Please be patient while the images load. They are quite helpful in clarifying the construction of the mechanical components.

[Updated 3/29/01]

NOTE: To see the marionette instruction sheet that comes with the kit, click HERE.
It includes the new method of 'blueing' the cheesecloth drapery instead of painting,
as well as illustrations on how to drape the ghost!

Halloween automata and their creators make strange bedfellows. You may even begin to share your dreams with the odd things you are in the process of creating. They often end up acquiring their own personalities and names. The spectre whose mechanism I am about to describe took for herself the name Victoria. She is definitely a character and positively a lady, one who moves with a ghostly grace and mesmerizes onlookers with frightful charm.

She floats in mid-air, wrapped in an ethereal glow, her eyes blazing red and piercing the souls of all who see her. Her arms move smoothly, each in its own natural way, while she slowly hovers, rising and falling as she gestures (the animated image above speaks for itself). Depending on the whim of her builder, she even may speak, her eyes flashing with the words. Would you like to invite to her to inhabit the confines of your beloved haunt? If so, ready your lab and prepare to conjure her forth, for Victoria's mechanism is simplicity itself and the plans for her construction lie below. Don't blame us if she haunts your house indefinitely!

As mentioned in our article, Halloween - Just Imagine, we suggest creating a background for haunts and their inhabitants. This involves a synopsis that imagineers refer to as a back story.

The figure is actually an articulated marionette, which hangs from a motor platform that attaches to your attraction's ceiling. She will require some time to construct - 2 or 3 days - but the rewards you reap will more than repay your efforts. You will get complements if you exhibit this stately ghost in your haunt.

The Materials

Read the entire article before shopping. The list below is included to give you an idea of what is to come.

* 5-7 yards of cheesecloth or similar gauzy material. It should be sturdy enough, however, to stand up to continual movement. Be sure whatever material you choose is not very heavy, or your ghost will not look 'etherial'.

* A styrofoam wig-form, which will become the head of your figure.

* One small can of fluorescent blue spray paint, and a can of flat black enamel (to render the mechanical components invisible in darkness). If you have access to an airbrush, water base paints meeting the color requirements will do just fine.

* A blacklight. It need be no larger than a 12 inch tube, if your anticipated stage location is a darkened haunt. Enclose it in a simple directional reflector, which may utilize aluminum foil. Be careful not to allow the foil to contact any electrical connections on the tube, and consider safety precautions - use no flammable materials in the reflector. It will also be handy to include some sort of shuttering device to direct the UV only where it is wanted. If the black light wanders into the spectator space, it can ruin the effect.

* A Dayton model 2Z806 gearmotor, (image at left)available at an industrial supply house called Graingers, which has outlets all over the country (U.S.A.) This model's output shaft runs at 6 R.P.M., and is perfectly suited to the effect. If you want a slow-moving ghost, the 2Z805 runs at 2 R.P.M. This part costs about $50, but is well worth it for the reliability it ofers. It is user-serviceable, and a parts list is included with each unit. (Graingers is a wholesaler - you may wish to purchase it in the name of your workplace, and pay cash. Use to locate an outlet near you.)

* Two 4-foot lengths of aluminum L-stock, with 1-inch sides. You will need 1/4 inch, 1 1/2 inch long diameter bolts and eyebolts to assemble the motor platform. You will also need some flat aluminum stock, 1/8 inch thick by 1 inch wide by at least 2 feet long. You will also need a small U- bolt, available as a component of a wire clamp kit (such as Campbell part 767-5117 - a kit intended for 3/16" size wire, shown at right) small enough to encircle the motor's output shaft. It will be used to mount the aluminum stock to the shaft and form a crank, as shown. Hardware stores like Home Depot commonly carry these items. These materials will be used to build the motor and animation assembly, which will be described and shown in pictures below.

* Three small, smoothly operating pulleys, and about 25-30 feet of rope of a diameter which will fit them comfortably without snagging between the wheel and housing. These three pullies will support the marionette described herein; but you may need a fourth and fifth pulley if you desire to build a heavier ghost, which will require a counterweight to balance it and take the excess load off the motor (more about this later.)

