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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm looking for an easy way to build a Haunted Mansion style traveling light effect for next Halloween--preferably using parts I already have or can easily acquire. As far as a build goes, easy (to me personally) means no soldering or circuit assembly. I'd rather use off-the-shelf components that I can plug together, use video projections, etc. Something that won't cause electrocution. My mechanical / electrical skills are limited. And I don't want to become a Real Life Ghost Host (that is to say, dead).

The traveling light effect is the illusion of a ghost or person carrying a flickering light across opaque windows from one room to another, possibly through walls. A silhouette of a person carrying a lantern or candlestick through adjacent rooms would be interesting (more detail). But the important factor for the effect, at least to me, is to broadcast what appears to be a single traveling light from one room to the next across an entire second story of a house.

The second story of my house, where I want to install the effect, has five windows across. Two small windows in each of two bedrooms and one window between the two rooms (in a closet connected to one of the bedrooms).

Some fantastic resources:

Long-Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog post:
http://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2013/05/weird-glows-gleam-where-spirits-dwell.html

Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion's traveling light effect referenced in blog post. See about 15 seconds in:

Some gear I already own:

* (2) Discovery Wonderwall projectors (short throw / low lumens)
* (1) 2500 lumens Digital Galaxy DG-747 projector (the model with an incandescent lamp; not the LED one). I've used the DG-747 to project ghostly footprints onto a concrete walkway from a 2nd story window and have posted here before.
* Several DVD players
* (2) laptop computers
* (1) Food rotator with slow RPM motor I've used to project a moving silhouette onto a single window, using a super-bright LED flashlight as the light source and a dollar store figurine of a woman:



Ways it is or may be done:
1) A flickering light inside a rotating coffee can.
Disney schematic referenced in the Long-Forgotten blog post:


The trick would be getting the next such "coffee can" setup to fire-up and shut down in an appropriately timed sequence from room to room.

There is a great entry from CDW on Micechat.com describing some ways this could be done electro-mechanically. But I've never used relays, etc. Again, potentially great resource here. But the electronics is beyond me:

http://micechat.com/forums/disneyla...ffect-thread-7-further-realms-fright-475.html

2) "3D" projection mapping onto the exterior of the house.

There's a YouTube video out there somewhere of a pro or amateur haunt with someone being chased through several rooms. And I believe The Bates Haunt does this using a projector mounted on a neighbor's house across from his. Unfortunately that option's not open to me.

3) Rear video projection onto windows from inside the rooms of the house.
This is my preferred method. But I'm not sure how I'd trigger video from one DVD player to the next.

It would be interesting to use the same source video, playing from one DVD player and split out to all the video projectors--maybe some sort of quad grid--and position the projectors to only illuminate part of the grid. This way synchronization is always "perfect."

Might also be cool to have a sound trigger, through FM transmitters tuned to different channels, open and release something over each lens of each projector independently. But then that's probably going beyond my Easy Build requirement.

4) An Axworthy Ghost set-up with an LED flickering tea light (or stronger light) instead of a ghost body

Although there'd be a significant delay between rooms--darn walls... Once saw a snippet of an Axworthy ghost traveling through an entire house--in most set-ups, you see them outside in yard haunts. But since I can't even build a standard FCG, that's not an option I want to pursue.

Any other ways or refinements for achieving the Haunted Mansion traveling light effect without soldering and building my own circuits / electro-mechanical devices?
 

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You've hit on the challenge in this effect...one window isn't that big a deal. You handled that well with the shadow of the woman, and you could make something similar for a light. It's the synchronization of multiple windows that is tough. The micechat posts gave me enough info to understand how the overall effect was done.

There would need to be a copy of the mechanism for each window, then a master controller that would trigger each of them in sequence. This would work for the shadow of the woman, too.

This project calls out for someone who knows how to program a prop controller or a laptop with show control software. In the old days they would have used mechanical timing, such as a motorized rotary cam switch. See the fourth picture down:

https://web.duke.edu/isis/gessler/topics/switches.htm

The "barrel" in the center turns very slowly and the switches turn on when a projection on the barrel sticking out hits them. Search Google for "motorized rotary cam switch" and look at the images to see more examples.

These days you'd use some kind of computer (laptop or microcontroller) to do the same thing.
 

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This would be a lot simpler if you had 4 windows you could use a 4 channel light controller like the one in this video I made. The controller has 4 or 5 settings from fading to slow glow. The first setting in the below is the slow glow one light is on and as it fades another comes on. There is a setting that is kind of the same but it's more of a slow chase setting. One light goes off one light comes on, that light goes off another comes on, that light goes off the 4th comes on.




