As always, the goal is to create a project that is highly realistic in a reasonable amount of time within a limited budget. My hope is that the results are reminiscent of a mini Universal Studios theme park attraction. I also want it to be durable, reusable, portable, able to set up by one person, and to take up a small amount of storage space. Since I have limited carpentry skills and only own basic tools, it shows that anyone can tackle this kind of build with a few weeks of spare time. Let me know if you have any questions.
Step 1: Features
It's a giant leap forward compared to my static original display and it was really gratifying to do the overhaul to finally realize it's full potential.
Step 2: Research
Of course, the price tag for one of their beauties (as shown in the video below) is a whopping $32,000. So it's nice knowing that I was able to come up with something similar and really cool for under a grand.
Step 3: Hull
In starting the construction, remove and discard the small top fabric vent. Open the umbrella to it's maximum and use a steel pin to keep it in position. Cut off the main mast with a jigsaw, then paint the outside material with silver spray paint. It took about 20 cans of Rust-olem Aluminum 7515. Be sure to use a back-and-forth motion while painting to simulate a metal look.
The key component to couple/join the two halves together was old piece of shop vac tube cut to size, which turned out to be the perfect diameter, thickness and strength. To assemble, I simply guided the top half into the collar and gravity held it in place.
The nice thing about making the props out of umbrellas is that they are inherently waterproof. I've left the finished ships outside for more than a week exposed to heavy downpours with no problems.
Step 4: Cockpit
For the main ship, we decided on a white acrylic dome 1/8" thick x 30" dia x 15" high plus 1/8 flange for $91. The cockpit for the second ship was a 3/16" thick (which I liked much better that the 1/8" thickness on the larger dome) x 20" dia x 10" high plus a 1/2" hole drilled in top center for $47. So after a total of $138, the real kicker was that it cost an additional $157 to ship, for a grand total of just under $300. They arrived in a heavy duty package (which doubles as a case for transport and storage) and were wrapped in protective tape to guard against scratching. Overall, they were worth every penny.
The interior of the domes were lit with the aptly named UFO Tent Light which cost $10 each. Since it was battery operated, it worked great on the smaller flying saucer, but I will probably use a larger single plug in bulb fixture next time for the mothership's cockpit because the dome was so large and it created a brighter hot spot on the top.
Step 5: Nav Lights
I cut away everything but the tubular part of the edging, test fitted it around the dome, drilled holes for the bulbs and taped them into place. This upgraded addition really polished off the ships.
Step 6: Landing Struts
An L-bracket was test fitted onto the umbrella frame. Then I draped the cover over the frame and bolted the brackets on (through small holes) to serve as an attachment point to secure the landing struts into place. Some plastic tubes from a broken kiddie soccer net (like thin pvc pipes) were used to give the tops of the legs a more substantial look, but it was just cosmetic. All of the structural support was provided by the bannister legs with no problems.
Step 7: Decent Engines
The engine housing is made up of 16 empty spray painted two liter bottles. Each pair is slightly wedged (and are held in place by pressing against each other) along the rim of the bottom eight openings. It's one of my favorite parts of the ship because it's a great looking feature and it didn't cost anything.
Regarding the fog machine, a higher end model with a timer is preferable because it will generate the engine blasts automatically. Be sure to leave a few inches between the nozzle of the fogger and the opening of the tube running up through the ship. A slight air gap is needed to produce the fog.
Step 8: Aliens
First, I cut out and painted a wooden base black. After arranging the aliens in a random grouping, I marked their location, drilled holes through their feet and screwed them onto the base. I did the same thing with the three aliens on the ramp (which is an aluminum gutter).
I strategically cut a hole into the umbrella cover and bordered it with painted duct tape to create a open hatch. The top of the gutter was screwed into the frame of the umbrella and a green spot light was aimed down the ramp. The backlit effect looks really cool.
Step 9: Laser Weapons
I screwed a black aluminum pole to the umbrella framework, cut a portal out of the fabric cover and mounted the laser along with a small computer speaker (running the laser sound effects from the main speakers) next to the laser's audio input. It really provides that professional ingredient to the entire display.
Step 10: Cloaking Device
Step 11: Strange Lights in the Sky
The next thing needed is some quality rope which is lightweight but strong enough to suspend the saucer. I recommend 3/16" black polyester rope (a 500 foot spool on eBay costs about $50). Before joining the two umbrellas together, tie off some of the rope to the bottom half and feed it through the mast to the top half. The ship is hung from the bottom, and the upper portion just sits on top with a center coupling.
