Archive for April, 2018

Hogwarts Party Special Effects

Posted in Celebrations on April 5th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

In addition to my behind-the-scenes post about making wands, I thought I’d do a post on how I created the special effects in Molly’s party. This will be a technical post with details on what I did. Please feel free to ask questions if something isn’t clear.


Most of the show was run from QLab. It’s awesome show control software used for everything from Broadway to high school theater, concerts and the Olympics. It’s also the software that I help create in my day job. So, much of the show was run from QLab running on my MacBook Pro. This allowed me to control video, audio, and lights.


For audio and video, my computer was connected to:


For lighting, I put down the shades and turned off all the house lights to give myself the most control I could. For lights I used:

  • 5 Lamps. I then gathered all the lamps I could find in the house, replaced their LED bulbs with incandescent or halogen, and plugged them into a couple of Leviton D4DMX-MD5 dimmer packs I borrowed from work.
  • 2 Chauvet COLORband PiX-M light bars I borrowed from work.
  • 1 old desktop oscillating fan. While not a light, I plugged it into one of the dimmers as well so I could trigger it too.

These were plugged into two Art-Net adapters (a DMXKing eDMX1 Pro and a DMXKing ultraDMX2 Pro) I borrowed from work. One was placed on each side of the room (to reduce cable runs). On one side, I already had Ethernet for it to plug into. On the other side, I used a couple of old Wifi routers in bridge mode (one upstairs, one under a table where I needed it) to give me an Ethernet port to plug my Art-Net adapter into. QLab on my computer sent out Art-Net over Wifi to these adapters which convert it to DMX to send to the lights/dimmers.

Floating lights

Remote Control

I hid my computer with the screen off for the party, so I needed ways to remotely control it. This was accomplished with two things:

  • QLab Remote on my phone. I used this to pick effects to trigger. When I was in the background, I would also trigger cues from my phone. But, when I was up front, I didn’t want to make it obvious that I was using a phone to trigger things. This led me to my other remote.
  • Wand remote. As I was making my own wands, I decided I could make a wand for myself with a remote inside it. I already had a cheap wireless PowerPoint remote, so I made myself a wand with an extra large handle that could contain the remote. I cut a hole in the side of the wand so I could access the buttons and inserted the remote into the wand. Then I changed the keymap in QLab up to Go off the remote instead of space bar. I set my phone off to the side (e.g. on the wand table) and picked an effect on it, then fired the effect in character from my wand during the action.
Wand Remote


I created the effects with a mix of media I found and media I created. I programmed almost all of them in QLab. You can download my QLab workspace if you’re interested (made with QLab 4.2). It includes much of the media, but does not include anything too large (e.g. most videos) or anything that wasn’t freely available. If you’re putting on a party and are interested in the stuff that was too large to post, get in touch and I’ll send it to you.

QLab workspace

Individual effects

Here’s a list of most of the effects used. The title for most is a link to a YouTube video of that effect if you want to see it in action. Most are also named the same as you’ll find them in the QLab workspace.

