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Create Animation Control Room - Haunted House How to
Wed, June 03, 2020
  Secrets Revealed:  The House of Torment Control Room
By Jon Love and Daniel McCullough from House of Torment 
                                                                                                               
 
Back end procedures tend to vary from haunt to haunt depending on size, location, and attraction type.  Operations for a 10,000 person/year single attraction haunt differ than that of a 70,000 person/year multi attraction scare park.  Despite the differences between events one thing is universally certain:  smooth behind the scenes operations are a critical part of any successful haunted attraction.  For our business, the House of Torment in Austin Texas (a two attraction haunted house serving 40,000 + patrons/year) we created a centralized command center that is the beating operational heart of our event.  From it we activate all of our props, visually monitor and record every room in our haunted house via infrared cameras, control sound levels, operate lighting and fog controllers, maintain air supply, and coordinate communication with our entire 100+ person/night staff.  We call it the “Control Room” and we are going take you through our theory behind its use and the benefits it has brought our business.
 
The Idea Behind it all
 
From the start we wanted to have the best timing possible with our props.  We wanted customers, even if they spotted a prop, to be stunned when it activated when they least expected it.  Year one we researched other haunts, builders, and electronics manufacturers and discovered that by combining the use of infrared video security technology, custom switch boards, and some minor wiring techniques we could run prop triggers and video feeds to a central station with monitors and activators.  We could then sit back, watch the show, and at the perfect time flip a switch giving customers a scare they’d remember. 
 
Early on after building out our first camera station and prop trigger board we decided to run our audio controllers back to the same area to keep them out of the fog filled haunted house. The room we were using was also somewhat removed from the attraction so it ended up being a good place to store our compressors as well.  That first year our control room was equipped with a 4 camera monitor unit with VCR, a small compressor (compared to the ones we have now), a few CD players and a handful of radios.  It was a modest version of our present command center that has since been through tens of thousands of dollars of upgrades, expansions, and improvements.  We now use digital video recorders, dozens of commercial grade night vision cameras, MP3 players, DMX lighting and DMX fog controllers, better communication units, and much larger compressors. 


 
What was supposed to be a timing technique quickly turned into operational gold for us becoming a core element of our business and over the years the control room has in a way become our brainchild.  Finding ways to broaden its capability and increase its function have become staple parts of our off season as each year we continue to face growing demand, and improving haunt technologies.  So far, we have identified 4 major categories of benefits the control room provides our business (they are list below in no particular order).  In the future however there will undoubtedly be more, but for now these are the main reasons we use a control room to operate our haunt.
 
 
Benefits
 
 
Safety, Liability, & Security
 
One of the main features of our control room, the camera system, allows us to have eyes and ears everywhere in the haunted house which increases haunt safety and security while reducing liability.
 
During the course of a season inevitably some incidents will occur as people walk through or work in our attraction.  It’s a dark, loud, chaotic environment and while we take every safety precaution known to man to ensure our customer’s and actor’s safety sometimes things happen.  Clothing may get torn, personal items may get lost, sets may get trashed, or even worse, every haunted house owner’s nightmare, someone may get hurt. 


 
Our camera system not only allows us to monitor activity inside the haunted house in real time, it records the footage on to hard drives.  Whenever we have an incident we never end up in a “he said she said” situation.  We simply pull the footage from the drives and watch to determine what really happened, and where the fault, if any, lies.  To no surprise we have found that over 99% of incidents occur when people, whether it’s a customer or an actor, don’t follow the rules and guidelines of the haunted house. 
 
In addition, because we can see everything in real time, we are able to track potential “problem” customers we think may be aggressive towards our actors or sets.  They may have had a bit too much to drink or they may seem a little too hostile or afraid.  Whatever the case may be when we identify a potential “problem” customer we have a security officer monitor their trip through the haunted house in our control room and at the first sign of trouble, escort them out.       

  
 
Timing & Prop Activation
 
Because we can see everything in our haunt during operation we don’t time our props, rather we time our customers.  Our control room operators are experts at timing groups and using a group’s personality to understand what will be the best time and way to activate props and effects.  Sometimes that means blasting a group twice with an air shot, or waiting until the big guy in the front has passed the Skele-rector, or even letting some one think “It’s not going to move,” and then surprising them out of their shirt (it has happened).  Each group acts its own unique way and monitoring them on camera lets us learn something about them and then tailor their experience accordingly.  Our props are essentially extensions of our control room operators and whether the effect is the misdirection for the actor or the actor is the misdirection for the effect, having props manually timed and activated adds another layer of depth to our event.
 
It is also beneficial to manually activate props from our control room so there are never step pads or sensors for customers to find.  Sometimes with “in haunt” triggers customers will stand in one place and continually activate an animation over and over again killing throughput, bogging down operation, and draining air supply.  Customers may also get too close or end up somewhere they shouldn’t be making a prop activation potentially hazardous.  Putting the power of activation in the hands of a trained professional prevents those problems from arising keeping the show safe and moving along.      

