Introduction: Pepper's Ghost Illusion in a Small Space

Picture of Pepper's Ghost Illusion in a Small Space

Hello Haunters!

A Pepper's Ghost is theatrical illusion that was originally developed in the 19th century to make it appear as if real life ghosts were on stage with the actors. It has since been used time and again to delight and intrigue viewers. Most notably is the use of Pepper's Ghosts in the Disney Haunted Mansion ride.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to set up a Pepper's Ghost in a rather confined space.

Items required:
1 Roll Gaffers Tape
1 C-Stand (I rented mine from a movie production rental house)
1 Projector
1 large mirror
1 piece of Lexan or Plexi Glass larger than your opening (smaller sizes can be purchased from home depot or lowes, but for larger sizes it is cheaper to goto a plastics company)
1 Large piece of white paper
1 Large piece of black cloth
1 Wood Clamp
Curtains or Artificial Spider Webs
1 piece of 1X2 8' long (or however tall your piece of plexi is)

Step 1: The Basics

Picture of The Basics

After tons of research on instructables and other sites and even in that long forgotten medium: books, I discovered that there were three basic approaches in how to produce this illusion. Before we look into the options, however, let us first look at the illusion and how it is produced. In it's most basic sense, the Pepper's Ghost can be broken down into three elements. The first element is the subject. The subject can be many things, but it is what will form the content of your illusion. Whether it is an actor offstage or in this case, a projection, it will ultimately be the focal point of the illusion. The second element is the picture plane. This is the heart of the illusion. The picture plane serves a dual function in that not only does it reflect the image of the out of view subject, but it also is transparent so that the viewer can see the "set" beyond. The third and final element is the viewer. Without a viewer, well...this would be a bit of a waste :)

There are three basic ways to organize these elements. The Subject being above (which is easiest with a projector), the subject below (most common in theatrical use), or the subject to either side. I chose to use the side since it required the least amount of construction and rigging and seemed to work best for my space. It is important that you choose the right method for you.

Now my first problem was that I knew this was going in my office (I wanted it indoors to protect it from the elements but also to keep sticky curious little fingers off the plexi) but my office is relatively small for this kind of illusion.

So my first step was to measure and draw up my office. I am an architect so this is my approach...there are probably many ways, but this is the easiest for me. If you are not in the design field, a good shortcut is to get some graph paper, and assign a measurement to each square. For instance, on the page, every square would be equal to 1 foot...then you can draw a proportionally accurate layout of your scale.

The above line drawing shows my office and the layout for my illusion.

Step 2: Standing Up the Plexi

Picture of Standing Up the Plexi

Let me explain the progression of the image and then I will explain the construction.

My theory on how to do this in a confined space was that I needed to bounce the image at least once in order to get the size up to real life size. Sure one could buy a short throw projector, but I actually borrowed the projector and frankly, my wife puts me on an allowance every Halloween and so spending a grand or two on a projector probably isn't going to fly.

So If you look at my drawing you can see that the projector shoots the image, which passes through the plexiglass, hits the mirror, passes through the plexi again, and is projected upon the surface of the wall behind the projector. My projector sat on the ground and was angled up slightly so that there would be no interference. You could also position your projector to the side but then you run the risk of the viewers being able to see "how the sausage is made" now that the theory is done, let's get physical.

The first and most important item is the plexiglass. This can be glass as well or as some have talked about, window weather proofing. I actually purchased some of the 3M stuff but couldn't figure out a way to accomplish what I needed to do without building a lot of extra framework. Glass came to about 7 bucks a square foot at the cheapest, which was expensive, plus I didn't want to run the risk of shattering the huge panel I needed (4' X 8').

When deciding on the size of your panel, remember that getting it to the size of your opening is not enough. If you are going to be angling it up or down, it needs to be taller than your opening, or if you are doing it as I did, side to side, then you need to get a panel wider than your opening. My window was 6' tall by 3' wide so I bought a 4' x 8'.

Now...assuming you have procured your items, then it's time to get to work.

I started by trying to stand the plexiglass up. Obviously, this was not going to work on its own as a piece this size has a tendency to bow. I took a piece of 1x2 I had left over from another project and ran it through my table saw at a depth of about 1/2" using a 1/4" dado blade. Now this may be greek to a lot of you, but what I did was put a groove the entire length of the piece of the wood 1/2" with a width of 1/4" I then slid the plexiglass into the slot I create and now I had made a frame for one edge of the plexi.

