Introduction: Magic Mirror Stage Prop
"Magic" mirrors -- that is, mirrors that show or morph into something other than your own reflection -- are a classic effect in movies and haunted houses. But unfortunately, there are very few resources on the internet to show how to build magic mirrors that can be used as a stage prop in a live performance. For a PTSD-themed indoor drumline show, we wanted to make stage props that appeared to be mirrors but when the actor looked into them, he saw his reflection change into flashbacks from his war experiences. This needed to be pulled off live, in a gymnasium, during a 5 minute show where the mirrors are being moved around on the floor by the performers. We had a feeling that it would be possible to do, but when we consulted the Google, there was absolutely nothing anywhere on the internet to explain how we might go about this.
We tested a variety of potential mirror materials using an improvised prototype (a cheez-it box with a flashlight inside!), and ultimately settled on one that appeared to work. Over several weeks, the cheez-it box gave way to a larger full size prototype and then finally to the real thing. Along the way, we had several failed attempts and I'm writing this instructable in the hope of sparing you from the same trial and error process we went through.
Ultimately we were able to create 6 magic mirrors, each one showing a different war image. We accomplished this by building a basic frame out of 2x4s and plywood, getting banners with war images printed and mounted as a backing, building a face frame and basically making a "mirror" insert out of one-way-mirror security window film and mounting this on the front of the mirror, and then adding LED strip lights to the inside to illuminate the inside of the prop. Because the props had to be mobile (they got moved around the stage as part of the show), we used 12 volt batteries to power the lights. At first we designed the lights to be turned on via a switch on the back of each prop because we had performers behind each one to move them. However, we later decided to also add remote capability to 3 of them so we could "flash" them at a point in the show when there was no one behind them to flick the switches.
Note that our mirrors work by putting a picture/image inside the mirror, behind a piece of one-way mirror/window film. When the room light is bright, you only see the reflective mirror film. But when you use lights to light up the inside of the mirror to the point where it is brighter than the ambient room light, you can see through the mirror film to the image that is behind it. Thus, for these mirrors to work to work well, you need to light up the inside of the mirror brighter than the ambient room light where the mirror is located. This is key -- if you are using these mirrors in a darkened theater, you will not have any issues, but if you are trying to use them outside on a sunny day, it will be nearly impossible to get them bright enough for the "magic" effect to be visible.
Because we are a high school band program, our budget was pretty limited. We tried to save money where we could by using scrap/donated wood or random hardware that we already had, so for some of the steps, I can't link you to exactly what we used. Also, we had parents do some of the work (especially the wiring) so I can't give you specific directions for that. If you need more info, comment and I will try to track down the parents who can answer your questions.
This is my first instructable and I am only writing it because having directions like this would have saved us so much work and several failed prototypes. I wasn't planning to write instructions from the outset, so unfortunately I don't have many pictures of the mirrors during the actual build process and I don't have detailed dimensions or plans. But hopefully my instructions as well as photos of the finished product will be detailed enough for you to get the idea. Enjoy!
Step 1: Building the Frame
The basic structure of the mirrors consists of a wood rectangle made out of 2x4s attached to a plywood base. Because of the size of most of the venues where we'd be performing and the distance between the floor and the audience, we decided to make them about 8' high x 4' wide - this would be large enough to be easily visible to the audience and we figured this would be easiest as we could use stock lumber dimensions.
When I went to Lowes I accidentally ended up buying 2x4s that were like 93" long instead of the full 96". This actually worked out better because when we used 4' wide plywood bases, there was room on either side to add a plywood gusset for stability. So I would recommend looking for those shorter 2x4s or just cutting the ones you have so the final width of the frame is about 46" instead of 48".
From the photo hopefully you can see that each mirror frame started with a rectangle made from 3 2x4s. We used 2 full length (93") 2x4s for the sides and cut one 2x4 in half and used those pieces for the top and bottom. We placed the shorter pieces (top and bottom) on the top and bottom of the longer ones and screwed down from the top and up from the bottom. This left us with a rectangle that was ~ 8'tall x 46" wide.
