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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
One of the threads recently asked about books or DVDs, with examples that describe different prop controllers and how they are used. I don't want to use this thread to link to all the sources...the web is full of them. Rather, I'd like to try illustrate what I believe is the basic understanding that new haunters, like myself, are trying to grasp. I'm not trying to push any specific product. I'd like to keep this strictly a discussion for folks to learn about configurations and hook-ups.

Disclaimer: Please consider this a work in progress and a call out for confirmation from those more knowledgeable then myself. I accept no responsibility for the accuracy, technical or otherwise, for these descriptions. If I have described or draw something wrong, please point it out. We don't want people electrocuting themselves and blaming me or the forum. There will be eight illustrations to follow. (If you want to use my illustrations outside the forum, please ask.)
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
FIG 1

Let's start with a brief mention of circuits. A circuit is basically an electrical device that provides a path for electrical current to flow. The simplest example I can think of is an led touching a 3v button battery. The battery produces voltage, the current flows through the led, closing the circuit back on the other side of the battery.

 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
FIG 2

If I were to draw a circuit, I'd draw something like the following. An illustration represented with a source for voltage (something that looks like a battery), an electrical current path (the wire), something to use the electricity (like a light bulb), and concluding with a switch to open and close the circuit.

In this illustration, I have two circuit drawings. The first one is closed and the second one is open...due to the fact that the switch does not make a connection. This circuit is referred to as normally open (NO). An action to close the circuit activates our light bulb.



Note - this is symbolic. A D cell battery does not power a bulb as I've represented it.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
FIG 3

To give a more accurate illustration....lets consider an led. In the first illustration, we saw an led powered by a light bulb. If we were to attach a normal led to a 9v battery, it's probably going to pop or burn out. That is because we have too much power flowing through the circuit for the led to handle.

To make this type of circuit, we need to know the amount of voltage or power, that comes from the battery. And, the ratings for the specific led. Different colors and different types of led can handle different amounts of electricity. We need this information to know how much resistance we need on the circuit to properly light up the led. I'm no expert..so I get the numbers from a website led calculator.

The led calculate tells us we need a certain size resistor added to the circuit. If we change the led, or add more, we will need a different resistor. Note - leds have a long led and a short leg. This helps us identify the positive and negative for the connections. If your make a connection and it doesn't work, chances are you have the led backwards. Reverse it and you should get light.



Leds can be powered by different amounts of current. For many haunts, we use wall warts (adapters that plug into the wall) to power the leds. This is fine and powers many leds, so long as you wire with the proper resistors.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
FIG 4

That's all good and fine. But what about using controllers to power things? A common controller folks ask about on the forum is the efx-tek prop-1. In my haunt, I have several controllers. I don't have a prop-1, but I do have one of their new ez-8 controllers. Therefore, I'm going to illustrate with the ez-8.

I bought the ez-8 thinking it would be pretty easy. At first, I had no idea how power worked on the thing. And there wasn't any documentation for this new controller on the website. Eventually, I figured out the basics. (I hope...lol.)

The two controllers are very similar. The ez-8 offers button press programming as an option instead of requiring a computer. For other differences or functionality, consult the manufacturer.

With my controller, I ordered an 12v power adapter and a pir. The input adapter for this controller varies by use (9-24vdc). The pir allows the controller to trigger when a person walks in front of the pir sensor. There is an easy to read label that shows where the pir plugs onto the controller.

For my use, I wanted to power lights. Small c7 Christmas bulb lights, maybe very small wattage regular bulbs. Well, there was an issue. My power on the controller is 12v. And I want to control a household light circuit that is much higher power. If I were to plug that in, I'd blow the controller. So I don't want to do that. Instead...I introduced a relay.

A year ago, I had no idea what a relay was. Well...here's how I'd describe it - a relay is an electrically operated switch. It uses an electro magnetic switch, to open and close a circuit. Using the low power from the controller, the relay allows me to control a higher power circuit. For this...I need a specific type of relay. One that is rated for what I want to do. I quite easily found an electronics store that sells 12vdc relays. You can find them at Radio Shack or search for some place cheaper. I bought mine for $3 each, plus a couple bucks for a wiring socket.

