I've never really celebrated Halloween properly before, I usually just carve a couple of pumpkins, watch Michael Myers terrorise the residents of Haddonfield then call it a night. This year I decided to do something different.
I've always looked with envious eyes upon the big houses and the large gardens filled with wonderful Halloween decor and generally looking glorious. Whereas I on the other hand live in a typical terraced house, so no front garden or any suitable outside space for decorating. With this in mind I needed to think a little more "inside the box" (see what I did there?) and the idea of a window display was born.
Converting my front room into a display area was no mean feat, I had to live in chaos for a few days to make room for the display so a little sacrifice was needed on my part (and that of my girlfriend, who thankfully didn't shoot me down over the idea of transforming our living space into a total mess).
I'd recently re-watched the Harry Potter movies and had already made two other Harry Potter related Instructables earlier this year, so continuing the Harry Potter theme into Halloween was a no-brainer. In this Instructable we'll cover the process of gathering your props and materials, give you advice on how to build "the set" and how to re-create some of the Hogwarts magic right there in your front window. So without further ado, let us begin...
Step 1: Fantastic Bits and Where to Find Them
The success of the window was really going to depend on two things, the props, and how much magic we can re-create. We'll want to have as much of both as we possibly can. When it comes to the props quantity is everything, with so many memorable items from the series of books and films, the visitors will expect to see certain things from the wizarding world, so we have to be sure to re-create or lay our hands on as many items as we possibly can.
My display featured a combination of bought props, made props and other general items that I happened to have around the house. Here's a list of the main items that featured in my display:
- Floating Candles
- Hogwarts Coat of Arms
- Moving Picture
- Self-Stirring Cauldron
- Harry's Glasses
- The Marauder's Map
- Daily Prophet Newspapers
- Golden Snitch
- Colour-Changing Bottle
- Selection of miniature Potion Bottles
- Spell Book
- The Elder Wand
- "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Book
- Gryffindor House Sweater
As well as these there were also a number of other random items that are not directly related to Harry Potter or wizarding, but they fit right in. Some of these random items included:
- Perfume Bottle
- Owl Bookends
- Hardback Books
- Wine Decanter
- Glass Pebbles and Fabric Pouch
- Pillar Candle
- Picture Frame (I swapped the photo for one I had printed of Severus Snape)
It's really just a case of looking at what you have around your house that wouldn't look out of place in your display, you'll be surprised what you can find when you start to think more like a wizard. And of course as it's Halloween you'll want to get a pumpkin in the display too!
In the next steps I'll guide you through finding and making the featured props, then we'll get into the knitty gritty of building the set.
Step 2: The Props
I found that getting all the props together was quite exciting, they were like a series of mini-projects to keep you busy in the run up to the big day. Here's my guide to getting you started on assembling your prop collection.
We'll begin with the Floating Candles, which for me are one of the most iconic things in the Harry Potter series. They really add some magic and mystery to the scene, and there's a real sense of "How did you do that?" about them (seriously, I got asked that a lot!). I used the Levitating Candles Instructable by makermike for my inspiration. Follow that and you won't go far wrong. The only thing I did differently was to use a slightly wider pipe for my candle and I didn't cut the LED tea-lights, I simply placed them on top the pipes (largely because I wanted to re-use the tea-lights, but it also meant the tip of the candle had a nice glow around the edge of the body). The candles were then secured in place by using fishing line fixed to a curtain pole and the base of adjacent light fittings.
Hogwarts Coat of Arms
The Coat of Arms is crafted from felt and is actually an Instructable that I published recently. It's a nice little project, even the kids can help out with the felt and the gluing. It's a lightweight item so can be fixed to the set in a number of ways, more on how I secured mine later when we cover the set building step.
This is another of my Instructables. The Self-Stirring Cauldron is a battery powered unit with a stepper-motor to provide the rotating action, a couple of LED strips provide the illumination. It's an independent unit that can be swapped and moved to any cauldron or pot that it fits inside of. I tend to line the inside of the cauldron with tin-foil to increase the effectiveness of the lighting.
To make Harry's glasses I simply used some copper wire, bent it to shape and painted them black. Then cut some circles out of acrylic sheet, glued it all together and hey presto! Harry's glasses. My girlfriend actually did most of the work with this one. They look a little rough around the edges, but Harry was always rather careless with them.
