This Halloween we decorated in traditional haunted house style, but with one special feature that shows up often in horror movies (The Ring, IT, etc) - a creepy well! This is a variation on the ever popular infinity mirror project, but with an important twist. Instead of seeing repeating rows of lights, I wanted to use the same principle to create a seemingly bottomless well.
The end result was even better than expected, and there are lots of ways to make the project your own - use different colored lighting, add a creature crawling out, or many other possibilities. It looks great inside a house (especially a basement) or out in the yard.
Step 1: Plan the Build
First I decided on a 36" wide well, with a 23" diameter opening, and that it'd stand about a foot and a half off the ground. The diagram shows the construction that will follow.
Once you know the inner and outer size of the well you'll make, you can start by cutting the top and bottom pieces. I used 1/2" plywood for the bottom base and 3/16" hardboard for the top. I traced the circles with a pencil first, and then used a jigsaw to cut them.
Step 2: Add Some Framing
Next I cut 8 pieces of 2x2 wood to 16 inches each and screwed them to the plywood (from the bottom). These will be "struts" that provide the support between the top and bottom pieces. These are evenly spaced around a circle inbetween the inner and outer diameters of the well.
Step 3: Make Your Mirrors
Like any infinity mirror you'll need two mirrored surfaces, and at least the top mirror should be a one-way mirror ("one-way" is a highly contested term, so maybe I should just say a "see through" mirror). You can buy one-way mirrors, but it's more affordable to make your own with 1/8" thick plexiglass and window tinting film. For the bottom mirror, a normal glass mirror will give the best reflection, but to save cost I used the same plexi+tint combination that I used for the top.
I didn't know a lot about buying tinting film before this project and somewhat randomly tried this, but it worked really well. It's a 3' x 12' roll, silvered with 5% visible light transmittance, and cost about $40 from an ebay seller.
I didn't get pictures of applying the film, but just follow the directions for whatever you get and you'll be fine. For the film I bought, the process was:
- Clean your piece of plexiglass and lightly wet it with soapy water
- Cut a piece of film to the size you need (a little large is good and you can trim it to the edges afterward)
- Peel the clear backing from one side of the film to expose the light adhesive, and lightly spray that side with soapy water (helps keep the film from sticking to itself)
- Lay the film on the plexi and use a squeegee to smooth the film and push out the water and air bubbles
As you'll see in the next step, I found that I could use square mirrors which made the plexi and film simpler to cut.
Step 4: Mount the Mirrors
Now here's what I didn't fully understand until applying the film: it works the same on both sides. The film is mirror-like reflective on whichever side has more light. So it doesn't matter which side of the plexi mirror faces up or down. i just suggest placing the top mirror with the film on the bottom (inside of the well) so it doesn't get scratched up.
You could mount the bottom mirror directly on the bottom plywood, but I offset mine up a couple inches just to have the repeating pattern area between the mirrors the size I wanted.
Mount the plexi by first drilling holes in it (carefully so it doesn't crack) and then screwing it down.
I mounted the top mirror to the underside of the top hardboard with small bolts (again, drill holes first). I also taped the edges down so the plexi wouldn't sag at all.
Step 5: Make the Brick Walls
The real key to this whole prop is the bricks inside the well and how they are lit up.
At first I was going to carve individual bricks from styrofoam, paint them, and them mount them all around the inside circle but leave a gap between each. The light would come through those gaps like mortar lines, and that pattern would be reflected in the mirrors. Sounded like a good plan, except the bricks themselves wouldn't show up very well in the darkness.
So instead I decided I wanted translucent bricks, and a very simple solution was to use a section of preprinted "scene setter" vinyl decoration, like this: https://www.amazon.com/Amscan-Haunted-Mansion-Hall... This vinyl is very thin and lets a lot of light through, but it's so thin I needed to glue it so something circular to hold it's shape. And that something had to let light through, too.
First I tried gluing it to plastic fencing material, and the shape was great. But when I light it up, the brick design was overshadowed by the grid of the fence. So, I scrapped that and made a minimal frame from white posterboard and glued the vinyl to it with spray adhesive.
Similarly I used the same vinyl bricks for the outside of the well. This time I glued it to black posterboard with no cutouts so any light would be blocked on that side. If you wanted, you could change it up so the outside glows too, but I wanted all the light on the inside.
Step 6: Put the Inside Together
Here's where the real assembly happens. The next step was to add the lighting that would make the well glow. I added a 16' strip of while LED lights (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HSF65MC/) around and around the framing struts. You want to distribute the lights as even as possible and not place them too close to where the inner wall will be so there are no "hot spots". You can peel the use its sticky backing, but I just used a combination of staples and tape to hold it in place.
Next I glued some blocks of foam insulation to the struts to support the inner and outer walls.
After that glue dried, I rolled the inside wall (vinyl with posterboard backing) and secured it on the inside. It doesn't take much to hold it in place, I just used masking tape.
Be sure to plug in the lights and test how it looks through the bricks before moving on.
Step 7: Wrap It Up
Next the top board was screwed down to each strut. And then the outer wall (vinyl on posterboard) was wrapped around the outside and fastened in place.
Lastly I added some "stones" on top to cover the board. I cut, sanded, and painted them from 1" foam insulation, glued them down to the top board, and used latex caulk between them like mortar. A length of fake vine helps obscure the bottom edge and you're all done!
The finished bottomless effect looks impressive even in normal room lighting (but that depends on the brightness of your LEDs inside), and in a darkened room it's downright eerie. Technically, I get about 8 or so reflections of the 12" brick pattern inside, but instead of 8 feet deep it easily looks like 80!