Now that we're nearing the end of September, many of you are hard at work building your displays and home haunts. Like you, we are always looking for more inspiration so we checked in with a former AtmosFAN of the Week, John Cook, to see what he's cooking up this season.
We are big fans of his pioneering use of digital decorations. We also admire his skill at converting his five-car garage into a haunted house jam-packed with scares both playful and creepy.
His most recent version of his home haunt blew us away! John does an amazing job re-imagining his haunt each year, and this five-minute walkthrough is a true inspiration for anyone who is interested in creating their own haunt, large or small.
As he prepares for another Halloween season, we asked about his inspiration, best-practices, and what fans can expect this year.
AtmosFX: We love your 2016 Halloween video but your 2017 video is even more dynamic. Thinking back, what were some of the biggest changes you made between those years?
John Cook: We try to improve every year. My YouTube video for last year showed a complete walk-through of the haunt while 2016’s only showed a few highlights. But yes, we added a number of new things including more digital props and more actors in the haunt.
I have eight digital video players and most digital effects were motion activated last year. That helps with the timing of startle scares. We also added to the castle façade and the effects going on outside the haunt to make it more engaging and entertaining while people wait in line.
Q: Do you have big lines?
JC: I have a home haunt, so it isn’t huge, but I do have a five-stall garage, which helps. I maximize every inch. We use 4-foot-by-8-foot wall panels to build the maze and insert TVs right into wall facades for many of our digital effects. It takes about 3 to 4 minutes to go through the haunt, and sometimes we have a line all the way down to the street. We don’t advertise beyond passing out some flyers in the neighborhood, but we’ve been doing this for a decade now so people know about it and come in droves. Last year we had about 300 people come through.
Q: You also have a lot of actors in your haunt. How many are there and what is it like for them to be involved?
JC: Last year there were 10 of us in the haunt. I’ve got a great group of neighbors who help set it up every year, plus several other friends who come help on Halloween. I had an especially outstanding witch last year. We scare people for about three hours and then tell stories about the night over pizza and a few beers.
Q: How long does it take for you to set up?
JC: We typically start building the second weekend of October. We get the walls up in one night and then work on the rest over the next couple weeks.
Q: You've said that you get a lot of inspiration from Halloween Facebook groups — are there any trends you see or things people are doing that you really want to try?
JC: I am a huge fan of digital effects so I’m always on the lookout for cool new ways people are using AtmosFX and other digital props. For instance, I saw a great effect in a Facebook group where someone hung a piece of plexiglass from the ceiling at a slight angle and then projected AtmosFX's Ghostly Apparitions digital decoration onto it. I’m definitely adding that to my arsenal this year. Although I’ve never been to the large Transworld haunt show in St. Louis, I always watch videos of the show floor to see the new props, etc., that are introduced at the show. That is another great source of new ideas for me.
Q: What's new for 2018?
JC: Every year we mix it up a little bit and add a few new things. Specifically for this year, I’ve added some new uses of digital videos. I now own 10 TVs and five projectors (which my wife is not too happy about!). I’m using AtmosFX’s new Terrors from Beyond in a fun way this year. I love combining live actors and digital decorations so while everyone is mesmerized by the digital prop, the actors pop out and scare them. There will definitely be more of that this year.
Q: We know you are very involved with raising funds for charity. What does that mean for you and your community?
JC: This is a really great neighborhood project. It builds community, camaraderie, and brings us together as neighbors. We spend a ton of time together in October getting ready. Then on Halloween, we have so much activity it’s just fun to be a part of it. My neighbor across the street started having his own party with a bonfire out front so they can just watch all the people and activities at my house. We don’t charge to get into the haunt but we do ask for a canned good (not required) because we want to use Halloween to do good. We walk away with several hundred pounds of food every year which we donate to our local food shelf. They know us now and anticipate our coming every November 1 to drop it off. It’s a fun win/win for everyone.
Keep it up, John! We love what you do.
Have you been tinkering with new ways to display AtmosFX Digital Decorations? There are countless Halloween fans ready to be inspired! Send photos and YouTube links to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be our next featured decorator. Make sure to put "AtmosFAN of the Week" in the subject line.