A little sales pitch for efx-tek - they sell a relay board that connects to the prop-1, ez-8, etc. It uses solid state relays which are sold separately. Solid state make the relays quiet. For my application, I don't mind a clicking sound and cheap price.

So...introducing a relay into my layout, I come up with something like this illustration. Warning - I do not use a knife switch like the one in the illustration. Nor do I connect directly to a bulb. I'm simply illustrating the connectivity design. One thing I try to never do is leave any kind of wiring exposed. I want to live - damn it.



So...in the illustration, I've shown the switch on the ez-8 on the number 2 position. I don't know much about the thing since I don't have documentation. But position two allows the incoming voltage pass through the controller to the output channels. When I program the controller to activate channel one, a 12v signal is sent to the relay. The relay then activates, closing the contacts on my light circuit.

In this way, the controller uses the relay as a switch on my circuit. The original switch isn't needed. In fact, it must be closed or I can't complete the circuit and get power to my light. In a more complicated scheme, you could have an automated control on the relay, and a manual override with a switch.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
FIG 5

So now we know we don't need a switch on our circuit because the controller & relay is acting as a switch. In fact, this particular relay is referred to as a DPDT...double pole, double throw. Whew...what the heck is that? For us simple folk - it's got two connections that happen on two sides. I think of it as a flip flap switch. It flips one way to connect one side when its off, and when it receives power, the connection flips the other way. And it does this on two sides.

So...why is that a big deal...because it gives us two events with one electric activation.



Notice the illustration. I don't need a switch because I have the relay and controller. I have two circuits. When one is on, the other is off. And vice versa. So, what's the application for that you might ask?

For my next prop project, I want to build a lab machine to control a Frankenstein type of monster. Something with very large meters, blinky things and attitude. On the top of the prop, I want flashing lights. With one relay, I can cause four different lights to alternately flash. This will leave me a lot more channels on the controller to do other things....such as control my monster, fog machines, sound, etc.

 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
FIG 6

The image in FIG 5 shows the controller providing a signal to the relay on a specific channel of the controller. With multiple devices or circuits connected we can create different events and activity.

That controller signal to the lowest poles turns the relay on for the circuit which shows the lit up bulb. If we cut the power to the relay, the relay will go back to its resting state (shown below on FIG 6). In this example, the resting state completes the other circuit we've connected on the relay to light up the other light bulb.



To clarify the circuit paths...we can separate them as different colors to show the path on the active side compared to the path on the passive side. When starting out with relays, I suggest wiring up a 9v battery and some led lights for the light circuit.

 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
FIG 7

So...what about other things besides light bulbs? It doesn't really matter. As long as you put everything on the proper circuit with the correct amount of power. For these types of prop designs....I'm using pretty low power devices. I don't know much about power, voltage, and amps. But I do know this...amps kill. And if you have a bunch of amps, then you need a more complex layout. If you aren't sure, ask someone. For my illustrations, I'm showing common devices used by haunters.

By the way....in reference to this type of controller, remember that mention about the controller using and outputting the amount coming in? Well, if you are powering a deer motor that uses 12v, or something else that uses 12v....then you pretty much have access to the voltage you need. If you need something at 9v or 24v....I believe you can do that as well. In my scenario, I'm activating a channel with 12v. Thus...I'm configured for that voltage.

Now...what about other controllers? Well, I have a FrightIdeas picoBoo F-104 as well. They make several controllers that are similar to this. The F-103 doesn't offer sound. The F-105 has wall outlet plugs. Let me pause and say...I love this thing. Even if I don't know squat, I can make one of these things work. And it gives us sound..both ambient and event driven. (That doesn't mean I hate other controllers. They all have benefits and serve specific purposes.)

There are a lot of controllers that work like this one. Basically....it contains its own relays on two different channels. So my electronic switches are there, I just have to know how to connect them.

I'm quite sure the maestro and Monster Guts Nerve Center are similar. But I don't have one of either of those. Maybe one of those kind souls in their marketing departments will see the benefit of sending me an NFR sample.

