Introduction: Following-eye Halloween Display

The glowing eyes follow you as you walk down the street.  A spooky effect that is cheap and easy to make!  Put one in every window for a really creepy effect!  Made from cereal boxes, cardboard, and paper mache.

Some of the rave reviews I got from popular celebrities:
“Your house is creepy!” - Spiderman
“Great job, as usual your house looks fantastic!” – Pirate Jack Sparrow’s mom
“I told my neighbor her house was the best, now I’ll have to take it back!” – Mario’s Mom
“This house is awesome, I want to adopt you!” – Grim Reaper

Step 1: The Inspiration

The idea for this Halloween display came from this decorative mask.  The eyes follow you as you walk around the room.  I studied this to learn how the effect works and how to enlarge it to a window-sized display.  The front of each eye is a spherical shape with an eye shaped cutout.  The pupil is on the back of a cavity behind the eye. The pupils are dome shaped so that they appear circular from all angles.  The center of the pupil's dome shape is located about at the center of the spherical shape of the front part of the eye.  This makes the pupil appear to be oriented directly at you from all angles.

The paper mache eyes in this instructable are giant-sized replicas of the eyes in this mask.  The cereal box eyes are a common craft project I think, I have heard of them being made from shoe boxes.

Step 2: Materials

You need:
Large pieces of cardboard, big enough to fit in the windows.  Heavy cardboard is better.
Black paint.  I used tempura paint, the kind used in kids art classes, from an art store ($7 for 900 ml, I used about half the bottle for 4 window displays), it is cheap, easy to clean up, and dries to a flat black finish.  That's the only thing I had to buy to make my display.
Christmas lights (LED lights strongly recommended because they don't get hot - the materials are very flammable!).  White is best, but other colors will work too.  Multi-colored strings are probably not going to work well.
White paper.
White glue.
A black marker.
A sharp knife.
A drill.

For the smaller eyes:
Several cereal boxes. 3 or 4 for each window you want to do.
Colored paper. I used construction paper.
Tape.  Packing tape works well.

For the larger eyes:
Newspapers (one large newspaper should do).
Flour and salt for the paper mache paste.
1 large (13") and 1 medium (9") mixing bowl.
1 softball
1 large plastic ice cream container
Plastic food wrap.  Glad Cling Wrap worked well, it is a heavier grade plastic and actually not very sticky which is good because the purpose is to help release the paper mache from the molds.

Allow about 2 weeks to make everything, there are several steps where you need to let things dry overnight.

Step 3: Cereal Box Eyes - Cut the Eyes

The eyes made from cereal boxes are easy to make, so you can make several for each window.  The large paper mache eyes take longer to make but give a better effect when viewed from the street.  I will start with how to make the cereal box eyes.

Draw eye shapes on the front of the cereal box.  Cut out the shape with a sharp knife.
If the box is more than 1-1/2" thick, cut the box in half, making sure the sides of the back half are about 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" wide.  In the picture, the sides of this box are cut a bit too narrow.

Step 4: Cereal Box Eyes - Glue on Paper

Take a sheet of white paper (it can be scrap paper already printed, as in the picture).  Cut it to fit inside the front of the cereal box.  It doesn't matter if it fits exactly.
Place the paper under the front of the cereal box and trace the eye shape onto the paper.   If already printed one side, place the printed side up as shown.
Cut out the eye shapes, about 1/4" outside the lines.
Glue the paper to the inside of the box front.
The purpose of this paper is to increase the reflectivity of the inside of the box, so the eyes glow brighter.

Step 5: Cereal Box Eyes - Draw Pupils

Cut a piece of white or colored paper to fit inside the back side of the box.  I used pale colors, but after seeing the completed display I think some darker colors would work well too.  If you are going to use colored Christmas lights, use white paper.
Place the paper under the front of the box, making sure it is aligned with the box.  Mark dots at the centers of the eye holes.
Draw pupils on the paper.
Glue the paper to the back of the box.  Make sure you put lots of glue near the bottom, because you will be drilling holes through the box there for the Christmas lights.
You can also glue strips of white paper on the top, bottom, and side flaps of the back of the box, to help reflect the light.

Step 6: Cereal Box Eyes - Tape Box Together

Using packing tape, tape the box together at the four corners.  Make sure the sides of the FRONT of the box are outside, this will prevent light from leaking through and being visible.

Repeat to make several more cereal box eyes. 

Step 7: Prepare Cardboard

Take a large piece of cardboard, cut it to size to fit inside your window.  If there is a fold or flap in the middle of the cardboard, you can glue a piece of cardboard to the back to prevent it from folding.
Place the cardboard in the window and mark where the frame, crank, or any other features are that would get in the way of the eyes.

Step 8: Place the Boxes on the Cardboard

If you are going to place large paper-mache eyes and cereal box eyes on the same cardboard, you will cut round holes at this point, but the paper mache eyes are added after the cereal boxes.  See the later steps on the paper mache eyes.

Arrange the cereal box eyes on the cardboard.  Draw a head shape on the cardboard, lining it up with the eyes as appropriate.
Trace around the boxes with a marker.  Number the boxes and the traced rectangles so you can place the eyes back in the right places.
Cut out the head shape.  I used a large sharp kitchen knife for this which worked well.
Drill 7 or 8 holes through the bottom part of each rectangle.  The size of drill bit should be a bit smaller than your Christmas lights, so you will be able to poke the lights through the holes and they will stay in place.  Don't worry about leaving ragged holes.
Glue the boxes in place.  Use plenty of glue around the drilled holes.  Place books on the boxes to hold them until the glue dries.

