It’s already October, and my Scream Team has been working on Halloween 2015 for months now, but with international travel for vacation and for work, plus the traditional summer Cinema Brittahytta party schedule, it’s been hard to catch up! First I’d like to show you some Halloween fun, starting with our Annual Halloween Shopping Weekend. I can’t believe that the little boy who used to go shopping with us is now almost taller than I am! I modeled the adorable pumpkin hat my mom knitted for me, but sadly it’s always too hot to actually wear it shopping. I do always take the pumpkin purse she knitted and felted for me on our shopping trip, and it never fails that at least one clerk tries to ring it up for sale!
There are always some fun things to buy just because, like this cool peacock wig and the awesome 3D skeleton shirt! I did find a few Dia de los Muertos things to add to this year’s party, but these days with such elaborate Halloween events that we are planning years in advance, I am usually shopping for the following year or even farther in the future. Halloween 2016 should be the Webmistress hosting Halloween at Castle Brittahytta, so the theme is spiders…can you tell by what I bought?
This elaborate cat makeup as been making the rounds on the internet lately, so my aunt sent it to me and challenged me to try it myself. For the first Margarita Friday dinner of October, I did a quickie 15-minute version, discovering that I don’t have any fine enough brushes for eyes, let alone whiskers, but it turned out pretty cute for a first try. I didn’t want my entire eyebrow to be a black tail since my other eyebrow was still blonde, so I designed it so when I blinked, my kitty pawed my eyeball as a toy.
October also means seasonal snacks, and some are hard to resist! Ghoulish Glen and I needed lunch before our Saturday Halloween project marathon this weekend, so we tried the limited-time-only black HA1loween Burger. It’s supposed to have A1 sauce in the bun, but it tasted like a normal Whopper with Cheese to me, even though I don’t think I’ve eaten at Burger King in over a decade.
Due to design changes and equipment hiccups, we had to make two trips to Home Depot that day in the heat, so on our way back from the second trip, we stopped to split the seasonal Pumpkin Smash Jamba Juice, with real pumpkin puree. However, real pumpkin puree isn’t really that appetizing to drink, even as a milkshake. I finished it frozen after dinner, but neither of us will get it again.
In other news, in August I rushed a Skull Fountain Kit to Hollywood to be in the background set dressing for the Halloween episode of Castle! Keep your eyes peeled in case you spot it on TV in October!
I also just found out that my Eerie Eyeballs are featured as #10 on this fun list of Halloween projects & recipes on BuzzFeed! Woohoo! Hope you’re enjoying your Halloween season! Stay tuned for our Halloween project updates next!
I had decided my Halloween 2015 theme last summer, as soon as I saw the first trailer for the movie The Book of Life about the Mexican traditional celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. I really wanted to make the costume for La Muerte with her candle-filled giant sombrero, so I decided to finally use one of the many theme ideas that had been on my Halloween list for years to go with my costume! As you can see in the photo, last year’s Halloween shopping weekend was mostly purchases for this year!
I had brainstorms for a big front show like Halloween 2013, and we had several discussions, but April was our first all-day marathon, sorting through the old projects to recycle wood for new uses, checking sombrero sizes compared to my skeletons, and brainstorming story ideas along with decor walkthrough ideas.
Some of the many Dia de los Muertos traditions are decorating your ancestors’ graves and celebrating in the graveyard to remember them, sometimes even with music, so my idea was for our graveyard celebration to be hosted by a skeleton mariachi band! I found perfect toy trumpets at the dollar store that I could easily spray paint gold…hooray! I earn Amazon points with my credit card, so I look there next for anything I need in case I can get for free. I found a toy plastic violin with now that was more realistic than I would be able to make, so that was “purchased” with free points. However, all the toy guitars were too expensive compared to making one from papier-mâché, plus making one would be lighter-weight and easier to hack for animatronics where necessary, so I used my own steel-string guitar as a model. Bonus of making one completely custom is that the tuning head can be a fancy decorated skull with the tuning anchors incorporated into the skull design. I thought of making the body as another skull, but since real skeletons are playing, I’d rather have it be recognizable as a guitar.
