Monday, October 6, 2008


Here's a really simple papercraft freebie to deck your Halloween halls-- bats! Always a haunted house staple, these are nice because you can make a whole bunch of them and scatter them around. How simple you ask? Step 1: Download this file:bats.pdf
Step 2: Print and trim

Step 3: Trace bat shapes onto black construction paper (white colored pencils work well for this)

Step 4: Fold on dotted lines depending on what you want your bat to do (hang or fly)

Step 5: Suspend from ceilings and walls with fishing line and tape and enjoy!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Food for Mad Scientists

Gross and edible... the jello brain. We tried different colors and presentations. The blue brain was lit from a tube/stand below the glass plate. The pool underneath the brain is a nice effect, but is indeed slightly melted jello... beware the hot light bulb! A bit of milk added to the liquid of the jello mix gives the brain more opaqueness.

The year we planned the Mad Scientist Lab, we went looking for this jello mold, and found it at a local toy shop. I've seen them online as well.

We found additional edible body parts by poking around at various discount stores. Bags of foil wrapped chocolate eyes, ears, etc. filled a small plastic cauldron.

Canning jars, glass beakers and stainless steel trays make nice serving pieces. And a liberal sprinkling of rubber rats around the food didn't seem to scare off snackers! American Science and Surplus has been a favorite and affordable prop supplier for years for lab equipment and more. Their collection of odds and ends is inspiring!

Influences: Mike Mignola

When figuring out how to decorate your place for a Hallows Eve soiree it's good to get some inspiration. By now most of you reading should have at least heard of the character Hellboy from his last two movies if not the comic books that he originally sprang from. Here's some Homemade Halloween homework:
If you've never read a Hellboy graphic novel find one and do it. If you have read one before then re-read it. His mastery of lighting is incredible. His simplicity of shape truly is genius in it's subtlety and lends itself well to decorating. He can make a simple silhouette of a crow into one of the most disconcerting sights just by the way it's contrasting eye stares at you.
The picture to the right is one of my favorites from his story "The Wolves of Saint August". Check out more of his stuff at or just head to your local comics shop or discerning book store.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


So the stones are spooky and everyone's impressed by the mausoleum, but... there's a graveyard down the street. Where's the scare? Any Halloween set can be improved by denizens. You can get pretty elaborate, but simple can be effective as well.
Our dragon was more impressive with a victim at his claws. A bag of skeleton bones from the local box store and a child's role playing Knight set with a shield, helmet and sword (with some spray paint "charred " effects) and it was done.
The Mummy was made by creating a basic skeleton out of rolled up catalogs that had been accumulating (how's that for recycling?). They were tied together with plastic shopping bags and then the entire thing was wrapped in gauze bought down at the pharmacy. If you find a cotton gauze, then it's possible to "distress" it with a tea bath. The smallish skull that we used happened to glow in the dark, so we elected to keep our mummy a stark white to show up best in the dim light.
The Pirate and the Ghoul were both constructed using the same method. Two pieces of 2x4 were screwed together in a simple cross shape with the horizontal board acting as the shoulders and the vertical board extending far enough to hold up the head. Next we straitened out two sections on coat hanger wire long enough to go the length of the arms with a little extra for the hands. Taking a pair of needle-nosed pliers we then twisted one end of each "arm" into as tight as circle as possible perpendicular to the rest of the wire. This is how we screwed the wire into either end of the 2x4. This way the arms are somewhat positionable. For the Ghoul we just draped a store-bought costume from the year before over the structure. Plastic bags filled out the head, arms and hands. The pirate was just made out of old costume parts and a skull mounted on a dowel.

The Witch in the rocking chair is similar to the Ghoul and Pirate, in that it is mostly a store-bought costume mounted on a 2x4 frame. In this case however there is a base on the seat and additional 2x4 legs extending downward. She has been a mainstay at our parties, creeping guests out enough so that they would avaoid her and enter through the backdoor. If you want to steer guests and trick-or-treaters towards your backyard display, an imposing figure like this blocking the front entrance can quite effective.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The mausoleum. This was our first major grave yard upgrade. Built mainly out of plywood, Alex had initially intended to reuse the materials to make bookshelves after Halloween was over, but it turned out so cool that he couldn't bear to. This set piece has played a part in each subsequent Halloween since.
I think one of the best touches was the sonotubes that we cut in half (creating two half cylinders) to make the columns on either side. A close second place would have to go to the batshape we created out of plywood scraps to go over the doorway complete with two red rhinestone eyes that glinted in the torchlight.
Speaking of torches... I'm always amazed at how well a little black spray paint works to make things look creepier. Tiki torches in a graveyard look chintzy; black tiki torches look creepy.
The first year Alex crafted plywood sides and 2x4 support struts to the front facade to complete the look. By the next year that plywood at least had been re-purposed and we discovered that the facade itself fit nicely in front of the garden shed. This also allowed our mummified friend to set back from the entrance a little more where we could cast a nice red clip lamp on him from above.
The stone effect was created by using a large "car wash" sponge using different colors in different layers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


If you want to set the mood right when people arrive for your Halloween party or just to Trick-or-Treat why not try a graveyard! Over the years our set-up went through numerous configurations, but one of the first needs of a good graveyard would be grave stones. Yes, I'm sure you guessed that one.
There are numerous material options to make your gravestones (we have used everything from think cardboard to some HDU foam stolen from the dumpster of a local sign shop), but our favorite ended up being good old plywood. The nice thing about building stuff like this is that you don't need huge or perfect pieces and you can probably find some less expensive scraps at a material salvage company or even from leftovers from your own projects.
We cut all our graves will a skill saw, so it we wanted to keep the shapes simple. A cemetery is obviously the best place to find some good examples of creepy stones to draw inspiration from, but keep in mind that half a dozen scary stones will be more impressive than on Gothic masterpiece.
Decorative molding from either a hardware or craft store can add a nice 3-dimensional aspect and give your creations a little more realism. Even foofy floral elements can look sinister if you paint them with enough black!
Speaking of paint... There are numerous choices here as well. We light our sets with clip lamps and colored bulbs, but if you are depending on moonlight or some other distant light source remember that high color contrast is important for any witty inscriptions you want people to see. Glow-in-the-dark paint might work as well. Use as many faux painting techniques as you feel comfortable with; we relied heavily on wiping, dripping and sponging.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pirated from the web

So it's been while. As I begin to prepare some of our own posts take a gander at this incredible pirate mask I found at
It was created talented puppet builder Kanja Chen whose work I've been following since his Chewbacca puppet was featured in a magazine.
This mechanical mask uses a $30 hockey helmet as the base and a bike cable to control the mouth and eyebrows. It's somewhat complicated and uses some pretty specific materials, but the finished product is really impressive. Check out his tutorial at the link above. There's also a youtube video to show it working.
I'll be adding some more stuff soon, but in the meantime enjoy the pirate. It definitely is Chensational.