There's another way to do this and also get a walking effect by using that slow RPM motor you have. Use the motor to turn a cam and have the cam to control micro switches. Other words as the cam turns it hits switch #1 which turns on a light on the right side of window #1. As the cam keep turning it goes past switch #1 and the light goes out as it hits switch #2 and a light placed on the left side of the window comes on. Now you just repeat that for you other windows ...as the cam turns it does the same for window #2, #3, #4, and #5 then it starts all over again.

In the below video I'm using the switch to control head movement but basically it's the same thing and in the video picture my hand as a cam being turned by a motor

 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks Jeff and Madmax for the explanations and suggestions.

@Jeff, very interesting on the motorized rotary cam switch. I believe you're right about the synchronization of multiple windows being the tough part.

@Madmax, I too believe four windows would be easier to work with. Liked both of the mechanisms you posted. Is the four channel light controller an off-the-shelf item (like a Picoboo unit) or something you built yourself? Not sure how I would create the second method with the microswitches. Again, I'm not very handy with electronics. I like it though--especially how you're able to get the motor to run to run in reverse.

A variation on that for a really low-tech controller might be using my food rotator + multiple off-the-shelf dusk to dawn photocell plugs. And then use something like a reverse Disney coffee can to switch each window on. Instead of broadcasting a light source, use it only as a master controller. For 4 windows, 3/4 the disc platform would be open to a light source with 1/4 of the space having a vertical piece of something to block the light. So at any given moment, 3 of the photocells would receive light (leaving power to 3 of the windows off) and 1 photocell would be in darkness (leaving one window on).

I've used a photocell plug (bought at Walmart), a flicker bulb, a shoe box, and some extension cords to create a brown out lighting effect than spanned the 4 upstairs windows. Got that idea from a project on the Boo It Yourself blog. Super low tech but very effective. Something I was very comfortable with because it required now soldering, no homebrew circuits, and no messing around with AC power / exposed wiring.

Also have a Germmy 6 channel Christmas Light and Sound show. But I could never get it to work as a color organ. The precise control over each channel, I believe, is hard-coded into a microcontroller for the 10 built-in songs it comes with. Someone out there did a MIDI hack on the Germmy but that's also beyond my abilities.

This was my experiment trying to use the Gemmy as a true color organ. Using piped in tones, I was only able to get all 6 channels to strobe at different speeds together. It's a shame, because other wise I could use some sort of 4 or 5 channel audio output to drive electrical outlets:


This would be a lot simpler if you had 4 windows you could use a 4 channel light controller like the one in this video I made. The controller has 4 or 5 settings from fading to slow glow. The first setting in the below is the slow glow one light is on and as it fades another comes on. There is a setting that is kind of the same but it's more of a slow chase setting. One light goes off one light comes on, that light goes off another comes on, that light goes off the 4th comes on.




There's another way to do this and also get a walking effect by using that slow RPM motor you have. Use the motor to turn a cam and have the cam to control micro switches. Other words as the cam turns it hits switch #1 which turns on a light on the right side of window #1. As the cam keep turning it goes past switch #1 and the light goes out as it hits switch #2 and a light placed on the left side of the window comes on. Now you just repeat that for you other windows ...as the cam turns it does the same for window #2, #3, #4, and #5 then it starts all over again.

In the below video I'm using the switch to control head movement but basically it's the same thing and in the video picture my hand as a cam being turned by a motor

 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Clapper + FM transmitters?

For control of a traveling light effect, I've also wondered if several of those infomerical Clapper devices + cheap FM radios + cheap FM transmitters would work. Of course I'd need as many channels of audio as power outlets I wanted to turn on/off. It would be sound source > FM transmitter > FM radio receiver > Clapper > outlet.

Has anyone here ever tried to use a clapper + FM transmitter as a controller for simple halloween effects? I'm intrigued by repurposing off-the-shelf items.
 

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Hi Mike,

I was thinking more about this, and while it may still be more soldering than you want to do, I think I've got a design using the basic idea of the HM method that forgoes the relays and controller entirely. Basically, you have the start/stop position of each rotating light projector set to just before it shines on the window. Then, you put an additional switch that will be tripped by the rotating can a little before the start/stop switch. That switch has power going in one side, and the other side goes directly to the motor of the next projector in the next window. The first can is started by hand using a manual start switch, it rotates past the window, then as it comes around the back side it closes the new trigger switch, which allows power to flow to the next projector in line for long enough to get past its own start/stop switch, which then continues the cycle. You'd probably want two bumps on the can at two different heights to catch the two switches, a long bump for the next projector trigger switch and a short one for the projector's own start/stop switch. This design should be arbitrarily expandable to as many windows as you like. The only downside is that you only have as long as the can takes to rotate to the trigger switch before the next window starts, so the windows should be relatively close together. Here's a diagram:

Text Diagram Line Font Parallel


This is an interesting problem, and I'm still thinking about ways to do it with off-the-shelf parts, but I may have to try my way myself one of these days - I'm a sucker for designs that work using only switches and motors.
 

