Inspired by the recent 3-D re-release of the Nightmare Before Christmas and a photo of a similar puppet, this 8' Jack Skellington puppet was actually a last minute costume idea my wife and I put together on a whim over the course of a week or so. This instructable will show you how we accomplished it so you can make any large puppet based on this design, and more importanly, how you can improve on our results.
About 50 feet of 1" PVC pipe
1" PVC pipe joints: Nine elbows, Six T joints, One cross joint
Two .5" x about 45" dowels
black foam sheets
3/4" or 1" braided elastic strap
3 or 4 yards of black pinstripe fabric
needle and thread
The structure of the puppet, supports and shoulder harness consist mostly of
1" PVC pipes and joints (you might notice a 1.25" cross joint in the chest in
my photos -- Home Depot was out of 1" cross joints, so I used this with some 1"
to 1.25" couplers instead.) The PVC can be cut with a hacksaw with little
effort, and I drilled through with just a regular drill bit -- whatever came
with my wife's drill. Remember to take into consideration that about .75" of
the pipe will overlap with the elbow, T, and cross joints when designing your
Step 1: Construct the Skeleton
The skeleton starts with a large cross built out of the cross joint and 4 pieces of pipe: neck, shoulders, and trunk. (See scale drawing here for our lengths -- we wanted our Jack to be 8' tall with his legs bent.) Plan on the neck pipe extending all the way through to the top of the head, actually slightly longer than in the drawing. Also, it's not reflected in the drawing, but I cut a section out of the trunk pipe a few inches below the cross joint to insert a t joint and cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk for another t joint -- these joints will connect the skeleton to the harness later.
Step 2: Arms and Legs
Each arm and leg consists of two pipes -- upper arm and forearm or thigh and
shin. Our elbows and knees are simply a loop of twine threaded through two
holes drilled in each pipe, about .5" from the end. Be sure there's enough
slack in the loop to provide clearance between the two pipes for easy movement.
The limbs are attached to the skeleton similarly. We drilled one hole in each
shoulder and threaded the twine through that hole and out the end, then through
the two holes in the upper arm. To attach the legs, the T joint at the base of
the trunk has three holes drilled through it, one on the left, one on the
right, and one in the front. The left leg is attached to the left and front
holes, the right leg to the right and front holes. This lets the legs swing
and hang without getting bunched up too much. There are two holes drilled
in each "ankle" and then threaded through with .75" or 1" black elastic, tied
off in a loop that will fit snugly around my shoes.
In retrospect, I wish I had made a more rigid hinge for the knees and hips.
They were so long and loose, that they tended to cross each other and get
tangled up while walking with the puppet. You can see that in many of the
photos they are attached to my knees rather than to my feet, just to help keep
them out of the way. I imagine you might have some luck threading the hips and
trunk onto a single bolt to provide movement around just the single axis,
rather than using twine. The same should be done for the knees, I imagine.
The arms worked out great though, because of the control dowels -- we discuss
those later in the instructable.
Step 3: Shoulder Rig
I won't give measurements for the shoulder rig, since you should probably
tailor it to your own needs. You want to think of this like the harness on a
roller coaster; ideally it should sit comfortably on your shoulders and extend
down to fit snugly across the waist or belly in the front and parallel to that
in the back. Insert T-joints in these horizontal bars across the stomach and
back for the vertical bars that will link up to the skeleton supports.
Step 4: Connecting the Skeleton to the Shoulder Harness
(I haven't described this well, so please refer to the photos.) The two T
joints in the trunk of the skeleton have about 1' of pipe coming back from them
toward my chest. The lower of these two is joined by a T joint to a vertical
pipe coming from the joint in front of my stomach on the shoulder harness.
This vertical continues up to join with the upper of the two in another T
joint. These two horizontal bars and the vertical form a sort of F shape. The
upper horizontal bar then continues back, over my head to connect (using an
elbow joint) with the vertical coming up from the T joint at my back.
Step 5: Jack's Head
For Jack's head, we sewed a large white felt ball and made the facial features out of black felt. The pattern and instructions came from here: http://www.thesilverpenny.com/FeltBall.html, but enlarged so one piece measures 20 inches from tip to tip. My wife used a back stitch to put it all together, sewing the ball inside-out for a more finished look. Once turned right-side out, we stuffed the head with batting, leaving room to stuff around the neck once attached. Instead of stitching up the opening at the bottom of the ball, we hot glued a circle over the opening and used a razor to make a cross hatch big enough to fit around the neck piece. We didn't tape, glue or sew the head onto the neck, so we were able to take it on and off for transport and general spookiness ("And because I am dead/I can take off my head" -Jack).
