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Fire Flies

11489 Views 63 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  savagehaunter
My inspiration for this prop comes from Disneyland's The Pirates of the Caribbean. If you are as in love with the fire flies as I am and wish to remain mystified by them then do yourself a favor and do not read on.

After surfing the web long enough I found two or three sites that talk about how the fire flies are done for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Two things struck me though. One, nobody had done a how to. Two, nobody swears this is how Disney actually does it.

So, here we go...

You will need grain of rice bulbs, I used green. You can get them at micromark or miniatronics, I forget which. I use them in model railroading so you can check those stores too.

Some card stock, I used index cards.

glue, I used zap-a-gap.

Clear nail polish.

Flat black paint.

Slobber and a slobbering iron.

AA battery holder.

Magnet wire. Radio shack or on the web. Web price is MUCH cheaper.
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Grain of rice bulb. It may be smaller than that but grain of rice is what I remember. the black is the leads running to the bulb. The little green bit in my palm is the actual incandescent bulb.
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AA battery holder with solderable, I mean slobberable, tabs on the ends. I got this one at All Electronics.
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Magnet wire. This is 36 guage and I think even thinner might be better. I bought it a radio shack, i should have bought it online but was impatient. It has the epoxy coating.
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I first cut the index card into a disk. Then poke a tiny hole in the center of the disk to stick the bulb through. The blub stand straight out from the surface and does not lay flush next to the surface. The wires are bent at 90 degrees immediately behind the bulb.
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Flip the card over and glue the bulb's leads to the card. Trim the leads to lenght and strip the epoxy off of the magnet wire. Solder the magnet wire to the bulb leads. When cool, coat the junction with nail polish to insulate it.
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Every six to eight inches I twisted the magnet wire together. This way the run to the fire fly would remain more like a single strand instead of two individual magent wires. I also used nail polish on the twists to keep them together.

I ran the magnet wire between 4 and 6 feet long. At the far end, I stipped the epoxy off again with an Xacto knife by scraping with the blade. I then slobbered those wires onto the tabs on the battery holder. I also coated these connections with the nail polish.

I should mention, I coated all connections with the nail polish only after I was certain the connection was electrically sound.
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I then took a section of broom handle and wrapped the magnet wire around it. The battery holder was at one end, the bulb and disk at the other. I also placed a piece of tape over the bulb because I was about to paint. Once wrapped slide the dowel rod out of the wire coils.

You should now have a spring like coil connecting the battery to the light.

Except to the battery holder I then spray painted everything matte black. Once dry I removed the bit of tape and plugged a battery in.
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This is the finished fire flies. Note that the light is lit on the middle and right flies. Though it is daylight it is already difficult to make out the disc on the left amongst the vegetation.

To put these up I have a few things in mind. First, the fire flies will be placed a short distance behind some head stones so that the TOTs can't jsut go walking up to them to check them out. The fire flies will also be in a darkened area. I will also be hanging some scrim to darken the backdrop even further. The dark background will obscure the black disks. Lastly, if I have time, I will have a speaker nearby that will have a swamp sound track playing quietly.

I have hung them outdoors and stood 6 feet away and have had difficulty figuring out how they work until they move in front of a light or lit background. The movement is made completely random by any breezes blowing the discs around. As the discs move they also randomly block the light from the viewers sight so that the light appears to wink on and off randomly as the disc twists and lurches.

What will I do if there is no breeze on the night in question... probalby use a small fan.

I know you want video. As with the talking rotted head; once I figure that out I'll do it.

Any questions, drop me a line.
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Hey Mike,

Like you, I have always loved those POTC fireflies, so I really appreciate you posting your version. Can't wait for the video. I've also done alot of research on how to make these, and looked at the commercially available ones out there. Your version seems to match with what I've heard about how the Disney Imagineers went about it. But, like you say, it's just hearsay. Anyway, good job and Happy Halloween!

Let us know how they turn out.
MikeBru, I haven't been to Disneyland in a while so haven't seen the firefly display that inspired you, but I did grow up in Ohio where as kids we loved running around after fireflies in the evenings. I totally love your set up here and will have to think about incorporating it in one of my haunt displays. I've been wanting to do a swamp theme for a while and next year maybe the year. The fireflies would be a very nice subtle addition I think. If it doesn't work out for that display I'm thinking of doing a bat cave and could see adding them there where it would be darker and hide the mechanics.

I'll follow your thread and would love to see a video of them in action. I'll probably sit down after halloween this year and try making a few myself if not before then. Thanks for the inspiration and the great pics illustrating it.
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Yeah, FatRanza, I would go on the POTC ride and my only goal would be to try and figure out how those fire flies work. They have fascinated me since my childhood. I could not figure out how they made them so totally random. I knew they were fake but every idea I came up with had a flaw. The possibility that I have come across online is the one you see here.

Ghost of Spookie. I will plan to shoot the video tonight. I don't know how to upload a video so please be patient. I also suspect the picture will be grainy since I don't have a higher resolution camera, and I'll be shooting at night.

Thanks to the both of you for the compliments!
Yeah, FatRanza, I would go on the POTC ride and my only goal would be to try and figure out how those fire flies work. They have fascinated me since my childhood.

Thanks to the both of you for the compliments!
Mike, you're welcome for the compliment! They way I see it, you're my hero. Man, if I had it my way, my whole house would look like the POTC ride all year long..with fireflies flitting about in every corner. Kind of weird for a 49 year old guy, huh?
I could just enjoy a good book and pick up pipe smoking to sit on the porch of the house that sits in the bayou. Rock in the chair, smoke a pipe and watch the fire flies. And, having dinner at the Blue Bayou once or twice a week would put me in a fine mood. Just get rid of the tourists, lol.
(I also would like to walk up the beach and check out the dead standing pirate skeleton with a sword in his chest pinning him upright. Ah, the seeds of halloween were sown)
Alright, that settles it. I will film the little flies tonight! I will also try to get them online... somhow.

These videos were shot on the front "porch" of my condo. There was no breeze so I had a fan running. I also do not have the background darkness controlled. The videos are all of different angles of the very same set up. Holy moly I learned how to post a video! First ever!

I could just sit outside and watch these little guys for hours. Can't wait to set them up for halloween and get the TOTs scratching their heads on how it is done like I used to scratch my head. Yippee!
Looks very cool from what I can tell you can get these lights in 12 volt versions and run them off a ac/dc converter. I really hate using batteries and it would probably be cheaper and you could probably run 10-15 off the one supply.
It has been a long time since I bought the lights. You're right, they could come in 12 volt versions and you could run them on a power supply. I would like to see that, so, if you do it, post it up for us.
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