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Activation Sequence

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The Activation Sequence is when something is powered up in a usually visual exposition scene. Lights come on, computer screens come to life, the sounds of processors humming is heard, components begin to glow with power, and the camera generally slides across them with loving attention to each detail. In a Steampunk or Victorian era story, the activation may be all mechanical, with huge levers, gears, flywheels and steam engines. Alternatively, it can be done in the background with Bridge Bunnies or radio chatter calling out various sequences.

Typically this is done the first time something is seen, whether it's a new "toy" for the heroes to play with or some ancient device or location that they manage to awaken after centuries of dormancy or a villain's new superweapon.

The aim of such sequences is usually to create a sense of awe and wonder at what they have created, or what has been discovered if it's something good or beneficial. If not, it will create a sense of dread at what its activation portents. One significant part of this trope is that the sequence is progressive and takes time. They can last anywhere from thirty seconds to several minutes depending on the context. Sometimes they can last for an entire act.

They are usually done only once to give the audience the idea. If it is done a second time or more, they tend to be abbreviated versions. If the full sequence is shown repeatedly, it may result in a case of Engaging Chevrons.

Compare Transformation Sequence, which may occasionally overlap with this, and Lock-and-Load Montage. A cousin of this is the Fighter-Launching Sequence. There's the possibility of the device in question being Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway. See Chance Activation when this happens on accident.

A subtrope of Technology Porn.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • After receiving word that the band has been captured in Interstella 5555, the pilot Shep powers up his guitar shaped ship to rescue them by having his command chair slide into position as all of the ship's readouts light up in sequence.

