Monday, November 5, 2012

The BUILD of a GIANT PumpkinHead!

If you have seen pictures from my Haunted Garden this year, then you have seen my first ever, over-sized prop build - an 18-foot tall, fog breathing, Giant PumpkinHead Scarecrow!  I am not sure this is the BEST or RIGHT way to build something like this. After all, it was my first one, but after many hours of searching the web for some form of a tutorial, I came to realize it must be made of foam and chicken wire. 

The inspiration came from Haunted Overload, which is a professional haunted attraction in New Hampshire. They are known for their enormous 30-foot props and breathtaking production. I have yet to visit, but I was able to draw much inspiration from them as well as get a good bit of info on their builds. Granted mine was probably half the size, but hey, you have to start somewhere. 


Drill/driver with drill bits for making holes and stuff
Wire cutters/snips
Dremel Rotary Tool 
Serrated Knife
Hand saw

2x2 wood
Flat pieces of wood for bases 
1/4" threaded rods 
Wing nuts for rods
1" Galvanized Chicken wire
Stainless Steel Screw Eye
Tie Line/Rope
A ton of Great Stuff Spray Foam
Protective Eyewear/goggles
Protective Mask
White Spandex

1" and 2" rolls of Galvanized Chicken Wire
Galvanized Steel Chain Link Fence tension wire
Galvanized Steel Chain Link Fence Tension Bars
Zip Ties
Craft wire
Black Craft Fabric/Landscape Fabric
Electrical Tape

Special F/X
Plastic Tubing
Fog Machine
Dry Ice
Bagged Ice
Bin for Fog Chilling

Random Sticks both large and small
Orange String Lights
Par38 Can Light with gel
12' Ladder
8' Ladder
Tie Line
Pully if needed

My husband gave me the idea on the actual frame which included a 2x2, 2 pieces of wood on each end and 1/4 inch threaded rods. The rods are bendable so they work great when trying to make something rounded. We drilled some angled holes into the wooden bases for the rods to stick through.
I added some wing nuts to keep the rods from going through the other end until I realized I could add another piece of wood to the other side. 6 in one hand, half dozen in the other. whatever. 
 So I rolled out the chicken wire to let it relax a bit.
I cut a 2-foot section at a time for better handling and began wrapping the chicken wire around the base. I just felt it out with the way the chicken wire wanted to wrap naturally, so I ended up doing 5-6 pieces on the lower half because they all varied in their angles. I hope that makes sense. I made sure it was flush at the base at all times.
I would cut the sections once they passed a threaded rod so that I could wrap the ends of the chicken wire to the rods themselves. 
Then wrap
And wrap some more until the entire body is covered without any holes. 
To make sure the spray foam adhered to the chicken wire,I had to cover the chicken wire with cheesecloth.
Attach the cheesecloth to the chicken wire wherever you can. It annoyingly adheres to the wire so it takes a little adjusting at times. But this is a good thing. 
Then, using a hot glue gun, I glued all the ends of the cheese cloth to the actual threaded rod, chicken wire and other open ends of cheesecloth to keep it all attached. Some areas I glued better than others, but generally it was all connected fairly well.
Then it was time to spray the Great Stuff. I used the cans for BIG gaps and i probably went through 30 cans give or take a few. Walmart had it the cheapest @ $4 a can. I did almost 2 layers on the entire head. Some areas more than others after seeing how it cured in some areas. The cold nights caused some of it to collapse a little bit. Using commercial spray foam would probably be a better way to go about this.
So this is where I have to apologize because I was so excited to paint the thing, that I forgot to take pictures of the finished spray foamed form before I shaved it. So basically you take a long serrated knife (I used mine from the kitchen) and cut the outer layer off as best you can to make it as smooth as possible. Great Stuff does not cure solid, so it is a little unpredictable and rough but this works fine for making a giant pumpkin because pumpkins have this kind of rough texture naturally.
After shaving, I also carved lines from top to bottom using a Dremel rotary tool. This was kind of tedious and VERY MESSY. Wear protective goggles and masks for this step as this foam is highly toxic. Also do this with very good ventilation, preferably outside as it creates an incredible mess. You do not want this in your lungs or eyes. Then I painted using Krylon orange Spray Paint for plastics. I also used another can in TerraCotta (which is darker than the orange) for the lines of the pumpkin to create depth. Then I added terracotta to other areas to create a bit of a blend. 
Then using that same serrated knife, I carved the face. The design is up to you. I went with a simple, classic scary face as I was very nervous to do anything too complicated. Cutting the face was the easiest part. I wasn't sure if I should leave the chicken wire in tact but I realized later it is better to leave because it gives you something to attach the fabric to. Also, be sure you can get the thing outside if you build it inside. I had to take this out one of my porch windows as it was too big to fit through the door. 
Time to cover the eyes and mouth of PumpkinHead. This is done with 2 layers of fabric. The 1st layer is white spandex to allow the inside lighting to glow. I used 200 orange string lights inside the head. White spandex is the universal theatrical lighting fabric. It absorbs color and glows beautifully from any light source. The best place for ordering spandex is They are a spandex supplier in NYC. I have been designing with spandex for 15 years, 10 of which were in my nightclub years. It has many creative uses.

