Does your haunt have room for three more spooks?
Then it's time you built our latest invention!
If you've been browsing Etsy and other vendor sites, you've undoubtedly seen a number of different yard decor cutouts of these three famous ghosts. You also know they are selling well. Haunted Mansion themed home haunts are everywhere! But have you seen any non-projection outdoor HM props that move? Probably not!
Well, that problem has been dealt with for you. True, we can't sell you one. But if we had this up for sale the price would frighten you off anyway! And since you found us, it is very likely you are a do-it-yourself home haunter or even a maker.
As with all our prop builds, most beginners can handle this project without undue problems. The famous hitchhiker ghosts, Phineas, Ezra and Gus cutouts are a craft project your non builders can easily handle and have fun with. The mechanism uses our typical home-store aluminum channel and flat construction. The main motor is the same one used in our our FCG (Flying Crank Ghost), along with a smaller, inexpensive one available on Amazon.com.
I have never met a haunter who isn't fond of the world's most famous dark ride. Last year in late summer I was cruising Etsy for ideas and ran across this decal of the hitchers by The Davenport Designs (click picture for link.) I ordered one immediately. Afterward, I began looking at the yard cutout examples mentioned above - light bulb! Since I built the original Hitcher, I had been wanting a life-size version, and decided the year for this had come. I liked the decal graphics so much I also decided to avoid re-inventing the wheel and adapt it to my purpose. It needed to read clearly from the street in front of my house, so I designed new faces for the trio and made adjustments to the thumbing hands and arms.
If Phineas' new head reminds you of Timothy Spall, that is intentional. I made Ezra's head larger and gave him a new hair-do, and a more kid-friendly appearance. Gus needed bigger eyes, and I gave him more of a sleepy look.
The figures are graphics pasted on foam-core board 1/4" thick. I printed them out in tiles and matched the results up like a puzzle, then I glued therm to the individual body parts.
I used the same type of mechanism concept used on my 1/3 life size 3-D Hitcher, shown at the right (click image for link.) If I had had time, I might have made the new machine dimensional, but after consideration, found the cartoon-y look was quite pleasing to me to begin with.
Initially, I had prepared to brush on weatherproof acrylic varnish to protect the cutouts from the weather. A good friend warned me about instant theft being an issue, so I opted to let them shelter in my open garage door while 'on stage' and close the door when done for the night. (If you have the same worry, be sure the unit is chained down, or do something to provide an enclosure around it. Or use your garage like I did.)
To the right are two versions of the graphic I used to do the paste-up. I put an overlay of 4" x 4" grid on one for those who prefer free-handing with paint or ink marker. Just right click and download for full-size copies you can dissect and print out using Gimp or Photoshop. They are done at the right graphic density for this, and it worked out well for me.
UV paint was unnecessary, as the card stock I printed on was alive with optical bleach and glowed brightly under the high-power black light I used for illumination. If you hand paint, you will need to consider this. You can either use theatrical UV paint or just glue optically bleached paper up to the surface and paint black line over that.
One item might be improved, however: Phineas and Ezra's facial graphic lines are a bit too thin for me now, and I would thicken them if I did things again from scratch. Also, note that I used thin hobby plywood for the heads and hitching hands instead of foam core, as I was concerned about bending due to wind.
I always encourage folks to do their own revisions to my props to improve suitability for their haunts. The images could be of your own characters - maybe even caricatures of family members, for example. Of course, this mechanism could be used to drive 3-D figures as well, so long as they are light in weight.
In the upcoming material, it will be clear that I did not make Ezra doff his hat for 2020. I plan on doing that this year, and hope to show a way to do that in my upcoming video (cross your fingers!)
Now I will take you step by step through the process I followed in making the 2020 original.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
The first step was printing up the graphics and gluing the pieces down. I used the thickest card stock my printer was comfortable with, because from past experience I knew that typical letterhead stock tends to wrinkle up over time, even when thoroughly glued down and flattened. (The card stock worked well, and is holding up still as I write this a year later.)
As mentioned above, the heads and Phineas and Ezra's hitching hands were glued to craft plywood 1/4" thick instead of foam core board, as shown at right. These were cut out with a jigsaw after drying thoroughly. Gus's hand was attached to foam core and supported with a strip of wood glued to it like a spine, and that also held the bracketed hardware, as shown at lower right. This was a simple length of wire surrounding the bolt, as you can see.
I recommend spraying all your card stock with acrylic fixative before gluing it up. If you decide to weatherproof, make sure your overcoat on the finished parts does not block UV!
To attach the pieces to the finished machine requires some sort of bracketing. To keep this simple and to allow easy positioning of the installed figure limbs, I used wire from house wiring Romex, the orange kind rated for 20 Amp service. It is very strong but bends fairly easily at need. If you do not have lineman pliers (blue, at right) and a heavy duty pointed-nose plier, you will need to get these or borrow them to do the cutting and bending required. (This wire takes effort to cut with smaller cutters, and cheap small ones may even break under the strain.) I also need to remind you that eye protection is a must with this work.
The heads got their brackets near their center of their faces, at about nose level, as this was the center of the action I desired. Try rolling your head left and right, and you'll see this is about right, especially for cartoon figures.
The decision to paint the back of the cutouts black was made based on two things. First, I had a lot of black satin Rustoleum acrylic on hand and wanted some seal against moisture; secondly, I reasoned that any dim light source behind the prop might use a white surface as a convenient reflector, to the detriment of the illusion.
I always use 1/4" coarse thread hardware when making my machinery, and I got stainless steel bolts for the supports that I expected to take a heavier load.