    Films — Animated 
  • Titan A.E.: Cale Tucker needs to power up the Titan to battle the Drej, made more difficult by the ship's batteries being nearly exhausted. Cale almost single-handedly has to jury-rig the mechanism to absorb and convert the Drej Death Ray as a substitute power source.
  • Rock and Rule has the villain succeed in wresting away a girl from her bandmates. The boys are sent packing while Mok begins a "departure sequence" that converts much of his mansion into a blimp, complete with deploying the ribs, inflating the helium sacs and detaching utility couplings. No mere Greyhound bus for this guy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2010: The Year We Make Contact has a re-activation sequence as Doctor Chandra brings the HAL 9000 computer back online after he was deactivated in 2001: A Space Odyssey, reinserting some of the crystal memory cards, testing HAL's functionality reinserting some more until HAL is operational once again.
  • Alien. The very first scenes in the movie are the starship Nostromo's computer and other electrical equipment coming to life in response to the alien signal.
  • Aliens has a couple:
    • In a Call-Back to the first film, there's a similar sequence aboard the Sulaco of the ship's systems powering up and reviving the Marines.
    • Ripley's activation of the powerloader is a realistic version: she powers it up, then methodically checks out every function according to a mental checklist before starting to use it.
    • When the team is trapped on the surface of the planet, Bishop remotely activates the other Drop Ship aboard the Sulaco and prepares it to come pick them up.
  • Apollo 13: Near the end, as they approach Earth, Ken Mattingly in Houston is in the simulator going through power-up procedures, trying to get enough systems up to run the module through re-entry, while not burning through their remaining power. The one we actually see him go through, obviously, is the one that works as the systems each come back up and monitors come back to life. Later he walks Jack Swigert through the procedure on the Odyssey, which had been shut down following the explosion days before.
  • Assassin's Creed: As Cal is put into the Animus for the first time, the arm is lowered, he's strapped in, DNA sequences are scanned and compared, lights come on and he is finally sent to relive the life of his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha.
  • Back to the Future opens with Marty arriving at Doc's place where he starts activating...something. He switches on the power, activates all the switches, dials up the driver and the overdrive, causing all the dials to go off-scale high. Then we see that this things he's powering up is a giant speaker, which blows him across the room, and blows itself up, when he tries to play a chord on his guitar.
  • Contact has a long sequence showing The Machine being activated for Ellie's flight. The rings are slowly spun up, the control center keeps checking for updates as to their status, and Ellie tries to inform them how the Machine is behaving with each new phase. They almost call it off, but finally go through with it when they barely make out Ellie's "OK to go" through the storm of interference the things is producing.
  • Crimson Tide shows that it takes eight minutes to fuel a submarine's nuclear missiles. It doesn't show the fuel actually flowing through the pipes, but there are progress reports during a scuffle between the captain and XO on the bridge. It's also mentioned that the Soviet missiles, being much larger ICBMs, need fourteen minutes to fuel up. It was an intel report that the Soviet fuel-up order had been given which motivated the Captain and his loyalists to begin the Alabama's launch protocol.
  • In Ernest Saves Christmas, when Ernest decides to fly Santa's sleigh to him, he has trouble getting it to take off, before the elves reveal that it's started up by saying the names of the reindeer. Trouble is, Ernest can never remember Blitzen's name.
  • The Fifth Element centers around recovering four Plot Devices, each of which corresponds to one of the traditional four Classical Elements, and installing them in an ancient temple. It's then necessary to trigger the keystones with their respective elements, plus one of the main characters as Element No. 5, to activate the BFG that will neutralize the Eldritch Abomination that threatens the Earth.
  • The James Bond film GoldenEye has an elaborate sequence in which a lake in Cuba is drained to reveal that its entire basin is a satellite dish. Three structures that border the now-dry lake extend to towering heights to deploy the antenna array, with which the anarchists intend to transmit the "fire" command to an EMP satellite. Fortunately, Bond is on hand to screw up the device before the command is relayed.
  • Jurassic Park: As the third act begins, Hammond orders the park's system shut down so it'll reset and stop what Nedry's program did. Once the main breakers are switched on they have to go and activate the breakers for the individual systems. Ray Arnold goes first, but when he doesn't come back, Ellie and Muldoon go to take care of it. Hammond walks Ellie through powering up the breaker switches and she then brings each system back online one by one. Unfortunately, Grant and the kids are at that moment climbing over the perimeter fence to get to the visitors center and Tim is caught on the fence as she activates it. He survives, barely.
  • Independence Day: The City Destroyers' main cannon. First, the petal-like doors surrounding it open, bathing the target city in an eerie-calm blue light. As eight pylons approach the central spire, it also unlocks and lowers the firing mechanism, the "Hammer." The pylons begin charging the spire, activating the targeting laser that shines down. Then, the "Hammer" fires an energy pulse which obliterates the target building, and the chain reaction quickly moves outwards to wipe out the target city.
