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In 2001, Disneyland introduced theNightmare Before Christmas elaborate holiday overlay to their Haunted Mansion attraction. In the section normally featuring the beloved bust statues singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts", they are displayed with singing, animated jack-o-lanterns covering them. Since then, and especially more recently this highly effective illusion has been replicated by enthusiasts everywhere with a wide range of results.

I have a lengthy history of creating themed environments and incorporating video projections as illusions and special effects dating back to 1991 and have learned a lot along the way. In 2009 I created my first installation of this effect in my courtyard for Halloween, where it consistently entertains and bewilders. This instructable will detail important information for you to create a professional-level special effect which might rival the original effect at Disneyland! Enjoy!

Step 1: Animated Pumpkins 101

The illusion of the singing pumpkins is created by projecting animated features onto uncarved pumpkins. It is particularly effective because the only content in your projected animation are the carved features of each pumpkin. The rest of the video image is black, or no light when translated to a projection. The brightness of the projected animation reflects off of the pumpkin and appears to emanate from within, even casting a glow in front of the pumpkin as it would if it were actually carved and internally illuminated.

Step 2: Basic Materials Checklist

This effect requires a few props and equipment which may vary depending on your installation site.
The very basic requirements are:

3 pumpkins
The number and sizes will depend on your specific animation. I use One larger and two smaller. Their proportions to each other are more important than the actual dimensions of each. Ideal pumpkins will have a large smoother surface. I think a relatively round shape is better than one that is taller. Real pumpkins can work just fine, but I use and recommend Funkin brand artificial pumpkins which look entirely realistic.

Video projector
If you have a projector already, awesome. If not, most any compact LCD video projector in the $350-$500 range will be ideal. I recommend one with a minimum of 2000 lumens and a contrast ratio of 3000:1 or greater. Resolution doesn't need to be any greater than standard definition, but the greater the resolution, the less the pixels will be visible. Amazon.com can be a great resource.

Amplified speaker
The soundtrack to your singing pumpkins will need an amplified speaker. If you have a smaller bookshelf or center-style style speaker, these can work very well, but require a separate powered amplifier. If you don't already have something, I recommend purchasing small internally amplified speakers, which will make your installation simpler. Search for small powered speakers and you should find many options under $20.

DVD player/digital media player
The animation loop can play from a dvd player or a digital media player. Most dvd players should work. For a simpler option with no moving parts, I recommend the Micca Speck Ultra Portable Digital Media Player http://amzn.com/B008NO9RRM

Animation content
If you are not an animator, there are several existing options for the animation content that you will be projecting onto your pumpkins. They also range significantly in quality. Here are the only two current options I can recommend. There are available options for each source and not all of them will produce the most convincing illusions.

http://www.themightymicroscope.com/windowcreeps
(These animations are, in my opinion, superbly animated for this effect, but for the most realistic illusion I would avoid any animations that involve cross-fades or other overt video effects.)

http://atmosfx.com/products/detail/jack-o-lantern-...

Step 3: ​Additional Materials

You can significantly enhance the impact of your animated pumpkins display by incorporating other elements into the scene.
Additional carved and illuminated pumpkins
Although you can use real pumpkins, I highly recommend using artificial pumpkins, especially Funkins brand, as your display will last longer and be available for reuse each year.
Basic Funkins are available at JoAnne crafts store each fall. They are also available through the Funkins website:
http://store.funkins.com/shop/
Illuminate your carved pumpkins with C7 "Christmas bulbs" for the perfect level of safe illumination. I use and recommend lamp cord with simple snap-on sockets to create custom electrical strings.
http://www.actionlighting.com/c7-5watt-transparent...
http://www.actionlighting.com/c7-replacement-chris...
http://www.actionlighting.com/spt2-plug-vampire-zi...
http://amzn.com/B0002YUGEY
I also go the extra step to add realistic candle flicker to these bulbs, usually in 3 circuits so that all the pumpkins are not flickering in sync. This may be a relatively expensive addition, but I believe significantly enhances the entire display by further reinforcing the illusion that all of the pumpkins are real and that the carved and projected pumpkins are the same. These devices offer fully adjustable brightness and flicker. I haven't tested the first link, but they have more economical options that appear to function very well.

http://www.simflame.com

http://www.lanternnet.com/fauxflame.htm

Scenic elements
Tombstones, logs, vines, faux ivy or other scenic elements can help to arrange your pumpkins and complete the display. Creating or utilizing existing varying elevation will enhance your scene considerably.

