Animations and Effects
A big part of the show is the animations and functional parts of the layout. This is probably where the build deviate most from a conventional layout, but they make great TV and do add to the layout. We tried to include animations that fitted into our theme and didn't look contrived or squeezed in.
The listening dish was animated using an Arduino board driving a stepper motor for pan and servo unit for tilt. The movement was not as smooth as we would have liked during filming, traced later to a trapped cable preventing the dish rotating as much as it should have done. The dish also had a bluetooth speaker embedded in the horn, but this didn't really come across in the show.
The space hanger doors are built on Tomy track, courtesy of Chris. The guts of an old Tomy Thomas the Tank Engine power the doors open and shut The interior was lit with ping pong balls with an LED inserted. This replicated the large enclosed lights used in the early airship sheds - as they needed to be explosion proof.
The smoke generators are water vapour units normally found in water features and work by vaporising water using ultrasonic transducers. Jon built 3, which we employed on the layout, One for the warehouse chimney, one for the industrial area and the last built into the mobile launch platform This one was powered through the outer running rails, with the fan controllable so that we could alter the amount of "smoke" as it was pulled out of the shed by the loco.
The take off mechanism was designed by Matt and is incredibly simple. As a large carriage is pulled along a track under the layout, nylon cord is wound around a conical bobbin on one of the axles. This pulls a thin steel rod up a tube and as the carriage is pulled along, the rod rises along a slot cut into the baseboard. The shuttle smoothly gained height all the way along and also allowed Phil to land it equally gently simply by pulling on some lengths of cord!
The station and platforms were lit using LEDs and grain of wheat lamps, all running from 9V batteries for ease of wiring.