  • Pacific Rim: The first time we see a Jaeger in action, it's shown activating the control area in the head, which is then attached to the main body, culminating in the neural drift that connects the two pilots and allows them to control the enormous robot. A variant is seen later as Raleigh and Mako are attempting to establish a drift.
  • The Pink Panther Strikes Again: A villainous version, with Dreyfus' Disintegrator Ray taking a long time to activate before being used in an attempt to destroy England.
  • SpaceCamp: After hearing Max's wish to go into space, Jinx goes to the NASA main network, which he activates in a scene where the top of his main body lifts up with flashing lights coming out of it, while the computers activate one by one, their lights and screens coming on. He does it a second time later, but since we've already seen in by that point this one only lasts about five seconds as opposed to more than thirty.
  • Spies Like Us has one of these broken up into two parts. There's a scene about 45 seconds long where a drive-in movie theater undergoes a transformation into a facility capable of firing an anti-ICBM beam weapon. A minute or so later there's a 1 minute 20 second long sequence where some satellites are moved into "bounce mode" so they can guide the beam properly.
  • Stargate: When the Stargate is first activated, the activation of the chevrons is specifically shown, and when Daniel figures out the final one we are treated to the glowing water of an active Stargate for the first time.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the refitted Enterprise leaving spacedock. The spacedock lights go dark, things disconnect and get out of the way, there is bridge chatter to report multiple forms of readiness, and in response to Kirk giving the orders for thrusters, Enterprise lights up and starts to move. All to the tune of the film's theme song.
    • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: After the Reliant is shot to pieces by the Enterprise, Khan, in a final act of spite, begins activating the Genesis Device, a process that involves turning a series of cylinders on a control panel and then pushing them down to reveal the next one which starts a final countdown.
    • Star Trek: Insurrection: The Son'a collector's activation process involves deploying large, sail-like structures then firing a probe into the Baku planet's rings to begin drawing in the metaphasic radiation there. We see it three times, first as a simulation Ru'afo is running, second as another simulation to trick Ru'afo into thinking it's been activated, and finally during the climax as Ru'afo and Picard battle inside the thing as it's deploying.
    • Star Trek: Nemesis: After the Enterprise rams the Scimitar, rendering their weapons inoperable, Shinzon activates the thalaron weapon, a process that takes about seven minutes as the targeting emitters on the wings are moved into position prior to firing.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope has the first Death Star need about twenty seconds from "Commence primary ignition" until it looses its Death Ray upon Alderaan. Curiously, this same Death Star needs more than three minutes to charge up enough to expunge the moon of Yavin.
  • Thor: The first time the Bifrost is shown, we are treated to the spectacle of Heimdall lowering his sword into the pedestal, the chamber begins to spin, the great spindle atop it lowers down before Heimdall fully inserts his sword, sending Thor and companions hurtling through the ether.
  • Top Gun: Maverick: In the aftermath of the airstrike, after locating an F-14 on the enemy airbase, Maverick walks Rooster through the procedure to power it up, culminating in the roar of the old bird's engines coming to life.
  • Total Recall (1990). When the alien device is activated there is a prolonged sequence of the long-dormant machinery turning on, interspersed with scenes of the protagonists and Big Bad being blown out onto the surface of Mars.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Airwolf has the eponymous aircaft's pilots go through preflight check and startup sequence at least Once an Episode, much of which is obviously Stock Footage and stops being impressive after a few repetitions, but the excellent accompanying theme music compensates a great deal.
  • The Mandalorian: In "The Rescue" Moff Gideon orders the Dark Troopers activated, a process that takes several minutes. This is a plot point: the Mandalorian and his allies are rushing to reach the cargo bay and shut them back down before they become operational. As the boarders move through Gideonís ship, we cut several times to the cargo bay where the troopers are powering on, eyes lighting up, hoses disconnecting until the droids step out of their alcoves ready for action.
  • Stargate Atlantis: After the expedition arrives on Atlantis for the first time, the city, which had been slumbering, begins reactivating. Unfortunately, this quickly proves to be a problem as Atlantis' power sources have been completely drained, and since they are underwater, the more power they use, the less of the city is able to be kept dry.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: In "In A Mirror, Darkly", Archer and his away team are required to power-up the TOS-era USS Defiant, complete with a pan round the bridge as all the workstations light up and the familiar TOS sound effects come in one by one.
  • Star Trek: Discovery occasionally features the activation of the spore drive, complete with the Computer Voice announcing "Black Alert". The sequence usually involves retrieving a canister of spores from a wall storage and inserting it into the console, which fills the reaction chamber with the spores. Later on, the tardigrade or Lieutenant Stamets are also shown being injected with interface probes from the device retrieved from the USS Glenn. Oh, and there are two sets of rings around the saucer section of the ship that spin in opposite directions as part of the drive's operation. The jump itself has the ship spin along its longitudinal axis in both directions at the same time, before teleporting away.