Since I don't have one of those, and I'm not here to plug any specific controller...I've drawn this one as a more generic representation. And, instead of just a light, I'm illustrating a wiper motor in one of the circuits.



Since my controller is controlling the relay as a switch...I can control two different event driven circuits. I can have a light controlled on channel one, and a wiper motor activated on channel two. (Note...some controllers have more than two channels. Consult the specific controller specs.)

For my wiper motor, which I purchased from Monster Guts for about $15, I also purchased an adapter. I drive mine with a slow speed power rating on the lower speed connectors. Monster Guts is kind enough to provide images of that so I won't do them the disservice of making my own illustrations. Suffice to say, the wiper motor connections are on the bottom. They connect to a wall adapter via a pigtail connector (optional). It's that pigtail that I intercept for my switch. I could intercept the adapter power itself, but it's my guess that it's better for the adapter if I don't disrupt its electricity on a constant basis. (Remember...I'm a newbie. No electrician here. Re-read the disclaimer claiming my status as incompetent.)

Note also, the controller has its own power. Most controllers are driven by their own wall wart. If you get fancy about your connectivity, you can often use one power source to power multiple lines..including your controllers.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
FIG 8

Whew....eight. If you are still reading...thanks for following. After the last illustration, follow the attendent around to the back where you will be greeted by a fat old geezer smoking a cigarette in a rocking chair telling you to **** off and go away. There's no candy here.

Okay...what about pneumatics? Well, they aren't much different. Pneumatics run on air. The air connects to the prop cylinder by way of a pneumatic valve. You first need an air compressor. Preferrably a pretty big one that won't cycle alot. I understand you can run for a while with a simple tire tank, but I've never tried it.

So...the air from the compressor should pass through some filters. That's to remove moisture and keep water out of your prop parts. After the filters, comes a hose. The hose connects to the pneumatic valve through something called a quick connector. Does it have to? Nope...but it should. For a couple of bucks at Harbor Freight, who needs the agrivation of screwing up hoses.

Oops. Sorry about this...my illustration is bad. I show a quick connect on the hose, but no female connection on the valve. Well..pretend I drew one in there. Thanks. The valves come in different types depending upon the air holes and exhausts. Some cylinders only have one hole, others have two. If there's only one hole to press air through, then that's pretty much how it comes back out. Not much control with that. So, we normally use two way cylinders that have two holes. One at the top and one at the bottom. The bottom holes shoots air in, making the piston go up. The other hole allows air to press the shaft back down. Through the use of flow controls on the lines or the valve, we can regulate the speed of the cylinder, by changing the amount of air that goes in or out.

When buying pneumatics, make sure you know what size connectors you need. A complete kit will contain all the parts and you don't need to worry. Otherwise, be prepared to repurchase a few things if you aren't sure or don't ask. Silly me. :)

Most people put mufflers on their valves to quiet down the whoosh sound of escaping air. So that's the air part, what about electricity? On the valve, you will normally find a core with electric wires coming out. The valves I have purchased have removeable cores. This means, if I buy different a different core, I can change the valve from 12v, to 24v, or 110v. Whatever that valve is rated, that's the amount of electricity you need to connect to activate the valve. The valve is a fancy pipe that opens and closes to allow air to pass through. If we intercept the power going from our voltage source (wall wart or wall outlet depending upon the power source), we can use our controller to switch the valve on and off. That allows us to control the up and down motion of the cylinder. Most of the time, we want our cylinder down until activated. If that doesn't happen and the cylinder starts popped up...reverse the air hoses connected to the cylinder.

Remember...always check the amount of power you use. Also....start with a small amount of air and work your way up.



Here's a link showing how I used this type of connection. I built these columns so close to halloween, that I didn't have time to install a controller. Instead, I used a manual switch to control power to the valve.

Pneumatic Popup Columns
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Please - Do not try any of these until a few readers have revieed the drawings.
 

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This has been very informative. Thank you for taking the time to diagram in a way a controller noob like me can understand.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Standing Zombie Switch

What in heavens name does...
I think that was just a way to say that we ought to cover all the bases. Or possibly that my examples were getting a bit complicated.

