trite green halloween

Happy Tuesday my friends, it was a fairly mundane day at work – just the same old routine of answering e-mails, attending meetings, and finding time to pee in between. Came home, fed the baby and put her down while Sharaun was out getting her hair did. Poked around the net for any new leaked albums of note and caught myself up on the LG15 goings-on. Not a lot here today, I’m still in feeling something of a slump in the inspiration department. That’s how it’s gonna be, so that’s how it is.

With my Keaton “featurettes” becoming more and more complicated, I decided I need to take it all to the next level and figure out how to greenscreeen her into different sequences. Since my movie-editor of choice thus far, the free Windows Movie Maker, can’t do chromakeying (the official term for blue- or green-screening something into other footage), I once again turned to the freeware program Wax. After reading a tutorial online, the whole process sounded almost braindead simple so I decided to bust out an old blue sheet we have and take some test footage of Keaton on it. With the test footage on the PC, I loaded a static image behind it and then keyed out the blue. Amazingly, in under 5min I had some very nice chromakeyed footage (you can see it here if you’re interested – it’s DivX-enocded so you may need something like VLC to view it). Putting live action instead of a static image behind the “cut in” items is trivial, and Wax supports advanced techniques like scaling and moving the bluescreened items around the frame. So, as soon as I can dream up a worthy concept, I’ll be cutting Keaton into all sorts of scenes. My first thought was to actually have her running from a real charging bear, thus bringing to life one of my better static goofs, so maybe I’ll start with that.

Halloween’s creeping up. I finally broke down and ordered my PicoBoo today, I splurged and got the one with AC outlets instead of fiddly voltage posts. I intend for it to control the wolf prop, but I’ve had some renewed interest in doing the “scarycrow” project of late – being that I think I can do it rather cheaply and easily (the motion and activation of course being the chief cost-drivers). In honesty, I’d still ideally want the prop to be a hanging man – but I’m just too much of a politically-correct coward and am concerned about what a animated “lynching” on my front lawn might come off as to the over-sensitive. Sitting today thinking about it though, I came up with another idea which I absolutely love. Right now I’m calling it the “guillotine/headman” prop, because it’s one of those. The basis of the prop would be a prone figure with his head on a chopping block or in a guillotine. In the “headman” version there would also be a standing figure holding an axe, and the whole falling-axe head-chop thing would be animated via pneumatics. The guillotine would work the same way, but not require the second headman dummy. Problem is, altho it’s an outstanding idea – it would require two-to-three pneumatic cylinders and as many solenoids, plus a PicoBoo to get the timing right. Too much money for this year, maybe filed away for next year with the “pulling his head off” man idea.

Check out the Democrats gettin’ all MySpace with their new social networking tool, partybuilder. Fancy.


halloween 2006: baying wolves

Note: This entry is part of my Halloween Projects category. You can see all of my posts documenting my projects by clicking the “Halloween Projects category” link above. You’ll also find images and movies of the projects and their construction in my Halloween Gallery, which can be accessed by links in these posts or directly here.

Welcome to Halloween 2006, friends. Starting this year, I’ve decided to better document the creation and function of the Halloween props/projects I so dearly love to create yearly. I wish I’d done this in year’s past, but in lieu of inventing a time machine to remedy that I’ve tried to tag as many past-project related entries into my new Halloween Projects category (linked above). Beginning this year though, each project will have it’s own entry describing the idea and construction, and hopefully documenting the final working product. Let’s begin then with Project #1 of an ambitious two-project year: Baying Wolves 2006.


Credit where credit is due, my friend Kristi came up with this prop concept – and I did some “imagineering” to come up with a proposed implementation. The idea is simple: a faux setting moon with animated wolves baying in silhouette. Picture a ~7ft tall illuminated circle (like a partially set full moon on the horizon) silhouetting a couple wolves whose heads move up and down as piercing howls split the night. Yeah, that’s my best sellup of this prop folks, I’ll let the pictures and effect do the rest of the convincing. First, let’s outline the concept and we’ll get to the numbers and instructions later:


What the visitor will see from the front. This prop is ideally located where you’ll not get many passers-by walking directly to the side or behind the prop (I plan on putting mine very near the fence in my yard). You want the visitor to get a mostly head-on view of this one, and that’s what this concept is supposed to show. The “moon” is just a semi-circle of somewhat sheer fabric (think old sheet) with a “sleeve” sewn around circumference where a piece of PVC pipe will be inserted to frame it.


Here’s my terrible attempt at a 3D representation of the prop. The whole thing is stabilized via a “cross” of 2x4s and an additional “guy-wire” piece of PVC.


An illustration of the base structure, no measurements here – those will come later (remember, these are just my concept drawings).


A side-view of how the actual silhouetting effect will work. The light source will shine on the “moon” from behind, with the mechanical wolves placed just inches from the sheet for maximum effect. The wolves are simply 2D flat cutouts of wolf shapes with motorized heads – more about that to come. If all goes as planned, the wolves block the light and cast wolf-shaped shadows (which will look like silhouettes when viewed from the front) on the sheet. The beauty here is that no great effort need be made to make the wolves any more realistic than being able to cast a believable wolf-shaped shadow.

Well, that’s the basic concept. All I need are a motor, some materials, and some traceable wolf silhouettes. Read on for my documentation of the actual construction.

Implementation & Actuals

Coming soon, stay tuned.

