After a visit to The Disney Haunted Mansion, I returned home with the idea of recreating the "Grand Ballroom" effect in my front yard for Halloween. Some quick research led me to the optical trick known as "Peppers Ghost". The illusion is actually simple to reproduce - build a construct with 3 basic chambers - a "Source" Area (the hidden cavity where your physical specter will reside), a "Target Chamber" (Where the effect is seen), and a "Optical Combining Chamber" (where a sheet of glass will act to project your ghost into a scene).
For a Detailed explanation on the history and mechanics of the Illusion, please visit the Wiki page from the project resource links on the left.
I framed in the basic setup using 2"x3"s and wood screws.Since it's important to control the viewing lane, I extended the structureout towards the audience at a slight angle. This created a natural "push" of the eye to the back right corner, distracting the viewer from the hidden chamber off to his left.
The Source and combining areas needed to be completely "blacked out". My method was to staple up rows of 30mm black roofing paper, available in 90' rolls from Homedepot or Rona. Avoid the 60mm - its thickness makes it too difficult to form into tight places. You need to completely eliminate any outside light from sneaking into the hidden chamber.
For the Target chamber, I used OSB board on the right hand and back walls (about $7 a sheet), and gave them a quick covering of some lovely blue paint that I found in my shed (I tend to use every leftover item I can find for prop building).
I then set up a basic static scene using a folding table, a headless diner, a few dollar store stick up pictures, and some table props. The headless diner was created using a couple fake arms, some scrap 2x3"s, rolled up newspaper, and liberal amounts of duct tape. The neck was fashioned by stacking styrofoam discs (cut from cheap insulation sheets) and wrapping them in gauze. Drinking straws were cut up and stuck in to look like veins. Some old clothing and a pair of rubber boots completed the build. Some art work, blood, extra props, and a dreamcatcher were placed to give the ghost some objects to interact with.
Dinner was served.
For the Optical chamber, I was able to find a 4' x 6' sheet of 3/8" tempered glass from a surplus construction material supplier for $40. This was mounted into a black wooden frame created from 2x3"s with a 1/2" routed grove to form a supporting structure. The framed plate glass was then secured into place at the proper 45 degree angle in the structure. Black weed control cloth was placed on the ground to blend in the black wooden frame. In the dark, the window and frame became invisible.
For the Left wall in the target chamber, I tacked up black "Lawn Weed guard" cloth. It's a light woven mesh that you normally place under small rock gardens or bark mulch areas. Any soft dark fabric would work - the goal is to have a slit curtain allowing easy access in the chamber. Remember, once the plate glass is in place, you can't enter this area from the front. Plan for this when deciding on the build location.
A spotlight was wired through a dimmer in the upper left corner of the target chamber and masked from the audience with a piece of construction paper.
This provided adjustable illumination on the headless Diner.
I found it was very important to have full control of the light level in the outdoor setting. As twilight advanced into darkness, I was able to maintain the consistency of the Spectors appearance by slow changing the light level.
Easily the biggest challenge with this prop is the lighting.
Incandescent light in the source chamber produced a clear and accurate reflection of the specter - but carried some penalties. The reflection lacked the ethereal quality I was looking for, and no matter how I positioned the light, there was enough spill to draw the viewer's attention.
Also, any inconsistencies in the dimensions of the Source and Target chambers were exposed, creating dim reflections of the hidden walls imposed on the target scene.
After several experiments, I decided to use a UV lighting strategy.
The Spector was created from a remodeled hanging prop. I drilled holes through the skull in each eye socket, and inserted low MCD red LED's,
extending the wiring to the back of the head. The appropriate resister was soldered into the circuit and a 9 volt battery connector was added.
I carved a notch into the foam to accommodate the battery, and duct taped everything into place.
For more info on how to calculate the proper values on LED circuits, I recommend you visit the LED site included in my resource links.
The paper covering was removed and replaced with the standard "Soaked in Fabric Whitener Cheese cloth". Most folks recommend Rit brand whitener to give the prop the brightest glow under UV lighting, but I've had the best success with a Dylon product found at a local fabric store.
Since I wanted the ghost to move through the scene, I fashioned a wiper motor drive unit that hung outside the hidden chamber operating in a modified
A 3/4" wooden rod turns freely on the armature, and is pushed back and forth through a 1" guide hole within the hidden chamber.
I've included a picture without the back wall construction paper. The green colour at the guide hole is just some extra cheesecloth I stuffed in to dampen any "wood on wood" rubbing noise.
Each revolution sent the far end of the rod on a teardrop shaped path.
Unfortunately, I don't have any Photo's of the Specter hanging in the hidden chamber, but I think the idea is pretty simple to figure out. She's attached
to the end of the rod facing the plate glass.
For illuminating her, I used a 48" 40w flourensent black light, mounted on a vertical 2x3" positioned on the left side of the chamber. Construction paper was tacked to the side of the lumber to mask it from the plate glass (we don't want the light source to reflect into the target chamber).
The entire structure was then given a "Pacific Northwest Finish" - which consists if a layer of poly sheeting and a peaked Tarp. (Between the time I completed construction and Halloween, we experienced about 7 days of heavy rains).
The audience was "positioned" by using strategically placed barriers.
Photographs don't do this full justice. With everything in place and the light adjusted, the specter floated gracefully through the scene -
glaring at the audience with blood red eyes. The young TOT'ers were in awe, many returning several times asking if they could have another look.
The Parents tilted their heads, scratched the chins, and tried endless to guess how it was done.
To my amusement, almost every adult noticed that the wine bottle was empty.
My updates for this project in 2008 were to improve the enclosure and movement function of the Spector. The basic construct remained the same. Again, the "wing" on the front right is to control the site lines into the prop - you need to block all visual access to the hidden Chamber.
To deal with the certain rains that it would have to endure, I "Peaked" the roof by setting in 1x4's on edge (attatched by simple "L" brackets and screws) and stapling in a layer of poly.
As last year, black construction paper was used as a surface finish inside and out. (Make sure you have a good supply of staples).
The whole structure was then wrapped in a "stone" scene-setter to transform it into a Mausoleum.
The Glass was placed, and the scene was set up in the target Chamber. I was pressed for time this year, so a brave young Monkey named Bananas agreed to sit in the Target chamber for the evening.
For the Spector, I built a tradition Flying Crank Ghost (see the resource links for the origional design) - with one twist.
I wanted to use a wiper Motor, but found the rotation was too fast.
As usual, I decided to take the difficult (i.e. cheap) road, and rather buy a slower motor, I designed a Wooden Gear reduction system to lower the RPMs to an acceptable speed. If you wish to follow me down that dark path, I've included a wonderful site in the resource links.
The rest was pretty straight forward. The FCG was soaked in Fabric whitener and suspended in the hidden chamber.
A quick coat of flat black spray paint was applied to the the Metal armature and the exposed wooden gears/mounting pieces (this is so they won't reflect into the scene - we only want to see the ghost)
The 48" black light fixture was mounted inside the hidden chamber to illuminate the spector - I also added a normal LED spot light shining up from the floor to add a bit of "presence" to the reflection by giving it a slightly shadowed appearance - the same effect you get when you hold a flashlight under your chin when telling spooky stories around the campfire. All the lights were masked by a pieces of black paper to avoid seeing their reflections in the glass.
The Final Results (Bananas refused to be in this shot):
Enjoy your Halloween, and I'll see you in 2009
Kevin (Haunting Port Moody, B.C.)