Additional lighting
Your singing pumpkin display will be significantly more effective with proper illumination. The source of illumination is less important and can vary significantly. The method is more important and will be in the details section later.

Step 4: Location. Location. Location.

An ideal location for this display is one where the viewing angle is optimal and controlled to some extent. It is also important that everything is out of reach from spectators for a variety of reasons. Creating your display on a raised location or platform is helpful as long as the end result is something natural in appearance. There are many excellent possible locations and arrangements, but should try to include these basic suggestions. An ideal arrangement will have your pumpkins (carved and projected) at varying heights and depths. If you are using an animation that incorporates more than one pumpkin, It can be helpful to secure each pumpkin into place, possibly together as one component so that there is less chance of the projected image drifting.

You will also want to hide your projector from view. This can be very effectively done behind foliage like ivy, another pumpkin, a tombstone, a rock, etc... I have created a cover using an extra large artificial pumpkin, but found it easier to hide the projector with black fabric and artificial ivy and vines. Be sure to consider airflow for your projector to ensure it doesn't overheat. If your display is outside, you can build a vented cover to place over your projector. Don't worry about making your pumpkins viewable from a wide angle with zero obstructions. The effect will be more charming and convincing if your display doesn't look uniformly arranged and has an object or two limiting their view to some degree.

Fog machines are great for Halloween, but terrible for this illusion. Any fog or haze in the air will instantly reveal the projected light onto the pumpkins.

Step 5: Sound

Your speaker should ideally be placed near the projected pumpkins and hidden to some extent, perhaps behind some ivy. The volume doesn't need to be especially loud or base filled, just clear and emanating from the general location of your pumpkins.

Your singing pumpkins have no need for stereo audio. Only a single speaker is required. If, however you have any audio editing skills/software, you may opt to add a quiet atmospheric track of something like crickets chirping, to the remaining track if you are using a second speaker. This will be especially noticeable if there is a period of time in your pumpkin animation loop where they are not singing.

Step 6: The Devil Is in the Details.

The difference between a convincing and mesmerizing illusion and one that is instantly recognizable as a projection and thus less engaging are a few surprisingly simple details, which are more often missing. If you take the time to employ these extra efforts, I promise you'll be rewarded.

Light your scene
Popular opinion seems to be either: keep your jack-o-lanterns in the dark, or illuminate them with the projector, which can be done if your animation has any color other than black outside of the carved features. Some available animations have orange rather than black. Never use this option. If all of the lighting comes from the projector it flattens everything and ruins the illusion that the pumpkins are carved and that light is emanating from within them. You will have similar results if all of your lighting is coming from the same direction as the projector. Some ambient lighting that hits the face of the pumpkins can even be a good thing. If your projector is bright enough to effectively "cut through" the ambient lighting, the illusion will be excellent.

Add depth
If your animation utilizes multiple pumpkins, arrange them so that they are not all at the same depth (all in a row, etc...). Place them a few inches in front or behind each other. You can then focus your projection to be somewhere between the two depths which will add further realism to the effect as well as blur the pixels of your projector just enough to mask the digital nature of the projection.

Color match the pumpkin illumination
It's likely that the projection animation will not be the same color of illumination that is coming from the C7 lamps in your carved pumpkins. Additionally, most consumer LCD projectors employ an RGB color wheel that creates a perceptible color flicker that can give the projected pumpkins an "electronic" quality. There's a relatively simple fix to both of these problems. Use a slightly amber theatrical gel filter over the lens. A swatch book from your local theatrical lighting supply can help you obtain just the right color.
Additionally, I edited my animation from themightymicroscope.com to have a realistic candle flicker effect within the carved features. I did this with a very low-tech method, transparently overlaying a video of a white surface illuminated with a light I manually dimmed and brightened. This effect exists with the newer AtmosFX.com animation.

Remove additional light spill
You can significantly enhance the quality of your projection by removing all the light spill that comes from the black areas in your animation content. This can be accomplished simply by using an opaque tape like gaffer's tape to frame the lens of your projector, while it is on and projecting your animation loop. Move strips of tape in the direction of the projected features until until you are just outside of cutting them off and affix the tape. This can also be affixed easily to the theatrical gel mentioned above, rather than on your lens. This will make your projection appear notably brighter with a higher contrast to the surface of the pumpkin.