Then we built bases out of 3/4 plywood. We used mostly scrap wood that band parents had laying around and so our bases ended up being 17" x 48" because that's how big our scrap pieces were. If we were cutting it from scratch, I probably would have gone with 18" for no other reason than it is a nice round number. It pays to use good plywood here - one of the bases was made out of much lower-grade plywood and by the end of the season, it had warped pretty badly while the others were holding up nicely.
In each corner of the base, we added wheels. We used random wheels that we found in a bucket in the band room, so I'm not sure of the exact size and can't provide a link to the exact wheels we used, but I am attaching a photo - I think they are 2" rubber wheels and you can probably find them at Harbor Freight. We drilled completely through the plywood and used bolts, nuts, and washers to attach the wheels because we figured there would be a lot of stress and weight on the wheels and we didn't trust screws that only went partway into the plywood. We put the finished end of the bolts on top - see the photo.
To attach the bases to 2x4 rectangle, we measured down the center of the base, drew a line, laid the rectangle down on something that was about as high as we needed to reach the center of the base, and screwed up through the base from the bottom into the 2x4 frame. We put in screws every couple inches (probably overkill really) because the height of the rectangle meant that there would be a lot of top-heavy-ness and we wanted to make sure the rectangle didn't tip.
For further stability, we also cut triangular shaped 3/4" plywood gussets and attached them to both the base and the sides of the rectangle frame (see the photo). This was designed to keep the rectangle from its natural tendency to tip forward and backward on the base. Again, we used scrap wood for these gussets so I don't have exact measurements or a template, but if you look at the photo you should get an idea of about how high and wide they are relative to everything else.
Once everything was screwed together, we painted almost everything with black paint. We did paint the inside of the 2x4 frames white in order to allow for maximum brightness and reflectivity when the LED lights were installed -- you will read more about that later.
Step 2: Building the Face Frame
The next step was to build face frames for the front of the mirrors. These frames serve as something to which we can attach the mirror film and they also served to hide the LED light strips that were going inside the mirrors.
We made the face frame out of 1x3 and 1x6 "whitewood" boards from Lowes - whitewood is cheap but not the greatest quality, so you will probably need to pick through all the boards in the store in order to find nice straight ones without a ton of knotholes or other defects. Because the mirrors were already very tall and skinny, we opted to put 1x6 boards at the top and bottom of the face frame and 1x3 boards along the sides -- our audience sits up high and looks down into the props so we needed something high enough on the bottom to hide the lights, but we didn't want to close in the sides even more by using 1x6 on the sides.
We cut the boards so they'd make a frame the size of the 2x4 rectangle, laid them on the floor in the rectangular shape, and then attached them together with wood glue and pocket screws (using a Kreg jig) - you can see this in the attached photo. If we had not had access to the Kreg jig, we could have used mending plates and wood glue to attach the face frame together, but we were lucky enough to have a woodworking band parent who had access to pocket screws. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you can probably look up tutorials on making a face frame.
Anyway, when we were done, we had basically what looked like an open picture frame that could be screwed on to the front of the 2x4 rectangle. Again, we painted the front and sides of this open picture frame black and the back white, in order to maximize reflectivity on the inside of the mirror. Once the face frames were complete and painted, we set them aside until we were ready to install the mirror film.
Step 3: Installing the Banners and Backing
At this point in the build process, the next several steps can all be done more or less simultaneously. We actually had about 15 band parents/kids and spread out over two rooms at the school -- in one room, we had a crew of people installing lights and making wiring harnesses and in the other room we had people putting the banners, backing, and handles on and attaching mirror film to the face frames, then attaching the face frames to the actual mirror structure. We rotated the 6 props from one room to the other, which is why in the photos you'll see some props have lights on them before the backing is installed while on others the backing was installed before the lights. It really doesn't matter what order you do them in.
FYI if you are looking for a time estimate - it took our crew of ~15 people about 6-7 hours over 2 days to complete the rest of the steps for 6 mirrors (not including the remotes, which came later).
The next step was to attach a backing onto the back of the mirror. The backing would serve to hold the banners - the photos that we wanted to display inside the mirrors.
Because we wanted a smooth and yet inexpensive backing, we went with 4x8 hardboard sheets ("47.75-in x 7.98-ft Smooth Brown Hardboard Wall Panel") from Lowes. https://www.lowes.com/pd/47-75-in-x-7-98-ft-Smooth...