Since it's Christmas time, I'll share a simple trick I learned from my father many decades ago. Our tree used to stand near a big stereo cabinet in the corner of the living room. To avoid the hassle of crawling around to the plug, Pop configured a switch out of an extension cord.

This came in handy for me this Halloween. I wasn't prepared to hook up all my standing shiatsu zombies to my mind control prop. But I had a crapload of 15' heavy gauge $1.99 extension cords and some feed thru switches. So I built a manual switch. [Insert disclaimer here.]

Using an UNPLUGGED extension cord - I started by cutting the female end off the extension cord.



Then I spliced that end back onto the plug end of the same cord. You have to be careful which wires you are connecting. The theory is to create a completed loop. On the open end where I removed the section of cord, I attach a feed thru button switch as shown.



Here's what it looks like completed. I have no idea whether this is safe to do, but I figured I wasn't driving much with a single shiatsu. And I was attached to a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet. The switch worked like a champ for me and probably cost about five bucks. Be sure you check your wiring before plugging it in.

 

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A point to note: He is switching the hot wire not the neutral. The larger left slot on the outlet / plug is the neutral side and should always remain unbroken for safety reasons. The neutral provides a path to ground in the event of a short. This is also code.

This site has more information:

http://www.doityourself.com/stry/h2installelecwiring
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks hpropman. A notation regarding the hot/neutral has been added to the image.
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
I'm going to expand this thread a bit. I realize the thread heading refers to prop controllers specifically. But my intent is to try to give folks information to control a prop, and that doesn't always require an actual prop controller. I'll leave it to the moderator to decide whether to separate the info - or delete whatever info they choose to remove. (As for information on AC/DC and other circuits...that will be in a different thread.)

Here's a bit of information regarding the use of a motion detector, wired for controlling a light or possibly a shiatsu driven prop. I plan to make a few of these to control my standing zombies. As previously noted - give a few days for folks to comment on accuracy and safety in my illustrations before trying these yourself.



Here's how this type of motion controlled power is wired. You should be able to find some internet sites describing different configurations in more detail.

 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
In the motion detector cord, the motion detector is acting like a switch. When motion disturbs the sensor, the power turns on the prop. Most motion detectors will have settings for the sensitivity and the duration.

There are other ways to control power through an extension cord or other type of circuit. Using a flourescent starter, we can produce a random flicker like we'd expect to find in a mad scientist lab. I've seen solutions for this that cost a pretty penny. This simple haunt solution doesn't cost much at all.

Flourescent starters are sold at the local hardware store for about $2 for two. They are roughly the size of a small spool of thread, and have two metal contacts on the bottom. The package should be labeled to distinguish the type of starter - FS-2, FS-5, etc. You can also find sockets for wiring the starter. (Note - you'll find it quite hard to get solder to stick to the legs of the starter. Use a socket holder or other method. Just make sure whatever you do is safe and doesn't leave wiring exposed.)

I've built a few of these - mounted inside table top props. (ie Zombie Mind Control)

[Insert disclaimer and warning of death here.]



 

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agreed you must be very careful when working with AC 110 /220 volts. A socket for the starter is highly recommended and all electrical connections at this voltage needs to be enclosed in an electrical box.
 

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MOD Note:

Darklore, Im locking the thread to keep it on topic and concise. PM me if you want to add to it and I'll unlock it. ...and... Great Job!!!
 

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Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I've recently received questions (on multiple forums) about the use of the EFX-TEK EZ-8 controller in my props, by others interested in purchasing. I wanted to append this thread for a few comments.

It's a nice controller but it has what I consider a significant flaw - a timing issue. The controller cannot accurately sequence recorded Vixen script with audio. Apparently due to the way the controller's chipset handles internal timing. In my Frankenstein's Briefcase prop, intended as a singing pumpkins display, the controller cannot accurately play the recorded event sequence "This Is Halloween", in sync with the sound. For some folks..this might be insignificant. For me...I purchased the controllers for the specific purpose of sequenced scripting.
 
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