While Rocket has grown to multiple offices - and over 100 people - we still maintain a small "headquarters" in Newburyport, MA.
If you've never been, Newburyport is a small seaside town, about an hour north of Boston. Our office is in the center of town, above the Christian Science reading room, next to the ice cream shop.
Rocket is the top product agency in Boston - part of Dept, the fastest growing agency in Europe - and you'd never know it. From the outside, our HQ looks like a "mom & pop" shop in a small town. We're hiding in plain sight. Pic below:
The building we're in was owned by our friend Kate's family. When we moved in, her Mom told us a story about how she believed the building was haunted by the spirit of Lord Timothy Dexter, a local eccentric from the 1800s. Lord Timothy exported stray cats to the Caribbean, faked his own death and "hoarded whalebone by mistake". Lord Timothy was a real character.
A few months after we moved in, we found no evidence of Lord Timothy's spirit. No strange sounds, glowing orbs, or plates flying off the shelves. No cold chills or creaky floorboards. We were a little disappointed. So, after a few drinks at the Thirsty Whale, we decided to take action. If the real Lord Timothy Dexter wasn't going to make an appearance, we would build our own ghost.
Here's how we did it.
Step 1: buy a cheap costume, green screen and a couple of lights.
Brandon Aaskov, our resident gear guy, brought in his light kit, green screen, and camera. Lord Timothy had a strange "elephant skinned dog", who followed him around everywhere, so Brandon was kind enough to bring his dog Noah in for the project. Noah did the project for a belly rub and 10 residual points on the back-end.
Matt Daigle is one of our best iOS engineers, funny as hell and the only person we could talk into dressing up as a ghost. For the record, Matt Daigle looks nothing like Timothy Dexter.
Step 2: call your brother to do the video effects work
Mike Witting, brother of a Rocket partner, started his career doing visual effects work in Hollywood. In a couple of hours over a weekend, Mike transformed our raw footage into a proper ghost. See below.
Step 3: buy a projector, one sheer curtain and hire Ed Lewis
Ed Lewis really made the magic happen. Ed is one of those guys that can figure out anything. A tinkerer/mad genius type. We bought a small projector, a sheer curtain for the window, then realized we had three problems.
First problem, how do you get the ghost to play both on-demand and at a certain time? Second, how do you keep the projector turned off when it's not needed? Third, how do you handle the manufacturer logo that is shown when the projector first warms up?
Ed figured it all out.
Step 4: Get connected to a Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a wonderfully cheap computer that's perfectly suited for kids learning to code and for making a ghost come to life (afterlife?). It has lots of connectors for controlling other electronics and an HDMI out. With a simple Python script it can easily play a video at a set time every day.
Step 5: Modify the projector
To turn the projector on only when needed meant that the Raspberry Pi needed to be electronically connected to the projector. This involves taking the case off, soldering in a transistor to the power switch, and controlling the transistor with the Raspberry Pi.
The phone in your pocket has billions of transistors to work its magic, but here we only needed one old-fashioned one. The Raspberry Pi says "go," the transistor completes the circuit for the power button, and now it can be controlled with the same Python script.
Step 6: The lens cover
Like every TV out there, the projector shows its logo when it's turned on. This would really ruin the effect if every ghost appearance was preceded by a glowing "infocus" logo, so we had to prevent that. We needed some physical block for the light.
Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi is a champ working with servos as well. The servo works by taking in an angle from the Raspberry Pi and turning the shaft accordingly. Give it a 0° and then a 90° and you can move a lens cover over the lens and then out of the way.
Since this lens cover needed to be custom, the solution involved 3D-printing. A bit of design in Tinkercad and a quick print on our 3D-printer and we had our lens cover. The very first print worked perfectly.
Perhaps it was the ghost of Timothy Dexter guiding us along. Or just dumb luck.
With that in place, a bit more code was added to control the servo and move the lens cover in place. Lastly, a curtain was placed on the window and our ghost was ready!
Here's the set-up in action
If you're walking down Inn Street late at night - usually around 1am - this is what you'll see:
So, there you have it. How to haunt your office in six easy (cough) steps.
While it took us some time to figure this out - and it probably cost $80k in lost productivity - it was worth every penny. It was so much fun building a "ghost" and we feel like we're giving back to the community, in a small, strange way.
The ghost of Lord Timothy Dexter haunts Inn Street once again.
This tomfoolery is dedicated with love to Betsy & Jonathan Woodman.
“I am the greatest man in the East” - Lord Timothy Dexter