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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    California
    Posts
    414

    Default Realistic thunder and lightning

    Hey all,

    Wanted to share how I made a "decently" realistic thunder and lightning prop. It's not very cheap, but worth it as it lasts forever.

    First and foremost, to make it realistic, unlike most of the strobe/sound gadgets you can buy for like $20 or more, you want the lightning to come first, then the thunder sound. And like the real world, not all lightning flashes are the same intensity and they vary how many flash before the thunder is heard.

    So, first, I bought a Chauvet strobe controller. I forget how much I paid, I think like $30 or so, maybe a bit less. They still sell it on there site. CH-751 is the model I have.. might have a new one now. Basically this controller offers a timer mode, a sound activated mode, and a pulse mode. The pulse mode allows you to fire off the signals as often as you like. We'll use the sound activated mode as I'll explain below. The strobe light I bought, Chauvet ST-200 is no longer sold by them... and as mine works I haven't bothered to check to find another strobe that takes the 1/4" mono plug that my strobe controller uses. I am sure there are others out there. The unit I have easily lights up my garage very brightly, and from outside you can see it pretty nicely across the street. Again, I forget the price, but I think it was around $50 or so.

    So, using the audio trigger mode of the strobe controller, what I do is set up a stereo audio file, one channel is the actual thunder sound that I play on a speaker outside, the other channel is where I put the strobe activating sound, and I play that on another speaker far away from any sound. With the strobe controller on sound mode, any near by sounds can activate it as well, so I set the sensitivity to "low" and play the speaker pretty loudly right next to it.. so that distant sounds wont trigger the strobe.

    Now, to make it somewhat realistic... I want to trigger the lightning BEFORE the thunder.. so in my stereo audio track, I place a quick burst of sound (anything that can trigger the strobe is fine... can be you shouting, a drum sound, whatever) where I want to activate the strobe. Anywhere from immediately to a few seconds later, I have the thunder sound on the other channel. But... to be a wee bit more realistic, I sometimes put a couple flashes together, some back to back, some a 1/4 second or so apart. That gives the impression of two or three flashes before thunder is heard. Usually for "distant" thunder, I flash once, and for close/loud thunder, I put two flashes close together and the thunder right after it so it sounds as if the storm is right on top of you.

    That's about it. For the most part, this isn't too difficult to set up, and it does a pretty decent job of looking and sounded like real thunder and lightning. You can easily mix in rain in the background if you wanted.. I prefer to not do that as I play some songs too from a different set of speakers.

    "What about using DMX?"... I honestly thought.. DMX would be the best way to go for a good overall "scene". Here's the thing. Until this year, I had no DMX capable devices. I almost bought a DMX strobe light.. but it didn't have a non-DMX trigger method.. and it would mean I would have to run a DMX controller of some sort, be it my computer or a standalone controller. Ultimately, I want to head in that direction.. but I am slowly building up my halloween gear each year as money is tight, and also don't really have the space to put stuff right now. But, if I could use DMX.. the best thing about it with strobes is that you can really simulate intensities.. so you can have short not so bright flashes, then some brighter ones with closer/louder thunder... that would be the best! Until then.. the way I have done it seems to work pretty well with the only "unrealistic" part being that the flashes are all the same brightness. Now.. supposing you have the desire to do so.. you could hook up a few outside lights, even some inside lights, to simulate a storm messing with your electrical power of the house.. so with a few DMX channels, flash a few other lights around the house on and off to make it seem as if there is electrical interference.. now that would be the best!

    Anyway, I am sure there may be cheaper alternatives to this.. I have yet to find a decent realistic all-in-one sound/lightning box that is more realistic than what I do.. but maybe there is.

    Hope ya'll enjoy.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    620

    Default

    You can do the same thing utilizing the Lightning FX or Christmas FX boxes. The audio track prep is the same. Using the strobe you only get one intensity of flash. If you use the FX boxes and good bulbs (like the photo floods) you end up with variable flashes that more closely resemble lightning.

    I did a test for my setup this year. One demo with lightning and delayed thunder and one with simultaneous lightning and thunder. Everyone that viewed the test preferred the simo track. It doesn't make sense but it seems to work better. Even the Haunted Mansion at Disney uses simo lightning and thunder.

    Either way it makes for a good effect.

  3. #3

    Default

    I was just as surprised when I had the same feedback last year with the lightning/thunder. I got the AL pro box last year and was excited to have lightning followed by thunder instead of thunder/lightning which is how I had it for 4 years. Well, I had over a dozen people tell me that my thunder was not synch with the lightning... Oh well...

  4. #4

    Default

    I bought a Peco Storm controller and was impressed that the lights flashed and then came the sound. The first person that seen it operating said "how cool is that! You've got the flash before the bang... GREAT JOB!". It seems some people get it!
    Keven

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Quechee, VT
    Posts
    1,031

    Default

    Review this thread:

    http://www.halloweenforum.com/tutori...ine-cheap.html

    It will show you how to do all that is mentioned above including having the lightning flash before the thunder.

    You can even adjust how far ahead it is for each crack of thunder.

    Plus, the trigger sounds for the strobe (Or spotlight...or combination) are not heard. They are fed in to a line level input.

    If you really want something realistic, buy 3 or 4 strobes. You don't even need a strobe controller! There are lots of 750 watt strobes on ebay for $55.00 or so. I bought one this year.

    Leave all the stobes plugged in all the time. Open up your strobe and disconnect one of the wires going to the bulb. These are easy to find once you open the strobes up. Oh... I mean leave the strobes plugged in all the time once you are done and using them for the effect, not while you have them opened and are disconnecting wires!!!

