UFO Crash Site
This was the centerpiece of our sci-fi year.  As I have mentioned on other pages, I really wanted to move away from the traditional ghosts and ghouls we have always done and start from scratch with a sci-fi theme.  New costumes, of course.  The dining room was a planetarium.  There was a little mad scientist laboratory in the kitchen.  And there was this monstrosity in the front yard!

The saucer is surrounded by three connected 12' lengths of blue LED rope light.

Under the saucer's dome we have a 3 Watt color-changing LED light.

There's a green spotlight in the corner of the yard and a red one on the sign.

That's Dani and Stan on the porch between Trick or Treaters.

The caution/police tape came from Lowes or Home Depot months earlier.  When you see something like that, you just buy it even before you know what you're going to do with it.  Honestly, I thought we'd use it on a crime scene display I was considering, most likely in the kitchen.

Area 52.5 sign was a reference to the fact that there was now two and a half of us, so to speak.

Here it is on Halloween day with the fogger running through the cooler to get the low-lying fog.

That's the other member and a half of the Conehead family.

The wooden box at the center of the frame is actually the seat from an old sewing table Shanna's mom found on a curb.  We collect antiques (like our house, for example), so we took it, but it was in poor shape.  I ended up using it to prop up the saucer.  After that it was firewood.  Yes, literally.

It was nearly invisible from the side unless you are using a flash.  During the day it was too deep in shadow to be seen, and by night the blue lights were bright enough that you couldn't look past them.

The black box is the fog cooler.

See any of the stuff under it without the flash?  Nope, you don't.

Here's the saucer viewed from the edge of the porch through the struts of the Area 52.5 sign.

Stan runs from the saucer before Gort gets out and shoots him with his laser eyes.

We ended up winning second place in the neighborhood decorating contest.  Why not first?  No fucking idea.  I saw the first place winner, and it was just an arch made out of black plastic that ran the length of the sidewalk to their front door.  Everyone said we got gypped, including complete strangers.

People were slamming their brakes and putting their cars into reverse to see what was in their front yard.  I was seeing this nightly.  My office window is the one just beyond the saucer in this picture, so every night all night long I was seeing brake lights and people backing up for a second look.

Even while I was building the thing the day of the party, my neighbor Margaret's kid from five or six houses down the street saw it from his front yard and screamed, "Oh my god, a crashed flying saucer!"

What made the saucer for most people is that they were greeted by an alien family when they got to the porch...

...even if our kid consumed mass quantities of candy before he handed any out.

We had one hell of a bout of bad weather this Halloween.  This thundershower hit a couple days after the party, but thankfully didn't do any damage, even to the electronics.  

The canopy's light was protected by the plastic bubble and the fact that it was at the top of the "hill," so to speak, so the water ran away from it.  The rope lights have waterproof connectors, so they were safe as well.  Everything is plugged into a GFCI outlet besides.

Worse than the rain were the windstorms that followed for the remainder of the time we had the saucer up.  The winds were strong enough to repeatedly pry loose the sheet metal (even pieces with multiple staples) and even knocked the canopy off-center, which you can see in some of these pics.

There were additional ideas I never got around to like using fluorescent paint with a black light, el wire, strobe lights either inside or out, and/or using a light controller, either an X10 system running scripts or a Light-o-rama (which is on my wish list still, but I haven't had a project yet where it's essential enough for me to take the plunge).

The plan with the controller(s) was to have the blue fade in and out like an engine pulsing.  Lights are great, but when you have fade effects cycling through, that really brings something to life.  It doesn't seem static like a prop or part of the environment.

Here's a close-up of the Area 52.5 sign during the day...

...and at night.  It looks purple because because of the red spotlight on it combined with the blue from the rope lights.


Another shot.  Notice how the dome is a different color in just about every shot.  Ideally I would have liked to have gotten three different lights in here and out of synch with one another so that the colors would seem to swirl.  We didn't order any additional bulbs in time to do that though.

Pretty, pretty good.

A false start: Version 0.1

The first attempt had FAIL written all over it.  My goal was to make it as large as I could while keeping the weight to a minimum.

I simply covered this cross with vertical struts and then added screws across it all.  Then I tied galvanized wire around the whole thing...

... and covered it with chicken wire as a shell.

One plan we immediately abandoned was to then use fiberglass to create a shell, which is what the blankets were for.  Obviously we couldn't even get the chickenwire taut enough to form even the beginnings of a recognizably saucer-like shape, never mind the advanced fiberglass effects.

Our fall-back position was to try to cover over the mess with sheet metal, but even that was a bit too lumpy to be practical.  The size alone was too great, hence the ladder acting as makeshift scaffolding from which to work from above.

You can see the recently-completed Area 52.5 sign behind Dani as she cuts the sheet metal.  By the way, if your partner can't or won't cut sheet metal when you want to make a flying saucer, then get rid of him/her.

We eventually came to the realization that the key was a more substantial frame, and so I abandoned this amorphous blob and started from scratch.

Fun fact: The orange thing in the background?  It's an electric lawn mower.  I love it!  (In full disclosure, I'm from the future.)


Here's the beginnings of it.  I used the kiddie pool to collect the screws tossed as I pulled them out of Version 0.1.  Actually, we looked for a pool of similar-but-larger construction as the basis for our saucer but never found anything approaching this diameter.

You can't tell this looking at the picture, but I spent a lot of time on the math before we constructed it.  I knew the diameter of the frame* was going to be 12', so then I treated it as a circle with transections and chords that formed an octagon.  For the third dimension, I just did some trig based on the height of the center support and the length of the spokes.

