Singing Pumpkins Illusion DIY Guide





Introduction: Singing Pumpkins Illusion DIY Guide

About: I've been self employed most of my life, with the curse of a seemingly unending stream of ideas. One of my best skills is brainstorming and problem solving, utilizing an extensive knowledge of novel technolo...

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. 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

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.
(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.)

Step 3: ‚ÄčAdditional 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:
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.
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.

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 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 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

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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.

4 replies

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 RGB LED flood lights that do a great job. I've used the 50w versions (actually only 15 watts, but plenty bright). 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 this short video from this past Halloween.


What do you think! The haunted mansion holiday singing pumpkins ,just have to hide the splash-over better!

That's fun! Where did you get that animation content, or did you create it yourself? If you created the content, I'd suggest removing the orange pumpkin shapes from the video all together. The only light that should be coming from your projector are the carved features of the pumpkin. The pumpkins themselves should be lit separately as described above. No worries if you can't alter the video. Some suggestions are to add more lighting to the area behind the pumpkins or pulling the display further away from a wall if possible, or adding a dark background with layered elements like branches which would break up the light spillover. Happy New Year- thanks for sharing!

I got the projection media player kit from , and I think I found a great way to help the light overspill ! Here is the video of them with the background.One problem is that in this video I simply used a black trash bag behind the lights so it slightly bleed through but nothing very noticeable ,I am getting a coro-plast panel that is flat black that should do the trick in reducing shine and the slight bleed through!

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.

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.

1 reply

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 distance of your projector, and the age 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 barely 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 used projector over a lower quality new.

Also to make about 15 pumpkins flicker how much of those faux flame modules would you need?

1 reply

I would recommend using one of the 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.

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I'm glad I was able to help! Continued success!

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!

1 reply

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!

whats the best projector to buy that wont brake my pocket book

1 reply

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!