Monday, January 30, 2012

Fire at Will!

One of the things I really love about prop building is the new skills I develop, which I'm then able to transfer to other areas. Before I made me first set of LED spotlights I would never have thought about soldering. Before I built a flying crank ghost I would never have considered the mechanics of how things worked, always thinking it was "too complicated."

I've always been handy, just never mechanically inclined. Now I find myself taking apart computer boxes to strip out wiring, power supplies, speakers, etc. I disassembled washer machines looking for water valves (haven't used them yet!). I'm breaking down fans and salvaging motors for uses in my haunt. I bought a welder last year after seeing a demonstration of how they worked and will soon be using it to build props.

Two weekends ago I did a Talking Boris hack and now have a really cool greeter for my yard. This past Saturday I built my first pneumatic prop, and I can already tell it won't be my last. I built an air cannon, which was a heckuva lot fun to do and even more fun to play with.

I learned today, however, the two compressors I own may not be big enough to handle the needs of the cannon. I can shoot it off after first pressurizing the tank to 80 psi, but after a few shots I need to completely drain the tank and re-pressurize it again to get it to work. Seems the cannons operate at an optimal pressure of 120+ psi. My torpedo compressor and my pancake compressor, though both say 125 psi max on the side, were struggling to hit 90 psi today.

Maybe it was the cold weather, but I was told if I go for an oil compressor with around a 30 gallon tank, I'll not have such issues for operating any of the pneumatic props I build. While it's a $350 investment or so (thank you Harbor Freight Tools for saving me at least $100!) I'll still be able to use my other compressors as reserve tanks. And I won't run into the issues I had with my paint sprayer and impact wrench which never seemed to have the juice to handle the task at hand.

So Halloween and prop building continue to open up new and interesting avenues for me I never would have explored previously.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Zombies, aaaah!

No, not the (cheesy) movie, but rather a "documentary" on the living dead. Tonight on History Channel's H2 channel -- what used to be called History International (but I guess that didn't attract enough viewers, though I wonder how many realize when going through the program guide what "H2" is) -- they'll be running "Zombies: A Living History."

Going back to Medieval Europe's dance with death known as the Black Plague, the shows how the period exploded with zombie myths. It also explores Viking beliefs of decapitation as being the only means of truly killing a zombie, thus predating George Romero's head shot. It will also travel to China and Haiti examining their zombie traditions. World War Z's Max Brooks is featured as well as authors Jonathan Mayberry, Scott Scholzmann, and J.L. Bourne.

Seems like a fun historical look at what may at times appear to be just a modern phenomenon. I believe it first ran last October, though I missed it then. I'll make sure to tune in tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Different Kind of Dear John Letter

Those of you who know me know I'm not a sentimental person in the sense I'm not given to outward display of emotional feelings. No touchy-feely stuff. No tears over loss. But it was with a sense of mourning and loss that I just read a post from John at Seasons of Shadow that moved me.

As you may be aware, John has been fighting a debilitating disease for sometime now and his blog post, "Last Post," tells how he is finally giving in to the fight. He is accepting that the disease has won and now he will soon die. It's pretty moving.
"As you may know, I have a strong belief in the survival of consciousness after death, and I also believe in the concept of natural selection. Nature’s given me the signal — it’s my time, and intuitively and instinctually I’m feeling nature’s correct. I’m not at all scared to explore this fourth (and what I feel is the best) option. In fact, I welcome it, as I’ve been at my wits end the last year trying to deal with this incredibly cruel illness."
John is an incredibly talented haunter. I've enjoyed the detail and passion he brought to the craft. He'll be sorely missed. Rest easy, John.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Silicone Implants

Comedy, Tragedy
Since my meeting with Secaucus was cancelled the other day due to snow, I decided to work on some small Halloween projects (after shoveling, of course).

I had read on the Hauntforum discussion boards a post about making silicone molds to cast paper clay items in. The process was lifted from Instructables, a website that contains some interesting Halloween-related projects (and a lot of dreck too).

