Since my parties are in tight quarters with guests roaming around at will, I never had a good location for a Pepper’s Ghost illusion. You need double the space to hide the original item that is being reflected into your final display, plus the illusion only works from a controlled viewing angle. I have always wanted to do a Pepper’s Ghost, and finally for Halloween 2012 I not only had the perfect concept and location for two Peppers, but also enthusiastic help!
The smaller ghost in the bottle of Merry Madam Mead should have been the easy one, but it ended up less successful because of bottle shape and ambient lighting. We will refine that one for 2014, but the Phantom of the Pipes inside my shed was called “Disney quality” by one of my guests! I do admit that of all six spirits from Halloween 2012, the Phantom of the Pipes was my favorite!
This Renaissance era Merry Madam Mead keeps giggling while pouring herself even more mead when it is obvious she has already imbibed plenty. Show this 2-minute clip reflected inside a bottle or jar in your bar to add some humor to your haunt. Perfect for projectors, video screens, and especially reflected Pepper’s Ghost illusions. You are welcome to edit after purchase for your personal use as long as it is not distributed.
Merry Madam Mead was the first ghost we filmed, in the same exact outfit after filming her portrait inside, so we had not yet refined the double front lighting technique. With only direct front lighting, it lighted the black backdrop behind too much, so the best I could do in editing was a large fuzzy halo around her. This large halo also made it difficult to see any detail after being reflected plus in ambient lighting. Since it wasn’t a difficult filming setup, I might refilm this one with the better lighting setup for 2014, but I’ll need to borrow that wig again. 😉
The ghost in a bottle setup is simple: a video with audio looping on a digital photo frame placed flat facing up but hidden inside a fake book, reflecting into the bottle above through a thin piece of clear plastic cut to fit exactly inside the bottle at the correct angle to reflect to the viewer. The book is cut so the hole exactly matches the open bottle bottom, but the tower of books is intentionally tall so not many people were looking down on the bottle so they wouldn’t see the photo frame underneath. It was also placed in a corner so no one could really look at it from the side or behind.
I had spent awhile cutting that plastic to shape so no glue would be required since glue or tape would be visible and affect the illusion. Somehow when we set it into final position the plastic was no longer at the correct viewing angle, so my cohort was trying his best last-minute cutting as guests were arriving. I also never saw the double reflection at the top curve of the bottle during my testing. I had searched all summer for a big bottle shape with open bottom and this was the best I found which still was not good enough. What really irks me is that I had a spigot jar where the bottom broke cleanly off back in 2007, saved it in my garage for a year, then finally got rid of it a few years ago when I couldn’t think of any use for it. Sadly it would have been absolutely perfect for this! I’m almost tempted to buy another straight-sided spigot jar and see if I can duplicate the clean break for 2014!
This 18th-century French style Phantom of the Pipes peers knowingly over her shoulder at the viewer while sadly playing her own spooky fugue-style composition on a physical pipe organ (not included in the footage). This was designed as a life-size Pepper’s Ghost illusion to interact with a physical pipe organ prop. You could display this reflected onto a piano or your own custom-built props, with the reflection generated from a video screen or a projector. The pipe organ fugue on the soundtrack is an original composition by Britta Peterson. You are welcome to edit the video after purchase for your personal use as long as it is not distributed.
After the Gate Ghost was successful, my partner in crime said “what about next year?” and my first reply was “I’ve been wanting to try a Pepper’s ghost using my pipe organ inside my shed.” He was shocked I immediately jumped to that elaborate of a setup! Talk about a challenge! We used an old glass tabletop that we could move around to check reflection angles, and our first testing using my existing projectors showed that we needed a much shorter-throw projector, since even lengthening our stream by bouncing it off a mirror in the back corner, we were still nowhere near life-size to sit at the pipe organ. Luckily a new Epson projector was available for just under $500 that was the perfect throw…whew! At that point we knew our setup, which you can see in the diagram. By shoving the pipe organ all the way to the wall and angling it for the keyboard and ghost hands to be visible, we could just barely put the image screen along the open door, large mirror in the corner, and projector in the other corner behind the pipe organ, with the reflective film at an angle but stopping before it would interrupt the projector beam reaching the mirror.
