Bringing Props to Life
IIf you add motion, sound, and light, you can
really bring things to
life in unexpected ways. Props rarely stand alone; they're
part of a scene, so adding effects to a particular prop can add a level
of realism to the whole piece, not just the prop.
This is the easiest category to access, and the one with the most
options. It doesn't take any engineering or electronics skills to
pull off a really decent effects, although you can push boundaries with
a bit more knowledge and imagination in those areas.
Types of lights
This is just a brief and incomplete listing to get you started. A
more exhaustive discussion of types of lights can be found here.
- These add an intensity you can't get out of most else,
especially when combined with fluorescent paint or other
materials. See my primer on the
- Higher-wattage and unidirectional so that they light up a
whole scene. You can get colored ones too, of course.
- Shade things create atmosphere. They're
usually lower wattage, but that allows you to use different colors
without significant overlap.
- Fake flames for use in lampposts or imitation candles.
- Seizure, anyone?
- Miniature LEDs are relatively easy to solder to make spooky
eyes inside of props. They help make things stand out against the
Placement of lights
Where the lights are set up relative to what they illuminate is an
important factor in the effect produced.
- Create weird shadows, something like under-lighting your face
with a flashlight around a campfire.
- Feature a prop in silhouette by placing it between, say, a
window and the light source, whatever that may be (I prefer strobes).
- If you have anything hollow such as an old tv set, Jack o'lantern, etc.
There are several ways to bring lights to life.
- Good for making it look like a power outage or an
electrocution on death row. Very novel effect. More about
- Allows you to make something be both static and
animated. We used some inside our haunted tvs and crashed
- A circuit that allows you to synchronize lights and
sounds (whether music or otherwise). More about them here.
- You've seen them used for xmas lights, but they are
capable of much more and much greater subtlety than the animated shows
they are generally used in. They can be synchronized to music,
but also allow plenty of general effects such as slow fades or blinking
effects, depending on what you're looking for
You can make props move through several different approaches.
- Granted you need high torque for most
applications. I've seen drill motors used before, but the device
of choice is a car windshield wiper motor. Motor controls are
available to set the speed and direction. The best-known
application of these is to power crank ghosts. I have also seen
people make use of an electric drill to run several props. And an
electric winch is probably the most powerful motor low-speed you can
find. Check Harbor Freight. They also have high-speed
- Great for surprising guests by having a monster leap up at
them. You need a compressor and a solenoid to trigger the valve,
but custom mechanisms can be made from PVC. Plenty of tutorials
about these on the web.
- These can be added to the assembly to trigger an
effect, such as having a monster unexpectedly come to life as guests
walk by it.
- There are a number of these on the market.
They vary in capabilities, depending on your budget. Computerized
controllers are programmable, so you can have an animated routine if
- Just getting air to move over something light-weight will
bring it to life. Hair (wigs), plastic bags, inflatables, cloth,
etc. all flow nicely with a bit of wind. You can try this
strategy in something like an indoor window decoration so that the fan
cannot be heard. Power it with anything from a box fan to an
inflatable blower (check eBay; high-power blowers can be found for less
Finally, you need something to occupy the ears while there's so much
eye candy around. But use sounds sparingly. Too much going
on tends to be overwhelming, and the effect is lost.
- If you pair the right soundtrack or theme song with a prop,
then you draw upon existing ideas established during earlier listenings
(e.g., watching the movie your prop is based on). The right
soundtrack can also create suspense or whatever other mood you're
- This is almost like an ambient soundtrack
instead of a musical one. You can use industrial noises to create
a rusty old factory for your barrels of toxic waste, or have the wind
blowing through a crumbling castle in which your coffin resides.
- As with the motion sensors suggested above, you
can have sounds go with an animated prop (e.g., a growl to go with the
- There are several approaches, such as a light
organ (as mentioned above), a device that triggers lights (or other
things) when sounds are
played. For example, a sound effect of thunder triggers a
simultaneous and proportionate bolt of simulated lightning.