For Halloween 2019, I wanted to make a display that involved a group of creatures attacking my house. As a fan of zombie movies and shows, the choice was obvious. By making the zombies from scratch, I could have them in positions that would make them look like they were truly interacting with the environment. And by involving friends and family as models, the display took on some personal significance as well. I relied on some donated/discounted pieces from friends - clothes, wigs and packing peanuts - which helped to keep the cost down. Overall I spent less than $300 for 12 zombies. Not including shopping, I spent roughly 50 hours making the full display (4+ hours per zombie).
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Step 1: Materials & Tools
Materials: (not all are completely necessary)
- Duct tape - approximately 90 yards per zombie
- Plastic wrap
- Packing peanuts - approximately 3.75 cubic feet per zombie
- Rit dye: black, brown, wine (red), tan
- Spray paint: beige, espresso, stone, oregano, dark red
- Wig/mannequin head
- Clothes, shoes, socks & hats
- Dish washing gloves
- Anti-fatigue foam mat
- 1 x 3 x 8-ft furring strip - 4 boards
- 2 x 2 x 8-ft - 4 boards
- Galvanized (or old electrical) wire
- Command (3M) hangers
- String: black & white
- Clothesline rope
- Spray bottle
- Sponge brushes
- Cordless screwdriver
- Staple gun
Step 2: Plan & Design
To make a cohesive concept, you'll want to decided what kind of zombies are attacking. Can they climb stairs? What about scale walls? Is your front yard a cemetery; if so, they might be emerging from the ground. My answers to those questions: yes, yes, no. I decided that the zombies were capable of climbing - like the movie World War Z - which allows for a more interesting visual.
I asked friends and family to participate by acting as models for the zombies. We collaborated on their pose and location and they were given the chance to contribute clothes to dress the zombie versions of themselves. It was fun to include them and it helped to keep cost down. It also ensured a mix of shapes and sizes; otherwise I'd have a set of 12 matching zombies... all in the shape of one very put-upon husband.
When choosing poses and locations, I tried to limit the number of figures standing on their own. It's much easier to secure them to something - a tree limb, railing, gutter, etc. - than to have them standing upright with no assistance. I also wanted to have the zombies face away from the street so I didn't have to worry about detailed faces. I also think the unknown of "what do they look like?" adds to the creepiness factor.
Step 3: Create the Body Form: Wrap, Cut and Seal
The models - I mean supermodels - wore form fitting clothing and, based on the position/location we chose, they assumed their pose. I made the body form in two parts: "pants" and long-sleeved "shirt". I first wrapped the person in plastic wrap - making sure to cover all skin and clothing I then wrapped them in duct tape; thanks to several Instructables posts on duct tape dress forms for the inspiration! I tried to go as quickly as possible - especially if the model is in a weird pose - so I inevitably left some gaps which I fixed once the wrap was off of the model. I made sure that each half - shirt and pants would have enough overlap around the waist to eventually be attached to each other. Once the wrapping was completed, I very carefully cut and ripped the plastic/tape off. For the pants, I made a seam down the back of each leg from waist to ankle. For the shirt, I cut down the center of the back from neck to waist then up each arm from wrist to upper arm at which point the model could slide out. Of the 12 models, I'm happy to report that I didn't have any scissor injuries other than cutting off some arm and leg hair.
I then seamed up the pants and seamed up the shirt with duct tape. When seaming up the shirt, I left kept the neck fairly open to provide enough space to fill the form in the next step. I then seamed the pants to the shirt at the waist to make a single piece leaving the cuffs and ankles open.
Step 4: Make the Heads, Feet and Hands
I decided to make the heads, hands and feet without involving my models - mostly out of respect for their time. To make the heads, I used a styrofoam wig head that I covered in plastic wrap and duct tape - the same way I made the bodies. In the pictures you can see that I used cream colored tape on the head but, in retrospect, it wasn't necessary since I ended up painting the faces and the colored duct tape was never seen.
I wrapped my feet up to the ankle and left the toes fairly stubby so I could fit them into shoes.
For the hands, I found a pack of a dozen dish washing gloves at a thrift store. I used stray paint to give them a mottled appearance of tan, brown and some red on the finger tips. While not totally necessary, I gave the gloves some structure but putting hand-shaped pieces of an old anti-fatigue foam mat inside the gloves.