    Anyway, I am rambling..... Each strobe has a speed control on it. Set them all very close to maximum, but each strobe just slightly different speed than the others. This will look wild when they all flash at once slightly out of sync. This removes the "Strobe" effect of the light flashing in a certain pattern and makes it much more realistic.

    Using information from the thread referenced above, hook a 120VAC 4 pole relay to the solid state relay in the circuit.

    So when the trigger tone goes off, it closes the relay. Use 1 pole of the relay for each strobe and run the wire that you disconnected inside the strobe through that pole on the relay.

    When the relay closes, all 4 strobes come on (or three, or two depending on how many you buy) and all strobes are flashing at a slightly different rate.

    The effect is awesome!!

    Every year, I try to decide whether or not to make the lightning lead the thunder. Some years I do and others I don't. I know it is correct and the way it really happens, but I have to balance that with the fact that a lot of people will simply think that I am "out of sync" or that something is broken, because they are trained to expect a fake storm to flash with the sound at the same time.

    It's always a hard call. If you do it right, some people will be impressed, but many others will just think something has gone wrong with your system.
    Living as if every day were Halloween!

    HalloweenBobsHaunt.com

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    California
    Posts
    414

    Default

    Good stuff all! I think the "trick" for the thunder following the lightning is to not give it more than a couple seconds distance.. otherwise, yah, most people will think something is not right. More than likely the younger kids wont care either way.. but I like the idea of making it realistic even if nobody else gets it lol. If anyone says something, I'll just ask them how often they are in a storm where lightning and thunder arrive at the same moment all the time.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Prattville, AL
    Posts
    3,040

    Default Help with lightning box

    HELP! I have a Christmas Tree fx box that only accepts rca audio in. I have already set up my stereo sound that has the left track beep for the lightning and the right track thunder sound that plays slightly after.

    How can I split the sound to have the left track feed into the FX box and the right track to a speaker or fm transmitter? Please Help!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Quechee, VT
    Posts
    1,031

    Default

    Well.... there are 2 outputs from your CD player, Left and Right.

    Feed the left channel output which has the beep tones on it to the FX box, and feed the right channel output which has the thunder sound to the CD input or AUX input on your amplifier.

    If you are using two speakers and both channels on your amp, get an RCA "Y" connector that has one female end and two male ends. (Go to radio shack or someplace similar, they will have them).

    Plug the right channel output from your CD player into the female end of the "Y" connector.

    Plug the 2 male ends into the left and right input channels for "CD" or "AUX" or "TAPE IN" or whatever line level input your amp has.

    Set up both speakers and you are good to go.

    Turn up the volume loud and make sure you have clean sound with no distortion or you will blow up speakers.


    The instructions above refer to a SEPARATE CD player and SEPARATE AMP.

    If this is all one unit and there is no way for you to get the line level signal out of your CD player, you might have problems. The FX box is not designed to receive fully amplified sound that is intended for speakers.

    BUT..... Do not dispair!

    If it is the case that you have an all-in-one stereo that does not allow you to separate the output from the CD player, try the following......

    Use only one speaker (The right Channel) and have that play the thunder sound. Do not even hook up anything to the left channel output.

    Get a different adapter from radio shack. First, look at your stereo and make sure you have a headphone jack. If it is a large hole (1/4" jack) then you will want the following adapter:

    Ask for something that has a STEREO 1/4" Male plug on one side (sonetimes referred to as TRS for Tip Ring Sleeve) and two female RCA jacks on the other side. They might have to hook you up with some gender changers if they don't have the exact adapter you need.

    Now take this adapter and plug it in to the headphone jack. Keep the headphone volume low at first, and turn it up as needed until the FX box starts to react to it.

    Take only ONE of the female RCA plugs and attach a regular RCA to RCA patch cord to it. Plu the other end of the patch cord into the FX box. You have a 50-50 chance of getting it right the first time.

    Leave the other female RCA jack unhooked.

    If you got it right, you will be feeding the left channel intoi the FX machine so it is only hearing the beep tones. If you got it wrong, the FX box will be hearing the same sounds that you are hearing over the speaker and it will react accordingly. You should easily be able to tell the difference.

    If you got it wrong, just use the other RCA female jack coming out of the headphone jack and leave the first one unhooked.

    If you look at your stereo and the headphone jack is a small mini plug, do exactly the same thing, except that the adapter you need will have a STEREO male mini plug on one end, (the same size as the plug end of your headphones) and two female RCA jacks on the other end.

    Hope that clears things up a bit.
    Living as if every day were Halloween!

    HalloweenBobsHaunt.com

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Prattville, AL
    Posts
    3,040

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by HalloweenBob View Post
    Well.... there are 2 outputs from your CD player, Left and Right.

    Feed the left channel output which has the beep tones on it to the FX box, and feed the right channel output which has the thunder sound to the CD input or AUX input on your amplifier.

    If you are using two speakers and both channels on your amp, get an RCA "Y" connector that has one female end and two male ends. (Go to radio shack or someplace similar, they will have them).

    Plug the right channel output from your CD player into the female end of the "Y" connector.

    Plug the 2 male ends into the left and right input channels for "CD" or "AUX" or "TAPE IN" or whatever line level input your amp has.

    Set up both speakers and you are good to go.

    Turn up the volume loud and make sure you have clean sound with no distortion or you will blow up speakers.
    Thanks HB! The directions helped. I didn't have a cd player with left and right out so I just used my dvd play with the thunderstorm/beep stereo cd. The left channel goes directly into the fx box and the right goes to an adapter and then to my fm transmitter that brodcasts the thundersound sound. Thanks again.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Quechee, VT
    Posts
    1,031

    Default

    Glad to help!
    Living as if every day were Halloween!

    HalloweenBobsHaunt.com

 

 
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