I positioned this support piece as close to the window frame as possibly since it will be visible to the ToTs. I did not, however, try to disguise it as I figured they would be too distracted by the illusion to notice a small stick of wood running the up the edge...I was right.

Step 3: Securing the Picture Plane

Picture of Securing the Picture Plane

I secured the wood frame at the top of the window using Gaffers tape. I cannot recommend this tape enough. It is a tape used in theatre and movie production. It is very strong, very sticky and very reliable. It won't take the paint off and it will hold. Buy it...don't substitute with painters tape or duct tape. Buy the gaffer's tape.

So now the Plexi is able to "stand" on it's own, however, it is not very well supported and it still seems like it is bowing quite a bit. Plus I think if one of my cat's came in and tapped it, the whole thing might collapse. So here I took a page out of the book of those who came before me and rented a C-Stand. A C-stand is a support armature used in photography which can extend up and out to hold something while staying out of frame. PERFECT!

Step 4: Still Securing the Plexi Glass

Picture of Still Securing the Plexi Glass

I positioned the C-Stand in the corner, extend it to the height I need and extend it out to hold the plexi at 45 degrees from the glass.

Step 5: In Which We Are Still Making the Plexi Stand Up

Picture of In Which We Are Still Making the Plexi Stand Up

It was at this point I realized I had no means with which to attach the C-Stand to the plexi-glass. Thankfully my in-laws had just given me some wood clamps for my birthday so I attached the wood clamp to the plexi and then the C-Stand to the wood clamp. I actually "aimed" high with the C-Stand so that when I attached it, the counter weight would support the heavy plexi-glass and remove a bowing issue I was having.

Great! So now the plexi is supported and stable. It will require fine tuning but that comes later.

Step 6: Setting Up the Projector

Picture of Setting Up the Projector

Next, we set up our projection system.

I used an optima projector I borrowed from a local school. Schools are a great source of projectors because they all have lots of em and rarely use them. Make friends with a teacher or administrator. It's worth it.

I placed the projector on the ground. I had to stand it on it's side since my illusion was for a standing figure (Daisy from Spectral Illusions.) If you are doing something horizontal oriented, then you can just keep it flat, but angle it up a little. If your projector is on the ground, then you have to aim it up slightly.

Step 7: Multiple Images Are Bad!

Picture of Multiple Images Are Bad!

In a perfect world, we all have enough room and hardware to create the kind of pepper's ghost that doesn't require shooting through the plexiglass multiple times. However, in a confined space, it becomes necessary to do just this. And as a result, there are secondary reflections that must be dealt with. I've made some diagrams that I hope will help. Forgive the sloppy nature of them...I did them very quickly.

The first image above depicts the path the light travels from projector to the projection surface. These are two of the three steps the image goes through in order to achieve the illusion.The light leaves the projector and as it leaves, because of the lens, it is expanding in all directions. First, the light comes into contact with the plexiglass. As a result of this contact, some light is reflected. This is inevitable. It is also why you see a small version of the bride projected below the window in the image in the original post. This is an artifact and is not a good thing. If this shines into the viewers field of vision, it creates bright spots and pretty much ruins the effect.The light that is not reflected continues through the plexiglass and hits the mirror. Now remember, the image is still expanding.The light then bounces off the mirror and heads to the plexiglass again (right side of the drawing). The same thing happens here as happened before, but now, the artifact is being projected backwards. This was why I had to hang the black cloth. To prevent a 12 foot tall bride from being visible at the back of the scene.Once again, the light not reflected travels through the plexi and hits the projection surface behind. Once the light hits an opaque surface, it is done expanding and this is the final image you will be using.

In the second drawing you see how the plexiglass is now being used as a mirror. The light from the projection surface is being REFLECTED in the plexiglass, not TRANSMITTED through as it has been so far. This is why the viewer can see it. It's the same principle as why, on a sunny day you can look around and see the world but the sun is a bit harder to look at. It is the difference between looking at the source of the light or looking at it's reflection.

Step 8: We're Done...or Are We?

Picture of We're Done...or Are We?

The projector shoots an image onto a large mirror. Here the Gaffer's tape comes into play again. Love this stuff...and my wife loves that mirror...and my cats love to bat at things...GAFFERS TAPE TO THE RESCUE!!

