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Discussion Starter #1
I need some help with a Prop/Scene Idea- mini spoiler alert if you have not seen Stranger Things and are planning too (which you should!). I'll try to write this to not give away TOO much.

This one should be pretty simple, but trying to avoid buying an expensive prop controller, if possible. Basically, I want to get Christmas lights to rotate on/off in a sequence.

Scene setup-tons of Christmas lights all over the room/ceiling, then on one wall I'll have the whole alphabet spelt out with one light bulb at each letter.
The most basic version- the Christmas lights throughout the room will flash on and off, then I will need a few lights to turn on and off in sequence to spell out a word. I am good with as few as three letters.
-already have a bunch of good ideas to use with this, but really like this being the main focus in my Paneled Basement (plays right into the Stranger Things' 80s vibe!).

I see this would be fairly easy with a picoboo type controller, but trying to think if there is a more cost effective way to do this. Now- I am good at building, electrical, and so on. But programing has me a little apprehensive, unless it is REALLY simple then I can likely figure it out...

If I get these photos to upload right, I am attaching a couple photos from Stranger Things if that helps show what I am thinking.

ST1.jpg
ST2.JPG

Thank you guys and gals are all awesome! I've been lurking a couple years, but inspired by a ton of your great ideas! (tombstones, fog chillers, projections, lighting, and tons or misc. props)
 

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Had to log in for this one as lighting is my specialty. The hardest part of this project is going to be the wiring. Store bought lights are wired in parallel, and you need individual control. I'd go with LEDs so you don't have to mess with line voltage. If using LEDs individually wired but disguised as a standard string and run to an arduino, or pic, or stamp, (whatever hardware floats your boat) it shouldn't take more than an hours programming to flash them. Just a few minutes if you just want the letters R-U-N.
Keep in mind if you want the whole alphabet, then you need a processor with at least 26 IO pins. You can knock that down to 13 by wiring LEDs in reverse parallel pairs, but you loose the ability to turn them all on at once. There are ways to reduce IO count more (Google multiplexing and charlieplexing), but your adding programming complications to save wiring.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Patrick, thanks! May have to go arduino, but am completely lost in that world... was hoping some other easy way. Even the easy how to videos make my head hurt. I get the wiring side, figure just 3 lights would work.

Chimp- lol, that's why I was hoping for a different way!
 

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Arduino is designed to be easy to get into. The usual first sketch people do is one of the examples called blink. It is for blinking an led. If you look at it and understand what it does, you can have it flashing the three letters in five minutes easily. Hell, wire it up and I'll write the code for you.
 

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For maximum flexibility, you'd want individually addressable LEDs. Maybe something like Adafruit's Neopixels, which use three wires to potentially supply a very large number of LEDs. Each LED determines whether it is supposed to turn on and with what color via the data signal's timing, which you don't deal with directly. You just use Adafruit's arduino library and call their functions.

Just to give you an idea, one of my current projects has 19 Neopixels (a 7-pixel Jewel with a 12 pixel ring surrounding it), wired together. Still has three wires: +5v, Ground, and Data. I can address any of those pixels individually in code, like

Code:
//  This changes the 15th neopixel -- #14 because the list starts at 0 -- to an orange color.
myneopixels.setPixelColor(14, 255, 128, 0);   // Pixel number, then R, G, B   (0-255)
myneopixels.show();                                    // Updates the neopixels to whatever I just said to do.

Or I can do something similar to all of them with a for loop:

Code:
//  Count from 0 to the length of the neopixels strip, assigning a new color to each pixel
for (int i = 0, i < myneopixels.numPixels(); i++) { 
    myneopixels.setPixelColor(i, 180, 0, 255);     // Set pixel #i to a violet color
}
myneopixels.show();    // Update the neopixels
I'm leaving out some setup code, but that's the nuts and bolts of how they work.


Rather than the usual strips and rings and such, you may have to go with individual neopixels, probably in something like the 5mm LED format or the 8mm format, rather than the surface mount style on the boards linked previously. The 5mm product page has a video.

Either of those two styles costs the same ($5 for a 5-pack); you'd need six packs to get enough for the full alphabet, but if you can eliminate some letters you can skip a few packages. They all work the same, as far as I know.

