Introduction: How to Make a Pumpkin Sentinel
First Prize in the
Halloween Decor Contest 2015
We've all seen it...hell, if you're anything like me, you've been staring at the images for years. Wondering if there was a way. Is there a way for me, an average Joe Haunter, to make the Pumpkin Sentinels like Pumpkinrot makes?
Well, I don't know. But I was dead set on trying. Every year I run a Halloween Haunt in my yard, and every year I add something new. So now it was time.
So without further ado, here is my experience in trying to recreate the seemingly flawless Pumpkinrot masterpiece. The Sentinel.
Now, if you are unfamiiar, Pumpkinrot has been at this for years, and the props I am referring to are the two creepy guys pictured above as well as found here on Pumpkinrot's webpage. I would suggest looking through Pumpkinrot's portfolio. It's nothing short of amazing.
Now, I am not going to copy these exactly. But I am taking the general idea of them and using techniques I've gleaned from a number of sources, I will endeavor to make something terrifying and unique.
I do have to give special thanks to Darkrose Manor for all the help. Without them and their photos (and email exchanges) I would be a bit more frustrated
So with no further ado, I present to you, my attempt at recreating what can only be seen as the perfect static prop.
N.B. My wife named her Agatha and it stuck...you will here me refer to her by name throughout this tutorial.
Step 1: Construction of the Base and Stand
Not the hardest step. But an important one. I have seen many different techniques for this and considered many of them. In fact, I was going to duplicate the Monster Mud Reaper base (floor flange with reducer pipe) but while I was at Loews, I made a game time change and opted for an easier approach.
I purchased some simple corner brackets, a piece of 1"x1", and a 16" x 3/4" x 48" piece of board.
Insert some screws et voila. Base complete.
But Tom! What about the fact that your screws are going through the board and into whatever surface is below?
Yeah that...I just ground down the burs with a metal grinder. There are cleaner ways that involve countersinking bolts and what not (again, see the Monster Mud Reaper) but I was happy enough doing it this way.
Step 2: Cutting the PVC
I did not take photos of this step...sorry about that. But I cut an 8' piece of PVC into pieces to represent the spine, the neck, and the spread of the shoulders. And using a 4 way pvc connector, I assembled them together. I saw no need to screw them together or use cement as the fit between the elements is tight enough for our uses.
Use your imagination on this part. How do you want your torso to look? Do you want it more squat? Use a shorter spine and wider shoulders. Longer and leaner: longer spine, narrower shoulders.
As for the neck, I would only cut a piece about 6-8 inches in length. The pumpkin is just going to be placed over it so it should be tall enough to hold, but short enough to allow the head to rest on the "chest" of the sentinel (that is if you want it to look down on passerby as I do.)
Step 3: Building a Rib Cage
In order to space the ribs on the spine, I simply placed a piece of the polyflex tubing (irrigation tubing: 1/2") and moved it down the spine while drawing lines to get the right distance. Be sure to squish it while you do this so ensure enough space. Then drill a hole for every rib you want. Make sure to drill a hole that is large enough to take whatever size screw you intend to use, but small enough to hold it tight. I used a piece of scrap PVC in order to get it just right.
Once you've cut the ribs (2 of the same size, then 2 slightly larger, 2 about the same size as the first two, then 2 smaller, 2 smaller still, and then a final 2 smaller than those) drill a hole through the ends of both corresponding pieces, thread a screw through both pieces of tube, and attach them to the spine from top to bottom in the order listed above.
In the photo you will see the attachment of the first set of ribs. The nice part about doing it this way is that it allows you to adjust the angle of the ribs. A normal human torso does not have ribs running parallel...and in my opinion, the closer to human this part looks, the better :)
Step 4: The Sternum
Now that the ribs are attached to the spine, we need to make a sternum for them to connect to in the front.
I accomplished this by cutting a piece of tubing to arch from the 4 way connector of the neck to a point lower on the abdomen below the ribs. I used duct tape to lash this all together.
Step 5: The Rib Bones Connected to the Sternum Bone
I'm not sure if that's actually a lyric in the song, but it should be.
Connecting the ribs to the sternum can get a bit tricky. The hose may not want to bend the way you want it to in order to make the connection to the sternum. Sometimes, as your bending, the tube may crimp. While this is not ideal, ultimately, it only makes your sentinel's torso look more broken and ruined...not necessarily a bad thing. I mean we are talking about an evil decomposing pumpkin-headed demon from beyond the grave. However, should you want to avoid this, I recommend using a heat gun as you bend the pipe so that it is more willing to do your bidding.
Some people like to use zip ties to attach the ribs to the sternum. I gave this a go and was frustrated with the amount of work it was taking, so I once again resorted to using heavy tape.
Be sure to spread the ribs out as shown above...it looks much better than if they just come straight across. And as I made note of before, it looks more human this way.
And as you can see in the final photo, I did not attach the last two ribs to the sternum, but rather to the ribs above them. This helps create a more anatomically correct look.
Step 6: The Collar Bone and Shoulders
Ah the clavicle. Honestly, adding this piece made Agatha appear so much better.
The most important thing to keep in mind while building a prop such as Agatha, is that the more this looks like a real skeleton, the better the effect is going to be. So, in that vein, I attached a collar bone. This will also serve as a tie point for the arms when I get to them.
As you can see, I've also put 90 degree connectors at the ends of the shoulders...if you want to make pvc arms, this is necessary to serve as the connection. I, as you will see in future steps, decided to go in another direction and ultimately removed these angles.
