The Clockwork Nightmare: a Steampunk'd Jack Skellington

About: I'm a developer for DreamHost. I enjoy working with my hands and building things. I also enjoy working with electronics. Halloween is my favorite holiday because it's the only time that EVERYONE tries to ...

I work for a web hosting company and we go in for Halloween in a big way. Like, really big. This year, in fact, we rented The Edison in downtown Los Angeles for our company party. With such an exquisite setting we needed extraordinary costumes, and the venue really begs for Steampunk. My fiance and I had intended to be Jack and Sally from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas so we decided to keep that idea, but to explore a Steampunk interpretation of the characters.

First thing we needed was a story. Post-apocalyptia is a common enough Steampunk theme, and it certainly is a suitable nightmare, so what happened to bring Halloween Town through the Apocalypse? That's easy...Oogie Boogie came back. The villian all the nightmares fear returning at the head of a subjugated army after his supposed defeat is a good beginning, and the story almost writes itself after that: Halloween Town is destroyed and its denizens enslaved. Jack barely escapes with what I suppose I must call his life, but is grievously injured and disfigured. He repairs himself as best he can with scrounged clockwork and scrap and fashions himself a mask that reminds him of his face before the horrors and wanders the woods, a broken man.

If the story goes on it is to be hoped that some catalyzing event will restore his inner fire and lead to his triumphant return. Will he stride forth at the head of a ghoulish army? Will he ninja his way silently though the town and confront Oogie alone? Or will he charge in, the Headless Horseman of the Post-Apocalypse, death rays blazing and automatons clanking in his wake? Who knows? But now that Sally has escaped and is looking for him the next chapter of the story can't be that far off.

Now that I have a story, I need the costume. Jack's outfit in the film was a pinstriped tailsuit with a bit bow tie. I used this as a base for my costume. The first thing was the face; I had an Israli gas mask lying around so I painted it white and used a pencil eraser to scratch out Jack's nose and smile. The canister attaches directly to this mask, but I wanted the canister off-mask attached to my belt, so I cut the threads off and bolted them to a length of flexible hose from the hardware store. It's not an airtight seal by any means, but this is aesthetic, not functional so that's okay. The other end of the hose screwed into a hole I cut in the bottom of a soup can.

I've wanted to do a clockwork soldier kind of thing for a while now, so I built part of a ribcage out of aluminum plates wired together with copper jeweler's wire from Jo-Ann's and mounted it to a black undershirt (I stitched some structural support into the shirt and then tied the ribs on with string). I then used my dremel to hand-cut some wooden disks (also from Jo-Ann's) into gears, spray painted them gold and screwed them into a sheet of Shape-Lock. I had a small motor from a dismantled printer that I wanted to use to make the gears spin, but the gears didn't bed together properly because I cut them freehand and they required more torque to spin than my motor could give.  I could hand-cut the gears with better precision if I built an indexing attachment for my new lathe, but a laser cutter would be oh-so much simpler.  To show this off I burned a hole behind my shoulder in the tailsuit and shirt so that the gears and ribs would show through.

I used cyanoacrylate to glue some parchment paper into one of the eye sockets of the gas mask and hot-melt glue to mount a BlinkM on the inside of that lens and diffuse the light. I programmed the BlinkM to play it's built-in "neon" pattern that flickers randomly among reds and oranges and hooked it up to a coin-cell lithium battery. Because that eye was blocked anyway I wanted to wear an eyepatch with a wicked scar running under it, but the patch was too thick to wear with the lights, so I used liquid latex to cover that eye following step 2 of zombiecore's instructable. To complete my face I added a scar on my cheek with the help of BlackDidThis's scar tutorial.

To finish up I burned a hole in my pants below the knee and wore a dryer duct joint under the pants to give the illusion of a metallic leg and put a wind-up key through a grommet in one of my sleeves. I slashed the coat tails to get that ragged look that Jack has and fused all the ragged edges with a flame to give them a crunchy, burned look. (My fiance made my suit out of a rather nasty polyester rather than wool so it fused when I burned it).


(Note: I apologise for the rotated pictures; apparently Instructables doesn't recognise the exif data that other image viewers do to turn the pictures the right way around and I haven't found a way to rotate them on the site.)

Halloween Photo Instructable Contest

Finalist in the
Halloween Photo Instructable Contest



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    5 Discussions


    2 years ago


    Amazing details, I can see the time involved.

    Doesn't hurt to have a significant other to help.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Congratulations on being a finalist in the Halloween contest!!! Can’t wait to see if you win! Good luck! (and this was plain a brilliant idea)

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! The idea sprang into my head nearly fully-formed one day and then it was a long process of working through the implementation details. Really fun costume, too.