Of course, for Stranger Things you want these to look like old Christmas lights, and you don't really need their RGB color changing ability so much as the individually-addressable-with-minimal-wires ability. In that case, you could just give the pixel a white color (255, 255, 255) and cover all of them with fake, randomly colored C4 bulb covers. If you can find a C4 LED strip that just has a plastic C4 cover over a normal LED bulb, you could use gut those for the bases and bulb covers, replace the LEDs, and rewire it accordingly.

The pixels would likely need to be connected in alphabetical order (that is, first pixel is A, second pixel is B, etc.)


Edit: I would code a function that turns on a particular neopixel in turn based on the ascii value of each character in a word. Something like:

Code:
// THIS IS ESSENTIALLY PSEUDO CODE. (No time to fully sort out if this is proper C++ right now)
// You'd call this function with a string containing a word like "Boo" or a phrase like "Help me"

void Text2Pixel(String mytext, Adafruit_NeoPixel alphabet_wall) {

    mytext.toUpperCase();     // Alphabet Wall doesn't have multiple cases

    for (int i = 0; i < sizeof(mytext); i++) {
        char c = mytext[i];              // A variable containing the current character
        if (c >= 65 && c<=90) {       // Make sure this is an actual letter.
             alphabet_wall.setPixelColor( c - 65, 255, 255, 255 );     // Subtract 65 so that "A" is pixel 0.
             alphabet_wall.show();   // Display the pixels

             
             delay(1000);   // Milliseconds to hold the pixel on.  1 second in this case.

             alphabet_wall.setPixelColor( c - 65, 0, 0, 0 );    // After waiting, we turn the pixel back off
             alphabet_wall.show();   // Display the change
             
        }   // End of first if statement

        else if ( c == 32 || c == 44 ) {     // Since the first if condition above wasn't true, check this.
            delay(500);  // If we got a space or comma, pause for half a second
        }   // End of else-if clause. 

        // If neither of the if statements matched, the character is simply ignored, though it still 
        // causes a delay.

        delay(1500);   //  Wait 1.5 seconds before displaying next pixel.

        // A random number in a small range would be better for any or all of the above delays. 
        // You could even pass a range into the function so each particular string
        // has it's own pacing, like in the show.

        // The loop then moves on to the next character in the string.  Once it has done them all, the function exits.


    }   // End of for loop

}   // End of function

In the program that calls this function, I'd then wait a random number of seconds after calling the function before calling it again. To be clear, this function assumes you have 26 pixels. If you skipped some letters, you'd need a more complicated function because the pixels and ascii code would no longer match up 1-to-1

Also, there was an earlier thread on the same topic that might have some ideas: http://www.halloweenforum.com/halloween-props/147921-stranger-things-alphabet-wall.html
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Ok...I think my head just exploded!! You all are great but i have never coded anything more complicated than a universal remote! LOL I think i might be able to rig a simple arduino controller and play around. I can handle about anything mechanical, just programming is such a foreign language. But each year I tackle something new, last year I figured some video editing and projector mapping. So maybe now I need to get this worked out. Time to order some hardware and see what I can do! Thanks all! (I'll make this work one way or the other!!!)
 

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For maximum flexibility, you'd want individually addressable LEDs. Maybe something like Adafruit's Neopixels, which use three wires to potentially supply a very large number of LEDs. Each LED determines whether it is supposed to turn on and with what color via the data signal's timing, which you don't deal with directly. You just use Adafruit's arduino library and call their functions.

Just to give you an idea, one of my current projects has 19 Neopixels (a 7-pixel Jewel with a 12 pixel ring surrounding it), wired together. Still has three wires: +5v, Ground, and Data. I can address any of those pixels individually in code, like

Or I can do something similar to all of them with a for loop:

I'm leaving out some setup code, but that's the nuts and bolts of how they work.


Rather than the usual strips and rings and such, you may have to go with individual neopixels, probably in something like the 5mm LED format or the 8mm format, rather than the surface mount style on the boards linked previously. The 5mm product page has a video.

Either of those two styles costs the same ($5 for a 5-pack); you'd need six packs to get enough for the full alphabet, but if you can eliminate some letters you can skip a few packages. They all work the same, as far as I know.

