Following is my Instructable on how I carved (and, though extremely difficult, how YOU could carve) my 2014 pumpkin "Rocket and Groot".
Remember, this is EXTREMELY challenging, but I always like to post an instructable to show people each year how I did it. Enjoy!
Step 1: Tools/supplies
The only tools used are pictured.
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 and free hanging plug and socket
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 Rocket and Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy film. I loved the film, and these two characters were just so great. This image is from a movie poster replicating the iconic scene where Rocket is firing his large space gun from Groot's shoulder inside the prison.
Image credit to Marvel, found on Google using keywords: Rocket and Groot
Step 3: Draw Your Pattern
I essentially take the image chosen and begin drawing a rough outline of the pattern. It is during the pattern drawing step that you must choose what detail stays and what goes. This image had a TON of detail that I wanted to keep intact, but there was no way I would get every last line and shadow.
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 don't know how to use 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 place tracing paper over your screen, up the brightness of your screen, and then lightly trace over your desired image. BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR SCREEN if you decide to do this. I free draw my patterns but tracing is a much simpler 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 red/orange areas are those areas where the pumpkin will be carved through, flesh and all. 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 4: 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.
You can see a large cut along the left side of the pumpkin between Rocket's gun and Groots shoulder. There are also numerous small folds and creases here and there. I try to make the folds in the BLANK areas of the pattern so as to leave the image itself as unadultered as possible.
Step 5: 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 6: Trace Over the Indentations
Once the pattern has been fully traced over,t he 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 7: Carving Time: Multi-depth Carving
A note 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 (such as the bark making up Groot's chest, Rocket's outfit, etc.) 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 11: Carving Techniques: Fur
New to this year is a technique for carving fur, seeing as a furred animal is a large part of my overall image! Again, technique here was simple... I took my finest tipped blade, and instead of using it to cut directly into the skin, I turned it sideways and used it to scrape the skin away in a very rough but organized way. I say organized in that I followed the general direction of the natural flow of the hair, but rough in that I wasn't worried about exactly replicating every hair in the original image.
Step 12: Carving Order
For an image like this, in what order you carve is something to be aware of. 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!
With the exception of his Rocket's gun, I carved this image essentially from top left to bottom right, since I am right handed. In doing so, my hand was always able to rest on an UNcarved portion of the pumpkin throughout the carving process.
A note as you get started: Always have the light in your pumpkin and on, or at least able to be turned on. As you will see in the upcoming photos, I have the light on in most of them. This is on purpose, as it allows you to constantly check your work. You can automatically (or at least with a quick flip of the room lights) see whether what you are doing looks right, if you made a mistake, etc. Always check yourself as you go!
Step 13: Rocket's Face
I started the entire carve with Rocket's face. Using all the previously prescribed techniques you want to start out with the teeth and remaining mouth, then move to the fur around the head.
Step 14: Rocket's Body and Gun
As I said I didn't work EXACTLY from top left to bottom right. I started with Rocket's face, as in the previous step. I then moved onto his body, and then his gun was last, though I would recommend starting with the DETAILS of the gun first. Save the large weapon discharge for the end, as it is carved all the way through the pumpkin.
Step 15: Groot's Head
Next in line is Groot's head. Again, simply use the techniques previously described.
I generally recommend using the fine blade to carve most of your outlines. Pop out what small pieces you can with the fine blade, then use the larger, flat blade to remove an large pieces of skin and/or pumpkin flesh.
Be careful around Groot's eyes, they are VERY detailed!
Step 16: Groot's Arm
Next in line is Groot's arm. All the same techniques apply here.
There are very large, long areas along Groot's arm where the pumpkin is carved all the way through to let all light through. This is done to provide the appearance of light from Rocket's gun reflecting off his arm. Again, I recommend you carve these areas AFTER you've carved the more fine details around them.
Step 17: Groot's Chest
As before, use all previously described techniques.
Retaining as many of the lines in Groot's chest as possible is key to maintaining the appearance that he truly is made of wood. It is tedious, but well worth it! Groot's chest uses much more of the flat blade planing than most other parts of the carving, so don't be afraid to use it.
Step 18: Proper 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.
Step 19: Turn Off the Lights and Enjoy!
Once done, your only job is to enjoy what you've created. Happy Halloween!