I was inspired by an episode of the TV show Making Monsters where the group created an enormous "Franken-Alice" costume for Rocker Alice Cooper. Doing more research I discovered the concept is commonly referred to as a 'backpack puppet' and they are often used for larger-than-life characters in parades. I had a lot of fun using mine to slow down car traffic Halloween Night!
This Instructable describes how I did things - often I made it up as I went and you should do the same!
Soldering iron (optional)
Drill Press , 3/4" bit , small 1/32" bit
Carving knife / tools
Pins, Sewing machine, tape measure
1 x Roll of black duct tape (of course)
1 x sheet of Poster Board
Cardboard (old boxes)
Flour, water mixed to pancake batter consistency
Translucent plastic to cover the eyes
Light Up Eyes:
Wire, 2 LED lights, 9 volt battery, 9v connector, resistor ,
7’ of Rope / strong string,
5 inches of your pvc pipe for jaw hinge
2x Home Depot paint stirrers
3 x 10’ ¾ diameter pvc pipe
4 x 90 degree couplings, 4 x 45 degree couplings, 2 x T coupling
Salvaged closet organizer supports or similar
A mess-o-Home Depot 5 Gallon paint stir-sticks
Hunk of wood (I glued 2 ¾” thick pieces of scrap together, I think it’s tight grained pine)
Copper wire (From Romex house wiring)
10' of Rope
Bunch of bargain fabric (I had close to 8 yards of a 60” fabric, could have used more)
Alternative, black plastic table cloth
Window screen for a view port
Step 1: The Head - Getting the Shape
Knowing I was targeting 10 feet tall, I decided to make a non-sinister skull for my reaper. We have a lot of young children in the neighborhood and I wanted this to be fun, not leave lasting emotional scars. I did some sketches and was ultimately inspired by a cool reaper from a stock photography site.
We are creating a face that will be mounted on a frame, not an entire head. Instead of starting with a beach ball or some other solid support I started with the form and then built the support structure into it.
1. Fold the poster board in half across the long dimension. I taped a couple edges to make sure both halves stayed aligned.
2. Draw half of your face design.
3. Draw in perpendicular lines at the corners and at points along curves to define tabs that would be folded back and connected.
5. Carefully fold back tabs and lightly tape to create the start of your 3D face.
I stopped at this point. I wanted to understand my frame and how the face would attach before building the internal structure.
Step 2: The Eyes
One of the amazing things about Instructables is that one tutorial inspires another. I used this great LEDs for Beginners ible to create my two glowing eyes. I mentioned a soldering iron is optional in that, in a pinch, you can just twist wires and tape things together, but a soldered connection is stronger and cleaner.
Step 3: The Frame
Every frame is going to be different due to materials on hand and the shape and needs of your character. The easiest way to create a back pack puppet is to use a hiking backpack with an external metal frame. A hiking backpack is designed to comfortably support 40 or more pounds and comes with a waist belt to provide counter balance to uneven loads.
I scoured our local thrift stores and made a few calls but could not find one. So, I improvised.
An older computer case/backpack provided the basic platform and shoulder straps. The bulk of my frame was going to be made out of 3/4" PVC pipe, but I was worried there may be too much flex in the pipe over a 6 foot length, so I found some square metal bars from a closet organizing system to add rigidity. I cut square holes for the bars and 3/4" holds for the PVC pipe in a number of the large paint sir sticks compliments of Home Depot. I then cobbled together a frame and backpack design. I would really recommend finding a hiking backpack - this took a lot of time and effort.
I incorporated a stronger, wider wood piece to support the shoulders of my character.
I would recommend using the 'T' connectors to create shoulder height crossbars - these ultimately added a lot of stability while walking down the street.
Step 4: The Head - Jaw and Finish
With the frame complete:
1. Double check your face sizing and anchor plan.
I built in a sheet of cardboard that followed the top curve of the head and extended back about 12 inches.
I reinforced that top piece with duct tape with the intension of anchoring through that into the top holes of the 'T'
unions at the front top of the frame.
2. Reinforce the inside of your face with tape, cardboard etc. to give it strength.
3. Build and install the jaw the jaw hinge. I used a short length of the PVC pipe as a hinge.
I thought through a number of designs. I wanted the mouth closed by default and to open when I pulled a rope to talk.