The mold ingredients
The idea is to take regular silicone caulk -- the cheapest stuff you can find (but its gotta be silicone) -- and mix it with corn starch. The reaction between the two creates a cheap, quick mold that can conform to any surface. On Hauntforum, Jaybo used it to make an impression of a small resin skull and then used paper clay to churn out a bunch of skulls (he got the molding technique from MacabreRob who found it on Instructables with the resulting mixture called "Oogoo").

The rubber masks
On YouTube, ramathltol did a similar thing but used the plaster plate mold process. While others have used the plaster process, most notably Allen H from StiltBeastStudios, ramathltol ended up making hundreds of the paper clay skulls in what must have been a truly mind numbing process.

In his original post, MacabreRob discusses how mixing the caulk with corn starch is a little difficult because of the stickiness of the caulk, but after awhile it yields up and depending on how much corn starch you use you'll have between a few minutes and hours to work with the mixture. At a 1:1 ratio of caulk to corn starch, it you just a few minutes; at 5:1, you have 2 hours.

Pressing mask into Oogoo
I recalled, though, Allen showing how to making a silicone mold for a mask he was making, and he had mixed the caulk with naphtha -- about 50-50 he said -- which broke down the caulk and made it possible to paint on with a brush. I figured I would combine the two processes and see how that turned out.

So I squeezed out about half a regular size tube of silicone into a plastic container and eyeballed about a quarter of the amount of naphtha. I put the lid on the container and shook it vigorous back and forth and it obtained a much more liquid consistency. I mixed it with a bit of corn starch (I figure it was about one quarter the amount of caulk) and using a popsicle stick mixed it all together until smooth and flattened the surface.

The resulting mold
What I wanted to mold was a rubbery set of zombie heads I had found at the dollar store. The container was big enough for two of the small heads so I pressed two of them into the Oogoo and let it set for about 15 minutes or so (maybe a little longer, I was futzing around and wasn't really keeping track). The skulls, though, readily pulled out of the mold without any residue whatsoever.

I had intended to use paper clay, but really didn't feel like mixing up a batch, so I used plaster instead. I mixed up a batch and poured it into the mold, which had only been setting for about a half hour total. I left them in there for an hour or so and pulled one out and found the plaster was still wet. Maybe because of the silicone it stays wet longer than otherwise. While it gave the face an interesting texture, I decided to let the other head cure overnight.

The mold pops out easily
I'm not sure if it was because of having it sit in the silicone so it absorbs some of the chemical or what, but several days later now and I still find the casts slightly damp to the touch. I also notice the faces have some very small bubbles that are very brittle and easily brush away. So I'm thinking there is some absorption going on here.

Since I didn't take photos of the process, I did it tonight and noticed the plastic packaging of the rubber skulls has their reverse image molded into the plastic. So I just poured another casting of the faces, but this time using the packaging. I want to see if they cure faster than the silicone mold ones did. I'll report back my findings.

Plaster casting
Regardless, it was a fun little project that should enable me to churn out hundreds of small finials for my graveyard fence I plan to make. I think I'll make those out of paper clay (not sure how well plaster will hold up to the elements over the long haul, even sealed and painted).

The other mini project I did was used Great Stuff expanding foam to make a brain. I saw Steve from Steve's Haunted Yard (Yardhaunter5 on YouTube) do this and it seemed like a quick and easy project. And it was! Using a plastic Jell-O brain mold, I filled it about half way up and let it set over night.

Unfortunately, the results were disastrous. Although the outer portion dried to a hard shell like Great Stuff does, the inner portion -- the part that would have the brain design on it -- didn't dry, even after 24 hrs. When I pried the "brain" out of the mold. it split in two revealing a still damp interior. Now here it is two days later and the part that I left in the brain mold is still damp in parts, though mostly cured. I'll have to go back and review Steve's project to see what I did wrong.