  
 
Centralization of Systems
 
Our control room is much more than a camera and prop activation station.  While visually monitoring our event and manually activating our props provides a plethora of advantages, having all of our core functions in one place is key.  We monitor and control lighting, fog, communication, audio, and air supply all from one location.  Coupled with our camera system we are able to instantly adjust almost any element of the attraction with the press of a few buttons.  We are able to know what systems are up, at what intervals they are running, at what levels they are operating, and what if any need adjusting.  We always have a good idea if our customers are getting the experience they paid for because we can simultaneously monitor all the critical functions of our attraction.  In the event something needs tweaking it is very simple to diagnose what is going on when everything is right in front of you, coordinate with the appropriate staff member, and address the issue.  We also store our tools alongside a variety of spare parts in our control room to have quick access to anything we may need in an emergency maintenance situation.  Overall, centralizing the control of our haunted house is the fundamental theory we have used to develop and run our back end operation.  It’s the basis on which the control room is built.     


 
Refinement & Training
 
One of the biggest benefits the control room has offered us, the ability to see what works and what doesn’t, has made for some of our most exciting and humbling experiences.  Because we are able to constantly watch our props, effects, actors, and customers we can see when our ideas work better than we ever expected and when they fail to even be noticed.  What ever the case may be the control room has enabled us to continually refine our event.  We watch to see if scares provide the impact we want, to pin point areas that create flow problems, and to monitor our actors to make sure they are doing a good job.  When something doesn’t work we change it until we get it right and in doing so grasp a better understanding of what will invoke the best reactions out of our customers.    
 
In addition, similar to the way football teams that watch film of competitors to understand what they’ll be facing in an upcoming game, we show our actors videos of customers.  We show them what works, what doesn’t, analyze customer types and study the footage together with our team. It’s great to be able to show our staff how making slight changes can create huge differences or how something on one side of the haunt affects something on the other side of the haunt.  Overall, monitoring and recording haunt footage night after night has made a huge impact on the quality of the event we produce.      
 
 
In conclusion our theory of having a centralized area to control the critical systems of our haunt has worked out to our advantage and fit our model well.  It has helped us produce a product that we haven’t seen replicated in our market.  It has given our business significant advantages and provided us with an operational infrastructure allowing us to smoothly sustain exponential growth while forever bettering ourselves and our attraction.  It has provided us with a priceless wealth of knowledge about our customers and how to be really good at what we do.  We understand the control room won’t fit everyone’s model and recognize that each event has its own way of running back end operations.  No way is right, no way is wrong.  Our way works for us and we hope that you may be able to take something from that.  Thanks for reading and good luck this season!  For more information about the House of Torment please visit www.houseoftorment.com
  Posted by Larry 6.54 AM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
10 Things you need to do to Open Escape Rooms
Tue, June 02, 2020
10 Things You Should Do Right Now to open your own Escape rooms
 by Larry Kirchner 
 
Escape rooms are pretty hot right now and making lots of money for some.  Over the past year, I've learned a lot about escape rooms from building four of my own plus several for different clients.  I've also learned so much from my conversations with friends who also operate escape rooms of their own, and of course I've learned from the good old fashion way of making mistakes and learning from them.  I feel the best way to learn anything is from digging in and taking your lumps.  The good news is...this industry shares a lot of information.  In this article, I will now share with you and hopefully save you some of the same growing pains.  Here are ten things I learned within the first six months of building escape rooms for clients as well as operating my own.
 
1) Marketing:   I learned quickly that escape rooms should be marketed only thru social media, not radio, television or any other type of traditional media.  If you're not a wizard at social media or digital media then hire someone.  I had to break down and hire a company to represent my escape rooms, and it's made a huge difference.  I think almost all failing escape rooms gravitate to Groupon.  Groupon is making a huge push to sign up as many escape rooms as possible.  The problem with Groupon is they make you cut your profits with a discount, and then they cut your profits again by giving them a huge percentage.  You would be much better off hiring a company to handle the marketing for you and focus on Google, Facebook and Instagram, and direct market to companies for team building events, specifically the HR Departments of businesses. 


 
2)  Operations:  I learned really fast that it's not a great idea to be open daily.  However, it's also not a great idea to be open only at night.  Corporate parties want day time hours not night.  I think it's best to keep limited hours on Wed-Thurs with a focus on being open early.  You'll need at least 15 minutes between games to reset.  You must also remember games can be damaged by customers, so stay on top of repairs at all times.   
 
3)  Buy Puzzle Books:  When I first created my escape rooms, I relied heavily on puzzle companies.  That was a mistake.  When you buy one from this company and one from that company you end up with so many different things created in different ways that it's hard to maintain.  On Amazon, you can find dozens of puzzle books.  Inside each book are puzzles that could inspire you to create non-electronic puzzles to open a lock or give a clue.  I wish I had bought these books prior to creating my first escape room.  I don't think every puzzle should be electronic.  In fact, some of the best puzzles are ideas derived from puzzle books whereby customers readily use their brain to complete a puzzle.  (BTW much cheaper.) 
 
4)  Visit Escape Rooms:   Regretfully, I did not.  However, I've found that many escape rooms offer very similar things, while at the same time creating their own unique ways of reinventing those common puzzles.  Visiting other escape rooms and understanding what everyone is doing can help your business.  It's something I personally need to do, but just haven't had the time.  However, every successful escape room owner I've talked to has done this and told me the great value in it.


