Monday, October 8, 2012

Scaring Children on a Shoestring Budget

It was mid evening on Halloween last year when I opened the door to greet a father and his young daughter. The father was genial and the daughter, dressed like a fairy, looked a little unsure if she wanted to be there. "It took her five minutes to get the courage to walk to your front door," said the Dad. I smiled and replied something to the effect that I'm glad she could make it up, and dolled out an appropriate amount of sugary goodness. Inside, I was thinking, "Yes! Success!"

Here's the reason this young lady wanted to keep her distance:

Through Septempber I'd been considering ways to spice up Halloween a bit, and for some reason, "Animatronic Eyeball" was the idea that stuck. It seemed like a neat idea that wouldn't be impossible to pull off, especially with a little help along the way. For that I'll have to thank my wife and one of my co-workers. 

So, how does this work? 

According to this informative diagram, the main Eyeball is made of a few components. The Arduino controller is the main brain of the system. It sends signals to both the servo motor and to a pair of RGB LEDs. The servo is attached to the main axis of the Eyeball and, at the command of the controller, executes quick, jerky, random movements. The LEDs (suggested by my co-worker) are programmed with a couple sequences - a normal and "angry" one -  which the controller can switch between.

An infrared motion detector, mounted off to the side, picks up when someone is approaching and sends a signal to the Arduino. At that point the controller tells the servo to snap to the center and tells the LEDs to go to the "angry" look.

At the same point, it sends a command to my laptop computer, which is running a separate program, loading and playing sound files. Those sounds are - you guessed it - sent to my home theater system. I've hidden two speakers and subwoofer in my front lawn to provide some spooky ambiance and the "I'm watching you!" that plays when someone approaches.

The mounting apparatus for this contraption came courtesy of my table saw and some of the spare wood I had sitting in my garage, plus some black spray paint. The eyeball itself is a cut-off tupperware bowl which my talented painter wife made into an excellent, bloodshot orb which stares into your very soul. The rest of the details on how this all works are plentiful, and I will be happy to provide specifics if anyone is curious (like just how did I call a soul from Purgatory and infuse it into The Machine?).

Here's my Halloween ethos: I will never, ever, put a pop-up skeleton, drooling zombie or cauldron-stirring witch in my yard. I admire the folks who put those together, but even the creepiest of them just barely register on the scare-o-meter by the time they're sitting next to someone's candy bowl. In fairness, that's not entirely true since they probably scare the bat symbols right off the pajama-wearing, caped crusaders of the neighborhood. You've got to admit, though, it's a lot easier to laugh off a twitching, plastic skeleton than it is to ignore the eyeball that actively scans the road and whispers to you when you're close.

Keep watching!
Starting soon I'll be blogging about my progress on this year's project, which is even more unreasonably ambitious than last year. My plans are bigger, I'm going to need more props and holy crud I've only got three and a half weeks to do it in!

I've done some initial experiments which have panned out well enough, but turning my garage into a haunted room is going to be no easy task. As always, these projects are as much about learning new things and pushing my boundaries as they are about scaring little fairy girls. 

So stay tuned! There will be maniacal laughter, tears of eternal lament, and howls of pain as I once again drop the hammer on my foot. Also, I'm all for trying to make this an interactive experience, so if anyone has some ideas or ways to improve what I'm doing during the process, I'm happy to listen.  

Happy Hauntings!

1 comment:

  1. Time's a wasting for this year's project. (That's the scary part).