Introduction: The Witching Hour Halloween Window Display
"Going so soon? I wouldn't hear of it. Why my little party's just beginning."
- The Wicked Witch of the West, from 'The Wizard of Oz'
After my most recent attempt at Halloween decoration, the Hogwarts Halloween Window Display, I decided that I would try to go all-out again for Halloween this year. This time around I decided upon a more traditional Halloween theme, Witching. Unfortunately I don't have the outdoor space suitable for Halloween decor, so I need to think a little differently.
So if like me you don't have the benefit of an outdoor space to decorate, why not consider creating a large-scale window display instead. With a little sacrifice and some hard work I managed to convert part of my front room into a Witching scene that features the following magical elements:
- Full scale witch's house, constructed from cardboard
- Digital Decorations that include animated pumpkins, an animated witches window and sound
- LED Lighting effects that are synced to the digital decorations for a more immersive experience
- Many other props and decorations
I'm starting a renovation project on my house soon so taking over my living room wasn't too disruptive for me, but if you're not prepared for days or even weeks of chaos in your front room for the sake of a few hours on Halloween, this may not be the Instructable for you (but if you have the space you could just build it outside? maybe don't use cardboard though!).
Step 1: Things You'll Need
The Halloween Display is made up of three main elements, the Witch's house (made from cardboard), the Digital Decorations (more on this later) and the various other props that feature in the scene (some made, some bought).
We'll be starting off with the Witch's house, to build this you'll need the following items:
- Cardboard (and lots of it !!). I'd recommend double-walled card for extra strength and rigidity
- Cardboard poster tubes (I used these to create the chimney)
- Wood strips for additional support (if necessary). I used 12mmx32mmx2100mm planed timber
- Paint to finish (colours are up to you but I used a selection of cream, red, green, brown and black)
The Digital Decorations:
To really bring the display to life I used animated Digital Decorations via a television and a home-cinema projector. I purchased the 'Witching Hour' and 'Jack-O'-Lantern Jamboree' from AtmosFX. They offer a high quality selection of Digital Decorations to suit many different needs, so well worth a look. More information on how to playback the videos later in the Instructable, but you will need a projector to re-create the animated pumpkin effect. I didn't have a projector so I purchased a faulty one that came with two working bulbs on eBay for £70, I managed to repair it for £0.08p (turns out it had two failed capacitors). The Witch sequences are played back using my television, positioned and decorated to give the illusion of being a window.
For added effect and to really bring things to life I also made light controller out of a RaspberryPi that is capable of controlling 12x individual LED strips (or 4x RGB strips). This synced lighting effects to events in the video sequences. I'll be publishing this as an Instructable very soon so keep an eye out for it if you are interested. Alternatively you can use off-the-shelf LED strips and controllers to add lighting where necessary. I added them to the following areas:
- Ground level to illuminate the house front
- Chimney to simulate fire and other effects
- Around the door to simulate light from inside the house
- High level lighting to mimic lightning
More details on the Digital Decorations can be found in step 7.
Other props and decorations:
There are a number of props and decorations that feature in this Instructable, some of which have been made, some that have been bought. When creating your scene I'd recommend using whatever you can lay your hands on. It's surprising what you might find either around the house or for very little money in your local shops. Hopefully some of my ideas will inspire you.
The majority of the Instructable is made with Cardboard, so you probably already have most of the tools required:
- X-Acto knife / Stanley knife / Cardboard box cutter
- Hot-melt glue gun and glue sticks (lots of them!)
- Cutting mat (Optional)
- Straight-edge for marking and cutting straight lines
- Sharpie / Marker pen (or pencil if you prefer)
- Measuring tape / Ruler
- Saw (if using wood strips for supports)
- Paint brushes
CAUTION: Knives and scissors can be dangerous, care should always be taken when using, handling or storing any sharp tools or implements. Care and attention should also be taken when using hot-melt glue as the high temperatures can pose a burn risk, especially to young children. Always apply common sense when using potentially dangerous or hazardous tools and equipment.
