Following is my Instructable on how I carved (and, though extremely difficult, how YOU could carve) my 2016 pumpkin "Civil War".
More so than my specific pumpkin, this Instructable will cover the techniques I use to carve the ultra detailed pumpkins I post every year. You can apply these techniques to any specific picture you like to get pumpkins similar to mine.
Remember, this is EXTREMELY challenging, but I always like to post an instructable to show people each year how I did it.
I have embedded time-lapse videos of the ENTIRE process (except pattern drawing), so feel free to watch those. However the Instructable covers the details of how I go about odoing what I do. Enjoy!
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
The only tools used are pictured.
Tools include: Serrated pumpkin carving knives (from those kits you can by ANYwhere around Halloween)
X-acto knife with various, interchangeable blades
Large spoon or pumpkin kit scoop to empty out the pumpkin innards
Ball point pen or fine-tipped Sharpie (Sharpies can get annoying as the wet pumpkin can make drawing a pain)
Light bulb(s) and free hanging plug and socket(s)
Paper (for your pattern; tracing paper works best for the technique I will show later)
Clear packing tape
A computer screen or laptop
Step 2: Choose a Subject
Each year I try and choose a subject that interests me. I always try to go more challenging than the previous year as well. You should look for an image with strong lighting as this adds contrast. The more contrast to the image, the easier it tends to translate to the pumpkin. Having some really good highlights helps to add real punch to the finished product.
This year I chose a promotional image from Captain America: Civil War. First and foremost, I am a HUGE fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and carving something you really like is always more fun! But secondly, this image has GREAT contrast and details. Captain America's shield deflecting Iron Man's repulsor ray makes for a spectacular central focus, with it's bright light and shower of sparks. And both character's outfits provide an immense amount of detail that make for a visually arresting end result.
Image crest: Marvel Comics, found via Google Search of "Captain America: Civil War"
Step 3: Draw Your Pattern
Many people will take their desired image into photoshop and up the contrast and run it through a 3 or 4 step greyscale feature. First of all I am not well versed in photoshop. Second of all, I feel doing this tends to rob the image of many details, and often times washes out some areas while making other areas unnecessarily dark.
By hand drawing the image you can really choose exactly how the pattern will look to you and what exact details stay and go.
Another suggestion is to trace your image. Don't be afraid to trace! This is easiest to do if you have a laptop, but you can accomplish it with a regular computer screen as well.
Step 4: Using a Laptop to Trace Your Pattern
First, up the brightness on your computer to the highest it will go. Then, tape the tracing paper to your screen ONLY AT THE TOP. This will allow you to constantly lift the paper to check for details, etc.
BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR SCREEN if you decide to do this. The best advice is to initially trace the outlines of large shapes (like Captain America's head) before moving onto the details.
Tracing is a simple way to achieve a very close to source final pattern. When it comes to color coding, I use a tiered system of greys and white. In the pattern drawing white areas will have the pumpkin skin and most of the pumpkin flesh removed, while successively darker greys are then used to denote taking less pumpkin flesh and/or skin.
Step 5: Tape the Pattern to the Pumpkin
It is now time to tape the pattern to the pumpkin. This part is tricky, as you need to "mold" the flat pattern around the round pumpkin. The best way to accomplish this is to cut the pattern at strategic points so the paper can be folded and spread in various directions to get the pattern as flat to the pumpkin as possible.
First I generally tape the pattern to the pumpkin at the top. I then make cuts and folds as mentioned before into the non-essential areas of the pattern (i.e. blank white areas, spaces between extremities, fingers, portions of armor, etc.). You can see that I removed most of the paper between the character's legs. This allowed me to closely "mold" the pattern around the roundness of the pumpkin.
Step 6: Transfer the Pattern to the Pumpkin
To transfer the pattern I employ a deceptively simple technique. I simply use a ballpoint pen and trace over every line of the pattern. Once finished I remove the pattern and the indentations of the pen can be seen relatively clearly on the surface of the pumpkin.
