway and claiming the first scare by means of a self made pneumatic activated prop with its own sound and lighting fx which nailed the scare every time, the room would eventually begin to roll with them still inside. Along the 13 ½ foot travel distance in the complete darkness, guest would initially feel the floor begin to move, but then contemplate whether they were still moving. And after about 15-20 seconds with the guests too busy trying to feel whether or not they are still moving, the lights would come back on for one last scare.

Many of my haunt rooms have been quite involved as you could imagine this room was. When one designs such an involved room, especially one with moving parts, great care must be taken to assure that safety has not been compromised in the least bit. And although animating props and integrating separate fx all within the same activation trigger can be a project all of its own, there are products that can help and usually simplify these things in the process.

 Kelly

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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Welcome to Haunt Tech

Welcome to Haunt Tech
There has been talk about the number of haunted houses totaling in at over 1500 in America alone and attracting 10 to 12 million patrons annually. And this is only an estimate as not every haunted house makes an official haunt listing or directory. With those kinds of numbers and few haunt blogs that I’m aware of, my thought was to begin my work here as another information resource for haunters such as myself.

My name is Kelly Anderson. I’m the owner and operator of a Halloween and haunted house supply website, www.HauntYourHouse.net which I began on my own in 2005 as another way to express my ever growing desire to play a bigger part within haunt industry a large.

I first began my involvement with haunting back in 2003 as I was asked to help with some construction of a charity fundraiser haunted house, named the “House of Shadows”. Though I was reluctant to actually work in it during operational hours as an actor, after I got a couple of nights under my belt, I quickly realized that this was now becoming an activity that was really growing on me. I found myself making the 100 mile drive from my house to the haunt every weekend throughout the following summer and all the way though October. I was definitely hooked.
By the end of year two I had been so wrapped up in my new pass time and attending the haunt tradeshows that I had started to think of running my own website selling Halloween and haunt supplies. Although my true desire was to be fabricating my own prop designs for resale, I chose to act more as a distributor to first off, get my business off the ground. And because my time was coming by allot cheaper than money for products to resell, I decided to take the time and dedicate a part of my website to talk about my involvement with the haunt I volunteer for, which has proved to be very worthwhile, as I now generate much traffic to my site with people looking for information on how to build haunted house rooms. I must also say I truly enjoy the questions and comments I get as well. No matter how much into the business and everyday life I get, an unexpected email question on how I built something is always great to bring me back to what I love doing, and that’s designing and building haunted attractions.

First off, I’d like to set a bit of direction for my blog so you have an idea what to expect. Every week or so (for now), I’d like to post a bit more about myself and my involvement with the haunt. I will explain a little on my style of designing and delivering scares, just to set a path so everyone knows where I’m coming from.

Secondly, I’ve used some pretty cool products I’ve found at tradeshows or other online sites. I found many other devices intended for other uses that can make for excellent products to build haunts with, and bring great scares. Some of the products I’ve used and liked, I’ve decided that if they are good for me that they were good enough to carry as a product line to offer to my customers. I have a few products in mind that I will mention in up coming blogs that I see fit. But I want to stress that the purpose of this blog, post after post, is not intended to be any only marketing campaign for my business, but to bring up many different aspects of operating a haunted attraction and elaborate on that point, with the intent to not only educate and promote the haunt industry, but to learn from all your comments as well.

Lastly I want to invite everyone to respond and ask questions. I respect each of your contributions to this blog and I ask for the same courtesy in return. I feel there is much knowledge to gain from all of you and I’m confident that this can be made a very worthwhile resource for new and seasoned haunters alike.

Kelly Anderson

HauntYourHouse.net

 

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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This is Haunt Tech

Im looking forward to get going with this haunt blog. We will be talking about many different aspects of building and opperating a haunted attraction. Check back later.

Kelly

Copyright © 2010 Haunt Tech & HauntYourHouse.NET
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Halloween and Haunted house chat

Building a haunted attraction? Whether a yard or home haunt or going pro, this blog is for you. I've been doing a haunt for almost eight years now and enjoy talking with others about their haunt ideas and giving some of mine. I want to here about the products you use in all aspects of your haunt. And I'd like to talk about some of the items I have used, some of which I currenty carry online. Many of these products have definately helped me in making very successful haunt rooms.