These worked well, although they were surprisingly heavy. Because our 2x4 rectangle wasn't exactly 4x8, we had to have the boards trimmed down to size - we asked Lowes to do this for us with their panel saw when we bought the boards.
We also had to order banners (the images we wanted to display in the mirror). While a paper poster would have worked fine, we shopped around and found that surprisingly, vinyl banners seemed cheaper than anything we could get printed on paper. We ordered 8x4 banners (for banners, to get the tall skinny orientation, you need to order them as 8x4 not 4x8) from a site called BuildASign.com (https://www.buildasign.com/) -- they offered the cheapest prices we could find and always seemed to be running a promo for additional discounts and free shipping. They have a "sign designer" on their website that let us upload photos and crop them to fit on the banners. Because the banners were getting printed in a very large size, we did have to be careful about the resolution of the photos we chose -- it took a long time to find photos that could be cropped to the tall skinny dimensions we needed and still had high enough resolution to look good. Once you've made your banners and put them in your cart, you can call buildasign's customer service and they will tell you if your photo resolution is good enough. I will say that they told us that one of the photos was borderline and may not look great, but because the audience was at a distance, we used it anyway, and it looked fine. So their standards must be very high! We did pay the upgrade fee (about $15 each) for the premium vinyl because we figured the detail in the photographs would show up better on the smoother premium vinyl vs. the textured standard vinyl (which has a tarp-like texture). We did not get any grommets or hanging loops on the banner since we were going to mount them inside the mirrors.
For the war-scene photos, we used sites that offered free public domain photos like the National Archives. We downloaded them in the highest resolution we could get and used the sign designer on buildasign.com to test out cropping and layout. We went through probably 40-50 photos before we found 6 that we felt worked well from both a resolution, crop-ability, and storyline standpoint.
After all was said and done, we were able to get 6 4'x8' banners from buildasaign.com for about $425 or about $70 each. We probably could have used the standard quality vinyl and saved some additional money.
Once the banners arrived (all rolled up in a mailing tube), we laid each one out on top of one of the hardboard backing boards from Lowes - the banners, actually being 4x8, were a little bit larger than the backer boards and mirror frames, but we did not worry about that right away - we planned to trim the excess off later. We used a little bit of double sided tape to hold the banner to the backer board at the top and bottom (not too much double sided tape and only on the edges because the tape kind of pulled on the banner and made it wrinkle oddly where the tape was. We then placed the backing and banner on a table, laid the mirror frame on top of it and screwed it in up from the bottom (see photo). This allowed us to pull the banner tight and smooth out any wrinkles as we attached it. We used big pan-head type screws with large washers in order to make sure we had good support for the backing board. We screwed right through the backing and banners around all 4 sides which helped to keep it in place. Then we used a utility knife to trim off the excess banner material that was sticking out past the frame. At this point, the props looked like rolling pictures - they were basically photos inside a 2x4 frame on wheels.
Step 4: Adding Handles and Additional Wheels
At some point, we realized that we needed a way to make the props easier to handle. With the smooth backing installed, our performers had nothing to grip to as they moved the props around during the show. In addition, because the props plus bases were over 8' high, we were having trouble getting through doorways and down hallways. As an indoor drumline, we needed to be able to move these props quickly through doorways, low hallways in various high schools, and quickly on and off the floor at our performance venues. They had to stand up to loading on and off the truck and finally, they had to be maneuverable by just one person, since we could only spare one student to be in charge of each prop.
We attached 2 handles at the top and 2 sets of handles on each side of the props. The ones on the side were for the performers to use to move the props around during the show and also to hold while tipping the props backwards, while the ones at the top were for steering the props once they were tipped. Because handles are stupid expensive if you buy them at Lowes and Home Depot (like over $5 each!) we ordered some cheaper handles in bulk from Amazon. We used these handles called "DayCount Pack of 20 Silver Tone Stainless Steel Pull Handles Grips Grab Handle Silver Utility Pull for Windows Doors (6-inch)" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07CTPDJNR/ref=p... in the 6" version to allow for room for a good grip. I will say that these cheap handles from Amazon were very lightweight and cheap feeling and after the first time in the truck, some of the handles got a little squashed, which opened up the seam in the back of the handle and exposed a sharp metal edge that ended up cutting one of our performer's hands open. So we ended up wrapping all the handles in black electrical tape to keep them together and protect our performers' hands from sharp edges. Still, considering that these were less than $1 each compared to >$5 for similar size handles at Lowes, I would use these again - just make sure you tape them!