I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but we had planned new characters and needed to film them with enough time for HD video editing, which takes a lot longer to render. However, we needed enough story and characters settled before we could film! It was already getting hot, so thankfully Scary Jerry hosted our Scream Team writing session in his nice cool air-conditioned house! In 5 hours we got enough written to film the following week, when we set up the greenscreen studio, again thankfully in Scary Jerry’s very comfortable air conditioning, and filmed until midnight! I knew the greenscreen bodysuit I bought for $5 on Halloween clearance two years ago would come in handy someday!
We were finally 75% finished with the script after another 10 straight hours on a Saturday. Thanks to Scary Jerry for hosting again so we could enjoy his cool air, and we even celebrated Ghoulish Glen’s birthday early with a striped candle in a slice of carrot cake and a new tackle-style storage box for his animatronics & electronics components. It took another several hours on another workday Saturday in September, but the Halloween 2015 show script was finally finished with an assist by Onyx! The following Saturday, we completed recording the entire show script my makeshift sound studio at the dining table. 3 hours using 3 mics to 3 laptops to record 3 separate vocal tracks while able to react to each other for better performances, all in record-breaking heat with no AC and fans off for noise reduction…whew! Now to build all of this into a working graveyard show!
Another iconic image of Dia de los Muertos is decorating everything with marigold flowers. Fresh flowers wouldn’t last the entire month I planned for my graveyard display, so I was on the hunt for the cheapest but decent-looking golden flowers for abundant decor. My local Michaels didn’t put out their fall and Halloween stock in early August, but I scored all summer at my local dollar stores and using Amazon points, so now my boxes are officially overflowing with assorted stems of marigold approximations, but it seems like this still won’t be enough flowers for my vision for Day of the Dead! I’m not finished with my costume yet, which will require a lot of flowers but might end up with extras, but I have dedicated around 1600 blooms and 12 garlands to party decor for $360 so I have stopped buying. I’ve pretty much cleared out stock from both Michaels and both Dollar Tree stores in my wider neighborhood anyway.
In August, as Scary Jerry & I worked on cutting and carving new giant gravestones (more details to come in another post!), Ghoulish Glen worked on the animatronic skull kits, realizing he would indeed have to buy more servos after all. I had learned my lesson from previous foam cutting and purchased an extra-long jigsaw blade so I could cut all the way through the 2″ thick foam insulation sheets. I couldn’t find a smooth blade though, so the fine teeth spit fine foam dust everywhere! Sure glad I could use my back lawn for all this mess! As I got the pieces cut, Scary Jerry was using a woodburning tool as our foam stone texture carver extraordinaire. I had to pack up for the last summer movie night then leave 9 hours later for a work trip to Brazil, so I crammed all the giant gravestones into my side yard to hide them and keep them safe, but it looked really silly!
Labor Day weekend is a major build day for many home haunters, and my Scream Team had a marathon! On Saturday we went from plain white gravestones to painted and aged, thankfully using my handy sprayer with custom-mixed colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats from cheap acrylic craft paints. It was hot enough that the basecoats were dry quickly enough for Scary Jerry to try his hand at my water and spray paint aging technique. We also built some screen frames, and even wrote more of the show script after dinner. Sunday we finished the frames and started the skeleton support mounts, then enjoyed a fun evening together with a few more friends at the San Francisco Dungeon. By Monday evening all the gravestones AND skeletons were standing in place so we used some test sombreros to see how the full display might look!
The next weekend we were all working hard again. Scary Jerry was learning to accent paint gravestones Eerie Elegance-style, which means not so dark that it looks like cartoony like you drew with black marker, but dark enough to read all the carvings at night. My previous gravestones have been table size at most, so I would accent paint them while I was sitting at my work table. I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone! As you can tell by Ghoulish Glen’s face, we were still working on skeleton engineering…and to think just a few years ago I hadn’t even started decorating before October 1st!