Finished Effect

Coming soon, stay tuned.

the winch witch

May not look like much yet, but I got the vision.
A good weekend. Football at our house with friends on Friday night, dinner at Benihana and a night at the bar on Saturday night, and all the while work forged ahead on the Halloween prop during the days. I’m slowly working on a page dedicated to this year’s Halloween project, the Winch Witch, but it won’t be ready for a while. Anyway – it was a good weekend, involving just the right mix of hangin’ out and gettin’ stuff done.

I don’t think I’m going to write much, as I’m not really in the mood. Sharaun hurt her knee pretty bad at soccer this morning and we ran over to a friend’s place just now to borrow some crutches so she can try and make it to work in the morning. I don’t know quite what that has to do with my mood and writing, but it felt like the right time to write it. This paragraph is pointless anyway, so why try and make it cohesive or anything.

Saturday I helped Kristi and Erik move some furniture into their new place, and then we all convened at our place for some college football. With everyone around, I took the opportunity to bring up the current plans for the Winch Witch. I figured with a bunch of smart people we could have an ad hoc think-tank and maybe brainstorm up a good idea. Turns out it worked, and we collectively not only greatly improved on the original idea Ben and I had, but also managed to really simplify the planned implementation.

We moved away from the original track idea and settled on suspending the witch from a wire strung above. Also, she’s no longer up on the roof, she just starts her run there and ends up nearer the ground before being reset and ascending again. Even the name I gave the project is now somewhat misleading. We’re not using a winch-winch, but we’re still “winching” the prop back up the wire to it’s pre-drop position. The cool thing being that we moved away from something uber-complicated to something really simple: a fishing reel.

We went up to the sports store and picked up a $10 el-cheapo fishing reel, which will act as the “winch” that hoists the witch back up her wire path to be dropped again. With the fishing line attached to an anchor on her back, we’re using a small DC motor to reel her back up after she free-falls on the wire-track. The reel will hold her in place at the top, and when someone breaks the infrared beam we’ll fire a solenoid to depress the reel’s “cast” button, where line can be freely fed. No longer held by the reel, gravity will send her flying down the wire-track toward the trick-or-treater, while an eerie flood light turns on and illuminates her. On the same circuit as the light and solenoid, a cackling soundtrack is played during her descent.

We managed to get everything but the motor and solenoid this weekend, and I’d say we’ve engineered about 70% of the project. We still need to figure out the whole beam-activation and motor on/off timing, and I’m sure once we get her up and running there will be little things we never even thought of that we’ll have to deal with. The good news is that Ben and I were able to make the armature for the prop’s body in one day, with only about $20 worth of material. Now all we need are the electric parts and a good old-fashioned witch mask. I want to string the whole thing up as early as possible to get a good amount of “proving” and debug time in before she actually has to perform on Halloween. We did some initial testing today, and you can watch the results here. People think I’m crazy, but I’m also pretty sure I’m adding this secondary prop to this year’s display – as I can’t see it taking more than a few hours to construct (‘cept I’m planning on using a cheaper and easier windshield wiper motor to power the prop, implemented kinda like this).

OK then… I guess I talked about everything I really wanted to talk about, now I better hit the sack. Until tomorrow or something. Dave out.

real people think like that

Rambling again...
Been checking prices on fog machines lately, the non-Halloween prices are much cheaper. My little machine does 3500 CFM, but I want something in the 20,000 CFM range. I want so much fog this Halloween that the fire department has to come to make sure the place ain’t burning down.

Busy day yesterday, saw a US civilian get his head sawn off by hooded captors. Not the CNN or Fox News version, but the uncut version. Brutal. How can someone feel so much hate that they can kill an unrelated, innocent human just because of their nationality? I don’t understand that hate, obviously. Hey, I’d be mad about my people being tortured too – but enough to kill the first English-speaking white dude I find? I think not.

Some peoples’ reactions to the whole incident are almost as disturbing. So many references to “turning that whole country into glass.” I say I don’t understand the hate these people must feel, but apparently we have plenty of people here who not only understand it – they return it. Honestly, I know intelligent, rational people who think we need to “nuke” these heathen nations into extinction. Their rationale goes something like “they all hate us anyway, and they’re killing us.” I’ve heard “that’s what we did in Japan, and that ended that war.” Shit people, are you for real? You think annihilating these people is the answer? Genocide, you’re behind that? I’ve got friends who refer to “those people” as a “plague on the world, the vermin of the earth” if you will.

In a simplified view, the real danger out there isn’t Iraq or Al Qaeda or Muslims or terrorists – it’s ignorant people. I don’t care what color or religion or nationality you are, if you’re ignorant enough to abide such hate – you’re the enemy. The only problem with this logic is, some people are brainwashed and purposely kept in ignorance by a select few, so these few can exploit the masses. If, from day one, you’re taught to believe that it’s noble and heroic to kill the Zionist infidels – you’re gonna try and bag as many Zionist infidels as possible. Regardless of these brainwashed-masses’ culpability for their ingrained beliefs – ignorance still plays a role the way they get to such a state. Right? Is it too much to think that intelligence will cause people to question things that just don’t seem right? If your mullah or grand dragon or prophet is telling you to kill people because he says so, will not the smart man ask “why?” Too optimistic?

Because, I want to believe that people can “know” right from wrong, on a very base level. If you’re ignorant enough to think that nuking the whole middle east is the solution to our problems, you’re no different than the paranoid white-pride southerner who blames the Jews for his failed business ventures. And if you’d be proud to push the red button and blast them all yourself, you’re no better than those assholes who crashed planes into our buildings. I can’t believe real people think like that anyway, it blows me away.

Well anyway, once again I’ve failed to communicate what I wanted to say. But this is what I’m posting, so at least I tried. Dave out.