See the jaw image for details of what I ended up doing.
4. Paper mache the face to make a more uniform surface and add a little strength.
5. Attach lower jaw piece to the hinge.
6. Paint white.
Step 5: The Head - Lights and Mount to Frame
1. Cut your translucent plastic to shape to fill each eye hole. I used a cheap floppy white plastic cutting board. (Don't tell my wife, it may not have been cheap)
2. Drill a hole large enough to pass your LEDs through the center of two sections of paint stir cut to length.
3. Put your LEDs through the holes, align the bulbs, mount the stir sticks in place.
4. Light 'er up!
5.Attach your head to your frame.
Step 6: Hands!
Making the hands is just something I wanted to do. You can use prefab hands, stuff some gloves, anything that fits your character.
I wanted to make my hands large and boney, and I wanted to do some carving.
1. Glue two 3/4" planks together to form a 1 1/2 inch block. This is pine I had.
2. Find a reference image of hand bones online and scaled it up.
3. Transfer the the hand pattern to your wood - I traced the lines of the boned with a pen, which created an indentation in the wood below and then traced the indentations for a clear line. Carbon paper is handy for this too, if you have it.
4. Use a scroll saw to cut out your pieces - I numbered all of the bones of each finger to help keep them organized
5. Carve! Take off the edges, round over ends, add curve to the center of each finger bone segment.
6 Sand as desired. I found the carved wood gave a very cool boney texture to the hands, so I did not do much sanding.
7. Using the drill press and your 3/4" bit, drill a hole for the arm poles in the base of each hand.
8. Strip and cut 1" lengths of copper wire (from electrical wiring), one for each joint between finger bones.
9. Drill a small hole (choose a bit the diameter of the copper wire - I used 1/32 ") in each side of a finger bone joint. I cheated the holes toward the palm side of each finger joint to give more clearance for bending and posing.
10. Connect the joints with the copper, pose, glue in place.
11. Paint as desired.
12. Insert and glue 3' pieces of PVC into the holes at the base of each hand.
Step 7: The Cloak!
I found clearance fabric that was then another 50% off at JoAnne Fabric. I think I spent $25 for 8+ yards.
Alternately, you could try black table cloth plastic sheeting - very inexpensive for a ton of material.
1. Measure the height of your puppet to the shoulder, then add a little extra to allow for fabric to attach.
2. I used a diameter of 3 feet for comfortable walking - (Circumference = Diameter * Pi) I need a cloak 112 inches in circumference.
3. Measure your fabric for height and total width. Sew a tube of fabric, forming the body of your cloak (pin seams then sew straight seams with sewing machine)
4. For arms, I made 2 tapered cones of fabric about 4' long and sewed at the shoulders (I was winging it at this point)
5. For the hood, I simply arranged a square of fabric on the head and actually taped it in place, overlapping the tucked and taped top of the cloak.
Step 8: Pull It All Together!
Last minute assembly!
Duct tape in hand, I grabbed an swim noodle and some cardboard to give the shoulders some more form.
I ran a piece of rope from each shoulder down the sleeve and attached to the wrist of the pole for each hand. I used the poles for control, but the rope helped support the hands. Also, as the wind picked up I used the poles to pull on the ropes tied to the shoulders to counter the force of the wind and stay upright.
I attached the top of the cloak and the hood.
The last thing I did was cut a square hole at eye level for a view port. I covered the hole with some left-over window screening, which did a great job of letting me see out while hiding me in all lighting except the direct flash of the camera.
Step 9: Go for a Spooky Stroll !
I had a lot of fun Halloween night.
"Are you on stilts?"
"Are there two of you in there?"
"Whoa, he's tall."
"Hey you talk too!'
"Is that you Pete?" (No idea who Pete is)
I got a couple screams out of some grown women. And one dude. I'd look for groups of adults handing out candy and come gliding up behind the one person with their back to me, arms at their full 8 foot spread. Everyone would react and then the unsuspecting person would turn around to see me towering over them.
I had fun with kids too, but was very careful not to freak out the little ones.
By request I posed for 5 or 6 pictures with different groups of Trick-or-Treaters.
I was told several times that I was a close second in the informal best costume in the neighborhood contest. I lost out again to my nemesis, the 11 year-old Halloween prodigy who lives across the street. Next year Aaron, next year!