Turn on the projector and aim it at the mirror. Look behind you to see where the image is hitting on the wall and adjust mirror and projector accordingly until it is at the height and position you would like it to be.

If the wall you are projecting onto is flat white, that is great! However, I grabbed a large piece of paper, about 36" x 96" and gaffer taped it to the wall. This provides a nice soft clean surface which will only help you in the illusion.

Now...about this time, if it is dark out, you will wipe your hands, arch your back, smile and think "AH. I'm done. This is perfection." Then you will turn around and notice that there is a giant phantom projection on the wall directly opposite the window.

Step 9: Getting Rid of the Phantom

Well it makes sense. If the plexi is able to shoot an image out the window, of course it is shooting it backwards at the same time.

I failed to take a photo of it, and I apologize for that. But on the wall at the back of the room (if you look in the drawing) I hung a large cheap piece of black felt. It was on sale a Michaels I think for like 2 bucks a yard. 3 yards was all I needed. I hung it up high enough to absorb the projected phantom, and then as an added bonus, I laid books on the shelves to create little mini shelves. I draped the fabric over these and placed artificial candles on them. This was nice because it provided a backdrop for Daisy and emphasized the fact that she was see-through.

Step 10: Tweaking and Setting the Scene

Picture of Tweaking and Setting the Scene

So now, all that's left to do is to carefully tweak everything. Adjust the location and angle of the projector, skootch the mirror this way and that, and most importantly, adjust the plexi. If it is bowing even slightly, your ghost will look weird. It pays to be slightly OCD on these things.

Once the image is perfect, dress your set! Remember, you are creating a play here. This isn't just some static prop with a strobe on it. This is a scene. This is theatre. And as such it needs to be properly set.

Also remember that this illusion is awesome because it works with 3 dimensions. The reflection of the projection appears to be "in" the room. Plan accordingly. The rule of thumb here is that the distance from the image to the picture plain is the sam distance the viewer perceived daise to be in the room. If you look at my diagram, you can see how she appears to be standing in front of the desk. Use this to your advantage. For more advanced techniques you can implement props "in front" of your ghost but remember you need to use custom footage at that point...that's another tutorial.

For mine, I decided to set it as a sort of seance/wedding. I used my office desk as an "altar" and put the collected writings of Chaucer on it (the biggest and oldest book I have.) I placed candles, a skull, some dead flowers and so on. These are details. And while they will go largely unnoticed, if you have your backpack and a bottle of Sunny-D sitting out, people WILL be smart about your scene.

Step 11: Protecting the Illusion

Picture of Protecting the Illusion

I noticed when I was outside, and you can see in the movie above, that the edge of the plexi was visible. This is where the spiderwebs came in handy. Curtains would work too, but I needed to block the viewer from seeing the edge of the picture plain.

I also recommend closing off that room. During a dry run, I got it all set up and ordered a pizza. When the delivery guy showed I was all excited to hear how freaked out he was. I opened the door, he gave me my pie, told me the score of the World Series game and left.

WTF? Why wasn't he amazed?

Oh...maybe because the cats had gotten on the computer and now I was projecting a ghost screen saver. Who would be terrified of bobbles floating around? Protect your haunt

Step 12: Back Story

Picture of Back Story

Last step, give your ghost a doesn't have to be anything fancy, but it makes the experience much more intense if they can put her into a reality...this was hanging just outside the window, printed at 36x48 and mounted to cardboard.

Step 13: Enjoy

Ok that's all I got.

I hope this was helpful.

It was a HUGE hit...everyone loved it and I think I've secured a place in the neighborhood Tot routes for years to come.

Please post any questions.



mid_life_crisis (author)2016-10-24

I love this, but I admit to being a little puzzled.

If the plexiglass sheet is right in front of the window, why not just project it onto the window?

aschwilk (author)2016-10-23

Awesome instructable! I'll be doing this one fone sure!

Wingloader (author)2016-10-21

OMG. Not only is this boss, but I've ALWAYS wondered how they did the dining room effect in the Haunted Mansion. I mean I have REALLY pondered that over the years. THANK YOU for giving me the secret!

bigerboy654 (author)2015-07-17

Used in magic kingdom

twall2 (author)bigerboy6542015-09-15

Indeed! The imagineers use this wonderfully on the Haunted Mansion ride

chanchala.singh.58 (author)2014-11-24

Congrats dear for winning

Thank you :)

Pure Carbon (author)2014-11-16

this is very cool, congrats on becoming a finalist.

twall2 (author)Pure Carbon2014-11-17

Thank you so much! Wish me luck!