Step 9: Insert the Lights

After the boxes are glued in place, drill through the holes again to drill through the back of the cereal boxes. 
If you are including paper mache eyes on the same cardboard, glue the paper mache eyes in place now.  Drill the holes in the paper mache eyes.  See the later steps on paper mache eyes.
Insert the Christmas lights in the holes.  Again I strongly suggest LED lights, they do not get hot, which is important because these materials are very flammable.  There will be some lights hanging behind the cardboard between the sets of eyes, but this is good, it creates an 'aura' around the head shape.
In the second picture you can see that I am in the process of gluing some reinforcement strips to the sides of the cardboard.  This is because I made this one from very thin cardboard and the cardboard warped after painting.  Use heavy cardboard to avoid this problem.
It is better to put the lights before painting, you might scratch the paint when inserting the lights.

Step 10: Paint

Paint the front of the cardboard and the cereal boxes with flat black paint.  You're done!  Now put it in the window and plug it in!  .

Some of the other characters I made are shown also.

If you are making paper mache eyes too, read on...

Step 11: Paper Mache Eyes - the Molds

There are 3 molds required:
1. The front of the eyes.  A medium mixing bowl (9 inches diameter) works well.
2. The back of the eyes.  A large mixing bowl (13 inches diameter).
3. The pupils of the eyes.  For this I used a softball and a gallon ice cream container.  I cut a hole in the lid to fit the softball, and cut around the side of the ice cream container so that when set on the table the lid is midway up the softball.

Paper mache is very messy work, so I put a plastic sheet on my workbench to make cleanup easier.

Cover the molds with plastic wrap.  This makes it easier to remove the paper mache once dry.  Completely cover the bowls past the rim, otherwise you will get crusty dried paste stuck under the rim of the bowl and it's hard to get out.  If you are cheap like me you can re-use the plastic wrap when you make the second eye.

The white rectangle under the molds is a plastic "Garage Sale" sign that I used to carry the molds outside to dry in the sun, when the weather was fine.

Step 12: Paper Mache - Rip Up Some Paper and Mix the Paste

Tear 3 large sheets of newspaper into strips.  Make some strips of different lengths and width, the larger molds need longer and wider strips than the smaller molds.

Cut 4 sheets of white paper into strips.  (The white paper that I had did not tear well, so I cut it with scissors.)

A suitable batch of paper mache paste for one set of eye parts is:
1-1/2 cups warm water
3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt (the salt prevents it from going moldy once dry)

Step 13: Paper Mache - Apply the Paper

First put a layer of white paper strips onto the front and back eyeball parts.  You want the inside of the eyeballs to be white.  You don't need to put any white paper on the pupil.

Dip one paper strip at a time into the paste and place it on one of the molds.  For the eyeball front part, leave an eye-shaped opening.  Note that for the back part of the eyball you do not need to cover the entire mold, you only need to cover an area a bit larger than the front part of the eyeball.

After placing one layer of white paper, place 4 or 5 layers of newspaper strips onto all the parts.

In the pictures you can also see that I am gluing together some previously made eyeball parts with strips of paper around the edge.  If this is your first eyeball, that comes later of course.  I painted these eyeball fronts before gluing them together, but it is better to paint the eyeball fronts after the eyeballs are completed and installed on the cardboard.

Allow the parts to dry thoroughly.  This will take at least overnight.  A fan helps.  I was lucky that there was a heating vent right above the workbench in my basement, I opened that and it helped them dry nicely. 

Step 14: Paper Mache - Trim the Excess Paper

When COMPLETELY dry, remove the paper from the molds.  Pry with your fingers at the edges until the paper comes off.

Trim the excess paper from the edges of the eyeball front and the pupil with scissors.

Place the eyeball front onto the eyeball back and trace the outline.  Cut the eyeball back along the traced line.

Paint the pupil part black and let it dry.

Glue the pupil into the center of the eyeball back part.  Place a bead of white glue all around the edge of the pupil, place it onto the center of the eyeball back, and place a small weight (a paperback book perhaps) on top to hold it in place until it dries.

Step 15: Paper Mache - Glue Together

Rip some small pieces of newspaper, about 2 inches by 4 inches.  Use them and some paper mache paste to glue the front part of the eyeball to the back part.  You can do this while making the second eyeball so you don't need to make a separate batch of paste.  Make sure all gaps are covered with paper so you don't get any light leaking through the cracks.

In the picture the eyeball front was painted black before gluing, but it is best to paint later.  I had to re-paint where I glued it together anyway.

Step 16: Paper Mache - Glue to Cardboard

Cut a head shape to fit in your window, from heavy cardboard.  Cut round eye holes slightly smaller than the paper mache eyes.  You can use the medium mixing bowl as a template, trace around it then cut about 3/4 inch inside the line.

Draw a horizontal line on the back of each eyeball .  This is so that you can tell that they are properly oriented when gluing them in place.  Place the completed eyeballs face down on the floor and place the cardboard on top. Use books to support the cardboard in a level position.

Rip one sheet of newspaper into small strips.  Mix up a small batch of paste (about 1/2 cup).  Use paper mache strips to glue the eyeballs in place.  Make sure you cover all cracks to prevent light leaking.  Leave to dry overnight.

Step 17: Install Lights, Paint, Put in Window

Drill 7 or 8 holes in the lower part of the back of each eyeball.  Insert Christmas lights (LED lights recommended because they don't get hot - the materials are very flammable!). 

Paint the front of the display black.

Now put your completed display in the window.  You're done!  Add a soundtrack of animal noises or thunder to make the display even more creepy.  I'd like to see a picture of your creation!

Halloween Decorations Challenge

Participated in the
Halloween Decorations Challenge