* Nylon twine (or very small rope) to serve as the lines securing the pulleys to the motor rig.

* Nylon monofiliment - or fishing line - about 15-20 feet. This will lead from the thicker ropes required for the pulleys to your marionette, and help keep the modus operandi invisible to the audience.

* Find some old coat hangers, which will be used to form the figure's armature beneath the head assembly. Don't use pants hangers with paper sleeves; you will need the single continuous wire variety. Avoid hangers made of thin, easily bent wire.

* Stiff paper to form the hands of the marionette (manilla folder paper is perfect.) Make sure that the paper is thick enough to hold a shape.

* Make an expedition to Radio Shack and acquire two light emitting diodes (L.E.D.'s) Ordinary ones will do in the low lighting used, and the 'high brightness' version would most likely spoil the subtlety of the effect. You will need a trim pot, preferably with a 100k ohm value. If you don't know what these are, ask the salesperson. They usually come in multiple packages, but are quite cheap. The trim pot will be used to 'ballast' the L.E.D. - that is, it will be set to prevent too much current from passing through the pair, which will be the ghost's eyes. You will also need some single strand electrical wire. If you decide to use the voice option, you will need 2 70v. speaker system audio transformers, also available from Radio Shack. These will probably cost you about 8-10 dollars each. (If you are non-technical, don't panic yet! See below for more details on this aspect of the project. Read all the information before going shopping.)

* Water-based craft glue, large bottle. Elmer's Glue will do, although Tacky (available at most craft stores) is my personal favorite.

* Main tools:

Pliers, regular and needle-nose
Wire cutters
Soldering iron and solder
Drill and bits
Patience, devotion, and loving care

The Ghost Marionette

The Head:

At this point, consider the expression your spectre will wear. Will she smile, will she frown... or simply be enigmatic? Consider your attraction, and why she is in it. Is she the owner of the haunt? Is she imprisoned there by force? Is she the hostess? Think of what she might say to your guests... be creative. She is potentially pure drama!

Begin with the Styrofoam wig stand, and locate the position of the eyes. If the form has a flat front, use your best guess. Hollow out the eye sockets and mouth as if you were making a skull. The mouth can be an open oval, as if the figure were speaking; or, if your wig form has a mouth, you can decide to leave this as it is - it all depends upon the effect you are after. Press the Styrofoam inward to form the required cavities. Don't rush, and use your creativity. You may wish to sculpt more detail into the face... jaw lines, narrow chin... whatever you can imagine.

If the wig stand has a wide, extended base, lop it off. The neck must taper, and it will attach to a hooded drapery which becomes its 'body.' If the entire ghost is draped in the same fabric, as it should be, there will be a feel of continuous texture.

If you are a sculptor, modeling paste may be used to add features. Have fun with this part, and give the face character. Take your time. This is the heart and soul of your spectre, and the part that communicates to your guests.

You will next need to cover the head with cheesecloth, or the material of your choice. I recommend that the same material be used throughout the figure. Make a thinned paste from the glue, and soak a square of the fabric large enough to cover the form. Cut this piece, and trial-fit it before soaking it in the glue. Apply the fabric, pressing it into the eye and mouth cavities, smoothing it around the facial features, and gathering the excess behind the head where it will not be seen. Do not leave wrinkles of cloth on the face, unless that is the effect you desire. Allow to dry, then trim off the excess if necessary.

The Armature:

You will be cutting coat hanger wire in this step. When working with tools on this project, be careful - you are out to build a ghost, but don't make one of yourself in the process! The typical pair of adjustable pliers has a cutter at the back of its jaws, and is perfect for this purpose.

An armature, for those who aren't familiar with the term, is the skeleton of an animatronic figure. Examine the illustration at left, which will make the following instructions clear. You need to make a set of shoulders for your ghost, and they will be approximately life-sized. (We find that making the shoulders 3 to 4 inches narrower than life-size enhances the willowy nature of the ghost.) Take a single coat hanger, and untwist the hanger hook so that you have one single piece of wire. If you've ever used a coat hanger to pop a car door lock in an emergency, you know what is being described. Bend the center of this wire into a U-shaped segment about 6 inches long. You should end up with an equal amount of wire on each side of the 'U'. The narrow 'U' is to be inserted into the bottom of the neck of the head-form, and the wire extending outward from it will form the figure's shoulders.