After our script recording was complete, we turned the fans back on and had a soldering party assembly line to configure 80 flicker LEDs with pigtails long enough to run through the foam gravestones for custom-controllable candles. The soldering party assembly line continued until 2am, but we got all 80 flicker LEDs wired, soldered, heat-shrunk, tested & sanded! After our dinner break, our initial graveyard candle testing of the newly-wired flicker LEDs showed that the PVC glue drip candles work best without paint so the translucent glue drips refract the light better. Duly noted for the rest of the candles I’m still making!
Another iconic Dia de los Muertos sight is lots of loaves of special Pan de Muertos bread, especially as offerings on the gravestones, so I needed a lot of them! When I thought of making them all of papier-mâché I was discouraged, and I thought even one mold then using spray insulation foam would get very expensive, plus I would have to paint them all to look realistic. So instead I bought a 50-pound bag of all-purpose flour for $12 and I have used almost all of it baking 27 loaves of decorative Pan de Muerto for the gravestones! These were just my normal sourdough bread recipe, so I didn’t have to buy yeast, just kept feeding my sourdough starter before I left for work, started the bread machine when I got home, formed the shapes to rise a couple hours, then baked by bedtime to dry out completely in the still-hot oven overnight. Now these will be sealed with marine varnish like the papier-mâché so hopefully no critters will eat them while they’re on display in the graveyard!
After a break for my Annual Halloween Shopping weekend, Ghoulish Glen and I were back at work all weekend, struggling with getting more skeletons moving, and most importantly, salvaging the giant moon screen from Halloween 2013 so it could hang above the graveyard. When we built it the first time, Glen insisted the moon should have a single support so it would really look like it was hanging in the sky. That worked for two weeks thankfully through the party, but the following day, I heard a crash on the roof…the support fell sideways in the wind so the moon snapped in half! We got it repaired for Halloween night, then when we dismantled it, I stored it flat on my roof since no one could see it anyway. I should have covered it since the foam in direct sunshine for 2 years degraded a bit, but it was still usable with a little reinforcement of lots of Liquid Nails, thin scrap wood, and nail gun action…but I insisted on more stability for the support frame. After a couple redesigns, we came up with angled side braces and two full 2x4s as long feet, plus weighted with 60 pounds of sand in 4 flood control sandbags (bonus that I can use the sand for refreshing my brick pathways that I do every spring), and you can see it is so stable, neither of us could budge it! It was dusk by then, and really windy all day anyway, so the moon itself waited until the next day, after I painted the supports black to blend into the night. I really wish I had a photo of the splits I had to do to move the center anchor brace of the 8-foot moon screen flat on the roof before we could hang it! hahahaha! Since this year’s video has the real moon image instead of just a yellow disk, it was a bonus that the weather had discolored the foam to look like real craters! I did give it a coat of primer to fade the darkest spots, but I kind of like the effect.
I’ve been working on my costume in spurts for several months, but I needed Ghoulish Glen’s help for the candles for my hat and skirt, so I got a proper soldering lesson, and we reconfigured the strings so I only have one battery pack for the hat with the candles in the correct position, and a separate battery pack for the ones around the skirt. This also meant that I was able to reconfigure all TWENTY candle strings for the graveyard all by myself on Tuesday evening, stripped, tested, soldered, heat shrunk & tested again!
There are even more photos in the gallery below if you’d like to keep reading. Stay tuned for more updates since we still have LOTS more to finish before we are ready for my party on Saturday October 24th! Hope all your Halloween plans are going well so far!
Brightly-decorated sugar skulls, or calaveras, are icons of Dia de los Muertos, so of course I needed a lot for my decor! I’m sure it doesn’t surprise anyone that one of my Halloween storage boxes has been full of cheap plastic skulls for many years now, and that’s not anywhere near my entire skull collection. Several of my skulls are painted foam, latex or ceramic, and I didn’t want to alter any of them permanently, but the smooth plastic skulls should be perfect to decorate like sugar skulls using the plastic 3D craft paint bottles and hot glue so I could peel all the decorations off again after Halloween 2015.
