We came across one of these classic fortune telling machines in Las Vegas while on a cross-country family vacation. Our oldest daughter thought it would be funny to be one for Halloween so we did our best to oblige.
Step 1: The Basic Box - Part 1
The first step is to find just the right cardboard box to use for the cabinet. It needs to be large enough to comfortable fit half a child into and sturdy enough to maintain its structural integrity having large portions of three sides cut away. We found that the a small wardrobe box worked well. The walls were thicker than average and it was designed to hold a lot of weight. To help stabilize the box further, we folded the bottom flaps up into the box and glued them to the inside walls rather than cutting them off. This really helped the box stay square throughout the whole process.
Cut large openings into three of the four sides. Don't throw out the cardboard, you can use it later for other parts of the project. Now paint the box, inside and out in a basic brown. We used spray paint though I imagine brushing it on would work too. It took a few coats to adequately cover the writing and labels on the box.
For the decorative trim, we cut some of the cardboard left over from the side openings into strips and stacked and glued them together. The strips were spray painted black and the corners, gold. We brushed some additional gold paint onto the black strips before glueing the trim pieces to the box.
The "Zoltar" sign was painted in reverse onto a piece of clear acetate which had been cut to fit the opening. Painting onto the back of the sign meant that the front of the sign had a really clean, printed look to it.
Step 2: The Basic Box - Part 2
We used a bit of blue, starry fabric to create curtains for the back of the box. We sewed the pleats into each panel then just glued the panel to the back of the box.
The candle sconces began life as a pair of 20oz coke bottles. We cut the bottoms of the bottles to the shape we wanted and then "frosted" the inside of the sconce with a couple thin washes of white paint. The sconce bases were created from cardboard toilet-paper tubes. The candles themselves we just a pair of those battery-powered tea lights.
To prepare the box to sit properly on costume base in a way that didn't require our daughter to hold it. we cut and glued in place four legs from 3/4" PVC pipe. These extended about 6" past the bottom of the box all the way to the top to eliminate pressure on the glue joint from the box weight.
The Box base sat first on a piece of 4" green foam. This is a great base for any larger costume piece. the foam block is cut just slightly larger than the dimensions of the box. We first cut a largish hole to fit over our daughter. Don't make the hole too large. It needs to be snug so it doesn't want to slip down when the weight of the box is placed on it. While she's wearing the green foam, place the box over her and mark where the for legs land on the foam. Then at those four points drive a PVC sleeve, large enough to accept the box legs, through the green foam. Glue these sleeves in place to avoid slippage.
Next take a piece of 1" rigid foam insulation panel and cut it to the same size as the green foam base. Like with the green foam, cut a hole large enough for your child to slip over their head. This one doesn't need to be snug, but don't go any larger than you need. Then cut four holes matching the locations of the locator pegs you put in the green foam so the box legs can pass through this layer. This will act as the attachment point for the gold skirt. We just folded and glued the gold table skirt fabric to the rigid foam square making sure that the fabric extended under the edge of the box.
Step 3: The Basic Box - Part 3
To mask the top of the foam we cut a cardboard plug in a u-shape and painted it the same brown as the box. To that we attached a few decorative items like tarot cards and beaded necklaces.
For a little extra fun we recorded some of the voice dialog from a real Zoltar machine we found online to one of those little voice-recorder pucks that parents can put into stuffed animals. We attached the puck to the inside of the box, below the front window opening and extended the button though a small hole in the box with small section of pen with a red marble on top.
Opposite the voice button we cut a small slit to allow our daughter to dispense fortune cards to people.
The last bit we needed was a crystal ball. For this we purchased a plastic light shade globe from the hardware store. We glued this to a color-changing, LED base; the kind that florists use to uplight centerpieces and whatnot. We velcroed this to the cardboard plug.
Step 4: Zoltar's Costume
Inside the box, our daughter was dressed as the fortune teller
A simple gold, puffy-sleeved shirt with sparkly vest and matching cummerbund were the base. To this, we added a few plastic beaded necklaces and a small flute tucked into the cummerbund. We built a turban hat out of the same shirt fabric and a costume jewelry broach in the middle. To this turban we added fake sideburns and bushy eyebrows because for some reason the eyebrows on these Zoltar machines are kind of crazy.
We added a fake mustache and goatee with toupee tape. This allowed us to attach and/or remove the facial hair relatively easily when needed.