Pure Carbon (author)twall22014-11-18

good luck, I don't know if I'm allowed to tell you this but I was one of the judges and I gave yours the highest rating because I thought this was just so cool. Once again good luck.

twall2 (author)Pure Carbon2014-11-19

Haha...well, it's over now so I suppose it's ok :) Thank you

Pure Carbon (author)twall22014-11-19


electro18 (author)2014-11-19

Congratulations ! A well deserved win :)

twall2 (author)electro182014-11-19

Thank you! :)

cnelson21 (author)2014-11-19

One of the people near where I used to live in Romeo Michigan created something very similar to this and I always wondered how in the world they did it. Now thanks to you I know. And now I also know what I will be making next Halloween since this is amazing. Excellent work, definitely worthy of first place.

twall2 (author)cnelson212014-11-19

AWESOME! I hope you share photos in the comments here. I would love to see what you come up with.

There are so many ways to use a pepper's ghost. I can't wait to see what you choose to do.

Matt2 Silver (author)2014-11-18

Really well done, Congrats on taking the top prize. This is one of the best explanations of the Pepper's Ghost illusion I have seen, kudos!

twall2 (author)Matt2 Silver2014-11-18

Thank you so much!

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2014-11-18


Unfortunately, I never got the chance to use your suggestions to make a Pepper's Ghost of my own. Maybe next year...

twall2 (author)ThisIsMyNameOK2014-11-18

Well if you do, I would love to see photos! I am thinking of having one as a centerpiece on my table next year. A small one...

And thank you :) I scared everyone in my office when I lept up from my chair in celebration!

syedhamzahasan (author)2014-11-15

I would really like to make this

twall2 (author)syedhamzahasan2014-11-17

It's not very difficult at all. I made lots of steps but what it comes down to is the three basic elements. The Viewer, the subjects (primary and secondary), and the transparent panel.

shazni (author)2014-11-16

This is fantastic! congratulations in making the finalist :-)

twall2 (author)shazni2014-11-17

Thank you so much!

hg00021 (author)2014-11-10

This is really creepy. And my mind wanders. I don't believe in spirits but if I walked up to your house, I would just creep away. Maybe I would trick or treat you. Depends on how close that window is to your door.

twall2 (author)hg000212014-11-11 is right next to the door...and some kids were pretty terrified :)

Thank you

Kevin.Karstens (author)2014-09-23

VERY cool stuff...

Thought you might dig this project of mine, wherein I have been utilizing this exact stye of 'mini Pepper's Ghost' projections (notably so far in my Haunted Nursery sequence...;)

hg00021 (author)Kevin.Karstens2014-11-10

That's really scary! I'm not one of the bravest people so YES! it was scary. It looked really cool though, pretty real, but not that bad and disturbing that I stopped the video. Really I was just on my toes, scared of what I would see next. That's a big factor in scary shows and rides: we're scared of what we're going to see next.

Kevin.Karstens (author)hg000212014-11-10

hg00021...VERY kind of you to literally just made my evening, many thanks...;)

twall2 (author)Kevin.Karstens2014-09-23

Very impressive! Where are you located?

Kevin.Karstens (author)twall22014-09-23

Boise, Idaho...middle o' nowhere, officially!...;)

I am hoping someone sees the miniature ideas and creates them full scale, as I have NO yard/place to do so...but glad you liked the idea, much appreciated!

All info/background/making of vids and a synopsis can be found on the 'official websites'. by the way...;)

twall2 (author)Kevin.Karstens2014-09-23

Sweet thank clearly have put a ton of time into it. Your nursery sequence is inspiring. Literally...I am now planning on using my Pepper's setup for a haunted nursery...children at terrifying.

Switch out my altar for a bed, throw in an antique rocking horse (that rocks itself of course) and a ghost of a child playing alone who suddenly looks up and says "Are you my mommy" then jumps to the glass and says..."I want to play with you...forever" before turning into a demon.

This is definitely happening

Kevin.Karstens (author)twall22014-09-23

SWEET! (RE the Haunted Nursery)...if you happen to do any of my ideas full scale, I would KILL to see video of the effects...:)

'children are terrifying'

Oh, I agree.
That's what basically inspired my Daark Orphanage idea...that, and a story I once read about the executives at Disney getting together in the 70's to discuss possible additions to the Haunted Mansion they were planning to add to Disney World...the discussion was about the Endless Staircases that were planned to be added in...