I had hoped this would be a fun summer TV watching activity with fellow Halloween crafter Scary Jerry, so I got out all my plastic jewels and bright beads from my stash with assorted paint colors, packed them into the skull box for easy transport, and took them to his house to watch the premiere of Penny Dreadful, and we made good progress, but it wasn’t as fun for him, so I have finished all the rest by myself.
My glass spigot jar is curved enough that I thought I could paint it as another skull. Since it’s glass all the paints and hot glue should peel off the same way without staining…let’s hope so! I also painted my front door wreath skull and my Frightful Skull Fountain so they could also be festive in theme this year. The fountain is smooth plastic so I’m sure that’s fine, but the wreath is resin, so the wreath might end up being Day of the Dead style for future years…we’ll see!
Ever since Ashlyn’s pirate birthday party, I have had these dozen skull sipper cups for Halloween, but each year they sit on the shelf with the other drinkware and never get used. They are also smooth plastic so should be as easy to unpeel the decorations later as the other skulls. Now they are all decorated in theme with bright colors and sparkles, plus they are on the top shelf, so maybe people will use them this year? I can always hope!
Even with the skull stash I’ve had for years plus clearance purchases from last Halloween, I didn’t have enough life-size skulls for two for each gravestone, so I bought more during Halloween shopping weekend. The plastic skulls at Target are really high-quality with moving jaws for only $5 each, but I really scored at Dollar Tree for less realism but only $1 each! Can you spot the ten super-cheap skulls in the middle of this photo now that they’ve been decorated?
I finally finished decorating the last few old plastic skulls, a cool bone arm handheld mask, and three wax skull candleholders! Too bad the only jewels that could fit into the wax eye sockets were clear since it’s hard to see them. The paint and hot glue are even more slippery sticking to the wax, but that means it will come off easier too. Who knows, since I’ve never used those candles yet, maybe they will stay decorated from now on?
After we got the animatronic skulls on the skeletons, I had 3 more skulls I could decorate, plus I found a couple others in other Halloween boxes that I thought wouldn’t be permanently damaged by the 3D paint, so here is the last group of fancy skulls. I sure hope this is enough skulls for this year, since I have plenty of other projects to do, including decorating edible examples for the Calavera Cookie Contest!
One of our major projects for Halloween 2015 is the Mariachis de Muerte, our skeleton mariachi band! We had already hacked one 3-axis skull kit to make Jack Skellington’s head for Halloween 2013, so we felt pretty confident we could make the band talk and sing, but we also wanted them to play their instruments too.
The “poseable” skeletons that Costco has been selling the past few years won’t move in all the directions we need to play our musical instruments, so I’ve been working on modifying them all summer. The shoulders only move forwards and back, not a true rotation to get any angle to the arm, and the wrists only wave back and forth, no rotation either. Luckily I had one more expensive skeleton in my stash who had some better-designed joints, so I used those as a model to modify my three cheaper matching skeletons.
The model skeleton had what looked like thin molded pipe straps, but the only molded pipe straps I could find at my local hardware stores were the wrong sizes, plus were so thick I didn’t think my dremel would be able to make a decent hole through it. I found galvanized pipe strap tape instead that had predrilled holes and was easier to bend, so I used that for both the shoulders and the wrists.
The wrists were fairly easy because the hand end and the arm ends were both solid enough to screw into. Make sure to screw the hand in first, or you can’t reach a screwdriver in the small gap after the arm ends are in place. If you need a servo to move the wrist, you might want it a little looser than if you want to pose it to stay in position all season. I used metal washers between the metal and the plastic in hopes of not having the metal tape edges scrape away the plastic.
The shoulders were trickier because there was no actual socket to anchor the strap tape. These original shoulders are just an extra ball attached to the shoulder ball so that the tension of the socket around the thin junction between balls lets it rotate on one axis. I loosened the socket screws to let the whole shoulder knob out, cut off the extra ball joint with a box cutter, then used the extra ball piece as my anchor inside for the strap tape. This is not ideal since it wiggles around loose inside the shoulder, but at least we can get the proper angles for playing trumpet, guitar & violin!