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For control of a traveling light effect, I've also wondered if several of those infomerical Clapper devices + cheap FM radios + cheap FM transmitters would work. Of course I'd need as many channels of audio as power outlets I wanted to turn on/off. It would be sound source > FM transmitter > FM radio receiver > Clapper > outlet.

Has anyone here ever tried to use a clapper + FM transmitter as a controller for simple halloween effects? I'm intrigued by repurposing off-the-shelf items.
You could do it this way, though it seems kind of roundabout, so long as you're just trying to get a light to turn on behind each window, rather than actually moving from one side to the other. It would likely be prone to failure, though, between interference on some of the few open FM channels and the reliability of the clapper picking up the noise and reading it properly. If you just want the lights coming on, and you're ok with four windows, madmax's controller seems like it would be ideal for you.

On the other hand, following JeffHaas's suggestion, you might try buying something like this, and clamping its shaft onto a high-torque low-rpm motor shaft. There may be significant dead time in between switch positions, though, so it might be better used as a trigger for a set of timed lights of some sort.
 

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Ok, not the cheapest solution, but you could control some LED dmx par cans with a budget DMX controller like the Chauvet Obey 3. With this controller you can program the time of fade, brightness, strobe and colour. Sadly no movement, unless you can find a way to physically move them while synchronising fade in and fade out times of the lights to the movements.

For smooth movement by the lights themselves, you would need scanners or moving heads (NOT cheap, although I got some reasonable moving head spots for approx £132 each). Cheap scanners wouldn't move slowly without jerking as the motors tend to be only 8 bit.


As i want a light dominant show, I have gone all out and spent a lot of money on DMX LED lighting. I intend to build a light show using Synthe FX's Luminair for iPad, controlling two cheap moving heads spots, laser (for a liquid sky effect), water effect light (to project on the side of the house), 3 par cans, one UV par can, one mega bar (to give a fire effect at a window), and 8 head scanner centre piece light. Plus I have got two DMX fog machines, one for volume and showing up the beams of light, and one with a built in ice tray to create small bursts of low lying fog. Yes, I suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome lol).

I had given thought to using the moving heads as a light to move behind curtains in separate rooms as though something was moving around the house. The lights can be dimmed, moved, coloured, strobed (flickered), and blurred all by DMX.

Not a solution here, but hopefully something might trigger an idea.
 

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The simplest was to do this would be if you only had to hit four windows, two in each of two rooms. Get (or make) a video of double width resolution, and output a laptop to two projectors with the screen stretched across the two. Long video cables let you put the projectors in two separate rooms and Voila!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Wow CDW! Thanks for much for all your effort on a design a diagram for the effect. Good stuff. Not sure it's something I'd be able to accomplish--may be getting far in over my head here. But very cool to see how you've conceived it so far. Not much else to say--need to read and re-read and let things settle in. It's hard for me grasp mechanical props in general.

God of Thunder, sounds like a very cool DMX set-up. Thanks for posting. That's another constraint I didn't mention: cost. Hard for me to justify spending too much for Halloween in my area (it's a one-night show down here in the buckle of the bible belt). But very cool reading about your proposed method. Also something I need to re-read and let settle in.

Wanted to jump in, posting sooner than later, and thank everyone for contributing to the thread. I'll keep brainstorming too, but don't anticipate any breakthroughs that might be easier (for me) and at a cost I'm willing to meet.

Will have to give DMX some more thought, because I could also use that to add to my small Christmas display. My foray into Christmas effects decorating was the Gemmy Light and Sound show unit for I think $50 from Frontgate on clearance. It was my alternative to a more costly DMX / Light-o-Rama / etc after realizing I wasn't going to be able to use it as a color-organ based lightning effect. And gave me an outlet to extend my "special effects season". No trouble with Christmas displays around here, that's for sure. I did invest in a American DJ Snow Flurry this summer that felt a little bit like an extravagance--not sure that's very practical given how much juice is required for snow blasts. Thought it was triggerable via DMX but all I see is a fog machine-like wired timer.

Anyway, love the creativity and ingenuity here so thanks again.