The Marauder's Map
For a truly amazing Marauder's Map I recommend you check out this Instructable by DannyMcMurray. In the case of my Marauder's map I simply downloaded a PDF from MediaFire that I found on Blogspot. I printed it onto hammered finish vellum paper as it has an old parchment look about it.
Daily Prophet Newspapers
A Google Images search for Daily Prophet Newspapers yields some good results. Again, print onto hammered finish vellum paper to give it that authentic look.
Step 3: Even More Props
This is a lovely little item and one that every Harry Potter fan will instantly recognise. The snitch was 3d printed and painted with a combination of brass, gold and aluminium. The 3d model was created by Porda, check out his 3D Printed Golden Snitch Instructable for more information.
Another 3d printed item. As I'm unable to print using clear filament with my 3d printer I decided to paint the egg timer white instead, painting the rest of it in brass. I finished it off by adding a brass chain. The 3d model I used is by n8zach on Thingiverse, however there are numerous 3d printed and non-3d printed alternatives here on Instructables.
The illuminated colour-changing bottle serves two purposes. Not only does it look a little magical, but it also provides some additional ambient lighting to the set. For this I used the uplighter base from one of my previous Instructables, the Multicolored Frozen Rose LED Light. I placed a sealed glass bottle filled with water on top of the uplighter, I also used a piece of black plastic sheet with a hole cut in the middle to prevent unwanted light leakage from the base.
Selection of Miniature Potion Bottles
I found a bunch of miniature corked bottles (little more than an inch high) on eBay. I filled them with water and mixed in a little food colouring.
Using this image of a page from "Advanced Potion Making", print it out, fold down the middle and place it over the existing pages of a real paperback book of equal size. As only one page of the book is visible it gives the illusion of being an entire book on potion making. Simple, yet effective.
The Elder Wand
Having bought one for my girlfriend as a gift a while back, I was fortunate enough to have it to hand. If like Voldermort you have more trouble laying your hands on it, there are plenty of Instructables to help you.
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Book
I already had this book to hand, if you don't have a copy already it's available in all good book stores! The observant among you may have noticed that the time-turner was placed on top of the book, and with the movie being a prequel.. well, you probably get the idea.
Gryffindor House Sweater
Not something that was pulled from the Hogwarts lost and found, but I was fortunate enough to win this in the Instructables Wizarding contest recently. Didn't anticipate it making an appearance in a future Instructable though, but it's gone to good use already.
Step 4: The Moving Picture
Another iconic part of the Harry Potter series are the moving pictures located around Hogwarts. It also proved to be one of the standout features of my window display. At first I considered using a moving picture taken directly from the Wizarding world, but I decided it would be a far better idea to create my own for that personal touch.
I'm using a video sequence that I created myself and it's played-back using an old 22" monitor that I salvaged from the trash. We'll then be making a decorative frame out of cardboard to glam it up a little. The steps are summarised below:
Record the actors
The first task is to record the video of your actors. In this case, myself, the girlfriend and Luger the dog. We re-used some old costumes that we had left-over from a fancy-dress party last year, corpse bride and groom. The idea is to superimpose the desired background over the video of the actors later, so I used a green screen (though a plain blank wall should also be sufficient). Remember when acting out your scenes that you're generally looking for slow movements with long pauses of stillness in-between. You want it to look static for large periods of time to add to the effect. Once you have all your video footage recorded it's time to transfer it to the computer for editing.
Edit the video sequence
For this task I used Adobe After Effects CS4. I'd never used the software before, but I had it as part of my Adobe Creative Suite software. Fortunately it's relatively straight forward to use and the UI is intuitive, but if you get stuck on anything Google and YouTube is your friend, I found the answers to most of my questions there.
You'll want to import your video sequence into After Effects, then use a Chroma-key filter to make the background transparent (in my case, the green screen). For more information on using Chroma key filtering in After Effects check out this YouTube Tutorial.
Now at this stage you can import your desired background. I'm using a haunted house that I found on Google Images. This background image will effectively overlay the transparent areas, leaving you with your actors video sequence in front of it. This is a basic compositing effect, more detailed information on this is available from Adobe's compositing and transparency overview and resources.