Step 7: Trace Over the Indentations From Step 5
Once the pattern has been fully traced over, the paper is removed. I then simply use a ballpoint pen to trace over all the previously made indentations.
KEEP THE PATTERN!!! Though you will have traced over EVERYTHING, it can get confusing as to what line is what, so you should always keep your patterns so you can refer back to them as you trace. This helps me keep track of exactly what I am drawing so the transferred image retains all the detail of the original pattern.
Step 8: Carving Time: Multi-depth Carving
A few notes on multi-depth carving:
The layering is the key to the entire look of these pumpkins. In order to achieve a "shaded" look, as if in a photo or drawing, you have to know how the light works. Obviously, when all the pumpkin skin is left on, very little light makes its way through the pumpkin, so these areas will be dark. Shave off JUST the skin, and a little more light shows through, so this area will now be a bit brighter/lighter. There you go, two different shades from a pumpkin! Go a step further and shave off the skin and some pumpkin flesh... now you have an even lighter color showing through. Go yet further than that, and carve ALL the pumpkin away... now you have the brightest shade of them all!
The brief description above gets you 4 different shades, all with a very simple (but, I understand, hard to fine tune) technique. You can then take that idea and go far beyond just 4 basic depths. Doing so allows you to achieve results as you see in my pumpkins each year.
Step 9: Carving Time: Carving Techniques
All carving, even on a pumpkin as large as this one was, is done using an X-Acto knife and a few basic serrated carving knives. There are a couple of basic carving techniques that I use to accomplish all the results you see in this pumpkin.
Use the serrated knife to cut full thickness pieces: The serrated knives are ONLY used to cut all the way through the pumpkin to allow the maximum amount of light through.
Step 10: Carving Techniques: Fine Detail Carving
Use the sharp-tipped X-acto blades for fine details: The sharp tipped X-acto blades are used to carve ALL details of the pumpkin. This blade allows for the most amount of control to achieve the fine details needed.
The blade is used to cut into the desired depth around the previously drawn lines. Once the detail is cut, the blade is then turned on its side and used to pop the previously cut piece out of pumpkin.
Step 11: Carving Techniques: Planing With the Flat Blade
Use the flat-tipped X-acto knife to "plane" away pieces of the pumpkin. This is done at various depths, allowing more or less light through depending on if more or less pumpkin flesh is taken.
As mentioned in the previous step, the fine blades can be used to pop smaller pieces of finely carved detail out of the pumpkin. However, for larger areas it is much easier to use the larger, flat blade to plane pieces of pumpkin away. As a reminder, this should only be done AFTER you have carved the outlines of the pieces you tend to plane away using the fine tipped blades. If you don't carve around the outlines first, the pumpkin pieces will not be removed neatly and you will have a messy or ruined image.
Step 12: Carving Order
For an image like this, in what order you carve is something to be aware of, though the exact order is not absolute or set in stone. Because of the fine details, you really don't want to have to touch much of what you previously carved, as you may knock pieces loose or smash a portion of your image that you worked very hard on!
Because I am right handed this pumpkin was carved more or less from top left to bottom right. I began with Captain America's head and worked down his body to his legs. I then did a few parts of the shield (saving the shower of sparks for last) and the worked from Iron Man's head down to his legs.
Step 13: Carving Order: Starting With Captain America's Head and Upper Body
Step 14: Carving Order: Moving From Top Left to Bottom Right
Step 15: Carving Order: Iron Man's Head and Upper Body
Step 16: Carving Order: Finishing With the Shield!
Step 17: Poper Lighting
Plain old candles will just NOT be enough to light a pumpkin like this properly. To light my pumpkins I simply use CFL bulbs (those curly-q light bulbs that have replaced old incandescents) attached to a socket and a click wheel switch. You can either cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin, or simply stick the light in through the top hole. I simply stuck a light inside the hole on the top, then replaced the lid I made to hold the light suspended in the air.
This pumpkin was so large two light bulbs were used to light it!
Step 18: Turn Off the Lights and Enjoy!
Once done, your only job is to enjoy what you've created. Happy Halloween!