Our Nimble Fingered Organist, aka “The Skeletal Organist”, is an effect we first created back in the 90’s for our home haunt, and turned out to be a perenial favorite as the best Halloween prop in our haunted house. Everyone assumed it was an animatronic skeleton and wanted to know the secret behind how we achieved such natural, fluid arm and hand movements.
The secret, as you’ll find, is a surpisingly simple one. Moreover, this DIY project is fairly easy to build, especially as far as creating animated Halloween props goes. It doesn’t require any special skills, tools or know-how. Most prop builders should be able to build this do-it-yourself Halloween project in an afternoon. Ready to begin?
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Here is a list of items you’ll need for this project. See the links page at the end of the tutorial for recommended brands and links to where you can buy some of these items online if you don’t already have them in your haunter’s tool kit.
• Skeleton (Good posable plastic skeletons have become available for cheap recently)
• Skeletal gloves (the kind with the raised plastic bones on them work best)
• Black Light (get a good tube type black light, the light bulb types don’t put out much UV light)
* Glow-In-The-Dark Paint (spray paint is easier to apply and glows more brightly)
* Masking Tape
* Zip Ties (the “Natural” colored ties are best for this project. Short ones are fine)
* Black fabric (3 yards should be plenty) plus some tacks, staples or duct tape to secure it
* 1-inch Threaded Floor Flange (your local hardware store will have these in the plumbing area)
* Reducing Male Adapter” (1” x 3/4”) (also available in your hardware store’s sprinkler dept.)
* 3/4” PVC Pipe (a 2-foot scrap piece will do just fine)
* Black paint (spray paint or liquid form is fine) (You can also use black duct tape instead)Black long-sleeved shirt (for your operator to wear during performances)
Optional: Piece of plywood, 35” x 14”, (if you don’t want screw holes in your organ bench)
Optional: Clamps or black duct tape (if you don’t want screw holes in your organ bench)
Optional: Talking Skull (Swap in a talking skull if you want your organist to speak or sing)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the hands you see playing the organ so nimbly aren’t the lifeless bony hands that come with the skeleton... they’re actually human hands inside skeletal gloves, attached at the wrist in place of the original hands. So simple, yet it never fails to mystify an audience. Let’s get hacking…
Remove the original hand by clipping the metal wire emerging from the hand. Tighten any loose screws holding the hardware into the bone, as these tend to work loose with time.
Using a sharp object, poke a hole in the glove at the wrist, about 1/2" away from the edge of the glove. Try to make the hole in a spot where the glove is strong to keep the hole from tearing with time. Next, insert a zip tie into the hole you just made. Poke the zip tie into the hole starting from inside the glove, so the tip emerges from the top (bony) side. This way, the zip tie’s “head” will be better hidden.Notice that we’re only attaching the top side of the glove to the arm bone so we can still slip our hand into the glove after it’s attached.
Feed the zip tie through or around the hardware remaining on the end of the arm bone. Tighten the zip tie so that the hand is secured close to the arm, yet loose enough so that the hand can move fairly freely. Trim away the rest of the zip tie and clip or file any sharp zip tie edges.
Make sure your wrist moves freely enough for you to bend your wrist upward and downward without binding, and that the hand appears to be naturally attached to the arm bone. It may look a little odd at this point, but once you’ve painted the bones, pulled your long black sleeves into place, turned off the lights, and flicked on the black light fixture, it will instantly become clear!
Repeat the previous steps to prepare the other arm. Alternatively, you can opt to incorporate just one arm if you’re in a crunch for time, as the effective is just as effective.