The smaller umbrellas that I purchased happened to come with grommet holes at the edges of their covers. Instead of duct taping the gap like the first UFO, I "stitched" them together with rope. The completed flying saucer is shown in the last photo with a painted children's umbrella covering the bottom hole.
Step 12: Flying Mechanism
My original plan was to have the motor run continuously up and down with the use of some magnetic switches. However, I discovered (to my dismay) that all garage door openers have a thermal sensor inside which easily overheats and switches off after a few cycles. My solution was to use a lighting controller which I had previously purchased online from Monster Guts. The ST-2401 Stereo Lightning Controller (made by iZombie Productions) is a unit which provides power to two separate devices based on two independent audio input signals. It is mainly used to simulate thunder and lightning effects.
I edited a simple Garage Band audio file on my Mac (see screen shot) and assigned one tone (on the left channel) to turn the garage door power source on and off while the other tone (panned to the right) signaled a relay to start the motor running (in essence, it hit the switch). Once the garage door trolley got to the "lowest" position, a screen blocked the infrared safety sensors (which came with the unit) and caused the mechanism to go back "up". Since the controller turns the garage door unit's power off and back on, it resets and becomes ready for another cycle.
This turned out to be a happy accident because the delay in the cycles makes it a really neat event when the ship finally starts to move. (instead of constantly yo yo-ing up and down). The delay is about two minutes between cycles (which kept the motor cool). And since it is an audio controller at heart, it was relatively easy to sync it with sound effects of a descending and ascending ship.
Although I was pressed for time, the entire mechanism turned out to be very reliable and worth the extra money. With 20lbs of counterweight, it was a piece of cake for the garage door opener to move the ship. I really like the fact that this configuration doesn't require any programing or soldering. If you are planning your own build, I'd be happy to save you some time and send you the audio files. Just contact me through instructables and I'll email you an mp3 of the audio tones to control the ST-2401 along with the custom sound effects of the lowering/raising spacecraft to run in sync on your iPod.
Of course, a completely different option would be to use an Arduino as the controller. And to save more money, you could do a few simple modifications to the garage door opener that you probably already have at home. Just bypass the wall button, disconnect the door from the trolley, prop it up with some blocks to make a small opening and run your line underneath with a few more pulleys. You can even use your car's remote to manually activate it. (Kids, be sure to ask your parents before dismantling your house.)
I'm unaware of any other Halloween props that use a garage door opener as the controlling motor, so send me a link if you've seen it done before.
Step 13: Runway Landing Lights
The main materials were 24 used battery operated tap lights, 12 strands of LED Christmas lights, 6 furring channels ten feet in length (available at Home Depot for $6.63 each) and a T4 four channel light chaser made by American DJ (less than $60).
First, gut the tap lights and remove the bulb, battery box and tapping mechanism. Glue the white domes into place. Use your handy dandy Dremel tool (an essential tool for this entire project) to cut evenly spaced openings in the furring channels along with larger holes in the tap light bases. Dremel off the ends of the LED Christmas bulbs (so they become frosted/muted) and tape them together in groups of four (for extra brightness) in intervals that will reach with the openings in the channels.
Connect three channels together end-to-end with hinges to create 2 thirty foot runs (which can fold up to ten feet for storage). Screw the tap light bases onto the channels and feed the Christmas lights within the channels so the bulbs come up through the bases. Lay them out according to the chart. (You'll have to string together two sets of lights for the third and fourth runs.) Enclose the bottom of the channels with duct tape, then spray paint a flat black color (while covering the bulbs). Place the domes back on the bases, plug each run into the T4 chase controller, set the desired speed and you're good to go...runway lights with no computer programing knowledge necessary.
(In case you were wondering, yes that is a lawn on my roof, but we'll save that for another instructable another day.)
Step 14: Area 51
The ambient green uplighting on the side walls of the garage was made by using economy par 38 dj light cans ($25 each). I cut out a piece of wood for the base, painted it black and drilled a hole in the center to countersink the bolt so it would sit flush on the floor. Then I screwed on the light fixture and added a green gel to create inexpensive mood lighting.
Step 15: Just Add Friends, Music and a Few Cocktails...
After the festivities and when it's time to tear down, the fact that all of the main props are able to fit into the back of my SUV is an added bonus. Overall, it was a huge success and I look forward to trying to top it next year.
Step 16: Join the Club
If this project inspires you to build your own UFO display out of patio umbrellas, please post your photos on this site so it can be included in this instructable.
The first photo is an amazing build by Kimberley Munzo of Florida (instructables member 2010Area51) complete with homemade Roswell Aliens. The second photo shows a cool display by Rob Arrington (also of Florida) who added to the concept with led rope lighting around the edge of the craft along with some some retro landing gear.
Thanks for sharing, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.