In addition we found that the wheels on the bottom of the props were too small to touch the ground when the props were tipped. We ended up adding a piece of 2x4 with 2 additional wheels mounted vertically, so that they faced the back of the prop. This way, we could tip the props backwards onto those wheels, hold onto the handles at the top of the props, and push them down hallways like one would push a hand truck. We cut the 2x4 pieces to size, ripped off one side so it was totally flat for maximum contact between the 2 surfaces, mounted the wheels onto the 2x4 with screws, and then attached the 2x4 by screwing up through the bottom of each prop base. Again, we used a bunch of screws (overkill) to attach them because we figured there would be a lot of weight and stress on that joint.
We also screwed 2 small pieces of wood down into the base to hold the bottom of the backing board in place and keep it pushed up against the 2x4 frame. This was only because on some props we installed the additional wheels before putting the backing on, and that made it hard to screw the washer into the backing at the bottom (because the wheel mount 2x4 was in the way). You can see those in the photo. We never bothered to paint them since they were in the back and no one could see them. If you wait until after the backing is installed before you put the additional wheels on the back, you wouldn't need these.
See the photos for how we moved the props - put your foot on the top of the vertical 2x4 that holds the back wheels, press down and pull back on the lowest handles, reach up for the higher side handles, and finally grab the top handles. At this point (no photo, sorry), lower the top handles to about waist height and just push the props like a hand truck.
Step 5: Installing the Lights
The principle behind the magic mirror is that when the inside of the mirror (where the photo banner is) is brighter than the ambient room light, you see the photo. When the room light is brighter, you see the mirror film. So the main thing needed to make the mirror work was extremely bright lighting inside the mirror.
We accomplished this by using LED strip lights. We ordered 3 of the brightest sets we could find on Amazon for each prop (or a total of 18 sets for 6 mirrors).
These were the lights we used: "Ustellar Dimmable 600 LED Light Strip Kit with Power Supply, SMD 2835 LEDs, Super Bright 16.4ft/5m 12V LED Ribbon, Non-Waterproof, 6000K Daylight White Under Cabinet Lighting Strips, LED Tape" (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074N4YVDK/ref=p...)
Each strip was about 16.4 feet long which was not long enough to go all the way around the mirror. So we cut one strip in half and attached each half to the end of the other strips -- this gave us 2 strips that were about 24 feet long. (The light strips come with instructions on how to cut the strips and attach them together.) We then attached these strips to the inside perimeter of the 2x4 mirror frame, towards the front (away from the banner and backing).
Starting at the bottom corner, we wrapped one strip across the bottom, up the side, across the top and down the other side. Then we did the same for the other strip, starting in the opposite corner and wrapping it the other way, laying the strip right next to the first strip. This gave us 2 full rows around the perimeter of the 2x4 frame. We attached the strips using the adhesive sticker backing on the strips, but we also used the little clips that were included with the light strip kit. Ultimately, we ended up ordering extra clips because the adhesive backing did not stick well and the lights kept falling down so we installed a bunch of extra clips to keep them up. You can order extra clips here: "Ustellar 50PCS LED Light Strip Mounting Bracket Fixing Clip, One Side Fixing, with 50 Pieces Screws (Ideal for 8mm Wide Non-Waterproof LED Strip)" https://www.amazon.com/Ustellar-Mounting-Bracket-F...
We drilled a 1/2" hole in each bottom corner of the backing in order to thread the power connector for the light strips through. Be careful when drilling that you drill from the front (the banner side) through the back - if you drill from the back, you can pull and stretch the banner as the drill goes through. The black wire that you see in the 3rd picture is the power connector going through the mirror backing. In the last pictures, you can see the power connectors coming out at both bottom corners. The lights are now ready to be hooked up to the batteries.