Make a long hook out of a piece of wire about two feet long. The hook section should be a couple of inches deep. Make a socket in the bottom of the wig form about 4 inches deep, then capture the U-section of the shoulder wire into your hook. Insert the straight segment of the hook member into the hole in the bottom of the wig form and carefully press it through until it emerges from the top of the head. Next, slowly pull the U-section of the hanger piece into the hole until the shoulders are in place below the neck. The part of the hook member coming out of the top of the head may now be formed into a hanging hook. Cut of the excess wire you don't need before forming this second hook.

Next, take a pair of pliers and bend the end of each 'shoulder' into a round loop. Using your own arms as a model for length, cut up four more coat hanger pieces to represent the lower and upper halves of both arms. Join the arm segments at the elbows with interlocking loops like the ones at the shoulders, then similarly attach the upper arms to the shoulders below the head. Make sure that the arms can swing freely and not lock up in normal movement. You will need to experiment with this. Note that in the diagram above, we've installed a cross brace, which consists of another section of wire twisted around the shoulder form. (In our video, we show the armature construction in detail, and describe our preferred method for installing the brace.)

Hands may be cut from cardboard, or manilla folde paper. Wrap the paper forms in the same gauzy fabric (soaked in the glue mixture) with which you cover the head, and leave it white for the time being. Simply attach the hands to the 'wrists' of the arms by looping the coat hanger wire through punched holes, or by using glue, to a closed loop of coat hanger. Adjust the wrist positions by bending the wire appropriately. Long, slender fingers work best, and they can be bent into gesturing positions as desired.

This is all the armature you will need. The rest of the ghost consists of flowing fabric draped around the head and over the shoulders and arms. Basically, it forms a shroud (or hair, depending upon how you wish to present it.)

The Shroud:

Here is the place for more artistic calls on your part. The hood could be an expansive cowl, or a tight-fitting wrap.

At this point, attach a string (thin nylon rope) securely to the hook on top of the head and at each wrist. Find a convenient place to hang the head-arm assembly while you drape the fabric over it.

Using a single piece of fabric, form a hooded cloak over the head form. Drape 'sleeves' around the armature to the wrists, and allow it to trail around the figure. It should also be gathered and glued around the neck, as well, to cover the base of the wig form. For the present, you'll have to let the hood skirt around the hanging string on the head. After you have decided on the drapery, you will punch a hole in the hood so that the hanging hook can protrude through it. It is, of course, possible to construct the shroud in separate sections, leaving the hood until last to uncomplicate matters. If you choose to do this, be sure that the garment looks as continuous as possible. It should flow, and not be too 'bunched' in places. (Again, this procedure is made clearer in the video.)

This is another place where your creativity should be given full measure, for there are many ways to shape the shroud. Once again, take your time, and experiment before cutting the fabric to its final dimensions.

Beneath the neck, it does not matter if the shroud begins to open up a little, but it is important to cover the neck line itself. At the bottom of the shroud, using a measurement equal to the height you wish the spectre to have, use a scissors to shred the trailing edges into tatters, in a ghostly fashion. Remember that this will look entirely different under black light after being painted.

Your ghost will not look very interesting in regular light, so don't despair if it seems disappointing at this stage. You will end up making more adjustments later, with the figure bathed in UV and floating from its rig. We will cover installing the eyes as we discuss the the animation and painting in the sections to come.

Preliminary Testing:

Remember that the ghost is a marionette, and must be able to move freely. Try flying the completely draped puppet by hand from a suitable ladder. The arms should move readily in all directions, and not hang in any position. Hidden weaknesses in the armature's linkages will immediately become apparent in this test. If there are positions where the shoulders or elbows catch or lock, adjust the placement of the joints by bending the wire. Be sure that the loops are tightly closed so that the closures do not unhook. When the ghost is being driven by its flying rig, it may assume a number of unexpected positions, and thus smooth operation at this point is imperative. Also, make sure that the figure looks as 'natural' as possible, and play with the shroud and draperies until you are satisfied with them.

Onward To Part Two...