*It's actually a little larger than that.  I designed it with the intention of having the sheet metal overlap the edges enough to hide the rope lights along the sides, although sometimes the final version fell short of that, especially as viewed from the side.  I wanted you to see the glow without noticing the lights themselves.

Stan was a big help, of course.  This was during a phase where he always carried a broom around.

As you can see, we constructed the saucer in two halves in order to move it more easily, but also because that large an object makes it hard to reach the center otherwise.

We left off the last couple panels that were closest to the ground in this orientation.  I didn't want them getting bent up.  Once we got both halves of the saucer to this stage, we moved them into the alleyway.   A big worry while we were designing this thing was how we were going to get it out of the back yard.  Weight alone was an issue, but then there was also the fact that the back yard gate is only three feet wide.  This fit perfectly.

You can see I'm a bit worn out here.  Obviously most other decorations had been set out already (e.g., the graveyard behind us).  This was literally the night before our Halloween party.  We'd been working on this version of the saucer between decorating the inside of the house and the costumes for about four days.  By the end of the night, we were too tired to drag it out front and set it up, although I really wanted to have it just appear in the middle of the night.  Honestly, we would have needed more light, plus there was additional stapling, etc. to be done once the halves were connected.

The day of the party, we had a neighbor who is on the historical commission come over saying she had three calls in about thirty minutes asking what we were building in the front yard.  We had barely been out there for more than that long at that point.  Oh, and just as she walked up, we happened to be carrying a coffin down my alleyway for the back yard graveyard, just to make things interesting.  True story.

The Lights

The central light was a 3W color-changing LED.  You can get these through eBay from Hong Kong for around $15 each, although that price has already started to fall just in the year since we built this.

The first attempt here was to simply tape it in place, but it sat too high and so shone directly on the saucer's "bubble."  All you could see was a small circle of light.

The bubble was a light fixture I picked up at a surplus sale at my neighborhood hardware store.  I only used the cover.  The base was designed for two circline fluorescent bulbs.

As you can see in other pictures, we also added a collar at the bottom that Dani and I cut out of sheet metal (because we certainly had quite a bit of it on hand) and painted black, then just used duct tape to tack it all together and hold it in place.  It also provided a nice contrast between the cap and the rest of the saucer.

The revised version of the light installation was to rout a socket for the LED to rest inside of.

I didn't take any pictures of this, but we filled the top with faux spider web as additional diffuser.  I don't know that the stuff had fiber optic properties, but it did spread the light farther throughout the top.

Ideally I would have liked to have had three of these in here, but it takes so long to get them shipped here (or I could pay $60 locally for each additional light) that I missed my window.

The first test of the rope lights... or anti-gravity field, as I call it.  This is three 12' lengths of LED rope light.  I know photos can sometimes come out great if you get the exposure just right, but it really did look this cool in real life.  Leiann and I were working on the saucer this particular night, and when I plugged it in for the first time we both went "Whoa!"

The Debris

Here's a trick I've used a couple times before on the skeleton in the grave yard: Put down logs (or anything else solid) as filler before adding dirt.  This keeps it from completely packing down or washing away if it rains (which it will, of course).

The bags are just top soil.  They're usually not much more than a dollar a piece.

The resulting pile.

As you can see from this shot as we were dismantling the saucer, one edge was made shorter to appear as though more of the saucer was lodged in the ground.  I actually had people believing that the yard was dug up for this project when in reality we never lifted a shovel.

Another close-up from the saucer's final day before being moved to a secret government lab.  This is what the dirt pile looked like even after the torrential rainstorm.  I never got around to adding more dirt, and it really wasn't that big a deal at night.

Dismantling the Saucer

The whole neighborhood was disappointed when I dismantled the saucer, even though this was four days after Halloween!  Everyone was like "Awww" and "You should keep it as yard art."  The other big question was, "So what are you going to do next year?"  Geez.  I'm never going to be able to top this, and they're already pouring the expectations on.

Update: What did we do the next year?  We moved.

This shot gives you a better look at the narrow band of sheet metal I wrapped around the circumference.  This was to reflect the rope lights.  I also used the screws that held the metal in place as anchors for the galvanized wire to attach the rope lights.

Here's the completely-stripped skeleton of the saucer.  I had also separated the two halves by this point.

Back when I was joining the halves, I used a bench vice as a wood clamp and just moved it from one spot to the next until I had enough screws in it to hold it in place.

The Inspiration
This is the image that inspired it.  Dani found this on the web probably two or three years ago, and we started considering the idea even though our design was different (mostly in bad ways).  Turns out this one was by a guy named Stan Munro in NY.

We liked Stan's idea so much, we named our first-born after him.  Actually, no, he's named after Stan Lee, but it's a cool name regardless.

I would have liked to have gotten a bubble canopy like Stan's, but I never could find anything commercially available.

There are a couple articles about Stan's saucer here and here.

Here's another picture (featuring Stan himself as a Man in Black) from one of those links.  I never saw this one until I started putting this page together, so I didn't realize he had used rope lights too.  Neat!  Great minds do think alike!

I had always thought Stan's saucer was larger than ours due to the perspective in the photo above, but this one gives you a frame of reference.  Then again, maybe he's actually twelve feet tall.

More of Stan's work here.  Not Halloween-related, but genius:

Copyright 2010 Alexplorer.  Some pictures by Cori, Katie, and Marcie.