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Hacked Haunts

Some tools for hacking your home or professional haunt for light, sound, and animatronics!

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I probably don't need to tell you that SparkFun gets pretty excited about Halloween. We scare each other on a daily basis:

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I tried to find a photo of Casey throwing kerosene into his jet engine, but this owl will have to do

This time of year is a special opportunity to take our brand of weird out into the wider world, and there are few outlets as fun as a personal haunt!

This year, it was my good fortune to be invited to HauntX, a trade show for the haunt community, and it was eye-opening to see how widespread and involved it is!

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In particular, I saw a ton of DIY electronics being used to bring life to projects, and resources to run them that are completely new to me.

In the true giving spirit of Halloween (sorry, wrong holiday), I want to share with you some of those resources, and the effects being created with them.

It's possible that this was even more distressing in person

Skulltronix has an impressive selection of kits, components, controllers, and assemblies. You can purchase them with everything included, or a la carte, which allows you a ton of freedom to hack away to your heart's content.

TerrorTech sells several complete animatronics (no videos yet, unfortunately), but also offers the Terror Board, a controller designed to run an entire haunt's worth of audio, video, and servos from your phone or computer.

Haunt Hackers is a community-oriented website offering DIY instructions for several interesting hacks! Steve offers a full guide to building your own Frankenstein skull controller from scratch, using a circuit board of his design and a full BOM he provides in his build guide. It's an interesting and challenging build!

Next year, Haunt Hackers is planning to release a new board, called the Banshee, which will offer the DIY spirit of their other projects with a lot of new functionality!

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Looking for a full kit to get started with? FrightProps has some very cool prop control kits, plus some other exciting effects (pneumatics!). They've also got some really helpful support documents to help you get started!

If you get a chance to connect with this community, I highly recommend it. They're dedicated to their art, and they've got a unique perspective on DIY projects. I took a lot of information away that's going to inform my projects across the board. For instance, never, ever use grey paint (Thanks, Steve O!)

If you've got any other haunt hacks to share, or other applications for these control boards, leave them in the comments! And get haunting!


Comments 3 comments

  • In the true giving spirit of Halloween (sorry, wrong holiday)

    Don't worry, like most programmers, I always confuse Halloween and Christmas, too, since OCT 31 = DEC 25.

  • The halloween forum is another great resource for builds, and MonsterGuts is another good source for parts. I've been working with haunted attractions since ~1995. There are four main types of controllers out there right now: program yourself, key-bangers, computer controlled slaves, and a few all-in-one devices that store a show within the controller.

    The program yourself variety is pretty well represented by the Prop-1 controller by Efx-Tek. These are standalone devices (no computer needed after programming). They have several digital inputs and outputs that can be used to detect mat triggers and close relay contacts. Servo animation is usually more difficult here because of the complexities of trying to do multiple things at the same time in standard programming.

    Key-bangers are standalone devices that, like the "program yourself" variety, have a few digital outputs or relay contacts. These are programmed real-time by, you guessed it, banging a key. That is, you push a button when you want the relay to close, how many times, and with what timing. An input trigger sets the sequence off. The PicoBoo controllers from FrightProps are good examples of key-bangers.

    More advanced props can be controlled through live playback from computer animation software (requires the computer to be present and wired into the system on Halloween night). The one my customers, my friends, and I have used for many years is VSA by Brookshire software. This uses visual linear timeline editing (kind of like multi-track audio/video editing) to program out relay events, servo moves, and lighting animation. The output slave devices have evolved over the years. At first, the Parallax Inc SSC let you control servos with VSA through RS232 serial. These have been largely replaced by USB devices, but now many haunters are going the route of DMX-512. Some examples of DMX-controlled slaves are the Board (and Son) of Chuckee from Skulltronix, and the Medusa DMX by OhmMyGadgets (my product). DMX-512 is based on differential RS-422, so you get the advantage of using daisy-chained long cable runs. But the really nice touch is that, because DMX is used by club lighting, you can drop in lots of different moving head lighting fixtures, strobes, smoke machines, bubble machines, etc, without any hacking... not that anyone here is averse to hacking ;-) Here's a good example from one of my customers, Aaron Coleman: Bohemian Rhapsody - Frank Skinnotra and the Gabbing Gourds

    The all-in-one players are usually programmed with software similar to VSA. But the advantage to these is once the animation is completed, it's downloaded into the controller and the computer is no longer needed. Some of these include audio and/or video playback as well. The Terror Board, and Brookshire's RAPU would be examples of this category.

    Hope this helps launch some fantastic new haunts! Brian

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