Step 6: Wiring and Powering the Lights
LED light strips are 12V but the set we used was designed to connect to an AC adapter included with the set. Because we had to move the props all around the floor, we could not use a plug and regular AC Power. So we ordered 12V rechargeable batteries -- the kind people use in scooters, electric mowers, alarm systems etc. Any 12V 7A battery will do -- we ordered the ones shown in the photo above: "UPG 85945 Ub1270, Sealed Lead Acid Battery" https://www.amazon.com/85945-Ub1270-Sealed-Lead-Ba... though I'm pretty sure that when we ordered them, they came in a bulk pack of like 5 or 6.
We then had to make wiring harnesses that connected our light strips with the batteries and also included a switch so we could turn the lights on and off. We cut the connecting ends off the AC adapters and used them as the ends of our wiring harness - we liked that they easily and quickly connected to the ends of the light strips that were sticking out of the back of the mirror - this way, we could easily remove the wiring harnesses when transporting the mirrors. (We threw out the rest of the AC adapters as we did not need them.) We used extra wire to join those cut ends to a simple switch and then to pieces that could slide over the terminals on our battery. See the photos for details.
We first used crimp on connectors that attach to the battery, but they kept coming apart at the worst times (read: 5 minutes before a performance!) so we ended up ordering solder-on ones from Amazon and used solder and heat shrink tubing to attach them to the wire. This made a nice sturdy connection and we had no further trouble for the rest of the season.
I apologize for not being able to give your precise wiring directions - I am not an electrical expert and I did not make these, so I can't explain exactly how they were done. The harnesses consist of wires and the ends that we cut off the AC Adapters that connect to each end of the prop (each separate light strip inside), run up to an on/off switch, and then connected to the battery terminals. Flipping the switch controls the power feed to both light strips at the same time.
Once the harnesses were done, we attached the batteries to the back left corner of the props with velcro and also used velcro to hold the switch wiring in place against the back of the prop. (We stuck a piece of sticky back velcro to the backing board of the prop and used another piece (with the sticky back protector still on) to stick to that while sandwiching the wire in between (see photos). We placed the switches close to the handles so the performers could flip the switch while moving the props with the handles - each performer placed their own switch where it was comfortable for them and then we velcroed them in place. After every performance we removed the wiring and batteries from the props so they would not get damaged on the truck and so that the batteries could be recharged. To disconnect the wiring harnesses, all we needed to do was unplug each AC Adapter end from the power connectors coming through the backing from the light strips, slide the battery connectors off the battery terminals, and undo the velcro holding the wire and switch against the back of the prop.
Step 7: Attaching the Mirror Film and Face Frames
The final step was to attach the mirror film to the face frames that we built in step 2, and then attach the whole thing to the front of the prop.
For mirror film, we used 4mil one-way mirror security film (BDF S4MS15) from a company called BuyDecorativeFilm.com (https://www.buydecorativefilm.com/) We tested a bunch of different mirror film samples and found that the 4 mil 15 was the best. The 15 refers to the percentage of light it lets through - anything darker and you could not see the photos when the lights were on, anything lighter and you could see the photo even when the lights were off.
There is a thinner and less costly version that is not security film (BDF S15 Window Film) and we opted to try that at first, but it was very flimsy and kind of drooped and wrinkled on the frame. We did not feel that it would hold up through a season of being loaded on and off the trucks. If you are making props that are going to stay on a stage and not get hauled around, you might be able to get away with the thinner (and much cheaper) film. For our purposes, ideally we would have preferred something even thicker than the 4mil version but we could not find a 15-darkness film in a 6 or 8 mil thickness in the width that we needed (we had to order a 48" width in order to span the width of the face frame) -- we did a prototype with a 6 mil version from Amazon and really liked the thickness of it, but unfortunately it did not come any wider than 36"
So we ordered a 48" wide x 50 foot roll of the BDF S4MS15 window film. Ironically we found that it was a little cheaper if we ordered it through ebay (still sold by BuyDecorativeFilm.com) but it still came out to be about $220 for the roll - ouch! (The same size roll in the thinner thickness would have been about $130 so a significant savings.) Also, considering we had 6 props and each one was about 8 feet high (thus requiring 48 feet total), the 50 foot roll of film did not leave us any leeway to make mistakes...we knew we'd need to be very careful when cutting and attaching the film.