Then I added a 2nd layer, using burlap. This took away the stark feel of the spandex during the day, giving it a more organic feel that is more in tune with being a scarecrow.

July 26th 2013 UPDATE:

The hat in the below picture is from 2012 when I was rushing through the make this hat. I forced myself to throw it away after the season to make way for a better one. I have removed some of the old tutorial pictures and instructions and replaced them with the new build of the new hat. 

Below is the new version! 

I started with the bottom part of the hat by using (2) sections of the 1"chicken wire. I laid them out flat letting them overlap. Using the Tension WIRE (which comes in rolls so it is already formed round), I thread it through the outer edge of the chicken wire to give it the round shape as well as tension support. You literally weave this wire through going through the top and bottom of the holes. I then weaved 2 tension Bars to create tension from ends to ends and then later realized I only needed one from front to back.
 As you can see I originally attached the top of the hat to the bottom before I placed this on the head. This process was a learning experience and I ended up removing the top again and cut 4" off  to create more support. But what is important to notice is that I used the tension wire from top to bottom and left plenty of wire at the top to work with so I could create the hat's side piece. Once I established that the bottom was placed correctly on the head, I went ahead and screwed it right in to the top base of the head (which is a wooden board). I used some kind of flat metal with holes in it to attach the two. Not sure what it was. 
It is a little hard to see all the detail in this picture, but using that tension wire, I formed it from the bottom of the top hat section through the very top and then curved it down to create the side piece. This had to be done in a 3 dimensional manner, so I did this 4 times to create what you see. Using electrical tape and craft wire, I attached the points together so they didn't move. I then covered the open sides with the 2" galvanized chicken wire (it is lighter) and attached where needed. See close up below.
You can see a little better of the form for the side of the hat. Once this was completely stabilized (which was a bit of a process as it was getting heavier and more lopsided), I started covering it with landscape fabric.
Cutting various sections at a time, i simply sprayed the black fabric with spray adhesive and literally glued it to the chicken wire, piece by piece. I went through an entire roll from Lowes. I added burlap to a few spots to create an organic weathered look as well. 
That is me. You can get a sense of scale at this point. 

We were crunched for time and I knew this creature was a scarecrow. So i decided to make his body using a 12' A-frame ladder. That is Jen and Cara by the way. They are my bad ass chick crew, who if it weren't for them, none of this could have been accomplished so well and in such quick time. Jen put together the dollhouse exhibit and Cara set the Altar and painted the fun photo booth in the tots area. They are rock stars in my world.
Ok so i suck again and did not take any pictures of how i rigged this thing. Basically, i added another piece of wood to the top wood base with screws. Then i pre-drilled a hole and screwed a 3/8 inch stainless steel screw eye loaded for 120lbs into it. This thing only weighs 30 lbs at the most though. We threw a line over the tree so we could hoist it up. I tied the end of the line down through the top of the hat and to the Screw Eye. Also note, the tubing come out of the back of his head. I ran that into his head and attached it to the front of his mouth using wire - connecting the tubing to the chicken wire. I also had to cut a hole in the spandex to allow the fog to breath out. The burlap was fine staying as it was because the fabric is very porous. 
As one person pulled the line to bring the head up, we had to get under it to hold its weight. Once in the air, we moved the ladder underneath, positioned it just so and then screwed the ladder right into the bottom of the head. We tied off the tie-line. Nice and snug. Time for some arms.
I collected large branches from the yard to use for the arms. Jen got up on the ladder and with some help, attached the branches one by one to the ladder, sliding them through the rungs on each side.
Once the large part of the arms were attached, i draped the black craft fabric over the arms, on each side, twice and even in length on each side. I stapled the seams all around to hide the ladder.
I added some burlap and jute fabrics for layers.
I added some corn stalks, sticks and rope to his arms to fill it in.
Last but not least was his fog breathing ability. We placed an 8-foot ladder behind the PumpkinHead frame with a board across the middle rungs. I wanted to make sure the fog was heavy so it didn't just fly away into the sky, so I got a plastic bin, tubing and a 1,000 watt fog machine so we could chill the fog.
You basically connect tubing to the side of the bin, tubing on the inside that wraps for a few feet, and then the fog machine to the other side.  I added dry ice to the bottom of the bin and bagged regular ice to the top to lay over the inside tubing. It worked alright but i think i either need insulated tubing next time, more ice or less distance for its travel.
I used only (1) Par38 Can fixture to up-light him. 
And there he is with his old hat!

Below is one of the "Behind The Scenes UNCUT" videos I put out on You Tube. This one is the installation of The Giant PumpkinHead.