  • Animusic: "Future Retro" opens with each of the instruments powering up before the song starts.

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life:
    • Half-Life starts off with one, right after the Scenic-Tour Level leads Gordon to the anti-mass spectrometer.
      Stage three emitters activating... now.
      Anti-mass spectrometer to one-oh-five percent...
    • Half-Life 2 has a few of these: the teleporter in Kleiner's lab (twice), the teleporter at Nova Prospekt, and finally the Combine portal in the Combine Citadel.
    • Black Mesa adds a rather cool-looking boot sequence for your HEV suit, as seen in this video.
  • Halo:
    • Halo 2: The final battle takes place as Tartarus activates Installation 05. While the Arbiter and Sgt. Johnson try to take him down, 343 Guilty Spark keeps announcing various power-up phases completing in preparation to fire.
    • Halo 3: When Truth activates the Ark, the Control Room terminal begins to rise and change, and the holographic Halo rings down the corridor begin to light up one by one.
  • Infiltrator: Every time you launch the protagonist's helicopter you have to go through the correct power-up sequence, turning on the battery, then the avionics, then starting the engine and waiting for it to reach full revs.
  • Kirby: Planet Robobot: The first time Kirby commandeers a set of Invader Armor, we're treated to a sequence where Kirby is reconfiguring the armor with a mechanical-styled footage, changing the mech in the process to be more operable for Kirby: the titular Robobot Armor. The sequence ends with an explosion in the background.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel: This trope happens at the climax of the first game when Rean fiddles around with the controls, activating Valimar for the first time with the lights coming on and the monitor turning on.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Dormant Guardian Stalkers can be found lying inert in various places on the map, and will stir back to action if Link comes too close. Tron Lines across the robot's body flicker as it twitches to life, then a ring of blue light shines along the turret neck. The lines remain steady as the Cyber Cyclops eye brightens blue with a distinct BONG sound. Spider-like legs raise the Guardian up as this boot-up completes, moving the machine towards Link as the Laser Sight activates.
  • Overwatch: Bastion has a short one in its short when Ganymede inadvertently wakes it up. Its systems begin powering up, then its external scanners light up, and it finally pulls itself from the moss and dirt that has been accumulating for years and years.
  • Portal 2: When Chell and Wheatley accidentally reboot GLaDOS, the scene becomes focused on the master computer's recumbent form as it pulls itself together, hauls itself off the ground, and sparks to life, before GLaDOS' eye flickers on to focus on you.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The introduction trailer for HK-51 has one HK unit brought down from storage, then as the camera pans up his frame, lights come on, his power source activates, and finally his optics light up and he speaks, "Declaration: assassination protocols active. Greetings, Master."
  • StarCraft: At the end of the Protoss campaign for Brood War, Artanis and Zeratul are activating the Xel'Naga temple, which comprises of them placing the Uraj and Khalis crystals in some kind of power stream, giant arms emerging from the ground around the temple before they emit a wave of energy that wipes out all the Zerg on the planet.
  • Steel Battalion opens up each mission with a length activation routine for the Vertical Tank's Diegetic Interface that you control with the game's absurd 3-joystick controller. Close the hatch, pull up the view screens, activate the power systems, boot up the operating system, balance the VT, and pull up the weapon readouts. Each generation of VT has its own cockpit and startup sequence; first-gens are all analog controls and 7-segment displays, 2nd gen phase in some digital readouts, and 3rd gen are totally digital with multi-faceted viewscreens.
  • World Of War Craft: During the Demon Hunter campaign, the Illidari prepare to jump the Fel Hammer to a Legion controlled world. As you hit the control panel, fel energy is routed around, then a beam of it it shot up through the center as you make the jump.

    Web Original 
  • This video demonstrates the process of bringing an Airbus A320 from completely powered down to takeoff readiness.

    Western Animation 

  • In the Looney Tunes short "Compressed Hare", Wile E. Coyote activates a 10-billion-volt electromagnet (to catch Bugs Bunny after he eats a fake metal carrot). It takes several seconds to power up the magnet, including activating what appears to be a power generator.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The first time the Malevolence fires its fleet disabling weapon, the order is given, battle droids activate the system as an electronic hum begins building up, and the emitter near the front of the ship begins to glow before firing a disk of electromagnetic energy that leaves its targets helpless.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender:
    • After the cadets wake the princess and Coran, the castle begins reactivating, as different sections power themselves up and the lights come on.
    • "Taking Flight" has a sequence as Alurra and Coran prepare the castle for flight, activating various systems until it finally launches into space.
    • The same episode has another one with the Galra druids test their quintessence draining machine for the first time. It doesn't say what exactly they're doing, but various parts of the ship start glowing in sequence until it begins drawing life energy from the planet below into space.