Since this ghost was playing the pipe organ, she needed music! I could have used some old pipe organ spooky standards, but I took this as an opportunity to compose a 3-part fugue, transforming the theme she plays on piano in her portrait into a haunting minor melody. I worked it out at my piano, but Garage Band didn’t have any good sounding pipe organs, so I connected my vintage Yamaha DX-7 keyboard to my MacBook Pro, and recorded each part live into separate tracks. It was really fun to write this kind of music again, and I’m glad not only did I really like the result, but even though during final testing it was running over & over to the point of annoying, I heard my cohort humming along, commenting “it’s kind of catchy,” so he liked it too! 🙂
After we had the final music all ready and knew the final setup, we knew where to place the camera to film the ghost. We aimed for an average viewing height of 5 feet, hoping that would be midrange for both kids and adults. I covered the walls and ceiling of the shed plus the organ bench with black weedblocker fabric that stayed in place through the illusion, but the floor was old plywood that was fairly dark, so I left that uncovered. We knew we couldn’t get any image to be tall enough for feet up through the tall hair, so we blocked most of the skirt with the bench to lessen the ghost image area. For filming only, I also covered the pipe organ with black weedblocker fabric, then had to remember where the keys were while miming my playing! Since the costume includes a fancy white wig and is already pale lavender, I didn’t alter any of the costume, but I did brighten it during editing. We avoided too much halo so the detail would be more distinct. I definitely needed a director for this, since the back of a ghosts’ head is pretty boring to watch, so we finally settled on peering over my shoulder periodically like “I know you’re watching” which turned out pretty spooky!
For the final setup, we purchased large heatshrink window insulation film for about $20, and I built a frame of 1x2s since thicker wood would have messed up the angles, especially squeezing the door end where it needed to be. I spray painted the frame pieces black outside, but I had to assemble the frame inside the shed since the door opening isn’t large enough for the size frame we needed. To make the frame blend in with the floor I spray-painted with the frame base in place, fading the black from the frame out both sides to the normal floor color. That also made nice lines for knowing when the frame was in proper position. The heatshrink film is taped on first as stretched as you can, then you shrink with a normal hairdryer since a heat gun is too hot. We had read that after shrinking the cloudiness would go away, but there were still some places that remained fuzzy, and it collected lint & dust from static electricity. The problem is that once it was in place, there was very little room to access the ghost side of the film. I had just enough room to reach in from each side to light the battery candles on the pipe organ, but there was no way to wipe the dust off the ghost side of the film farther than my arm’s reach.
Here is a still photo of the final setup “behind the curtain” side, and you can see how our angles made the image stretch wider than projected. I compensated for this by squishing the original footage by about 25% percent so she looked normal sitting at the pipe organ instead of extra wide. Sure wish I could do that in real life! 😉 I had the navy blue crushed velvet curtains in my Halloween decor stash, so that draped over a “rod” of scrap 1×2 sticking out at the top of the film frame to hide the projector glow and the mirror. Since peeking in through the doors you could turn to the right and see the entire “behind the curtain” view shown above, we fixed both doors in place using bricks and my big stone urns so the opening was narrow enough that not even kid-sized heads could squeeze through, but you could put your face right up to the opening and see the ghost perfectly.
The point of all the candles was to see them through the ghost, and that worked really well. I arranged them in an aesthetically pleasing way and made sure not to block her face or hands. We were hoping the projection would be enough light for the keyboard but from 2 bounces and a reflection, it had lost so much light that we added an aimable & dimmable battery LED light aimed directly at the keyboard. That was the perfect lighting to see everything in the background without washing out the ghost projection. The only drawback was that we thought the sound was plenty loud during all our testing, but ambient party noise plus the small door opening caused some people to miss my favorite ghost! It is such close quarters that it was very difficult to take still photos to explain the full setup, so you can watch this video below to see a walkthrough explanation of the setup while the illusion was running.