I waited until after the next step to attach these to the body.
Step 5: Stuff the Bodies (mostly)
I filled the body forms with packing peanuts via the hole at the neck. The peanuts will not naturally settle down into the legs and arms without some help so I would frequently pause to shove the peanuts into the appendages. The goal in this step is to fill the form as much as possible while leaving the shoulders and hips less packed so you can move the arms and legs while dressing the form. Depending on the pose, it can be really difficult to dress a fully stuffed form so don't overstuff at this point. That said, it's more challenging to stuff a clothed form. I eventually the right balance.
To fill the lower legs and the forearms, I stuffed peanuts from the ankle and wrist openings. This is a much slower process - adding a few peanuts at a time - so I tried to fill as much from the neck as possible.
I was able to buy packing peanuts in 20 cubic feet bags from a local supplier. I was able to fit three bags in my Honda Fit but it took a little creativity (I suggest using a vehicle with as much cargo space as possible). I used about 3.75 cubic feet per zombie.
Step 6: Dress the Zombies
When choosing clothes, It was essential to cover the arms and legs. I also tried to use lighter colors that would show dirt and stains. Other than that, I tried to have a variety of looks from a nightgown and PJs to a full suit. I think this helped make the scene look as authentic as possible - as much as a zombie scene can look authentic. :-)
I used a combination of good old mud and fabric dye to stain the clothes. I found that the dirt, once dried, mostly just fell off as dust so I recommend relying mostly on dyes. I slightly diluted the dyes and either dabbed them on with a foam paint brush or sprayed them on with a spray bottle. I found that the stains faded while out in the elements as the rain washed them slightly, so I recommend being pretty aggressive when it comes to stains.
Once the clothes were dry, I dressed the zombies.
Step 7: Attach the Heads, Hands and Feet and Add Supports
When attaching the heads and hands, I'd first fill the piece (a foot, for example) with foam peanuts (as much as possible) then attach it to the body. I left a small hole - about two inches long - so I could cram a few more peanuts in. The peanuts will settle - even when packed tight - so I recommend filling the forms as much a possible.
For zombies that needed to support themselves upright - kneeling, standing, etc. - I shoved furring strips or 2x2's up their legs. If possible, I had the board go from foot to head but it depended on the pose. To allow the board to pass through the stuffed form, I cut the ends with a jigsaw to make a sort of spear. Once in place, I used a staple gun to anchor the duct tape to the board inside (especially near the ankles/wrists).
I attached the hands using duct tape and added wire to those zombies that would be holding on to something like a tree branch or railing.
Step 8: Paint and Accessorize
I used several different colors of spray paint to get a mottled skin tone on the hands and head. I added dark red to the finger tips and around the mouth. I cut two basic stencils to quickly spray on eyes and teeth. I knew these faces wouldn't be seen from the street so I didn't worry too much about getting them perfectly detailed.
I'm fortunate to have a friend who's a wig designer for theater so I asked him to save his grossest wigs for me. To camouflage some especially kooky looking wigs, I added a bike helmet or hat. Other zombies just wore hats - ball caps or stocking hats - and one was left bald.
I secured the wigs with 4-5 T-pins per wig. I also used both T-pins and safety pins to anchor sleeves and collars in place as needed.
By now your workspace should be getting really creepy. Nice work!
Step 9: Install, Secure & Light
I used wire, rope, staples, screws and stakes to secure the zombies in place.
For the zombie on the front door, I used four 3M Command Strip picture hangers to hang him on the screen door. Since he's slightly off the ground, he can easily swing with the door as we go in and out. For added support, I used wire around his waist and attached it to a cross piece on the door.
I primarily used wire to secure the zombie to something stationary like a tree, railing or fence. One zombie was, unfortunately, stolen the second night they were out. I then rebuilt him with a sandbag in his torso and a couple of wires that run to the chain link fence. I also secured the other zombies with additional wire. If someone is determined, they'll be able to snatch them but I want to make then have to work for it.
I used three LED floodlights for lighting throughout the month of October. For Halloween, I'm planning to add a couple of strobes, maybe a fog machine as well as a some zombie sound effects.
Step 10: Enjoy!
The display has received some local attention including a great video shot by DS Shin for Chicago Magazine.
I'm happy to answer any questions and Iet me know if you make your own horde of zombies. Thanks!
Finalist in the
Halloween Contest 2019