 
5)  Don't Create the Get-Rich-Quick Games:  There are SO many escape rooms in operation with SO many more planning to open.  Several were created by gamers, who have great puzzle ideas but who set them up too affordably.  Many escape rooms are set-up in small spaces, many times on the second floor, and the mass majority are created for only $10-$20k.  Ultimately escape rooms will come to the same conclusion the haunt industry came to many years ago... With too many haunts in operation, so many more were failures than were successes.  Very confidently, I'm going to predict more than half of all escape rooms will go out of business within the next 18 months.  Even ones operated on the smallest of budgets still have bills to pay and owners who need to support themselves.  I also believe many of the franchise escape rooms will be some of the first to go, because the owners have to pay a percentage of their profits to the franchise.  The Escape Room industry is being expanded much too fast; this will put a massive squeeze on the industry as a whole, but even moreso on the smaller ones.  You will continue to see more and more open, diluting the industry to a breaking point.  The quality levels are just so all over the board, and in some markets, you're starting to hear more negative than positive from customers.  The bar will be set higher by those who think big.  In the end, the industry will see several drop out, but the best WILL survive.  That's my opinion, based on 30 years in a similar industry, the haunt industry.  If you're thinking about opening one, then do it bigger, better and more spectacular than anyone else in your market.  


 
6)  Hire some help:  When you're planning your first escape room, reach out to some escape rooms designers.  There's no harm in getting some prices.  I've learned there are experienced puzzle and room designers who will layout your entire room for as little as $2,500.  Why try and learn on the job?  If you're someone with theming experience, then what can it hurt to hire someone to help you with a great flow chart of puzzles?
 
7)  Equipment to do the job:  We've already built several escape rooms for clients, and one thing I learned quick is you need certain types of equipment/resources.  If you really want to go above in the build-out of your room, you might need a CNC machine, 3D printer, and of course a really good tech person.  Tech for a haunted house is totally different than tech for an escape room.  If you don't own a CNC machine then find a local company who does.  A 3D printer is something anyone can buy; the trick is...Do you know how to use it?  You can probably find people on the web (on sites like 'meetup') who can operate your 3D printer or CNC if you choose to purchase one. 


 
8)  Time to Go BIG:  Many escape rooms are what I would call generation 1.  These have little to no theming, lots of locks or math puzzles, and primarily seak-n-finds (aka simply finding hidden things around the room).  If you look around your market today, there might be 10-20 of these available, so something's gotta give.  I made a comment during my seminar last year that many low-budget escape games will inevitably find it hard to complete by the new incoming high-budget escape rooms.  Look at the Halloween Retail industry...Almost every lower budget "ma and pa" retail store got sent packing when the big box stores decided to sell the same items.  This is reality, and the first to go will be the generation 1 escapes.  The newer escape games opening will be way more advanced and exciting.  The purpose of my comment wasn't to insult but to forewarn those escapes.  Upgrade before it's too late.  Now one year later, there's even less time to upgrade and change. I want to help anyone in business who reads this magazine... there are big players getting into this industry and right now you’re about to be overrun with competition.  Think big now and go for it!!! I have always found in the haunt industry if you set the bar so high, others will think twice before going into competition with you!  Just a thought!
 
9) Party Rooms:  If you plan to build an escape room you MUST build party rooms.  Number one customers are cooperate groups!  When I first opened my escape rooms, I booked very few corporate groups, but almost immediately after opening the party rooms, I had more than I could deal with.  Furthermore, you can upcharge for the private use of the room.  My only suggestion is that you create a very unique party room atmosphere, not something with four walls and paint.  My main party room is well themed and includes pinball, shuffleboard, televisions, couches, a fireplace and board games. 
 
10)  Website:  First, you need a website where people can book your games.  I learned escape rooms and haunted house websites are two very different things.  Our first escape room site was dark; we didn't do well.  Then I totally changed the website and made things bright, more inviting.  Additionally, you'll need a Facebook and Instagram page, but again steer clear of doing anything dark.  Even though customers REALLY like the haunted themes, still keep your sites colorful and bright.  Don't make it seem too scary.  
 
We also created another how-to DVD, this one is called 'How to Create Escape Rooms' and you can purchase a copy at www.HauntedHouseSupplies.com  
  Posted by Larry 3.24 AM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
 
Hauntworld Magazine Issue #50 has Shipped
Fri, May 29, 2020
Hauntworld Magazine Issue #50 has now shipped to haunted house owners, vendors and enthusiasts.  Hauntworld Magazine issue 50 covers Headless Horseman and Creepyworld plus how to articles on creating your own haunted midway!  Get your subscription now at www.hauntedhousemagazine.com or buy single issues. Hauntworld Magazine is a printed magazine sent to your mailbox.  We want to thank everyone who's supported our magazine over the years and helped us achieve this milestone #50.   Subscribe today and support the vendors and industry professionals. 


 
  Posted by Larry 8.06 PM Read Comments ()
 
 
 
Total Records: 201   Total Pages: 67
     

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