Castle of Terra has been using a computer to serve as central command for the control over the pneumatic props in it. Over the years there have been many questions and answers on how this is done. Thought I'd put up a general tutorial on how to use a computer, software and DMX signaling to run your haunt. This is no way comprehensive and you should always read the manual that comes with the software and hardware you'll buy. They should be the go-to... not this tutorial. A nerd, I am not
Before we wade into this tutorial... I have a confession to make. Lately, been starting to waver in my belief that a whole integrated haunt controller is the way to go. Let me explain:
There are two ways to automate your haunt: Integrated and Stand Alone. An integrated haunt controller is usually a computer with a program called VSA (Visual Show Automation) that's loaded onto it. You also need a partner software program (and a bit of hardware) called DMXorcist. You use DMX signaling to send the commands of each prop's show to the props themselves. Stand Alone is when each prop has it's own controller. All the components and commands are literally stand alone. As with everything in life there are pros and cons to each way to command your props:
Integrated: Less equipment needed and all the props are controlled from one computer. You can use a remote, triggers and timers.
Stand-Alone: The props are independent of one central command so if there is a failure at one of the controllers, just one prop is down... not the whole show. There is less wiring needed also.
We've run Integrated now for four seasons. While haven't had a catastrophic failure... the worry of one does wear you down a bit. Starting to think of having one or two props 'offline' (stand alone). That way, if that day of failure comes, we'll still have a few props that would work. Plus, be gaining experience in learning how to program and set-up stand alone props. This is probably going to be the controller used for those props: http://www.frightprops.com/controlle...tors-7740.html
Okay, that's the set-up...now let's get into the basic tutorial about having an integrated haunt controller. First, let's do a flyover of what we will be doing here to get a lay of the land. This video shows how to do one prop using just VSA and DMX signaling to help keep this simple. DMXorcist isn't being used here yet:
First, you need a computer...
Not just any computer, mind you. A powerful desktop with a sound card with it's own processor is even better. The new DMXorcist version that is now out promises to be less processor dependent. Haven't tried the latest version but previous ones put quite a load on your computer's processor and added some instability. It will help a lot if you also have a sound card that uses it's own processor and doesn't use the computer's. Stay away from laptops because they traditionally have slower processors. Got mine to work for three seasons but was so glad we were able to move up to a desktop last year.
VSA Software: This is a very popular program that you use to write a prop's show by coordinating the sound, lights and devices (pneumatics, motors). It's full name is Visual Show Automation and is made by Brookshire $60: http://www.brookshiresoftware.com/vsa_overview.htm
In order to run several props simultaneously, you'll need another program that will collect all your various VSA prop programs. This will allow you to control them easier. With it, you can use a remote, triggers (motion, mat, etc.) and timers. It's called DMXorcist and has a hardware component that comes with it that allows you to plug those trigger wires in and receive remote commands.
On top of the regular DMX program, the software is bundled with a 7.1 sound file program (with instructions) that allows you to make sound files that utilize 2.1, 5.1... even 7.1 surround sound files. Why would that be necessary? Here's the scenario: You have four props that each have unique sounds triggered by it's VSA program. But, computers only have one stream of sound out. If your computer has a 7.1 sound card, you can transmit 7.1 sound. But, that still doesn't help you here...yet. Well, with the 7.1 sound program that come with DMXorcist, you can take a sound file and make the sound come out of the center speaker only and the rest of the sound channels would be silent. When you play the VSA routine, the sound only comes out of the center speaker (which you have next to the prop). Now, take the sound file from the other prop and use the sound software to make its sound come out of the front-left channel. Have the front-left speaker next to that prop and when the VSA program is triggered, that sound will play at the front left speaker. You repeat this process until all of your sound files are programmed. Bear in mind, you will have speaker wires all over your haunt but the wiring is cheap and small. In our haunt, almost all wiring - including air lines - are routed on the ceiling. With the lights off, can't tell a thing.
Recently Phoenix, the creator of DMXorcist, has branched off to form his own company. $120: http://www.freewebstore.org/Phoenix-...4_2740969.aspx
Enttec Open DMX USB Interface: This takes the signals from your computer and translates it into DMX commands. This is what starts your DMX daisy chain. $60: http://www.enttec.com/index.php?main...ow=description
DMX Relay/Dimmer: Never sure what the dimmer functions do but I always get a relay box that also has dimmer functions just in case I figure out that I might need it, heh. But, I only use the relay functions. Here is a picture of the box:Think of a DMX relay/dimmer as an interface between items that are normally plugged into the wall and your VSA program using DMX signals. If you plug in a prop (that is usually plugged into a wall) into the DMX relay/dimmer you now can command that prop through a DMX signal and therefore your VSA program. Cool, huh?!
The plugs that you see are two for each channel - 4 channels. So, instead of plugging your prop into the wall, you plug it into a channel on the DMX relay/dimmer. In VSA, you had already given that channel a DMX address. When VSA says that it wants the prop to turn on, it will. When you want it to turn off, it will. All using the relay.
Bonus ability: If you plugged in a normal light (not DMX) into one of the channels on the DMX relay/dimmer, you can also tell it to turn on and turn off just as you would a solenoid. But, the beauty of DMX is that you can also tell it to dim or brighten as well. So, again, with a DMX relay/dimmer you can control anything that normally gets plugged into the wall with DMX commands. By the way, the DMX relay/dimmers all have a DMX IN and DMX OUT so that is how your DMX daisy chain continues down the line.
Note: We've been referring to DMX relay/dimmers but don't confuse them with DMX controllers. Those are two different things. The relay has some controlling features but we don't use those (they are turned off) in the applications we are talking about. The VSA program does the controlling. The DMX relay/dimmer is just used as an interface. DMX controllers could take the place of VSA but I don't think it has the features that we need. DJs mostly use these functions for their shows. Look at the picture of the DMX/relay. Notice where it shows two MODES that it has to operate. See where it says DMX and underneath it says Chase? You decide which MODE you want to use on the dimmer/relay. Either stand-alone chase (like a controller) or DMX (like an interface). The chase feature is very limited though. It does things like chase lights and other DJ things with lights (16 programs). But, that is not useful for what we need it for, controlling props or creating a unique haunt light show. That's why VSA is so useful.
You'll be connecting your DMX daisy chain using various lengths of 3-pin DMX cables. Do not use microphone cables. They look the same (and some will tell you they are the same) but the wiring is sub par for DMX signaling.
DMX 5-pin to 3-pin Adapter: The Enttec has a 5-pin out, yet most of your DMX equipment uses 3-pin connections. No idea why, probably just to confuse people. You know computer engineers...they are evil...EVIL I TELL YOU! So, you need an adapter.
DMX Terminator: This is put at the end of your daisy chain to absorb the DMX signals so they don't reflect back into the daisy chain. Reflected signals are like echoes and your DMX device might get two signals instead of one - therefore confusing it. So, it helps keep the signal clean.
Powered USB Hub: The DMXorcist hardware box is a bit thirsty for power along with the Enttec box. So the USB port you use must be adequately powered. This could done from a combination of a separate powered USB hub and/or the adequately powered USB ports from your computer. Some computer's USB ports are powerful enough but not all of them. Unfortunately, there isn't a way to tell. If you are running into performance issues, try switching where you've plugged in the USB connection. For example, I learned that the USB ports on the front of the desktop were more powered than two of the four USB ports in the back of the computer. Again, must be those evil computer engineers.