Step 2: Building the Frame
You won't necessarily construct this frame like-for-like as how you build yours will largely depend on the shape, size and layout of the space where you are constructing it. I expect that you will mainly use my design for ideas and inspiration when constructing your own. With that in mind, follow the steps outlined below to understand how my frame came together:
Tip:Everything I'm building is based around the TV / media unit, so I placed that in position first.
How to Build the Cardboard Frame:
- I started by fixing a piece of cardboard to the floor (I have a wooden floor so I'm not too worried about getting a bit of glue on it), this piece will act as the 'foundation'. I then cut some pieces of strong card to act as uprights and also some thin strips so support them laterally. All these pieces (like everything else) are glued using hot-melt glue. The upright that is offset at an angle is to allow room for the speakers.
- Two more pieces of card are glued on top of the bottom uprights like a shelf, some more uprights are then fixed in place to add some height. Note that the notch cut into the left side shelf is to accommodate the chimney.
- A cardboard poster tube is used to create a chimney, this starts at the floor to give a strong footing. I cut some round pieces of card with a hole in the middle equal in diameter to the tube. Three at the base are glued together then fixed to the floor, the other two are glued later to the first shelf above, located in the notch mentioned in the previous step.
- When the chimney base is secured in place it should add some extra support to the whole structure and minimise 'wobbling'. Next secure the top shelf piece, this should bridge all of the support towers and also forms the top of the doorway. I didn't have a single piece of card long enough so I stacked 2 card layers on top of each other to strengthen the joins.
- Here I used some thin strips of wood to strengthen my roof section and to extend over my TV / media unit. The farthest wood upright is secured to the wall for added support.
- I cut triangular shaped pieces of card to act as the roof support structure. The base of the triangle pieces have two notches cut out to slot over the wooden strips. Don't cut the card from the notches completely, you can fold the notch over to give more lateral support when gluing to the frame.
- The front of my roof includes a small porch over the door. I used two pieces of wood either side of a piece of strong card to act as the base of my porch roof.
- Triangular roof support sections and two uprights help to support and secure in place.
- Once the basic structure is assembled, check for any weak points and apply more glue and/or supports as necessary.
Note: The frame is assembled mostly from Cardboard, however due to the way I utilized my TV I also had to incorporate some wooden strips to support part of the frame, as I didn't have the space to build cardboard support pillars either side of the TV / media-unit. These wooden strips then became part of the roof structure. The are indicated by the darker brown colour in the drawings.
Step 3: Cladding the Frame
Once the frame is built the next step is to clad it in card. This not only gives you a finished 'wall' but it will also add some extra rigidity and strength to the structure. The larger and the fewer individual pieces of cardboard that you use here, the stronger the finished build will be. I secured everything with hot-melt glue.
On the far lower right-side of the build (near the window cut-out) I made a hole to accommodate the pipe from my home-made dry-ice smoke machine. I also cut out a rectangular shape between the door and the window, this is for the speakers / audio system. Once the house is painted / decorated this hole will be covered with fake cobweb.
You may have noticed that the house looks disproportionately tall, this is because we are building a shallow deck on the front, it's covered in the next step...
Step 4: Decking, Door and Trim
In this step I'm building the decking, door and the trim that's located around the house, such as the fascia trim under on the front lip of the roof, the vertical pieces on either side of the door frame, and the decorative pieces on the main wall.
Like everything else the deck is made out of cardboard. To make the structure stronger I made it in X-shaped sections that are all joined together. Remember that the deck has to support the weight of the pumpkins, so it needs to be pretty strong.
- Cut multiple pieces of equally sized card, the required quantity will depend on the width and depth of your deck, I used around 14. Cut a slit in the center of each piece of card, then slide one piece of card over the other in an interlocking fashion.
- Cut a large rectangular piece of card to act as a 'table-top'. Each X-section will glue to this and each subsequent X-piece also glues to the previous adjoining section. Continue this patter until you have the desired width. Flip over so the table-top card is on the top surface. Then cut strips of card to act as the decking and glue to the top of the deck base as illustrated in the drawing. Repeat for the second piece of decking.