So when the film came, we basically laid the face frames face-down on the floor and using a staple gun, stapled the film across the top of the first face frame. The film comes with a transparent protective backing that you are supposed to peel off before applying it to glass, but we left it on and just stapled it as is - you can't tell the backing is there and we figured it would add additional thickness and stiffness to the film We then rolled out the film slowly down the face frame, with one person pulling tension on the roll while others tried to hold tension at the sides and keep it smooth while two other people stapled down each side as we went (you can see in the photo that it took a LOT of people to do this!) When we got to the bottom, we stapled across the bottom then cut the film. We had extra pieces of the vinyl banner that we had trimmed off and we cut them into small scraps about 1"x 1" and used them over the film in every spot that we put a staple in order to provide a little extra strength where the staples went through the film (you can see them - they are the little blue squares under every staple in the photo). Even so, sometimes the staples would pull weird on the film and we'd have strange wrinkles or it wouldn't line up when we were done, so we had to pull and and redo them a few times. Also, because the film was a full 48" wide but the face frame was only about 46", we had to trim off a couple inches of the window film - we did that after it was stapled.
The process of stapling the film to the face frames was pretty time consuming and there was much swearing going on when we had to remove staples and redo. It was frustrating as well, because the face frames weren't 100% solid - the wood has a natural flex to it. So the mirror film would look perfectly straight and flat on the floor but when stood up, it would look saggy and wrinkly in spots. After redoing everything several times, we eventually gave up trying to get it perfect and decided to just live with some sagginess - you can definitely see how each mirror was slightly wrinkled in a different way if you look at the attached photo of our performance.
NOTE: We considered adding plexiglass to the face frames and then actually applying the film to the plexiglass. Unfortunately, a 4x8 sheet of even the thinnest plexiglass is very expensive (~$100) and our budget did not allow for 6 of them. Plus we looked into it and could not get a definitive answer as to whether window film will stick when applied to plexiglass - window film is really meant for glass. The internet research we did led us to believe that it would eventually bubble when applied to plexi especially when exposed to temperature swings (which we were dealing with given we were loading on and off trucks and in and out of buildings from January through May.) But if you can't tolerate any sagginess or distortion in your film and you want it absolutely smooth like a real mirror, this would be an option you could explore. I also think if we had been able to use a thicker film like the 6 mil that we prototyped originally, it would have reduced sagginess and wrinkles, but like I said, the thicker films did not come in a 48" width and the proper darkness. If you are making a mirror where your film can be less than 36" wide, I would recommend using this instead (in the silver color, obviously): "Window Film One Way Mirror Window Film One Way Mirror Film Privacy Static Non-Adhesive Decorative Heat Control Anti UV Window Tint for Home and Office Silver 6 Mil 23.6 Inch x 6.5 Feet" https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QD2GGCJ/ref=twister_B...
At any rate, once film was stapled to every face frame, we lifted up the face frames and attached them to the front of the 2x4 mirror frames. We simply screwed in at the corners and put a few extra down the side. We wanted to make sure we could easily remove the face frames to restaple film or fix the lights and we did have to do this several times (the lights fell down and also the mirror film got bashed or came loose) so it was good that we made it removable.
Step 8: Adding Remote Capability to the Wiring Harness
We had originally intended to control the lighting via the switches on the back of each prop that would be operated by the performers who were moving the props around on the floor. But as our show evolved, we realized that it would be good to "flash" the lights on a few of the props earlier in the show than we originally planned to mimic the way the war memories were "flashing" in our actor's head. At that point in the show, we did not have any performers that we could send behind the props to work the switches, so we realized a different solution was needed.
We found that solution in this: "eMylo DC 12V 6x 1 Channel RF Relay Wireless Remote Control Switch 433Mhz Transmitter with Receiver" https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01IEIW2RS/ref=p...
It's a 6 channel remote control relay set designed for 12V systems.
By attaching a relay to wiring harnesses of the 3 props we needed to flash and programming each relay to a different number on the remote, we were able to operate the prop lights via remote control for that portion of the show.