One young, new guy chimed in with, 'Hey, a red ball bouncing slowly down the stairs, while accompanied with the sound of a child laughing would be CREEPY, eh?"

Every exec in the room slowly turned to face the new kid. Then the man at the head of the table cleared his throat, and stated...

"Disney doesn't do dead kids."

I recall reading that and thinking immediately to myself, "Well, that's their loss...because dead kids are freaky scary and COOL!"...;)

Oh, you might also dig this...I had the idea, 'what if there was a movie based on my dark ride attraction'?...

BeastandEpicProductions (author)2014-09-27

You could make holograms with this technique

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2014-09-20

Way too complicated for me. Very cool though. Voting for you right now. :)

twall2 (author)ThisIsMyNameOK2014-09-21

Thank you :) It only appears complicated because of the many many steps but that was just me trying to explain every detail.

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)twall22014-09-22

The many, many steps is the problem for me. I actually didn't even read them, to be honest. Maybe I will someday. I have to be able to actually do it as I read. For now, I'll have to stick with my good old broomstick and bedsheet ghost.

twall2 (author)ThisIsMyNameOK2014-09-23

Don't knock can use the broom stick, bedsheet ghost in the above setup. Just line it up at a 90 degree angle from where you want the viewer, throw up a piece of glass or plexi (or even 3m weatherproofing over a frame) at 45 degrees and in line with the ghost and the viewer, insert blacklight and you have done it!

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)twall22014-09-27

Ooooh.... I might just do that. When I went back and read your instructions I saw that the weatherproofing plastic can be used, and I am sure I have at least 3 boxes of the stuff stashed in various closets. I can never remember where I put it so I end up buying more. Thanks for the tip. :)

eruger (author)twall22014-09-21

Yep. The only tricky part is getting every positioned and getting it to stay that way, which means keeping pets and kids out of the room like you said twall2.

twall2 (author)eruger2014-09-22

Or building a very involved rig ;)

Milburn.Hornback (author)2014-09-22

Was wondering if a old school overhead projector would work also and take the place of the mirror as the projection head on them was a mirror and a lens that turned the object upright?

Probably not. In the diagram, the light from the projector hits the Plexi, then is reflected BACK at the Plexi and projector by the mirror. I believe this has the effect of 'doubling up' the ghost image on the Plexi. The overhead projector that you're referring to have a mirror, yes, but it's just to angle the projected light in a useful direction and comes before the projection surface, not after it as in this case.

twall2 (author)chris.a.rakoczy2014-09-23

Well, Chris, the reflection off the plexi is actually a bad thing EXCEPT in the final bounce where it goes outside. The purpose of the mirror is to create a longer throw thereby increasing the size.

Maybe this is what you were trying to say...I'm not real clear on this thread :)

twall2 (author)Milburn.Hornback2014-09-22

I think it might...I've never tried it before personally. If you are ok with a static image the only issue I could think of would be the fact that you would have to make a stencil of whatever you were trying to project as well as the image itself. This would have to lay over the image in order to block out any surrounding light from being projected...

Plug it in with a cord you've modified with a resistor:

And then the overhead will flicker on and off randomly

(I have not tried this technique and cannot recommend it, but there it is)

As always, when working with VERY careful.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes!!!

ShakeTheFuture (author)2014-09-23

Very nice!

I guess if you keep it running, soon your house will become a tourist attraction.

There is a guy in a small town, who makes dolls and displays them in his garden.

Now, lots of tourists pass his house to see them.

I predicts the same if you keep it on every night :)

twall2 (author)ShakeTheFuture2014-09-23

Haha...probably...but I am more of a purist. My haunt is open one night only...Halloween night. And last year was my first year using Daisy. I have no intention of moving, so slowly, year by year, my reputation in the area will grow (and so will my haunt) until ultimately, my house will be the place every must go to on Halloween night :)

xGrape (author)2014-09-22

Wow. Just wow. This looks super high end, and yet is something even I could probably pull off if I acquired a projector. Favoriting this for later when my kid learns to walk!

twall2 (author)xGrape2014-09-22

Thank you so much :) And for the record, when I did this last Halloween, my son was just 1...I did it for the joy of hearing neighborhood children scream and forever being "that guy."

Thanks again for your kind words

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