It’s VBS week, and that means it's time to come up with some crazy props to support the programming for the week. Coast Hills is known for their creative dramas that weave the Gospel story throughout the week, and this year is no exception. This year, the theme is built around the concept of being a real hero; one who can do all things through Christ’s strength (Phil 4:13). So we have a league of super-heros who are out to stop Dr. W. and her sidekick Larry who are trying to take over the world. To do so, they need a device they can use to control everyone’s thoughts. Enter the Brainulator 3000 (and it’s successors, the 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000).
I generally get pretty free reign to design props like this, and for some reason, when the writers of the skit told me what they needed, this is what popped into my head. The concept was simple enough; take a spotlight, bounce it off a few mirrors and have it reflect onto the stage where poor Larry gets zapped into something else when the day’s experiment goes awry. In practice, the build proved a little more tricky.
First was the light itself. Our inventory is pretty limited; a half-dozen old Martin 518s and eight StudioColor 575s. I knew the StudioColor’s wouldn’t work, so I hoped a 518 would. My initial idea was to mount it horizontally on a pipe clamped to an upright pipe. However, we couldn’t quite get the right angle on it. So we ended up resting it on the deck on it’s back. Problem #1 solved.
I envisioned a series of mirrors on pantographs that would be adjusted into position as Dr. W. fired up the “laser.” Ikea sells a very inexpensive model, the Fråck. We bought four of them, and it’s a good thing we did. We needed three, and we broke one. OK, I broke one. But hey, we had a spare.
The second problem came when it was time to mount the mirrors. While the pantographs are plenty steady for putting on makeup, they moved way too much and were far to unstable when it came time to precisely position the mirrors. After some experimentation we decided to take the mirrors off the pantographs and mount them directly to the back board. It took a while to find the right size bolts, but thankfully Home Depot had them. Once the mirrors were secure, we could bounce the light from one to another and ultimately on to the stage. Problem #2 solved.
The makeup mirrors have both a flat and concave mirror, and we ended up using both. The first two are concave, which help to narrow the beam of light down, while the last one is flat for maximum reflection. It took some experimentation (and I think all of us were blinded at least once…) to figure out the right combination.
Then there was the issue of beam angle. I thought the 518 had a much tighter beam, but even at a few feet away, it opens up much wider than the first mirror. This wasn’t too noticeable until we added the haze. I should note we put our Unique 2 water-based hazer right behind the light to make the beams extra-visible. Once we did that, you could see the initial beam going right past the first mirror up to the ceiling. So we took some black wrap and made an iris. The first iteration worked great but cut down too much light. After we opened it up a little, we had a decent compromise of beam size and power.
Finally, to give it that “mad scientist” look, I had one of my high school volunteers take a bunch of plumbing parts and come up with a crazy design. He painted it all different colors, and we used construction adhesive to glue it to the board. When all the elements combine—the light, mirrors, haze, plumbing, plus sound effects and other stage lighting effects—it works quite well. The kids loved it and the drama team was thrilled. Oh, and the total cost was about $30.