Category Archives: Halloween

Halloween DMX lighting and sound – introduction

Years ago, I worked with a local guy on bringing in computer controlled lighting and sound to a local haunted house attraction. The original attraction just used light bulbs of different colors and actors to make everything happen. Our upgrade included the following:

  • We used a cheap Windows PC and VenueMagic show control software.
  • We ran a chain of RGB DMX lights throughout the attraction.
  • About 14 speakers were installed, all wired back to a stack of cheap Pyle brand amplifiers.
  • A cheap USB hub and some $2 USB sound cards was used to get multi-channel audio from VenueMagic, and it worked great.
  • We installed pressure mats to trigger audio and effects.
  • I built an Arduino input box to read triggers from pressure mats and send them to VenueMagic as serial data.
  • There was also a DMX controlled relay board that was used to trigger air jets and control pneumatic doors.
  • When building regulations changed a few years into operation, the haunt was wired with illuminated exit signs and smoke detectors. Those were brought into the system so it could halt the show and turn on white work lights for safety.

The end result was a living, breathing attraction with flickering “flame” light, atmospheric moonlighting, strobe effects, as well as immersive surround sound throughout.

The VenueMagic software was, by far, the most expensive element of this project, and also the one that provided the most headaches. While the software itself was amazing and powerful, running on Windows was not. We had numerous issues over the years with Windows crashing, USB devices failing to be recognized, audio devices being remapped (requiring editing the show control configuration), etc.

Once the computer was in control, if it went down, you lost the entire show. The lights had a backup mode (we called it “party mode”) where they would begin randomly cycling through colors if there was no DMX signal. At least it didn’t leave the guests in the dark, but a silent haunt with circus lighting was far from scary.

In upcoming articles, I plan to discuss various ways you can show with complex lighting and audio, and make it play without needing a PC.

Just in time for the holidays ;-)

Happy Halloween in November!

A few side projects keep me busy during the year. One is doing things for local festivals (show guides, websites, newspaper ads, TV commercials, etc.) and the other is maintaining my haunted house website:

During October, I visit with all the local haunted attractions to get information from that website. I do video interviews, create custom audio/video effects for them, and other projects. Over the years I have done quite a bit in this area, from building BASIC-Stamp based prop controllers to doing complex DMX lighting/audio show control programs.

For 2018, I am going to start documenting my projects, and making plans available for those who want to recreate them. I also plan on making items available pre-built for those who just want to use and not build.

More to come…

2014 Halloween project update

I have been sent a few things I will be using to make a prototype for the Halloween project. The main features will be playing audio on demand, and switching lights (or other 120V items) on and off in time to the audio. Here are the items I will be evaluating:

  • MP3 Shield ($19.99) from This shield has its own flash storage and lets you load MP3 files over from SD memory cards or USB thumb drives. In addition to control buttons on the shield itself (vol+/-, pref, next, play), it also has buttons to start up the copy operation and put the unit to sleep. There is a 1/8″ headphone style jack for getting audio out. It is controlled via serial (tx/rx) and can be made to play a specific track number off the memory.
  • Relay Shield ($7.59) from e-Bay seller happyvalley009. This shield has four relays that can handle 120V up to 3amps, which is a small amount but enough for our needs. It is dangerous to run 120V in to a shield like this, as a short could really cause some problems. A better solution might be to use a separate relay board ($8.49 with Amazon Prime shipping) that is controlled without being attached to the Arduino itself. That would let it be physically separate and still be controlled the same way (and, this one can handle more amperage).

As soon as my funding source returns from vacation, we will order more items and begin working on a prototype.

2014 Arduino projects for Halloween

I have been tasked with creating two control systems for some Halloween attractions this year. I have a small budget for building the prototypes, and if they work, then I will be building a dozen or so of the units. I thought it might be fun to document the entire process here.

There are two projects:

1. A device will sense motion, then begin playing sound and toggle four outlets in a sequence that goes along with the audio.

2. A device will sense its location, and play a specific sound based on that location. It will have a fallback mode where buttons will trigger the sounds, for manual operation.

I plan to use low-cost Arduinos since there are many add-on Shields available for it to handle things like this.

Audio could be played in high quality using a cheap ($20) MP3 add-on, or, with a small amount of hardware (and a cheap SD card reader), lower quality audio can be played directly by the Arduino.

For triggering, the I/O pins will be used, hooked to a motion sensor. For the proximity sensor, I am researching iBeacon style tech (BLE, bluetooth low energy) or IR (infrared). Right now, it seems we could use cheap IR remotes, with a button taped down beaming and endless pulse. The Arduino can hook up a $1 IR receiver and software could decode the pulses to see which zone it is in.

For the outlets, there are $8 high voltage relay boards that can be wired to the Arduino’s Digital Out pins, and even a cheap $7.50 4-channel relay shield that can handle 120 volts 3 amps on each relay. The Shield is a nice idea, but dumping 120V in to the Arduino could be a problem if there was any kind of short.

I will document the various products I have found so far, soon.

To be continue…