Step 6: Jack's Tie
We lucked out and found a black plastic cat with light-up eyes in a
craft store bargain bin for about $1, which we used to make a light-up face.
If you can find one, cut the face off with the hacksaw, being careful not to
damage much of the internal wiring. I extended the wiring so I could attach
the switch and battery pack to the frame, cutting the existing wires and
patching in some wire with alligator clips on the ends, then wrapping it in
electrical tape to secure.
I also bypassed the existing switch and added a clicky switch from the hardware store. Remember, there should be three wires: from the eyes to the switch, from the switch to the battery, and from the battery to the eyes. Make use of the existing wiring to make your job easier.
If you can't find a black plastic cat with light-up eyes in your local craft
store, or if they've just run out, you can probably construct a bat face pretty easily out of felt and foam. Maybe even add some throwies for eyes.
The bat wings are cut freehand out of thick black foam from a craft store,
reinforced with pipe cleaners glue-gunned to the back.
At first we tried gluing the wings and head to a piece of braided
elastic, but the glue kept giving way, so the tie is actually duct taped right onto
the neck of the puppet.
If I'd considered it, I would have taken advantage of the hollow pipes and snaked the wiring through the inside of the frame to protect it from snags and make the whole thing look a lot cleaner.
Step 7: Pillow and Gloves
Jack's chest is padded out with a really simple pillow made of white felt and batting. I drew the pattern freehand -- just a large triangle, the width of Jack's shoulders, with a loop of fabric at the top to fit over the neck and hold it in place.
The gloves are from an equally simple template: a hand with three long fat fingers and a long fat thumb. Don't worry -- when it's sewn together and turned right-side out, they are much thinner. Poke the fingertips in with scissors if you have trouble turning right-side out. Stuff with pipe cleaners and/or batting for flexibility and definition.
Step 8: Clothing Your Pumpkin King
Rather than tailoring a whole suit for Jack, we took a piecemeal approach. My wife created two pant legs and two sleeves, basically sewing tubes out of long strips of fabric. The height of the strip of fabric should be about an inch or two longer than the leg or arm, and the width should be about an inch larger than the circumference of the PVC. Sew the long edges together with a backstitch, then turn right-side out.
Use a dot of glue at the top of the hip and the top of the arm to attach the pant legs and sleeves.
Finish the suit with what could literally be called a T-shirt -- we made a pattern by just taping 5 sheets of letter size paper into a capital T, with the arms slightly wider than Jack's shoulders. Sew two of these Ts together, and either slit the back (if Jack is assembled, as ours was) or cut two holes in the back to allow for Jack's two support pipes.
Gather the excess fabric of the T-shirt in the back, near where the shoulder blades would be, bundle it together, pin and sew. If you slit the back, sew or glue it shut around the frame.
Cut a v-neck out of the front of the T-shirt, and glue some D-shaped or bow-shaped (as in bow and arrow) scraps of fabric over it to make a collar. (Be sure to rotate the collar 90 degrees so the pinstripes are perpendicular to the rest of the jacket.)
Cut a slit in the elbows and slide the two dowels in... glue or duct tape in place to make great controls for the arms.
Step 9: Finishing Tips
We didn't get the time to do most of this, but I highly suggest that you:
1. Tape or glue all PVC joints; save yourself an embarrassing breakdown along the trick-or-treat path.
2. Spray paint the shoulder harness matte black to make it less conspicuous. Dress in all black to add to the effect.
3. Pay attention to doorways, tree limbs, low-flying aircraft...
4. Be prepared to be outgoing! Folks of all ages LOVE giant puppets. Jack's spooky, but friendly.
5. Be warned, you may scare little kids! Jack's friendly, but spooky. And 8' tall. I recommend swift retreat and big smiles in these instances.
6. Make sure your gloves are well-secured -- you want them to survive the high-fives, pats on kids' heads, and rooting around in candy bowls. Duct taping them directly to the pipe worked well for us, and is easily hidden by the sleeves.
7. Be creative... you can adapt this frame to a lot of different characters. Don't be afraid to experiment. We had no idea what we were doing when we started this, and it was a lot of fun just figuring it out.
8. My wife adds that she doesn't sew, and this was a breeze. She even got me in on the sewing. Her confidence "grew with each stitch." Although she would prefer to have used a sewing machine.
Check out some more photos of Jack's construction in our Puppet King photoset, or take a look at him in action Halloween night.
Step 10: Update!
To show the versatility of this basic design (and how one might improve it) here are a couple photos of the 'Scarecrow-Jack' Mod. by: Bryant (bryandhispup) from Halloween 2008.