Align your projection
Take the time to size and center the projected features onto your pumpkins. Be sure to watch your full content loop to ensure features don't begin to move too far around the edges of the pumpkin ruining the illusion.

Step 7: Now Go Impress the Neighbors!

Certainly, some of these items may seem finicky to you, and they probably are. Attention to these sorts of details is what separates Disney Park attractions and those at lesser theme parks. I present this information so that you may have the best success presenting this fun illusion. Obviously jack-o-lanterns are not able to spring to life and sing, but with some attention to detail, you can really elevate this effect to a work of art. Simply aiming a projector at pumpkins and calling it a day will look like you've done just that and lessen the impact you were hoping for. There is also plenty of room for experimentation even within these guidelines and employing even a few of them will improve your results. Most of all, have fun!

David Andora
www.davidandora.com

I got the extras like the gel to match the coloration and two of the spotlights you suggest I must say it adds ALOT more detail and depth.In the photo I you can see my Epson 2045 the spotlights which I will put one on both sides just didn't break out the extension cords, and the rosco gel
Thanks those will be great this next Halloween I am going to put them in my graveyard scene in front of a16 foot tree in my yard wrapper with orange lights and will grab two or three of those and hide them the way you had them not in the same lane as the projected image but to the sides same with the purple light. I'll have to get those and do a test video , I would put a video of them just didn't have time this season to get a good video of just the pumpkins.
In person you could see the effects on camera and I don't know why the right pumpkin is yellow and other two are white and yellow really hard to capture this effect to what it looks like in real life.
<p>It is tough to capture dark scenes, but especially when there are high contrast elements like the jack-o-lantern faces. With what I am able to see from your setup, I might suggest moving your purple light to the wall/fence in the background to balance the setting out more, and add another light or two in the general range indicated in the illustration included in the instructions. It will both improve the display and the ability to capture it with a camera. :) Amazon offers relatively inexpensive <a href="http://a.co/a8ofi7P">RGB LED flood lights</a> that do a great job. I've used the 50w versions (<em>actually only 15 watts, but plenty bright</em>). I have them flooding this past year's display directly from the side in these images- and hidden behind the columns. Thanks for taking the time to share your efforts! You can see them in <a href="https://vimeo.com/187508866">this short video</a> from this past Halloween.</p>
Hi again I've upgraded a bunch so I got the micca mply wlan HD media player ,and a Epson 2045 home cinema projector which is only 2200 lumens but has a contrast ratio of 35,000:1 it's also 1080p. I also have a benq MS24A which is 3300 lumens with contrast of 15,000:1 and it's svga resolution.I actually recently went by Disneys singing pumpkins and noticed my projection on my benq was actually a lot more brighter , but like in your suggestions they were almost identical to the lit pumpkins on the snow moutain I think it's better to get perfect amount of brightness I'll have to see what the Epson 2045 looks like its shipping on Amazon.I also am going to do singing busts also like the ones at Disney I wonder what projected will be best for that.Im doing rising ghost with a used cheap 40 dollar projector also.What brand projector do you use for these kind of effects.
<p>The perceived brightness of your projection is relative to the ambient lighting of your display environment. As a general guide, the projection should appear to be the same brightness as your illuminated pumpkins, which you can control if they are electrically lit. The <em>distance</em> of your projector, and the <em>age</em> of an incandescent lamp can also affect the projector brightness. Brand is of less importance than specifications and general quality. Yours both sound good. Most of the LED lamp based projectors that are in the $200 or less range are just <em>barely</em> able to produce an acceptable result with extra care being put into adjusting the ambient light. I can't stress enough the improvement you'll get by adding soft illumination from the back or side as indicated in the instructions. It adds an important sense of depth. I have both Viewsonic and Infocus projectors purchased primarily because of the features and price point, but that will often vary. I would often recommend a higher quality <strong>used</strong> projector over a lower quality <strong>new</strong>.</p>
Also to make about 15 pumpkins flicker how much of those faux flame modules would you need?
I would recommend using one of the http://www.simflame.com units. The 3 channel would suffice, but 5 ($20 more) would be an improvement and make things easier for you. You'll just want to mix them up a bit with the arrangement of your jack-o-lanterns so to avoid having two adjacent that are on the same channel.
That's also with my benq on Eco at 2900 lumens.