With a Make & Take group meeting yesterday (Talking Boris Skull hack) and another scheduled for next Saturday (Coffin Creep, but we'll be working on the lid mechanism) it's great to be back in the swing of things building props!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Final Resting Place

I'm weird. I've found I actually enjoy visiting cemeteries. Their peace and tranquility is certainly a part of the allure, but the tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums are what really attracts me. And the more overrun and unkempt the cemetery is, the better!

Obviously this passion arose from my haunting for Halloween, visiting cemeteries to get ideas for carving tombstones out of foam. But I've since found myself going to a cemetery to walk and take in the scenery for no other reason than it was quite relaxing. Not the "flat stone" cemeteries with markers that are really just plaques laying on the ground, but the burial places where there are monuments to those interred within.

Yet it also stems from my love of history. It's why I also love abandoned buildings, particularly those that have longbeen forgotten. I enjoy trying to imagine the history of the place, the people that populated it, and the stories the building could tell. There's something about finding an old, cracked plate or a rusted knife on a rotted countertop and thinking about the day it was placed there. What the person who lived there was thinking and how they came to leave the place but not take the knife or plate with them.

Or factories where the grass has grown tall in the parking lot. The windows have long since broken out by vandals and the walls covered in graffiti, but at one time people were walking through the gates of the grounds in the morning drinking a cup of coffee. That sort of history fascinates me.

There was a sumptuous book called "Ruin" which was a collection of black and white photos of old mills, bridges, grain elevators, storefronts, and more. It should be on my coffee table.

No doubt, though, this love of a dilapidated past was born of my trips to upstate New York to visit my grandmother's farm. Located in Afton, NY, we'd travel for hours and it was with a sense of relief when we hit the "beebee road," a gravel track that took us up to Tracy Rd., so named for the big, propertied family that lived there.

My grandmother's farm was along Tracy Rd. but to get there we had to pass the "first farm," a ramshackle hut that at some point had been turned into a hunter's shack. It was set back from the road amid high weeds, the wood grayed from years of exposure. My mother would tell us stories about growing up in that shack, where the cow poked its head through her bedroom window right over her bed and having to walk through the snow to go to the outhouse in winter.

It's not how I remember it
It's gone now, as is the second farm. The third farm still stands, but is on its way to a similar fate as the first farm. The house sat at the top of a hill and had been a grand white structure with a portico porch running across the face of building. It commanded the view of the 188-acre dairy farm they ran, with pastures streaming out in front and wheat fields behind. A windbreak of poplar trees still stands, as does the giant, single elm out in the middle of the trees.

The farm has since been divided up by developers and houses now dot the fields where I once ran in my youth, catching frogs in the hand-dug watering hole, walking with the cows down to pasture. I visited a couple of years ago and was slightly distressed to see a calf tied up on the home's front lawn just as someone would leash a dog. The house has indeed fallen on hard times, no longer looking as I or any of my family members remembered it. Gone are the columns and the cement porch, replaced by a small wooden structure, almost utilitarian in nature.

I got to all this reminiscing and thinking of ruined buildings and forgotten cemeteries -- and my adoration for all of them -- because I just finished watching a show on cemeteries on Netflix called "A Cemetery Special," a show that highlighted a number of cemeteries around the country, including Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery, the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh (I may try to take that in when I go to Hauntcon), and the Cypress Lawn cemetery in California.

It wasn't particularly in depth, and I thought it could stand to focus a little more on the unique architecture that dots their hillsides, but I ended up thinking how odd it was how much I enjoyed old cemeteries.

As I said, I'm weird.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Flaky Weather

Mother Nature has a pretty warped sense of humor when it comes to her, me, and haunting. Last year she ripped apart my haunt with a brutal snowstorm days before Halloween and she returned this morning with more snow that served to cancel the meeting scheduled for today with Secaucus township officials for our pro haunt.

Not that we had anything more than a dusting, mind you, but the weatherman had drummed up so much fervor that we could possibly receive as much as 8" or more of snow leading up to today that the school officials said they weren't opening the school and would reschedule the meeting.