- Where both decking pieces meet the speaker cut out in the main wall of the house I attempted to re-create the look of a broken / split deck. This is to allow for the sound from the speakers to play unobstructed. The gap will be covered with fake cobweb to hide.
- I added a half-height step to the left-side deck that leads up to the main door.
To build the door you will require once whole piece of card that is equal to the size of the finished door, this is the 'back-bone' and it will give it strength. To re-create the panel effect cut a number of equal sized panels to run vertically the length of the door. When fixing, leave a small gap between panels. The cut and fix two larger horizontal panels. I 3d printed some mock hinges and a door handle, these were painted in metallic brass before being glued on. These steps are illustrated in points 5 and 6 in the second image.
Note: The 3d printed mock hinge I made is attached in STL format. For the door handle I scaled down the 'Door knob with eyes' by federicobrianosv on Thingiverse, this is also attached in STL format.
To hang the door I used three small brass hooks as illustrated in point 7. The hooks are screwed/glued into the underside of the cardboard panels that form the doorway above. Three holes are drilled in the top of the door at the appropriate points to receive the hooks. When it is necessary to hang the door, simply slide onto the hooks.
The trim pieces help to give the house the extra level of detail that makes it look that little bit more realistic. They are found around the doorway, on the underside of the roof edge to replicate fascia board and on the main house walls. These are the horizontal pieces and the diagonal pieces that form the v-shape. Just cut strips of card to the appropriate size and secure with hot-melt glue. There is also some trim on the triangular section on the porch. The window frame is also trimmed with some card, I folded it so it had an outside edge that framed the window, it also had an inner edge that fitted flush to the TV.
This almost completes the main house build, the chimney and the roof is up next...
Step 5: Chimney and Roof
To create the chimney and roof we are using another cardboard tube, 3d printed chimney cap pieces and some roof tiles cut from card. The steps are summed up below:
The chimney assembles as illustrated in the first image. A section of tube is cut to the appropriate length, then two shorter pieces of tube are cut at an angle to give the chimney a kink.
The 3d printed parts consist of the cap, four legs and a ring, which is glued inside the top tube to act ass a support for the four legs that in turn hold up the cap. Glue the cap to the legs, then place inside the chimney tube (resting the legs on the support ring).
Cut a fair amount of card into relatively consistent shape and size pieces, how many you need will depend on the average dimensions of your tile and the size of your roof. I needed around a hundred to complete the job.
These tiles are then stacked and glued on the roof in an overlapping fashion just like a real roof. Repeat until the whole roof (including the porch) is covered. You can either paint these pieces while they are fitted to the roof, or you can paint them individually before fitting them.
The next step is to paint the entire house, this is where you can really start to see things coming together...
Step 6: Painting!
Here we go, the painting! As the build went on this was the bit I was really looking forward to as it meant that I was close to completion. I used some old paints I had lying around the shed and some cheap poster paints I picked up from a discount store.
I also bought a paint brush set from the discount store, which were actually a fair bit better than some of the more expensive brushes I had bought previously, so that was a nice surprise!
The paint colours and what they were used for are listed below:
- Antique Cream (Silk Emulsion) - Main house walls
- Brown (Poster Paint) - House wall trim and decking
- Fireside Red (Emulsion) - Roof trim / fascia board
- Green (Poster Paint) - Front door and porch trim
- Black (Poster Paint) - Roof tiles
- Stone Effect (Spray Paint) - Window frame
- Metallic Brass (Spray Paint) - Door handle and hinges
Tip: Before I started the painting I covered the TV in an old sheet to protect it from stray paint splashes.
Painting everything didn't take too long and it only required one coat. I also painted the gaps between the decking panels in black to give a feeling a depth.
