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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 2011: Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead, as celebrated in Mexico and selected Central American countries. We made it come to life with an exploding piñata and dancing skeletons. Just like they have in Mexico.

The dancing skeletons idea came from a clever bit of animation Ruth found on the web. With an unlimited schedule and budget, it would have been cool to completely re-animate the video in three dimensional form. Since we are not independently wealthy, we decided to create some moving props to go along with the video itself.

In its final form, the video was cut down to a minute and half and projected on the front of the house while three skeletons got to pogo up and down on pneumatic cylinders. To add a bit of shock value to the presentation, a faux case of tequila was set out front to open and snap shut.

Things that amazed us #1: We didn’t see any children get scared by the tequila box, but we scared the crap out of a couple of adults. Maybe the kids expected something to happen. Maybe we just missed seeing it.

With the weather being what it was, we really did not expect a big turn-out. Monday morning, Doug went out to shovel the front lawn only to find that it was frozen solid. Setbacks were anticipated, but this was a new one.

The snow eventually softened-up to the point that it could be scraped off the grass leaving a wet, almost muddy mess combined with water dripping off the roof. With everything this year being either made out of paper or having 110V running through it, or both, we had some serious concerns.

The original plan was to decorate much more fiesta-like. Some of the lighting had to be jettisoned and paper flags remained indoors, but we were able to put down enough plywood to keep things dry. The end result was a bit creepier— fine for Halloween and possibly helpful in integrating our bizarre set-up with our neighbor’s more traditional displays.

Things that amazed us #2: Our neighbors confirmed that this was the second most popular theme we’ve used. The first? Giant Floating Eyeballs. No idea why. Giant Floating Eyeballs isn’t even a theme.

By late afternoon Ruth was able to firmly plant the papier-mâché skeletons in the ground on PVC pipe. El Burro del Diablo had been hung and the skeletons were dancing along to their music video. 247 kids later we concluded it was the most fun Halloween ever. Watching trick-or-treaters hit the piñata was a blast.

Things that amazed us #3: We expected kids to either aggressively pursue hitting the piñata or shy away, but most of the time they were shockingly analytical and courteous to each other. We witnessed a group of eight-year-olds employ “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to pseudo randomize the order in which they would get to hit the piñata. They then lined up in their self established order. Bizarre.

We’ve had some time to reflect on Halloween themes and coincidentally Ruth has been investigating smoke ring machines a la Disney’s Winnie the Pooh attraction. Maybe we’ll have a Heffalumps and Woozles theme next year. Or not. Having a theme isn’t important…