Introduction: Floating Skulls Treasure Chest Hologram (Updated)

About: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.
Update: I have figured out a way to practical way to produce the Pepper's Ghost Effect in an outdoor situation, so I have updated this instructable with the results, jump to the last step for if you want to see the result.

I wanted to add a personal stamp to our Pirate Ship decor for Halloween, and also to get my girls involved in the whole process. This effect is very easy, and could be used to project skulls or other face paintings on your walls to give your guests a spooky welcome. If you want to get a little more fancy you could also combine the floating skull with a "Pepper's ghost holographic effect" to scare the pants off any unsuspecting trick-or treaters.

Step 1: ITEMS

The black light is likely the key item you don't have lying around...
  1. Black light 10-50$ at
  2. Fluorescent face paint 20$ at
  3. Black face paint 10$ at
  4. Camera
If you are trying for the Pepper's Ghost Hologram effect, you also need:
  1. A projector or monitor
  2. A piece of glass or clear plastic in your choice of size (if using a monitor, then 50% longer than the monitor in one dimension)
  3. Brackets to hold your projector/monitor and sheet of glass/plastic (fishing line, lumber, brackets...)

Step 2: Test Paints

It is always a good idea to test any body paints on a small area to test for a skin reaction, and also to see what is the best order to apply the paints. In this case, the glow paint was practically transparent after application, and the black paint was easy to apply over top, masking the glow extremely well.

Step 3: Apply Base Coat

The glow paint goes on first. As you can see it dries clear, so to test whether you have missed any spots, view it under the black light. Make sure to let this coat dry before applying the black. 

Step 4: Detailing of the Makeup

We scoured the internet to find examples of skeleton makeup; there are a few great instructables that give more impressive results. In this case we cannot add too much texture without gumming up the fluorescence. Although, I was able to moderate the full black by adding some glow paint on top of the black paint (see my cheeks). 

Step 5: Shoot the Scene

Once again you can check out the makeup under the black light to make sure that you have good coverage. In my case I went back and filled in my fake teeth (on lips) with the glow make up. You can practice in front of the mirror to see how raising your eyebrows or stretching your mouth will look on the video. Unless your into intense tooth whitening, your teeth will look yellow when compared to the makeup, so keeping your lips over you teeth helps the overall effect. My camera had trouble focusing on the fly, so it is a good idea to test the setup before exhausting your actors. We had a mirror behind the camera so the girls could see what they were doing in real time. I use Microsoft Movie Maker which is a free download and very easy to work with, there is an effect called "Hue - cycle entire color spectrum". It is self explanatory, but it works perfectly in this context.

Step 6: Pepper's Ghost Effect Dining Room Test

There are already excellent historic and brand new instructables on this subject. I have always wanted to try this out for myself, and the video we created was a perfect candidate due to the high contrast of our faces against the black background. I initially hesitated using this effect for our outdoor Halloween decor, as the geometry is very tricky to get right (projector high above and somehow hang the plastic sheet inconspicuously outside with some features in the background to highlight the transparency). See the next step for the final result

Check out the video which explains how to pull off the illusion by using a projector and a plastic sheet from a rear projection TV I scavenged off the street (for the Fresnel lens). I know the image is upside down, this would have been an easy fix if "flip image" had been available on the projector (just a test).

Step 7: The Final Pepper's Ghost Effect

This is the final setup created for Halloween, I'll try to get better quality video on the big night. The rig is pretty self explanatory, see the photos with the notes (or go back one step for the explanation of how it works). It would be easier to use a large monitor or small TV at the bottom of the trunk. You can also build a trunk to suite your screen. Getting some details behind the reflected image should help make the illusion "holographic" (candles, sword, crown, coins). It is difficult for me to be impressed with the result, because there is no mystery about how it works; but people that I have shown it to are suitably impressed. If you create a few ghosts of your own, please let me know how it went. Happy Haunting!!! 

Halloween Decorations Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Decorations Contest