Step 7: Digital Decorations and FX
What really brings this build to life are the digital decorations and the special FX, to achieve this I used a number of different elements:
- Animated Pumpkins via the use of a home cinema projector
- Animated Witch through the use of a TV positioned to look like a window
- Fixed LED lighting to give some low-level ambient lighting
- 'Dynamic' RGB LED strip lighting that syncs with the video sequences
- Audio playback via a stereo amplifier and speakers hidden in the rectangular cut-out of the main wall
- Fog / Smoke Effects with dry-ice
Video and Playback
First of all you will need your video sequences. I got mine from AtmosFX. How you play these back will depend on your set-up. You can hook up your projector and/or TV to a DVD player, or to your computer, or by saving the video files to a USB memory stick and playing directly from the Smart TV etc.
In my case I built a custom-made video player from two Raspberry Pi's. I make use of the GPIO pins to control the playback timings of both video outputs and it also allows for things such as motion sensor triggering. This custom video player is complex enough to justify being an Instructable of its own, you can find it here.
Fixed LED Lighting
For ambient lighting I used some standard off-the-shelf LED strips, glued them near floor level and set them to be constant green. To create the fire effect in the chimney I used some battery powered flickering tea-light candles.
Dynamic RGB Lighting
During playback of the various Witching Hour video sequences there are a number of moments that lend themselves very well to being synced with some lighting effects. For example a lightning flash, flashes of coloured light during spells and eerie glows from the cauldron. To enhance the video and add some atmospherics I programmed a number of RGB strip lights to sync with these video events. This takes place on the Raspberry Pi's I mentioned above, so look out for the Instructable on this, it's coming soon!
As an alternative to the programmable dynamic lighting, a similarly effective atmospheric lighting could be achieved by using RGB LED strips 'as-is' and fixing them in strategic locations, such as around the doorway, so get creative with your lighting!
Both the Witching Hour video sequences and the Animated Pumpkins include audio, so it's very important to have a sound sound system. I have an old stereo amplifier and a small pair of bookshelf speakers that I hooked up to my Raspberry Pi's. If you are using a DVD player or your computer etc. to play your videos, just hook up your sound system as necessary. Typically you'll be using cables with 3.5mm and/or RCA connectors. If you are using a Smart TV and/or projector, some of these have built-in speakers so you may just be using them.
Fog / Smoke Effect
For many of the people who saw my display the fog effect was one of their favourite things. It is created by using dry-ice with warm water, the 'smoke' is them pumped through some PVC piping to the scene floor with a small fan. I re-used the dry-ice fog machine that I put together for last year's Halloween display, it is based on the 'Mini Dry-Ice Fog Machine' Instructable by TheGeekPub.
Step 8: Other Props, Decorations and Finishing Touches
To complete the display we just need to add some additional props and decorations. Some of these are made, others are bought. Here is a list of the extra props and decorations I added to my scene:
- Fake leaves
- Cobweb and Spiders
- Glow in the dark mice and skeletons
- Dorothy Gale wanted poster found on Google images
- Plastic Skull and Bones
- Headstone made from cardboard and finished with stone-effect paint. The text is 3d printed.
- Self-Stirring Cauldron one of my previous Instructables
- Instructables Vampire Robot
- Skeleton Wind Chime made with plastic skeletons fixed together by string
- Illuminated Moon made from the 'Moon Phase Lamp' Instructable by The Modern Inventor
- Sign Post made from cardboard and a PVC tube painted brown, with hand painted signage
Filling the scene with as many relevant props as possible gives people more to see and helps to keep their attention that little bit longer, most of the props I used I either already had, I'd made or I bought very cheaply.
The final touch is to blackout all of the visible walls. I used cheap paper table covers. They do a good job of covering the walls, are large, and are also plastic lined for some added strength. I simply duct taped them to the ceiling and let them fall over the wall. Repeat until you have all the relevant walls covered. I also laid some down over the floor.
All that's left is to let everyone else see the display, in my case that meant opening the blinds! I was pleased with the finished display, it seemed to go down very well with the local children when they came trick or treating.
Thanks for reading, please let me know if you have any comments or questions, as always I will endeavour to answer every one :-)