Tag Archives: animation

Halloween 2019: Bats

The last couple of years has caused us to undertake a review of our technical capabilities. Too much had gone wrong or become unreliable. While the theme is usually our chief concern, this year the goal was to lock-down some of the basic building blocks of our theatrical show system.

The first item was video. The video is played back on a MedeaWiz Sprite with a DMX interface. We had tried to use video last year and it failed miserably because of a bad cable connection. It was a stupid problem to have, so that got addressed. But how to use it? A quick search of Halloween related videos on the Internet results in the idea of making bats fly out of the doorway.

Creating the video was fairly straightforward, but the key to making it feel creepy was in the audio. Without the sound, the images looked a bit like a Rorschach test. They needed that squeaky sound that bats make to add context. More importantly, it needed to sound like the bats were getting closer.

To make the bats sound menacing, multiple tracks were played across five channels of surround sound. The most distant chirping sounds were at the corners of the house. Closer-up were large wing flapping sounds nearest to the stairs. The wing flapping was not a real bat sound, but the idea of a bat flying close to your head.

The last channel was placed across the street. We used long-range Bluetooth to transmit the bats sounds to a speaker in our neighbor’s yard. This is a technical advance we will probably use in the future because it really messed with people. It was fun to watch people during the first three seconds of the video where they thought: There are bats. The bats are coming at me. The bats are everywhere.

One new piece of tech that we will definitely use every year was a new light beam trigger. We have used a light beam at the base of the stairs to start the show for years, but it always had the problem of re-triggering the show when people exited. We used to mitigate this problem by adding a delay before the show could be restarted, but that works only if people arrive at given rate.

The new trigger has two light beams. This is similar to the electronic turnstiles Disney used about a decade ago. A microcontroller board was programmed to check the order in which the beams were broken so we could determine the direction of movement. Going up the stairs starts the bat video. Going down the stairs made a cat screeching sound – just because we could.

Lastly, we upgraded our speaker system. The new speakers are more weather resistant and handle a lot more power. This was needed to reduce stress as much as wanting to improve sound quality. Rain is inevitable and this year was a perfect example. It was nice to have the speakers out all day in the rain without worrying about them. It was also nice to drive the smaller speakers by the stairs as hard a we wanted to.

The video below was mixed to be in surround sound, but YouTube re-mixes it down to stereo, so you can’t really get the full effect. Next time we invite you over, make sure to ask to see the version on the home server.

Halloween 2018: Tibetan Yeti

The plan was to recreate a Disney World attraction. Not just put on costumes and play It’s a Small World over and over, but create a fully immersive, multimedia walk-through with interactive video projection and animated props. It was to be the greatest Halloween decorating effort to ever exist. Then a computer interface broke and none of it happened.

The plan was conceived of while on vacation several years ago. There is a spot on Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom where the roller coaster stops and an image of a yeti is shown tearing up the track. We recorded a video of the ride and noticed that the yeti image came through pretty well. It was then that we had the thought that if you had the right seat on the train and had a camera set-up with the right lens, one might be able to acquire a copy of the yeti projection.

Fast forward to this year. Camera in hand, we ride through a few times and get the video in question:

Having the video was only a small part of the plan. As in the ride, the video is only a distraction to misdirect the viewer from seeing the big scary surprise moment. For that we would need a seven-foot tall animated yeti.

For the body of the yeti, we cheated and bought a costume. In retrospect, it might have been a better plan to hire some kid to wear the costume and simply jump out of the bushes periodically, but in true Disney style we built a frame to support the costume with pneumatic arm lifts and animated eyes.

The animated eyes gave the yeti life. They would look around and blink just like a real yeti. The eye animation was executed from a Raspberry Pi single board computer separate from the rest of the system, so they would work even if everything else failed.

The rest was lighting, music and staging. With a tent in the yard, Tibetan music playing and fluttering prayer flags, you were supposed to be transported to a hiking camp on the way to climb Everest. However, with all the lighting, video and the yeti movement under computer control, everything was left dark when the computer died.

Ultimately, the plan was probably flawed from the start. We overestimated how many families would have visited Disney World. It seemed like not that many people got the references to Tibet. Presence of the tent just confused people. Most concluded that the theme was “winter camping.” Hard to argue with that.

Halloween 2014: Giant Floating Eyeballs

We’ve been offline for a while now. Two repairs of the laptop requiring shipment back the Asus slowed our video editing efforts. Watch in amazement the 63 seconds of video above.

We last presented the Giant Floating Eyeballs back in 2009. Soon after its completion we started redesigning it, knowing we would use the idea again. It was one of our most popular displays.

Several years ago, we bought a new video projector – one that would have a 1:1 ratio throw (the image width is as wide as the distance to the screen). The projector was going to be used for another project, but we knew it was the solution to greatly simplifying the eyeball system.

By using the short-throw projector, we could get rid of the weighty mirror. The entire assembly was shortened to five feet and a plan was made to allow the entire rig to pivot on a center mount. Note the word “plan.”

The entire thing was balanced out so that the frame could move in three dimensions. There was some consideration for adding a motorized arm to push the screen to and fro in an effort to give the eyes more life. Ultimately it was decided that the wind would be enough to give a eyes motion. Bungee cords were added to make sure the thing didn’t take flight.

No one seemed bothered by the eyes looking bolted-down in the completely windless night. We’ll add a motor to version 3. And change the animation. And lower the brightness on the projector (it looked a bit blown out). 2019 will be a great year.

The response this year was as good as it was five years ago. A new crop of kids has grown up and most of the 242 kids that came to the door were able to see something shiny and new. We had a request from one parent that we wear costumes as festive as our decor. We’ll take that under advisement for next year…