Additional Special Effects (Optional)
I added a number of extra effects to my video to give it more of a wow factor. After Effects includes many built-in effects for things like rain and lightning, without being familiar with the software I managed to figure it out and got a fairly decent outcome. Check out this YouTube Tutorial on rain and lightning for more information. For the animated snake and birds I searched for green screen videos on YouTube and used the compositing technique touched upon above.
Creating the Frame
The picture frame is simply cut out of cardboard. I took two large pieces of cardboard, cut the inner rectangle out the same size as the visible area of the screen, then cut the outer edges of the rectangle to my desired size. I cut both pieces of card to two different outside widths to create a perception of depth when glued together. I also cut four random shapes to act as corner detail, then glued everything together with hot-melt glue and finished with a coat of metallic brass paint. Leave to dry, then fix to the monitor with some Blu-Tac (or hot-melt glue if you want a more permanent fixing). We'll cover how to secure the moving picture / monitor to the set later in the set building step.
The Moving Picture could probably be an Instructable in its own right, but as it was created specifically as a part of the Halloween Display I included it here. Just let me know if you have any questions or if you require more specifics. As this was the first time I'd ever used After Effects I was really just winging it.
Step 5: Random Props
With the main props out of the way it's time to see what we can do with the random things we have lying around the house, it's quite surprising what you might find. I managed to lay my hands on the following:
- Perfume Bottle (with decorative top)
- Owl Bookends
- Hardback Books
- Wine Decanter (filled will water and food colouring added)
- Glass Pebbles (used to decorate glass vases)
- Fabric Pouch (normally used to store jewellery)
- Pillar Candle
- Owl Paperweight
- Small Birdcage (tea-light candle holder)
- Pumpkin (with the words Harry Potter carved)
- Picture Frame
I took an old picture frame, removed the original photo and replaced it with a photo of Severus Snape that I had printed for the display. I also removed the glass as I didn't want any unwanted glare or reflection, a card photo mount was sufficient to hold the Snape photo in place.
Now that you have all of your props you're ready to start building the set, time to get down to the knitty gritty.
Step 6: Building the Set
The set serves two main purposes, it allows us to segregate the display area from the rest of the house (maintaining privacy), and it also enables us to have more control of environmental factors such as lighting and the shape and size of the allocated space.
To achieve the segregation I'm using plastic sheets that are large enough to reach from the ceiling to the floor in a single piece (approximately 2.35 meters in my case). I only need to cover two sides of my display area as the window is on one side, and the adjacent wall is being used in the display, so I purchased four of the following 2.4m x 1.37m black plastic tablecloths from Amazon UK. I used two sheets per side.
Using a step ladder and some duct tape I fixed the shortest edges of the plastic to the ceiling. Wary of the duct tape potentially removing paint from the ceiling when it comes down, I was careful to only use small contact points on the paintwork. Secure your sheets until you have achieved the desired shape and size, taking care to ensure that there are no gaps or points where light can leak through. Also apply tape to the vertical joins between the sheets, be sure to do this on the outside of the sheeting and not on the side internal to the display area, you don't want your black background to be spoilt with shiny silver tape.
Note: Remember to leave an opening for you to gain access to the display area, you'll need to get in and out to set-out the props. I left a larger overlap of the sheeting in the area I designated as the access door.
Mounting the Screen
With the main outline of the set in place it's time to think about some of the other structural elements. In order for us to mount the moving picture for example, we'll need a strong mount. I knocked together a simple right angled frame out of some scrap timber that I had in the shed (it's held together using some large woodscrews), then using a standard VESA mount as a template drilled the four monitor mounting holes in it.
Cut a gap in the plastic sheet on the opposite side (internal of the display area) and you're pretty much ready for the screen to be mounted (VESA mount compatible screens usually use M4 screws, I'd also recommend the use of washers). For added piece of mind I used a crate of water and a heavy book to act as a counterweight on the frame.
Mounting the Coat of Arms
To enable me to hang the Coat of Arms I took a long piece of wood batten and drilled a 4mm hole on the one end. I then secured the opposite end to the back of the monitor mount frame (the one we just built) at an angle. This resulted in the batten being set a few inches back from the plastic sheeting, to compensate for the distance I used a long M3 threaded rod, secured in place with a couple of nuts and washers, then poked the rod through the plastic. Tthis was sufficient for safely hanging the Coat of Arms.
Tip: Patch up any holes in the plastic sheeting with a strip of duct tape.