Step 7: Corpsing (always a Good Time)
I researched corpsing to death (no pun intended.) And finally landed on the Darkrose Manor technique of using outdoor carpet adhesive and white shop towels. It is messier than anything, and since you are using adhesive, a pain to get off your hands. But it looks sooooo good.
Be sure to use cheap white shop towels. They have no texture or pattern and ultimately will make your life easier. Also, it is a good idea to tear the sheets a bit to get the frayed edges. These will blend much easier than the hard cut perforated edges of the towels.
The benefit to using the outdoor adhesive over traditional papier mache is that there is no need to waterproof afterwards. Plus, as you can see, the adhesive dries to a nice fleshy color
I have the torso temporarily attached to the stand with zip ties as shown in the final image. This is not how it will stay as it is very unstable but it held long enough to let me corpse.
Step 8: Adding Agatha's Arms
For the arms, as I mentioned before, one could simply use PVC angles and pipes and create a sturdy structure. And this is a good way to go. You could then add mass to them to cover the joints with newspaper and corpsing. But I wanted to go another way. If one would refer back to the original image of the Pumpkinrot Sentinels, you would be able to see that they have a distinctive organic nature to them. They look as if they were made from evil and pumpkin vines.
So what better source to draw from than nature herself?
After selectively pruning some of my trees of dead branches, I reviewed my options, made some decisions about arm position, and set to lashing them to the torso with my good old friend duct tape.
I let the branches extend past the joint at the shoulder to create sort of a spike. It is unnatural looking and disjointed which adds to the total air of creepiness. Plus, you can see Pumpkinrot has done the same thing.
As you are attaching your arms, and deciding on what position to make them, think about what your sentinel should be doing. In my mind, this sentinel is just starting to reach out for you. In that light, I tried to have her left arm more casually at her side, while her right arm is bent up, ready to extend. Lash the sticks together in this way.
Step 9: Adding Hands
I decided to only have my sentinel in possession of the one hand. I kind of like the idea of having one arm looking like it was broken off. Take a number of smaller sticks and lash them together to make a finger like arrangement. The longer the better in my opinion. And don't be afraid to break away from anatomical norms. This is an evil pumpkin demon and as such, can break away from the human standards.
Step 10: Corpsing...again
Go over the taped lashes with the same corpsing technique as before. This time around, I used brushed the adhesive onto the strips and used less adhesive overall...this will help the dry time too.
Step 11: Finding a Permanent Mount
After much deliberation, I decided the best bet for mounting Agatha (quiet...she might be a demon spawn from hell, but she still is a lady. Keep your inappropriate thoughts to yourself) would be to use a flag pole bracket.
I found one for relatively little money, and it fit the PVC perfectly. It had the added benefit of being adjustable.
The bracket also allows me to mount her on my house if I want to do so or even attach her to my garage rafters for storage. Pretty useful piece of hardware.
As Agatha was starting to put on some weight, I added a small piece of wood to the front of her support structure...this helped with the forward lean.
Step 12: Head Test
I did a quick test of putting my funkin on there (a funkin Mac to be exact) and realized it was not sitting properly. I used one of the elbow pieces I had left over from not using them on the arms and created a little control over the head to lift it up off the chest some.
Step 13: Blacking Out the Hardware and Adding Shadow
I used black spray paint to cover all exposed hardware and structure, including up inside Agatha. I then did some haphazard spraying of areas that I wanted to appear darker like in between the ribs. This was not neat or pretty...rough a dirty is the name of the game in this step.
Step 14: Staining the Body
Enter the wood stain. I used Minwax's Red Oak for that somewhat goopy but not quite fresh dead look. I recommend playing around with different shades to figure out what is right for you. I used a sponge brush and just threw it on there. No finesse, just slop it on. You can also see I threw some stain onto the pumpkin. This worked wonderfully. I slopped the stain onto the Mac and then wiped it with a shop towel. This left a fair amount in the crevasses of the funkin while clearing away most of the stain on the ridges. It distressed it just enough. Of course, I made the mistake of doing this before I carved it...DON'T STAIN BEFORE YOU CARVE!
Step 15: Carving the Head
One thing that is worth noting is that Pumpkinrot takes an extra step to paint the inside of the cuts of his pumpkin heads black. This is a very important step to make the head look sinister. Without it, especially with funkins, you leave big white cuts and that is just not scary.
What I did was to use gaffers tape (available on amazon) to mask the area. Gaffers tape is great for everything in your haunt because it's really sticky and strong but is designed to not remove the finish. After masking the area, I carved the face a'la Pumpkinrot. Honestly, I could have done any number of faces, but he just nailed it (or she...never sure about that one.) I then used black, self priming spray paint to paint the insides of the cuts. I tried with a brush and it was just too hard.
A warning...some spray paints will dissolve some foams. DO A TEST ON A SCRAP PIECE OF FOAM FROM YOUR JACK BEFORE YOU SPRAY THE HEAD. You do not want to spend all that time carving only to dissolve your funkin.
Step 16: Staining the Pumpkin
NOW you can stain the pumpkin. I used the same minwax stain as I did on the body, slopped it on with a sponge brush and then wiped it away immediately with a shop towel.
Step 17: Final Assembly
Put all the pieces together, and she's done!
All that remains is setting the ambiance.
Step 18: Lighting
Lighting, as any Hollywood starlet will tell you, is everything.
The same goes here. I used some small colored LEDs I found to illuminate the body, and I found a strand of red LEDs to put inside the head.
And that, as they say, is that. Agatha was a wonderful project and addition to my yearly haunt.
She will be around for years to come.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.