  • Moving portraits - videos shot by me on my Panasonic GX85 with a Zoom H1 microphone, edited in Final Cut Pro. Acted by Jen and me. Not included in download due to size.
  • Falling books - audio downloaded from I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. Located in the speaker back right of the girls.
  • TV/frame breaking - found an image in google search for the broken glass, audio downloaded from I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. I used a mask image in QLab to have the cracks expand/contract.
  • Fire alarm - audio downloaded from Lights were a chase preset, red color, and kept moving the tilt of the bars up and down. More details in the QLab workspace.
  • Dishes breaking - audio downloaded from I reversed this in Audacity to create the repair effect. Located in the speaker back left of the girls.
  • Piano noise - Done entirely with MIDI cues. QLab isn’t really geared toward this, so I had to create separate cues for each note, and use post waits to space those notes out.
  • Loud music - audio downloaded from As basic as it gets.
  • Power outage - simply turned the lights off.
  • Power fluctuation - Used a bunch of light cues to create my own chase of light flying around the room. Played a 50Hz buzz (also from which also moved around the room along with the lights. Ended up being a pretty cool effect.
  • Wand success - When the wand found its witch, a success effect included:
    • Angelic voices audio (also from
    • Warm yellowish light - all the lamps turned off, the color bars till toward the witch, and turn on with a warm yellowish light
    • Wind. In the movie, Harry’s hair starts blowing back when he finds his wand. So I put a fan under the table angled up at the wand seeker, and turned on the fan in this effect.
  • Portkey - The Portkey effect included funky lights cycling through colors and funky music (from On the screen, I showed a picture of the real King’s Cross Station (from an image search) with the Kaleidoscope video effect. As we traveled, I scaled back the effect until it eventually went away, revealing our destination on the screen.
  • Platform Nine and Three Quarters - The image of the Hogwarts Express was a screen grab from the final scene of the last movie. The train audio was from The video of Hogwarts Castle was from Youtube, and had a simple fade on the video geometry. The arrival music was from the soundtrack to Sorcerer’s Stone.
  • Sorting hat - The Sorting hat audio was all recorded by me using a funny voice. The song is actually from the first book (with tune made up on the spot by me). The things it says for each student were all made up by me. And all that audio is in the workspace you can download.
  • Locomotor piano - This is basically the same idea as Piano noise above. Lots of MIDI cues, but this time they had to be right to play Hedwig’s Theme. I used Leah’s piano sheet music of the song to find the notes, then programmed them each in one by one.
  • Accio - Things to be summoned were on the screen. I found an image of a pencil and a mug on an image search, then used Photoshop to make their backgrounds transparent. For the chickens, I found a video of them on a green screen, then put them on a transparent background in Final Cut Pro and exported as ProRes 4444. In QLab, I just looped the chickens and used geometry fades to summon them and send them away.
  • Stupefy - Stupefy used the same videos shot for the Moving portraits above. The spell light was an image I made in Photoshop using a custom brush from I animated revealing the light in Final Cut Pro.
  • Meteolojinx Recanto - For this effect, I turned on the lamps and looped some rain. Whenever I wanted to, I triggered thunder which included sound and flickering the lights timed together. On spell success, I simply stopped all the sounds.

The show

Thankfully, everything worked very well in the party. QLab Remote worked great to standby a cue, and the wand worked great to trigger them. It was really fun to be able to perform magic with a wand. Most of the girls never figured out how I was making triggering effects. It seemed I could stand in the middle of a room and wave my wand, and things would just happen.

Harry Potter wand making

Posted in Celebrations, Crafts on April 4th, 2018 by c-had – 3 Comments

There are lots of tutorials on the web for how to make simple wands quickly and easily. This is not one of those posts. I wanted to go all out in making wands for Molly’s party, and I got very into it. If you’re into woodworking and looking to go all out on something like this, hopefully you’ll find this post helpful. And if you’re not interested in woodworking, and you read this anyway, hopefully you are entertained by someone going all out on something they love.

In this project, I wanted to:

  1. Use different kinds of real wood, just like Ollivander
  2. Turn them round with varying unique designs
  3. Include cores in them, like those in the Harry Potter universe
  4. Stain them to make them look good and distinct
  5. Seal them with polyurethane to make them smooth, shiny, and durable


After Christmas, I used some money I was given to order myself a lathe and some cutting tools to use with it. The cutting tools showed up quickly. The lathe itself ended up backordered, and they said it wouldn’t arrive until the end of March. This, of course, did not work for my plan.

So, I built a makeshift DIY lathe. I built a box to hold my drill steady, then built a simple support with a nail sticking out to hold the other side. Then I built a tool rest and put a clamps on top to give a hard place to rest the lathe tools.

Makeshift lathe
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All-out Hogwarts Party

Posted in Celebrations, Molly on April 3rd, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

In case you haven’t picked up on it, we’re huge Harry Potter fans in this house. This year Molly turned 11, which is a major milestone in the wizarding world as it is the age at which a witch or wizard goes off to school (Hogwarts). So, Molly was very excited to have a Hogwarts birthday party. Jen always puts on fantastic parties, but this year I joined in the creation to make the biggest party we’ve ever done.

In future posts I’ll go into some of the creation of this party, but this post will take you through all the fun from start to finish. It may be more than you have time to read/watch, but it was so awesome I can’t leave any of it out. I highly recommend watching the videos, as you’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t.

The guests arrived and were ushered into our dining room by the front door. Each of them had their mug shot taken. (All other mug shots available on Flickr.)

Azkaban wanted poster

Jen created a Harry Potter themed Would You Rather? Jenga for the girls to play until everyone was there. We kept them there, shielded from the back of the house, so they wouldn't see anything until the proper time.

Would you rather? Jenga

Once everyone arrived, they were ushered through a brick wall (more on that later) into Diagon Alley of Maryland (set up in our den). There they found my wand shop for the party. Jen made boxes from poster board with her Silhouette Cameo. I wrote the labels to make sure the girls knew what they were getting. The extra wand to the right was given to Aunt Caroline for her to use throughout the party (and keep).

Wand shop
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