I haven’t seen any skeletons with poseable fingers, but at least these hands weren’t molded mittens like some I have seen. Since the fingers needed to be poseable to play our instruments properly, I decided to try making not only poseable fingers for this year but articulated hands that could be controlled by servos in future years. Kids, do NOT try this at home! After all this frustration I didn’t think it was a coincidence that a couple skeleton hands were in a “certain” position! A box cutter and elbow grease cut the hands apart well enough, however these finger bones are so thin and the plastic melts so quickly that drilling through them cleanly is nigh impossible. If you want controllable finger joints, don’t even mess with this plastic and just sculpt your own bones around notched tubing like I did for Jack Skellington in 2013. Aren’t you glad I learned this hand lesson the hard way so you don’t have to waste your time? :/
So, since that plan failed miserably, I wired what I could through the few successful holes in the finger bones, which unfortunately still would spin freely around the wires. In desperation I finally resorted to using my own fingers as clamps to secure the cool-melt glue between the finger bones and wires so they would stay in position. Do NOT try this with anything but cool-melt glue, and if you’re not an experienced glue gun shooter or have other reasons for calloused fingertips, be very very careful since it will smart like a minor sunburn.
My hot glue hack is lasting okay, but it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, since as we kept moving the skeletons to engineer how they need to move for the animatronics, finger bones kept falling off. Thankfully I found most of the pieces, so after getting the hands into final position, I reglued them in place, and now they will probably stay the season. I think an off-season project will be to sculpt my own finger bones around tubing for all these skeletons so I can change from wire to string inside depending on the effects we need for the next project. Maybe I’ll be able to make molds and sell skeleton hand kits next year? Hmmm…
We needed the skeletons to stand on their own, and I was planning ahead for future years where the skeletons most likely will not be standing together, so we mounted each on its own scrap plywood platform, using the Spider Hill PVC feet we had purchased for Jack Skellington for Halloween 2013 and the Spirit Materializer pipe for Halloween 2014. We used smaller heavy-duty PVC so it would hide behind the bones better, but we needed to find the 1″ to 1/2″ reducer bushings that fit inside the 1″ feet tightly, since you can’t use an external joint reducer.
Now that they could stand on their own, how could we engineer their arms to play their instruments? We tackled the trumpet first, since that seemed to be a simple fixed arm position with a lever to rotate the shoulders. Little did we know! I didn’t want any permanent modifications to the skeletons so we could use them again for other scenes, so I only used wire and hot glue that I could peel off later. I spent an entire afternoon wiring the elbows and fingers around the trumpet so that it could rotate up into proper playing position, but I finally got it to look good! Glen spent another few days engineering a PVC assembly where we could pull down in back to rotate the shoulders up, but it stayed as mechanical only for a couple weeks.
The violin was next since we expected it would be the trickiest, and it was! I wired the right elbow at a decent angle and wired and glued the wrist in place with the hand around the bow, so only the shoulder needed to move. I worked on wiring and gluing the left shoulder in a decent violin position while Glen worked on engineering how to get the shoulder to move at the correct angle. After a lot of trial and error we got him playing well enough using the servo tester…our first moving instrument! I do apologize in advance to all my string musician friends for the improper posture, but he’s only a skeleton without tendons or muscles!
Next was the guitar, another fixed arm with a moving arm. I commented that half the shoulder joints I painstakingly modified were being glued and wired into fixed positions…heh! Ah well, at least they’ll still work better for future years. When I built the guitar in the spring, I didn’t decorate it because I expected we would have to cut into the structure to add the servo movement, so I expected more papier-mâché repair work as well before any painting could happen. Luckily we learned from the violin shoulder and decided we could mount the servo on the arm and drive the elbow directly, not cutting into the guitar at all! I figured out how to wire it through the main hole to the spine, leaving the wire in place to remove the guitar for finishing. I had fun with woodgrain painting techniques, decorating the tuning head as a skull, and even adding tiny skull and bone fret markers. The neighborhood audience we acquired while testing outside didn’t believe it wasn’t a real guitar!