I had a purple light and spotlight on it hard to see in photo.
I want to try this, but I'm not sure my yard is a safe place for them. We don't have a fence to keep people away from where the pumpkins and projector would be.
Next year I plan to get a 48 inch purple light from spirit and shine it at the pumpkins from up behind the projector.This instructable helped alot on my first attempt on the singing pumpkin allusion.
I'm glad I was able to help! Continued success!
<p>Fantastic Instructable, I'm so glad you included the links to the video sources. I have been wondering how you made this effect for a long while! I also wanted to point out that the mighty microscope has updated the pumpkins so they look much more real, they have a flicker and a candle inside and they have a texture etc. I just went ahead and bought it and hope to be able to set up a tableau even 1/10th as nice as you have with your great tips and tricks!</p>
<p>Thanks for the compliment. I'm also glad to see that the mighty microscope's content creator eventually took my suggestion. I really like his animations. Best wishes for your setup. You've got the tools to make it fun and special! </p>
<p>whats the best projector to buy that wont brake my pocket book</p>
I think it would be better to buy a good used one, than new, but cheap. Prices have come down considerably in the past 5 years, but they may still be more expensive than you may want to spend. You can get a great basic projector for around $350 on the low end or around $500 for something with HD resolution. I use and like ViewSonic and InFocus. Amazon is a good starting point and then you can also search projectors you find there, elsewhere. LED projectors are less money, but the light output is also less, and arguably useful except under very low ambient light scenarios, which might be perfect for special effect uses. Good luck!
<p>DO wiring instructions come with the FauxFlame module?</p>
Yes, they do. If you have ever wired up a household switch or dimmer, this is essentially the same thing and not difficult.
<p>I'll also add that it comes in a 12 vlt. version as well for battery operated installations. </p>
<p>Thanks for the votes and compliments! <br>I hope this serves as a useful reference for years to come!</p>
<p>Congrats!</p>
<p>Thanks! You too! </p>
<p>Wow, very well documented and awesome idea. I've tried this myself in the past with great results. Love it.</p>
<p>Thanks for the compliment. Projection effects have begun to go mainstream and I'd seen enough poor examples of it, that I felt there was a place for this sort of guide. Based on your other work, I'm sure you did a great job! </p>
<p>Awesome effect! I'll be trying my hand at this next Halloween.</p>
<p>When setup well, it can be fairly spectacular and will keep people guessing. You've got some time :) I'm sure we'll be seeing an animated features video to project on your snowman soon enough! </p>
<p>Thanks for sharing. Here what came of my setup.</p>
<p>Thanks for sharing! It looks like you had a better Halloween that anyone here in Chicago where we had sideways blowing ice pellets! </p>
<p>I'm favoriting this. And voting. This is most impressing, and I can see so many other uses based on the same principle. Out of curiosity, do you think this would work with some of the small pocket projectors, or are they generally not bright enough?</p>
<p>I'm using a Pico projector from AAXA, and I'm using regular sized pumpkins. It works just fine, and is plenty bright to be effective!</p>
<p>Thanks for the compliment and vote! I actually <em>have</em> created this effect with a pico projector! The key is miniaturizing your display with very small pumpkins (4-6&quot;) and in a more dim environment. While it's not as convincing of an effect due to the tiny &quot;carved&quot; features, it makes up for that with how charming and cute it is. I use my pocket projector exclusively for special effect projection and have SO MUCH fun with that! </p>
<p>Can you elaborate on why the two animation sources you recommend are better than other popular options (e.g. thesingingpumpkin.com)? Also, do you think it would detract from the effect by using a short throw projector, where there may be a bit of focus non uniformity due to shallow depth of field? Have both long-throw and short, but don't really have the room to set up the long throw where I want the pumpkins.</p>
I think that the two animations I recommend are better animated than others. My <em>personal</em> preference are many (though not all) from <strong>themightymicroscope</strong> as they look more like believable carvings, which I think adds to the overall effect. &nbsp;I've found that viewers are not entirely sure how the effect they are seeing is created, frequently suggesting physical methods. The beautiful work from <strong>atmosfx</strong> is almost <em>too</em> slick, which immediately gives the viewer the impression that you are viewing a digitally projected effect, one that is still entertaining, but less mysterious. I think most common short throw projectors would be fine to use. I've used them and had no problems. As I mentioned, I like to arrange the pumpkins slightly in front and behind focus which removes some of the subtle pixel screen. Many of the suggestions I make seem finicky, but I promise they make a considerable difference in the end result of your display. To date, most displays I see are three pumpkins in the dark with a projector aimed at them, and they immediately look like <em>just </em>that. Good luck and have fun!&nbsp;