This completes the set building, time to take a break, have a tea (or coffee) and get ready to start decorating your new display area.
Step 7: Decorating the Display
Now for the exciting part, it's time to decorate the set.
I started on the visible wall, what I'm referring to as the "feature wall". Here I placed the framed Severus Snape photo. I decorated the shelf below with some fake cobweb, lined up a collection of Harry Potter books and placed my Harry Potter pumpkin on a small table just below the shelf.
For the bulk of the display items I'm using a dark wood table. This is usually my dining table, but for the purpose of the Halloween display it's become a potion mixing table. Move the table into place, lay-out your props and position them until you are happy with them. You might end up doing a bit of chopping and changing, so just keep experimenting until you find a layout that you are happy with.
The Black Walls
As covered in the previous step (Building the Set), the Moving Picture and the Coat of Arms are wall mounted. If you haven't already, fit the painted cardboard frame to the moving picture. To complete the wall decoration I moved my grandfather clock into the display area (I was hoping to make a Weasley clock face, but I unfortunately ran out of time), I also placed the Gryffindor House Sweater over the back of a chair.
The ceiling is decorated with the iconic floating candles and they are secured using fishing line (the line is virtually invisible in low light). Drill small holes in the candle tubes and pass the line through them one by one, then secure to your ceiling using whatever means of fixing you have available. In my case I made use of the front window curtain pole and a couple of strong light fittings.
Tip: Use a sewing needle to help pass the line through the holes in the tube. If you struggle to get through, make the holes bigger.
In the next step we'll be adding some magic to the display.
Step 8: Special Effects and Lighting
To create that bit of magic we are going to use a fog effect coupled with multi-coloured lighting, and of course the candles.
I bought a pack of 12 for around £3 (approximately $4) I used 10 of them in the display:
- 6x - Floating Candles
- 2x - Pumpkin
- 1x Pillar Candle
- 1x Birdcage Candle
This is a dimmer controlled integrated wall light, it illuminates the Severus Snape photo and also provides some ambient lighting to the display area as a whole.
The multicolored uplighter base illuminates a glass bottle filled with water, smoothly cycling through different colours. It looks magical and also adds ambient light to the display
Colour-Changing LED Strip
Typically these come with a self-adhesive strip, I secured it to a piece of cardboard then Blu-Tac'ed the cardboard to the front wall under the window. Like the bottle it smoothly cycles through different colours and does a good job of throwing a low level light across the display table. These LED strips are readily available on eBay for a steal. I used a strip that I had left-over from a previous project.
The Fog Effect
This is what gives the display a real wow factor, it seemed to go down well and it creates an eerie low lying fog that drifts across the table. It does a good job of diffusing the light from the LED strip as well.
The fog is created using dry-ice with warm water and it is pumped to the table from behind the scenes by a custom built fog machine. Powered by a large 12v fan salvaged from a desktop PC, it's is hooked up to a switchable voltage transformer so the fan speed can be controlled by lowering or increasing the voltage. I ran it at 7.5v for a more controlled fog dispersal. My fog machine is based on the Mini Dry-Ice Fog Machine Instructable by TheGeekPub.
To get the fog to the table I used two lengths of plastic rainwater gutter piping and a couple of elbow joints. Carefully positioning the elbow outlet on the back of the table behind the cauldron so the pipe is obscured from view of the window.
Dry-ice is available to buy in some shops around Halloween, if you ask your local fishmonger kindly enough he might give you some as well. Alternatively there are on-line retailers that specialise in the supply of dry-ice. In the UK I use ChilliStick who offer a next day delivery service.
CAUTION: If used incorrectly dry-ice can be dangerous. Always follow safety guidelines, handle correctly and never consume. Remember to use common sense at all times and store in an insulated container.
Step 9: Public Response and Final Thoughts
The window display was a roaring success, I had positive feedback from everyone who saw it and some people even made more than one visit so they could bring friends and family to have a look.
Overall I'm very pleased with it and I'm definitely glad that I did it. I look forward to creating another Halloween window display next year, though I suspect I may have inadvertently started a Halloween decor war with my neighbour who has vowed to come back bigger and better next year, the gauntlet has been laid down now.
I hope you enjoyed the Instructable, as always your questions and comments are welcomed and I endeavour to answer every one.