Hi Mike,

I was thinking more about this, and while it may still be more soldering than you want to do, I think I've got a design using the basic idea of the HM method that forgoes the relays and controller entirely. Basically, you have the start/stop position of each rotating light projector set to just before it shines on the window. Then, you put an additional switch that will be tripped by the rotating can a little before the start/stop switch. That switch has power going in one side, and the other side goes directly to the motor of the next projector in the next window. The first can is started by hand using a manual start switch, it rotates past the window, then as it comes around the back side it closes the new trigger switch, which allows power to flow to the next projector in line for long enough to get past its own start/stop switch, which then continues the cycle. You'd probably want two bumps on the can at two different heights to catch the two switches, a long bump for the next projector trigger switch and a short one for the projector's own start/stop switch. This design should be arbitrarily expandable to as many windows as you like. The only downside is that you only have as long as the can takes to rotate to the trigger switch before the next window starts, so the windows should be relatively close together. Here's a diagram:

View attachment 157762

This is an interesting problem, and I'm still thinking about ways to do it with off-the-shelf parts, but I may have to try my way myself one of these days - I'm a sucker for designs that work using only switches and motors.
 

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You know Mike, come to think of it, your turntable and photocells idea might work pretty well as a low-tech solution. The only change I'd make would be to get a circular box (a hatbox? :D) or make a circle from something opaque, and put the turntable in there. Then put holes in the sides for the photocells to look through, and either a card on an arm mounted to the motor which would cover each hole in turn or a cardboard shield around a pie-slice shaped section of the turntable to block the light and any reflections. It would require only some basic cardboard construction, and you can use the placement of the photocell holes to control the timing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
The simplest was to do this would be if you only had to hit four windows, two in each of two rooms. Get (or make) a video of double width resolution, and output a laptop to two projectors with the screen stretched across the two. Long video cables let you put the projectors in two separate rooms and Voila!
Sorry Enjoralas, I missed your post before somehow. That's a terrific idea! Will have to see if my laptop supports dual monitors. Dual monitor set-ups are common where I work. I've even seen some folks with three monitors. If I could triple the width of a video, that should nail the five window scene. Good excuse for a laptop upgrade. Only a few potential issues:

1) The bedrooms are deeper than the closet. There would need to be different projector "throw" distances. And so the projected light may be a bit "off". Not a huge deal at all, because we're talking about amorphous light blobs creeping by anyway. Nothing well defined. And as low-res as you can get if not using silhouettes.

2) The video cabling might get expensive or be difficult to convert signals. My DG-747 projector has all the inputs I could possibly need (computer RGB, HDMI (although it's not a true hi-def projector), etc). The two "toy" Discovery Wonderwall projectors only have composite video inputs (the single yellow plug for video and red/white for audio). Anyone know off-hand if it's easy and cheap to convert typical laptop outputs (like RGB, HDMI, and S-video) to composite video?

Really like this method because it would always be in sync. And for anyone who bought multiple Wonderwall projectors on the Woot deal--or any of the cheap toy projector blowout deals, like the very similar CVS-sold projector--this may be a way to finally take advantage of them. There are a few threads out there about cheap projector deals and not a lot of follow-up on what folks finally did with them if anything. Would love to see those threads pick up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
You know Mike, come to think of it, your turntable and photocells idea might work pretty well as a low-tech solution. The only change I'd make would be to get a circular box (a hatbox? :D) or make a circle from something opaque, and put the turntable in there. Then put holes in the sides for the photocells to look through, and either a card on an arm mounted to the motor which would cover each hole in turn or a cardboard shield around a pie-slice shaped section of the turntable to block the light and any reflections. It would require only some basic cardboard construction, and you can use the placement of the photocell holes to control the timing.
Thanks CDW. Definitely something to think about. I hope others out there are interested in this effect for Halloween 2013. Would be really cool to see different implementations of it. Not just what I think is "right" for me (e.g. within my meager build skills / cheap / repurposing gear I personally own).

I'm most likely to attempt a video projection. But I also wonder about putting several oscillating fans or reindeer motors into service...
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Well, not quite giving up. Hoping more folks are interested and participate in this thread now that it's getting closer to Halloween. Instead of Disney's "spinning coffee can over a light bulb" implementation of this effect, what about one of those spinning disco beacon lights with the plastic colored housing removed? Maybe replacing with clear plastic and an orange gel filter?

This one is $15 from Party City and is AC powered. Making me think its speed could be controlled with one of the MonsterGuts units:

http://www.partycity.com/product/spinning+beacon+party+light.do?sortby=ourPicks&size=all&carousel=true&navSet=172706

Still now sure how I'd get multiple windows in sync, really. Not within either my skill-level or price range.
 

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I've just bought a £20 (incl postage) barbecue motor, rotates either direction (really slow), can run for hour and half on battery or all the time on mains. It's very light, and fairly compact (approx same size as short fat torch I guess). Bought it for a breathing grave prop but it could be used at any angle.
 
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