We had the violin and guitar working great on servos, but the trumpet took the largest hobby servo plus a lot more testing power from larger batteries to lift properly. Since this setup rotated the shoulders every movement, we adjusted everything we could to make sure nothing was rubbing or binding, including shaving away plastic from the shoulder socket so the metal hinge would stop scraping. Sounds like the shoulder surgery my parents have both had.
The skull kits came without teeth installed, no hole for movement clearance, and very detailed instructions. Even with our combined arsenal of tools, we still had trouble cutting the large hole! The plastic just melts when drilled or sawed, so by the time you have continued cutting around the circle, it has melted back together in too many spots. It took my new multi-cutter tool with the smallest blade Glen had, then I made all the cuts so Glen wouldn’t be blamed for ruining anything. Thankfully he agreed to be my vise at least! He drilled the hole for the jaw rod, assembled and installed all the electronics, and even glued in the teeth for each skull, then they were finally ready to install on the skeletons. Now Glen thinks he has done enough skull engineering that he might be able to install the electronics in any plastic skull with a moving jaw, perhaps even the much lighter weight $5 ones from Target!
Anchoring the animatronic skulls to the skeletons was another challenge, since the skeleton neck pieces conveniently twisted off and on again, and the original skulls popped off a neck knob, but the neck piece itself was hollow, not enough to anchor the threaded shaft for the skull to stay firm while moving on its servos. I had a can of spray insulation foam left, so I cut off the knobs and filled the neck pieces to be solid, but the foam wasn’t tight enough to hold the threaded rod either. I tried filling with JB Weld down the center hole, which is solid for drilling, but it was too difficult to get enough JB Weld inside, so that still allowed the threaded rod to twist slightly…so it was back to my trusty friend hot glue for a big blob around the rod, neck, and nut to fix it in place. Sure hope it holds for all the shows but at least it’s easy to add more hot glue.
The skull kits came with bright white skulls, so they needed to be painted to match the skeleton patina. I should have painted the skulls before mounting them to the skeletons, since that made for very awkward painting technique. Glen thought I looked like a mother wiping her child’s chin. Haha! We did get the mini controller board hidden inside the skulls so only the CAT-5 cable ran down the back to the controller board, but we also should have planned to hide the control wires through the PVC before it was glued together, but Glen wasn’t convinced that was a good idea until afterwards. The spines hide the wires well enough until the hips, but I drilled through the PVC feet and plywood bases then also through the top of the hip elbow joint so the wires can slide down one leg into the stage platform that will hide the speakers and controller board. Now all three skeletons are ready for their jackets, hats and programming!
Those of you who might want to try these modifications themselves can view all the step-by-step photos in the gallery below. Stay tuned for the rest of Halloween 2015!
My artistic vision for this Dia de los Muertos inspired Halloween has a secret plan that requires truly giant gravestones, larger than I have ever made before! Even though I recycled as much of the Spirit Materializer and other foam scraps as possible, those weren’t large enough for the main structures of the seven gravestones for this year, so I tied 6 big sheets of 2″ thick insulation foam to the top of my car and started designing.
Scary Jerry had given me a nice Day of the Dead coffeetable book for Christmas, the movie The Book of Life showed several designs I thought would be appropriate, plus I searched online for actual Mexican graveyard photos in hopes of adding some authenticity to the look. Those inspired my designs for shapes as well as colors. I’ll admit I never saw quite so many vividly-painted gravestones so close together without plain ones between, but I did see all my gravestone colors represented in real graveyard photos…yes, even the turquoise one!
In August, Scary Jerry & I worked on cutting and carving new giant gravestones. I had learned my lesson from previous foam cutting and purchased an extra-long jigsaw blade so I could cut all the way through the 2″ thick foam insulation sheets. I couldn’t find a smooth blade though, so the fine teeth spit fine foam dust everywhere! Sure glad I could use my back lawn for all this mess!
