Breathe some life into your Halloween decorations by making an ordinary pumpkin play an animation! No electronics, no strobe lights; you just need a lamp, a pumpkin and something to spin it on.
This Halloween, I wanted my jack-o'-lantern to stand out from the crowd without drifting too far from tradition. I wanted it to be hand-carved and I wanted it to be made from a real pumpkin. I also wanted it to move.
I think it should be a good conversation piece at any Halloween party, giving the guests something interesting to play with in between eating horrifying foodstuffs and awkwardly seducing masked strangers.
The mechanism for this jack-o'-lantern is very simple, falling somewhere between a zoetrope and a film projector. Unlike a normal zoetrope, where you have to look through a series of slits to view a moving image, my jack-o'-lantern shines an external flashlight up through the slits to illuminate the pumpkin's innards. As the pumpkin rotates, its insides are only lit whenever one of the slits aligns with the flashlight, causing it to flash in time with the frames of an animation carved into the pumpkin's skin.
One of the neat things about this design is that it automatically syncs the flickering light with the animation, regardless of how fast you spin the pumpkin. This means that it requires no fiddly electronics or separate mechanical shutter mechanism; it will flash exactly as fast as it needs to flash when you spin it by hand. The blurry video here doesn't do it justice - the effect really needs to be seen to be believed!
Now! Keep reading for full instructions on how to make your own...
Just how long will this project take?
That really depends how much effort you want to put into it and what materials you already have to hand. There are four stages to making an animated jack-o'-lantern, but you can optionally skip or at least dramatically shorten some of them. This could be an evening project or a whole weekend project, depending how you feel.
1. Designing and drawing your animation
For me, this was by far the most time consuming part of the project. If you want to carve your own design into your lantern, it will require a solid understanding of frame-by-frame animation as well as the ability to draw a coherent animation in a very limited number of frames. If you'd rather skip this step, the internet is full of short animated gifs just waiting to be stolen and turned into Halloween decorations. Of course, I'll also provide the animated bat template I used to carve my own pumpkin, meaning you can move straight on to step 2.
What you need: Printed or drawn images of each frame in your animation, scissors.
2. Building/finding a turntable
This is where you'll probably have to use a bit of ingenuity. You need to find a way of spinning your pumpkin (I feel that should be a euphemism for something, but I'm not sure what). How you do it is up to you.
There are many different ways you could build a pumpkin turntable. My method was guided entirely by what I had lying around the house. You may come up with a better design (e.g. using a lazy Susan, a power drill or an old bike wheel), or you may already have a suitable turntable at home (e.g. a record player or a pottery wheel).
The key features of a DIY turntable:
What you need: Something spinny.
3. Carving the pumpkin
This part is unavoidable but surprisingly straightforward. Expect to spend a couple of hours hollowing and carving your pumpkin. I recommend setting aside some time to make delicious soup from the flesh of your pumpkin.
What you need: Pumpkin, big knife, big spoon, sharp craft knife/scalpel, sticky tape.
4. Setting up the lighting
After you've done all the hard work, you still need to light your jack-o'-lantern. This is not hard, but it can be fiddly and it makes a huge difference to the final appearance. Allow at least 40 minutes for fine-tuning and don't leave it until the last minute.
What you need: Flashlight (preferably LED), cardboard box, scraps of opaque card, opaque black insulation tape.
Still with me? Have everything you need? Wonderful! Let's go!