Of course, for Stranger Things you want these to look like old Christmas lights, and you don't really need their RGB color changing ability so much as the individually-addressable-with-minimal-wires ability. In that case, you could just give the pixel a white color (255, 255, 255) and cover all of them with fake, randomly colored C4 bulb covers. If you can find a C4 LED strip that just has a plastic C4 cover over a normal LED bulb, you could use gut those for the bases and bulb covers, replace the LEDs, and rewire it accordingly.

The pixels would likely need to be connected in alphabetical order (that is, first pixel is A, second pixel is B, etc.)


Edit: I would code a function that turns on a particular neopixel in turn based on the ascii value of each character in a word. Something like:


In the program that calls this function, I'd then wait a random number of seconds after calling the function before calling it again. To be clear, this function assumes you have 26 pixels. If you skipped some letters, you'd need a more complicated function because the pixels and ascii code would no longer match up 1-to-1

Also, there was an earlier thread on the same topic that might have some ideas: http://www.halloweenforum.com/halloween-props/147921-stranger-things-alphabet-wall.html
Good stuff Dyne! Thanks for sharing this! I too am wanting to take on this project and may have to pick your brain if you don't mind!

Would these lights work? http://www.ebay.com/itm/WS2811-Fairy-String-Christmas-light-Programable-C7-C9-Waterproof-Module-5V-12V-/121740349753

Aside from the controller, power supply, and laptop..what else would be needed? I'm assuming an Arduino Uno controller would be sufficient for a project like this:

Arduino UNO R3 Board Module with DIP ATmega328P, Blue
Link: https://amzn.com/B008GRTSV6

Will a breadboard be necessary for a project like this or is it all in the programming?
 

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Ok...I think my head just exploded!! You all are great but i have never coded anything more complicated than a universal remote! LOL I think i might be able to rig a simple arduino controller and play around. I can handle about anything mechanical, just programming is such a foreign language. But each year I tackle something new, last year I figured some video editing and projector mapping. So maybe now I need to get this worked out. Time to order some hardware and see what I can do! Thanks all! (I'll make this work one way or the other!!!)
Be careful what you ask for 'round here...you may get more than you bargained for. ;)
 

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Here's another option (or two):

Traffic light controller-
Amazon, ebay, etc have them but I was thinking of miniature railroad. Here's a controller for a Walthers Scenemaster controller for 3 lights (ie RUN, BOO, etc)

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Walthers-SceneMaster-HO-Scale-Traffic-Signal-Light-Electronic-Controller/381547580281?_trksid=p2352135.c100338.m3726&_trkparms=aid=222007&algo=SIC.MBE&ao=1&asc=20150313114020&meid=9a93e5160f85489e9a3a19fd9d954c1a&pid=100338&rk=2&rkt=4&sd=252297412237

Another is to build your own controller
http://www.electricaltechnology.org/2014/10/traffic-light-control-electronic-project.html

Another is a toy. I found this on AMazon but its so cheap it just might be worth buying just to experiment

https://www.amazon.com/Dazzling-Toys-Flashing-Traffic-Light/dp/B00IX73BGW/ref=sr_1_2?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1471624877&sr=1-2&keywords=traffic+light+toy

The key is that it has a sequencer built in. Simply add extension wiring from the lights (or different lights if it works) to the controller and you might be in business.

I limited it to 3 lights simply because the pivotal moment when the mom is warned by her son only uses a 3 letter word, and I think overall its easier to convey to a incoming trick or treater rather than long words that will just confuse people.

Victor
 

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I am doing the same Idea! going to dedicate a chunk of my house to stranger things and was going to do the wall with lights and try using pneumatics for a flex wall section for the creature to come out. For the lights I was trying to simplify it and use like a picoboo controller which will just trigger a led lights I will have inside 3 of the christmas light bulbs to spell out RUN and then maybe have a string or 2 of lights just on a flicker controller.
 

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Good stuff Dyne! Thanks for sharing this! I too am wanting to take on this project and may have to pick your brain if you don't mind!
I was busy with another project when this thread was active, so I didn't get to respond to Vater's questions at the time. I've since had PM discussions to help with his now-completed project, and there is more detail available on that thread, such as a wiring diagram and more fully developed code.

(It occurred to me that someone might come across this thread later and wonder what happened to the conversation.)
 
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