We were already to go with our presentation too. The picture to the left shows our bound proposal; Dave had the haunt plans and a cool teaser trailer ready for show-and-tell time; Johnny devised some really cool graphics that we'll use for both marketing and memorabilia sales; and Jay was ready with his experience running Grimlock Manor as a pro haunt, all in an effort to convince them to give us the green light.

Until Mother Nature cruelly set everything back. Damn you, be-yatch!

But what's up with our weak-willed constitutions these days. My local school district just called (at 5:50 a.m.!) to say that all Saturday programs were cancelled too because of the weather. Literally, there's just a dusting of snow outside! The roads and sidewalks are clear, it's just the grass that has a covering of white. My father used to regale me with stories of walking to and from school in waist-high snow. Uphill. In both directions! Now a few flakes and everyone panics. Guess I better head to the grocery store and stock up on provisions because there's likely to be a run on milk, water, and bread.

Anyway, the extra time will give us more time to prepare our presentation and make it even better. It's just annoying to have to wait.


Okay, we got a little more than a dusting, but the 3 or so inches we ended up with still didn't warrant canceling the meeting.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Meeting a Go-Go

Well, not a stripper, or even Belinda Carlisle, for that matter, but our meeting with Secaucus Township officials has been confirmed for January 21, so we've got to get our presentation in order. We actually have much of this done already, but the four of us will be setting up a Skype conference call on Wednesday to discuss our roles and what we'll be presenting, then on Saturday we'll be meeting up once more at my house to make sure we're all on board.

Jay (FrightGuy, Grimlock Manor), as the lead contact for the effort, will be providing the officials with an overview of what we want to achieve while expanding on his prior pro haunt experience. I'll follow that up with the overview of our proposal and how we'll achieve what we've laid out. The actual written proposal will be printed and bound for distribution at the end of our presentation.

Dave (Dr. Death, Pandemic Cemetery), will follow this with a detailed explanation of the actual dark attraction we'll build. As our point man and resident expert on fire codes, we'll be relying on Dave to handle many of the questions the mayor and fire inspector are sure to be asking us. Hopefully we'll have anticipated many of the questions before they're even asked and will address them in the presentation.

Both Jay and Johnny will discuss the marketing aspects of the haunt and how we'll promote it to bring in the greatest number of patrons. Johnny will then provide a show-and-tell on the cool graphics we've (he) designed for the haunt.

Last, and the part we hope will seal the deal for us, is the quick little teaser trailer we've made for the haunt.  The 1:30 video uses scenes and props that we've built and put in our respective haunts, along with a rousing music score, to give a sense of what they can expect from us and the haunted attraction we'll build for them. It's actually pretty cool!

Taken together we hope they'll be blown away by it all and will roll out the red carpet for us. Of course, reality is always different than dreams so stay tuned for more details.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Scaring Up Some Haunt Plans

Since Jay, Dave, Johnny, and myself have agreed to keep things under wraps until our official reveal at Hauntcon (May 3-7, Monroeville, PA), it's difficult to tell much about our pro haunt planning session yesterday. I didn't even capture much video since vlogging it would have only served to reveal our plans.

However, I can say that from our end we're more than ready to make our presentation to school and township officials, which is tentatively schedule for January 21, or the 28th at the latest.

Yesterday's meeting covered the actual haunt design, logo and graphics work, and the presentation we're going to make.

What I can say is that we're going to have two haunts, a main walk-thru "maze," if you will, and a "lesser" secondary haunt afterwards. Since this is our first effort at this, we decided not to bite off more than we could chew by have three major haunts that filled up the skating rink. If this first effort is as successful as we plan it to be, we can add on modules as we go. Dave has really dug into the minutiae of the fire codes and has come up with some really exciting work that will make this a fun, scary haunt, but one that is completely safe and up to code.

