View Full Version : [Contest Entry] Balloonimatronics

01-07-2008, 12:04 AM
I'm a little beyond the proper season for submission of this project, but things got busy and I hadn't gotten around to it. Balloon Manor, the silly, creepy, funny, weird, slightly haunted castle made of balloons, is a community art project I have done the last few Halloweens. It's a family friendly, fully operational haunted house. What makes it unique is that everything from the walls to the creatures within are made of balloons. This 10 room, 100,000 balloon art piece takes a week to build with a crew of 60 artists and 200 community volunteers. In the first year, 2004, the manor was basically a static display. Live actors inside the manor told the story, but the only movement came from the actors and the visitors passing through. In 2006 we added some mechanical movement. The project focus is on the balloons, so very minimal framing was used to make the movement possible. The most elaborate animated piece we had was a scary-go-round with galloping monsters moving in the usual carousel fashion. Everything on it, other than the motor, was home made from the ground up.

Before getting to the actual part that led us to Trossen Robotics, it probably helps to give the reader a good sampling of what the manor is about with the following 2.5 minute video that aired on PBS's Assignment: The World.


Here's a clear view of the scary-go-round:


All movement on the carousel is controlled by a single DC motor. Of the 8 monsters on the ride, 4 of them have the up and down (galloping) motion typically found on a carousel. Looking at the bare framework, you can see the 4 non-galloping monsters riding on vertically mounted wheels while the up and down motion of the galloping ones is due to the horizontally mounted wheels riding along an elliptical path.


In 2007 we took the next big step and added quite a bit of animation. One room of the manor was filled with animated characters in a western-style saloon/shooting gallery, seen here:


Each movement was made by a small servo controlled by home brew servo controllers. Sequences of movements were programmed and set to run continuously throughout the day. We went with our own controllers to keep costs down while allowing the controllers to be easily embedded within the sculptures.

A model of a hot air balloon rose and landed every few minutes, guided by a stepper motor, carefully programmed to mimic the movement of a real hot air balloon. (The balloon was created for our sponsor.)


Every room of the manor had a custom soundscape that accompanied the artwork of the room. The sound for the room was triggered by the tour guides as they entered and led the guests through. Floor mat switches were used to trigger digital audio repeaters. These switches were a huge help. We needed something that could be triggered by any tour guide, and our guides ranged from light weight kids up through 300 pound power wheelchairs with riders.

The whole project can be found at Balloon Manor. (http://www.balloonmanor.com/) There is also a QTVR virtual tour (http://balloonmanor.com/bm_2006/) of the entire manor.

Credits - I created the concept of the manor and am the artistic director. The animation was my idea and I did some of the initial experimenting and brainstorming. But, once we got going, Brian Asman was tasked with designing and building all of the animated monsters and motion in the shooting gallery (not to mention the gallery itself). Maarten Hofman designed the servo controllers used and taught Brian what was needed to build and program all of the controllers. Rich Hughson designed and built the framework for the carousel. Mark Balzer designed and programmed the movement of the hot air balloon. Many artists, actors, and others made the entire manor the spectacular creation that it was.

01-07-2008, 02:46 PM
This has got to be one of the most artistic projects I have ever seen! I have you entered in our contest Larry, thanks:)

01-16-2008, 04:21 PM
Hey, I remember talking to you when you were preparing for this. Glad to see it all came together. My brother lives in Rochester, and I tried to get him to take his daughter to see the Manor, but he was afraid it would freak her out (she was only 10 months old at the time). Maybe next year. Anyhow, excellent job!

01-17-2008, 05:59 AM
Thanks. I don't think anything in there would have freaked out your niece. My daughter was a year and a half when we built the first one, and we've had plenty of small children go through. The biggest problem for a young child (or anyone) was the long line to get in. We're working on fixing that for next Halloween. We can't really get people through faster. We started a tour every 4 minutes. But we can, and will, do a better job entertaining the people waiting. My goal is to make the wait a part of the experience of the manor. Then everyone, including young kids, will have a good time the whole time they're there.