Tag Archives: show controllers

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 2017: Pirates Part Deux

This Halloween was almost in danger of just being yet another talking skeleton. We were short on time, so building-out a new theme didn’t seem achievable. We purchased a couple more skeletons (you can never have enough skeletons) and built a couple new props including a treasure chest. The Jolly Roger and Pirates of the Caribbean samples we had from the last time we did pirates.

It’s difficult to beat a pirate theme. The story elements are universal. If we had put more effort in it we would not have gotten a better response. The goal is to set the mood with props and then hit all the emotional buttons with lighting and music. There’s no big scare which is good and bad. It’s good that people get the theme. It’s bad that there’s no gag to scare them. The gag is a challenge to achieve and not really something we have ever gotten right.

The talking skeleton was run as a stand-alone prop with its own audio and control system based on an Adafruit Audio FX Mini sound board triggered by a retro-reflective light sensor. The rest of the system ran on the VenueMagic show controller triggered by a light beam sensor. As usual, the audio system was pushing enough power to make you think there were real canons being fired.

Halloween 2016: The Headhunter’s Jungle Hut

We have been wanting to improve on our 2007 Tiki theme. That  year we made a giant African mask. The mask spoke and rolled its eyes and we planned on using those features to create a circus barker-like character in a somewhat elaborate interactive display.

The show didn’t make it as far as we wanted. They never do, but this year we scrapped the interactive elements and the production became an exercise in set decoration. The porch was clad with reed fencing and jungle vines. Shrunken heads on bamboo pikes. Two Maori warrior shields. Or at least our interpretation of what a vaguely Polynesian warrior’s shield should look like. 

There is some debate as to how far tiki should stray from Polynesian culture. To be authentically tiki, the environment must be:

  • Mysterious
  • Exotic
  • Richly detailed

Our take on tiki is that in addition to the above it must be comfortable or romantic and include anything that might wash up on a tropical beach. Over all it must be a form of escapism. Start with a South Pacific island, imagine what floats in from South America, Japan, India and Africa. Then light a torch and pour a drink. That’s tiki.

Our incorporation of tiki into Halloween was only half intuitive. The dark and mysterious aspects are well suited, but the exotic parts not so much. We decided that defining the story to be about headhunters would make the theme more palatable to kids.

For the music, we went straight to exotica. Les Baxter, Martin Denney, The Left Arm of Buddha, and The Tikiyaki Orchestra. Is this what a headhunter listens to? Doesn’t matter. Slower tempo songs added to the feeling of mystery and suspense. The genre speaks the language of adventure and – somewhat surprisingly – it is decipherable by people of any age.

When adding detail, shadow is as important as light. With vines covering the doorway, the darkened space behind added as much to the suspense as the foreground elements. We tried to make the body of the house as dark as possible to put focus on the themed elements. The most detailed element being the jack-o-lantern pineapple tucked into the corner of the porch. It was the kind of Easter egg that makes tiki great.

We did make a couple contributions to technology. The first were musical warrior shields. Each shield make a sound when hit. This was a subtle feature that no one picked up on unless shown, but it was fun for little kids. Each shield had a piezo trigger connected to an electronic percussion controller. The controller triggered the “Tiki Threat” patch on an E-mu Proteus sound module. Good old 90’s music technology made even better for having an obviously named sound choice.

The other new feature were the self-flaring tiki torches. There is nothing that a little propane can’t fix. Just add a solenoid valve, a regulator, and some copper tubing and you’re off to the races. They were connected to the VenueMagic show control system that gave all the lighting a soft, flame flicker. The occasional burst of flame kept people ready for the unexpected.

Out of the 258 kids to come up our stairs, about half correctly identified the theme as “tiki.” That’s impressive. Tiki is most often identified with adult diversions, but it creeps into pop culture everywhere. It wouldn’t be a surprise if children picked it up from a trip to Disney World or an old episode of Scooby Doo. Wherever they got it, the theme was much better received than we planned.