Yeah. I got mine from thesingingpumpkin.com, and they are AWESOME! Much better than that first one you are suggesting. <br>
<p>Do the pumpkin faces in themightymicroscope's videos line up with atmosfx's faces well enough that I could make a single extended video using content from BOTH sources? Thank you for this wonderfully detailed Instructable - I LOVE your &quot;finicky&quot; suggestions!</p>
<p>No, I don't think they would line up well, however there are multiple animation options from themightymicroscope and have successfully combined several into an extended seamless loop. Thanks for the compliment!</p>
I do plan on uploading videos of the display:) I did use two videos from thesingingpumpkin (if I remember right). As for part of a lightshow, in the future I will make it a stand alone display on a path to the shows so ppl can get closer and enjoy them better.<br><br>The first show is tomorrow night so I hope to start getting video up soon. <br><br>I will cover this side of the flood so you can't see the light on the ground but so far it's pretty awesome and it's the &quot;new&quot; thing I am trying this year:)<br><br>Thank you for the response, I wasn't expecting it:) <br><br>And I love stunt shows and shows in general so when things are not done well it does hurt a lot inside, lol
I added this to my light o rama halloween light show this year... Lol I'm glad to see where it came from in your documentation. I am seeing like three other tutorials on this though all this year, this technique is really kicking off;)<br><br>Anyway I am using a cheap $50 mini projector, I'm sure a 2,000+ lumens would be best for this effect though. (Just my findings)
Your projector seems to be doing a fine job! Just match the light level of the real carved pumpkin and you'll be golden. As equipment is becoming more accessible the technique is showing up more often, but in the hands of many amateur enthusiast displays it's also at risk of loosing it's effectiveness because of a combination of &quot;sloppy&quot; setups and over exposure to the effect. One previous example was the use of blowing silks and lights to create incredibly believable fire effects on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. It's been so frequently adopted, more often poorly, that now the average guest of that attraction instantly recognizes the method. It's my hope that those interested in this effect would want to take the time to create an effect that maintains a bit of mystery to it rather than <em>showcasing the technology</em> <em>as the effect</em>. It's not difficult, just takes some effort. You already win points for adding the flood light. Will you post videos or additional photos of your display this year? I'd love to see it!
<p>Okay, now that's cool. I must do this. Did you create your own animations? If so what platform?</p>
<p>Thanks. I did not create the animations. I enhanced the one that I use in Final Cut <br>Pro. There are many available, but the only two I can recommend are listed at the bottom of step two. </p>
<p>Super duper! voted!</p>
<p>Sweet. Just sweet!</p>
<p>Btw. A cheap low-budget variant is to project a non-animated version by placing painted plate or cutout between a flickering or auto-dimming light and your pumpkin. This gives you the effect of a ghost-pumpkin turning into a jack-o-lantern. That effect can also be done with invisible black-light paint on the pumpkin and an animated black-light, (no projection required for that of course). No comparison to the singing pumpkins though!</p>
<p>Another thing that I have found useful in projected effects is small, quiet fans, that can be strategically placed to blow any drifting fog away from the light beams. Somehow, there always seems to be stray FX fog, even if you don't use a fog machine!</p>
<p>Theatrical fog, especially in an indoor setting is always going to be a problem if you are trying to hide projector beams. Not sure where your stray fog is coming from, but it sounds creepy. The beams are also much more noticeable facing the (source) projector, which is less likely with this effect. Thanks for the suggestion. </p>
<p>I think it's a Halloween corollary to Murphy's law: If you are using a projection effect and really want the beams to be invisible, then someone nearby and upwind will be using a fog machine or raising dust constantly, or failing that, actual fog will somehow find its way into your projection area. But none of that will happen until you're live and busy with some other aspect of your setup. ;) Which reminds me: it's a good idea to make sure the floors/paths are dust-free around your area.</p>
<p>Come to think about it, the small fans have always been an outdoor solution, to push the haze up over the area of your effect. I actually can't remember a specific occasion where we used them indoors. We always used ventilation pulling air in from outside the space, if necessary. In interior spaces, you have to ventilate, or the fog/dust will just get circulated around behind the fans.</p>
<p>You should make an Instructable for this! I LOVE low-tech effects! </p>

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