Saturday, August 7, 2010

hands, head and forms

Once the mechanism is built it needs to be covered so it looks like a ghost. This blog entry will cover prepping the head and hands, and getting the first layer of cheese cloth on.  The next entry will cover building the forms for arms and torso.

I have been building hands using newspaper and masking tape to build a simple form, then applying paper mache over the form.  I use my own hand as a model, then exaggerate the length of the fingers.  You don't have to be too picky about the result in terms of texture and form, i.e. if the knuckles are a little big, or if a finger is a little crooked, or the finish isn't completely smooth you likely will not notice.  The hands (and all the forms being built for the ghost) will be painted black and covered with cheese cloth.  Only the cheese cloth will be visible when the ghost is in operation in the UV light, so that and not the forms are the focus for the final appearance.

I ball up some newspaper for knuckles, then role the knuckles in some masking tape to make the fingers.  After making the fingers, I taped these to a piece of cardboard cut to the size of the desired hand (minus the fingers), then tape some additional small newspaper roles along the back to form the hand bones.  For the leer ghost I bent the hands to cup them some and give them a 3 dimensional look, and curled the fingers slightly.  Finally apply a couple of layers of paper mache, giving the hands a final forming to get the look you want. 

While the hands are drying I got started on the head.  I used a block with a 23/64" hole (that is 1/64" larger than a 3/8" hole, perfect for holding a 3/8" dowel) inside the skull, then used a scrap 3/8" dowel inserted in the block to hold it tight against the inside of the foam skull.  Hot glue is then dripped in between the foam skull and the block.  This will provide a good way to mount the skull on the ghost.  The final step for preparing the head consisted simply of spray painting the foam skull flat black. 

I have found 2 basic approaches to applying the cheese cloth with the cloth stiffener.  The first approach consists of dipping the cheese cloth in the stiffener, squeezing out the excess, CAREFULLY spreading the cheese cloth out and applying to the form.  The stiffener should be the consistency of milk, add a little water to get the consistency right.  I cut several pieces of cheese cloth about 3" square to 4" square.  Any smaller and the cheese tends to fall apart while you are trying to spread it out after dipping into the stiffener.  Any bigger and it will be too big for the head or hands.  The result of this approach is rather ragged looking, with the weave getting spread out, and strands rolling up.  The result contains voids and what looks like veins.  I like to use this as a first layer.  Additional layers added later will build on this using a different technique. 


With the eyes shaped by the cheese cloth, the next step was to add the LED eyes.  I simply solder a couple of ultra bright 10mm LEDs together in parallel, along with enough wire to reach from the head to where the motor will be.  For now I attached a 2 AA battery holder on the other end to power the LEDS temporarily.  The LEDs are inserted into holes in the skull, and once in position hot glue is carefully added to the eye sockets.  This will hold the LEDs in place, and diffuse the directional light from the ultra bright LEDs.  If you make a mistake, adding a little more hot glue will re-melt the hot glue it touches, allowing you to adjust the eyes somewhat.

The hands are sealed with polyurethane, then cheese cloth is applied.  I used the same technique of dipping 3-4" squares of cheese cloth, squeezing out the excess, spreading out and applying.  In the case of the hands I purposely left some of the cheese cloth rolled up to simulate veins on the backs of the hands.

As a test run I mounted the hands and head on the mechanism.  A picture and video of the result is shown below.


  1. That has got to be one of the coolest props ever. Thanks so much for sharing. I love it.


  2. Amazing piece of work. Loving the ghost skull lit with LED's. I will try this as well for the upcoming Halloween, thank you for the detailed steps to follow. Will post here what I end up making :D