In this instructable, I'll show you how to build a self-animating shadow puppetry box. It is fairly easy to construct with basic materials and lots of fun to play around with creating different scenes, etc.

It's also a great one-day project to build together with kids, since the required skill level is rather basic and there are lots of tasks you can delegate to your little helpers (or they can delegate to you ;))

The box has a lid you can lift, in order to improve access.

Step 1: What You Will Need


  • Ruler
  • Set square
  • Hobby/Craft knife
  • X-acto knife
  • Scotch tape
  • Cutting mat
  • Pencil (not shown)
  • Cordless drill/screwdriver & drill bits (not shown)
  • (Electric) saw (I used my jig saw, but a table saw would be more practical)


  • OSB board (I used 2cm thick OSB, but you can easily get away with half)
  • Opaque polystyrene sheet (I used 2,5mm thick sheet, which seems to be pretty much ideal)
  • Card stock (I used 1mm cardboard)
  • Old record player (only the rotating turntable needs to work, it doesn't have to be fully functional)
  • Light source (use a LED-based or other heat-free light source, so you don't have to worry about ventilation)
  • Wood screws (not shown)
  • 28 cm diameter plant saucer (it needs to more or less match your record player's turntable)
  • Handle for the lid

The amounts of material you need will vary and depend on the size of your record player, and to a lesser extent of your light source.

Choice of turntable

For the turntable, I really recommend you use a cheap or old broken one. You will be doing some things to it that you probably shouldn't be doing to a high-quality turntable.

Choice of wood

I really love OSB. It's easy to cut, doesn't splinter very much, doesn't warp and is very stable generally. For this project specifically, however, OSB's main advantage is that it doesn't split easily when you drive screws into the edges. Plywood or solid wood tends to split when you do that.

Also, I really like the look of OSB :)

Step 2: OSB Measurement & Cutting

The measurements included in the drawings are my measurements, based on my record player and light source. These are provided as guidelines, but you should always use your own setup as the basis for your dimensions.

These are the pieces you will need measurements for:

A & C ) Ceiling and floor of the box

B ) Side walls

D ) Ceiling supports

Inner dimensions

In order to get the right dimensions, first measure your record player. Add some extra centimeters to both its width and height, so you will be able to comfortably place it in your box. These will then be the width and height of your box interior.

Then measure your light source's height, add to it the height of your record player and allow for a few cm. of clearance between the light source and the turntable. This total height is the inner height of your box.

Cutting dimensions for the wood

Now, to cut your OSB board and your polystyrene sheet, you will need measurements based on the inner dimensions of your box. The side walls in my example, need to have 2cm extra added to their top and bottom to account for material thickness. So the total height of the side wall is 36cm for an inner height of 32cm.

Write all your dimensions down and double check them before you start cutting.

Step 3: Construct the Box

Once you have cut your OSB walls, floor an ceiling (lid) to size, you are ready to start assembly.


Align the walls to the floor. Pay particular attention to the front. Your polystyrene sheet will need to sit flush with the front of your box, so it's important that the front edges of walls, floor and ceiling align properly.

Align the first wall, and screw it into place. Then, add the second wall. For additional rigidity, I added some triangular pieces of OSB to the corners of the rear of the box, but this is not strictly necessary.

Ceiling supports

Then, position the front ceiling support 2cm (or whatever is your OSB's thickness) below the top edge of your walls and align it with the front edge of your box. Then screw it into place with one screw on either side.

Repeat the process for the rear ceiling support.

Then try to place the ceiling panel on the box. It might not fit perfectly or be too tight. Trim it slightly, so it can be raised and lowered easily.

When the ceiling sits nicely on the supports, add another screw to either side of each support to fixate them in place.

You should now have a sturdy box that has plenty of room for your record player.

Step 4: Handle & Light Source

This step depends on the type of light source and handle you have.

The handle I used, is attached with a single 3mm diameter bolt. I used this bolt to attach my light source's bracket to the lid, but you might need to use a different setup.

It's important to take into account that the cardboard scenery we will construct later, should be able to rotate freely without touching the light source. So your light source should be positioned centrally above the turntable.

I marked the centre of the lid and drilled a 3mm hole, then simply passed the handle's bolt through the light source's bracket and into the handle, and screwed everything tightly into place.

Step 5: Polystyrene Screen

The sheet I got came with a protective plastic coating. I suggest you keep this coating on, until right before you screw the screen into place.