Interestingly, in some of the research I've done on the town of Secaucus (where the haunt will be located), I've found it has a rather colorful history. If anyone's ever driven on the New Jersey Turnpike near its northern terminus, and you've taken the eastern spur towards the Lincoln Tunnel, you'll be familiar with a huge promontory of rock closely hugging the roadway. Known as Laurel Hill Park today (and more colloquially "Graffiti Rock" for reasons you can obviously guess), it was originally called Snake Hill because of the great number of snakes that slithered in the area and in the waterways, some as large as 15 feet! "Secaucus" itself is an old Indian phrase meaning "black snake."

This hill, however, was once home to a penitentiary, an insane asylum, a tuberculosis sanitarium, a poor house (called the Almshouse), and a massive potter's field where all the lost souls of these institutions were buried. It's estimated some 10,000 people are buried there and when they were constructing the new transfer station there a few years ago, they had to halt construction when they started digging up bodies. This area even made it to the pages of "Weird N.J.,"was the subject of an independent film, and was also said to have served as the inspiration for Prudential insurance company's logo (though they ultimately went with the Rock of Gibraltar).

Our haunt will initially be a Victorian mansion (I don't think I'm speaking out of school by revealing that nugget; it's a tired-and-true haunt convention). But in subsequent years, if permitted, we plan on adding on haunt scenes based on this unique town history. Each seems perfect for a haunt -- the jail, the asylum, and the hospital. That's why I said we plan on creating this haunt in modular format so that plugging these additional scares in year after year is entirely feasible.

We've also really advanced our logo work for the haunt, and plan to have some memorabilia on hand to sell at the haunt. Since this haunt is also a fundraiser for the 11th grade class of Secaucus high school, we like the idea of having our logo on the front and a "creeped out" school building on the back. Since we also plan on selling sponsorships to local businesses (small businesses and national corporate accounts), there will be room for company names and logos too. Johnny Cross did some great work on our own business logo (yes, we have a company for this too) and both he and Jay will be working on website graphics next so that once we're given the green light (hey, gotta keep that positive attitude!) we'll be ready to hit the ground running.

I look forward to sharing the actual details on what we're doing in the months ahead. As I said, we'll be meeting with the town in two weeks so we had to make sure we had all our I's crossed and our T's dotted (!) to give the town sufficient belief we actually know what we're doing. From our meeting yesterday, I have that same confidence in our abilities!

So look for us at Hauntcon this year (oh, we won't have a booth or anything, but you'll know we're there!). Afterwards, we plan on releasing the full details of our haunt.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Virtual Whiteboard

To help focus my haunt building activities this year, I'm going to make a project list to keep track of how I'm progressing. I've seen Troy from Halloween Hellmouth use a whiteboard and more recently Steve from Steve's Haunted Yard (YardHaunter5) has employed one (on a side note, Steve has launched a new YouTube channel devoted exclusively to how-to's and haunt projects. This will be in addition to his regular vlog. Check it out! StevesHauntedYard).

But my office walls are cluttered enough that I don't have room for a whiteboard, so I'm going to use this blog as my "whiteboard." I had already started a page to list prop tutorials (called Devil's Advocate), but since this has been underutilized for that purpose, I'll combine the page to feature tutorials on projects I want to build this year.

I've started posting a few ideas I have for the year, such as rebuilding my cemetery pillars that got crushed by the snowstorm that hit just before Halloween, along with gates to fill them in and a new fence. Now I'll start scouring the Internet for ideas to steal, er, use as inspiration, and plug them in. That way, having a list to follow and a source of instruction to help me with the build, I actually might accomplish more this year than I did last year.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Zombie New Year

Although I now consider November 1 the official haunter's New Year, for those of you still going by the Gregorian calendar, Happy New Year. May it be filled with lots of the undead.

But since we're talking calendars here, you better make 2012's Halloween your best ever, because if you follow an even older calendar, the Mayan Long Count calendar, December 21, 2012 will be the end of the world. That means there are but 355 days to go.

While mystics and crazy people see upheaval, towers falling, and oceans rising, maybe the end of the world is really a zombie outbreak. We can always hope.

Happy New Year!
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