The set comes with detailed instructions for installation and programming, but basically we spliced a relay into each of the 3 wiring harnesses for the props we needed to control remotely. We wired it in such a way that the circuits were in parallel, meaning you could turn on the props with either the switch OR the remote. Again, because I am not the electrician and I did not wire these, I can't explain precisely how they were done. But I am atttaching photos that will hopefully help. If you need more detailed explanation, leave me a comment and I will try to get info from the person who actually did the wiring.
Once the relays were attached, we were careful to leave them sit on top of the batteries once the batteries were velcroed in place. There is a little wire antenna on each relay that we pulled out a bit to help with reception. The relays were programmable for several different on/off settings and each one could be controlled independently by clicking the appropriate number button on the remote. Again, all the instructions for installation and programming are included with the relay set.
I will say that while these remotes worked well (we needed them to work from a distance of about 50 feet and they did fine, even in venues where there were a lot of competing wifi networks and signals), they did not last long. Our first set started getting flakey about 3 weeks after installing it and was completely dead at our championship weekend - we had to rush order a replacement set and actually ended up reinstalling all new relays about 4 hours before our final performance. That was disappointing, but I'm not sure there's any alternative that would be any better.
Step 9: All Done!
Once complete and hooked up to the batteries, turning the lights on with the switch or hitting the remote would light the LED strips and change the mirror from looking like a mirror to displaying whatever image is on the banner inside. Attached are a few short test videos. You can also watch our complete performance to see how they looked in action. (The mirrors start flashing via the remotes at about the 2:10 minute mark and turn on via the switches at around the 3:10 minute mark.)
Step 10: Ongoing Maintenance & Considerations
Things we learned/things you should consider:
1) The mirrors only work when the light inside the mirror is brighter than the ambient room light. For most of our performances in high school gyms this was not a problem. But our champs prelims performance was held in a convention center with a glass roof on a bight sunny day. The props did not show up well at all - you could tell they lit up and were glowing a bit, but you could not make out the pictures at all. So the darker the room, the better. If you need this to show up in a bright environment, you may want to consider adding more light strips to the insides of the mirrors. A LOT more light strips.
2) The batteries will need to be charged often. As the battery drains, the lights and thus the images in the mirrors slowly get dimmer and dimmer until they don't show up at all. We borrowed 12V battery chargers from our school's robotics program, but you can order them here: "Sealed Lead Acid Battery Charger UPG D1724" https://www.amazon.com/Sealed-Lead-Battery-Charger...
3) The film seemed to need periodic restapling - the staples worked their way out or the film got pushed in during transport or performances (our drummers sometimes backed into the mirrors pushing the film loose from the staples). Also, no matter how many little clips we used, the light strips always seemed to fall down at inopportune times. So making the face frames so they can be quickly removed for film or light repair is key.
4) We ended up putting together a tool kit with a drill, bits, extra screws, tape, a soldering iron, a staple gun and extra staples, extra light clips, etc. and took it with us to every competition. More than once, we had to solder a wring harness or remove the face frame to restaple film on the fly, so it was definitely handy to have.
4) For protection when storing the props at our school and loading on and off the truck, we purchased 4x8 sheets of coroplast, which is the corrugated plastic material that those roadside signs that stick into the ground are made of. We bought these at a wholesale signmaker supply shop for about $15/sheet. We trimmed them down to fit over our face frames and used painters tape to attach them over the front of the mirror film whenever we were storing or transporting them. (See photo) This worked well for protection during transport. I would highly recommend buying something like this to cover the window film as it is easily dented or pushed loose from the staples. (That said, if you use the 4 mil security film, at least it is NOT easily ripped - we had an incident where a piece of equipment came loose in our truck and slammed into the front of the prop - it tore a big hole in the coroplast and left a scrape mark on the film, but did not puncture it - whew!)
If I were doing it over again, I might consider getting extra sheets of the hardboard we used as a backing instead of the coroplast - they would have been cheaper and more protective (I do not think the loose equipment in the truck would not have punctured it like it did the coroplast) but they also would have been much heavier and more unwieldy to deal with and since the props were already pretty heavy I was reluctant to add extra weight. It would be something to consider though.
Participated in the