The dimensions of the screen should match the front of your box. So, in my case that would be 36 cm by 52 cm.

The sheet can be easily cut with any kind of (electric) saw, but it's a good idea to go slow, to prevent cracking.

Make sure to remove the protective plastic coating before screwing the sheet into place.

I used the same wood screws for the screen as for the OSB board. It's a good idea to drill pilot holes in the polystyrene ( I used a 3mm drill bit, but this depends on the size of your wood screws) to prevent cracking.

I attached the screen with one screw in each corner, and then an additional screw in the centre of each side.

Step 6: Your Scene

Your 'scene' is the cardboard cut out that will be projected onto the screen.

We will construct this by cutting a cardboard strip, and then taping the ends of that strip together, to create a tube. In order to improve the shape of this tube, we'll use a plant tray, over which the cardboard tube will be placed.


To make your scene, you will need a strip of card stock of approx. 85 cm, based on the diameter of the plant tray.

In order to determine the size of your scene, measure the diameter of your plant tray.

Then, you will need to calculate the circumference of the circle described by this gutter. The formula for this is:

diameter * pi (3,14).

In my case the diameter was 27 cm, so the circumference is 84,82 cm. Most turntables have the same diameter, so your result should be pretty close to this.

The height of your scene is the clearance between the top of your turntable and the ceiling, with some extra room for wires and such. In my case this was 22 cm.

Cut the cardboard rectangle to start creating your scene.

Drawing the scene

Draw the shapes you want to cut out on this cardboard strip. Small details will probably not show very well on the screen, so make your shapes sufficiently large. It's a good idea to create a test scene to judge the kind of shapes that project well.

Also take into account that large cutouts will affect the stability of the cardboard, so make sure you leave enough cardboard to ensure the rigidity of your shape.

Cutting the scene

Once you're happy with the design of your scene, you're ready to start cutting. This is where the X-acto knife comes in. Always make sure you use a sharp blade. If you have to apply too much pressure to the knife, it might snap and injure you.

You might notice that in my example of the poo emoji, the mouth and eyes are not connected to the rest of the cardboard. You can achieve this with cellotape/scotch tape. Simply put a piece of tape across the gap to attach the 'island' to the rest of the cardboard shape. It's best to do this on both sides, so you don't have a sticky side anymore.

Making the tube

After you have cut out the entire scene and have cellotaped any 'floating' pieces in place, it's time to turn your strip into a tube.

For this, shape the cardboard strip into a tube by bringing both ends together, and fit it over your plant tray.

Make sure you don't accidentally create a mirrored image. Looking at the tube from the outside, everything should be in its proper orientation (text should be readable).

If you have a nice fit and your scene looks OK, you can simply tape both ends of the cardboard strip together. You might want to add an extra piece of cardboard for extra rigidity.

Step 7: Putting It All Together

Now you're ready to bring everything together. Place the tube with the plant tray on the turntable, place the turntable in the wooden box, close the lid and plug everything in. I've used a power strip with a switch, so I can control both the turntable and the light source with a single button.

Depending on the type of turntable, the method of forcing it to rotate when powered, might differ. In my case, I had to 'overstretch' the arm so it sticks out towards the outside of the turntable.

Now, if you power everything up, your scene should project on the polystyrene sheet. Yay!

If you have enough cardboard, it's quite easy to create extra scenes and switch them out.

Step 8: Extra Ideas

During and after construction of this box, I came across a few extra ideas that I might add in future

Point light source

The floodlight I've used creates a bit of a diffused image. I think a point light (like a single LED bulb) would create a much sharper projection.


By adding some coloured transparent plastic sheet, I could easily add colour to my projection. I might even be able to source this cheaply by using plastic bags and folders.

Cable management

I think the cables look a bit messy and I want to route them more neatly to the outside of the box. This can probably achieved with a few extra holes and saw cuts, and some zip ties.

<p>Good idea, but it spins too fast. My eyes can't read it or focus on the face. Is there some way to slow it down?</p>
<p>It's pretty readable in real life, I think the video makes it look faster.</p><p>As to slowing the turntable down, I think that should be fairly easy to do by lowering the voltage. But to do that, you'd have to open it up and possibly tinker with mains-level voltage wiring. Not to be recommended for the unexperienced.</p><p>I actually have no idea how turntables work internally, and whether they use DC or AC motors, but I'm now motivated to investigate :)</p>
<p>Fun idea. This would be a great project to do for small children.</p>

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Bio: web developer, maker, podcaster
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