I had planned for levels and shelves to add interest as well as stability, so I used a lot of toothpicks toed in at angles along with glue to assemble all the shapes. For the shelves and brackets, I used scraps of old broken stone walls. Each gravestone also had an altar slab, with the gravestone sitting on the altar slab to hold them in place together. I wanted altars with stairstep levels that I had seen on so many authentic Mexican gravestones, but I didn’t want to double my foam cost, so I cut strips to make a vertical inset border that gave the impression of stairsteps. These strips also helped keep the vertical gravestones in position.
Once I got them all standing, I realized that they were so tall that just rebar in the gravestones wouldn’t be enough, let alone too much of the secret setup in back would be revealed. Luckily I had enough large foam left to cut side panels for each tall gravestone which helped a lot with stability. I had tried drilling the rebar into the foam then inserting PVC, but this pellet foam will all of a sudden compress instead of drill cleanly through, ending up with giant holes, cracks, or even complete breaks. After I repaired those, I used liquid nails to glue the PVC lengths into the inside corner of each side panel. Having that slide over the rebar plus tightly nested with the altar strips has held stable for all seven stones for a month now, even 7ft tall Señor Kilja only barely wiggling in some really gusty wind, so I’d call that a success! Whew!
As I finished carving the epitaphs and fine detail, Scary Jerry was using his own woodburning tool as our foam stone texture carver extraordinaire, “chipping” away at edges very artistically so they really looked like stone. I had to pack up for the last summer movie night then leave 9 hours later for a work trip to Brazil, so I crammed all the giant gravestones into my side yard to hide them and keep them safe, but it looked really silly!
On Saturday of Labor Day weekend we went from plain white gravestones to painted and aged, thankfully using my handy sprayer with custom-mixed colorful Mexican-inspired basecoats from cheap acrylic craft paints. It was hot enough that the basecoats were dry quickly enough for Scary Jerry to try his hand at my water and spray paint aging technique. By Monday evening all the gravestones AND skeletons were standing in place so we used some test sombreros to see how the full display might look…exciting to see the potential!
The next weekend we were all working hard again. Scary Jerry was learning to accent paint gravestones Eerie Elegance-style, which means not so dark that it looks like cartoony like you drew with black marker, but dark enough to read all the carvings at night. My previous gravestones have been table size at most, so I would accent paint them while I was sitting at my work table. I never thought I would need a stepladder to paint a gravestone!
I will save the complete candlemaking details for another post in case anyone else would like to try making some, but the short version is that I finally used all the rest of my old backyard sprinkler system pipe that I’ve been saving since 2006 chopped up into candle sizes. To get enough candles, we had to buy some new PVC, and make sure to get the thinner wall PVC for the best candle glow. We also discovered during our initial graveyard candle testing of the newly-wired flicker LEDs showed that the PVC glue drip candles work best without paint so the translucent glue drips refract the light better, plus that big blobs were best. For the rest of the candles, I sanded the lettering off (nothing else worked!), and since the old PVC was too grungy for sanding to get them clean, I only painted the bottoms, leaving the hot glue drips unpainted for best glow.
We had a soldering party assembly line at my dining table to configure 80 flicker LEDs with pigtails long enough to run through the foam gravestones for custom-controllable candles. The soldering party assembly line continued until 2am, but we got all 80 flicker LEDs wired, soldered, heat-shrunk, tested & sanded!
The candles around the altars are battery strings of 10 small candles meant to clip onto Christmas tree branches. I found them as the perfect size for my La Muerte hat and our resident electrical expert Ghoulish Glen agreed it would be easier to solder strings together and change the power supply than to keep wiring individual LEDs. After a quick soldering lesson, I configured, tested, soldered, heat shrank and tested again for 200 candles on 20 battery strings to be ready to decorate the seven gravestones. Sure glad I can focus on such tiny work!
Some recalculations and a trip to Fry’s electronics store ended with Ghoulish Glen adding inline resistors to the top candles before wiring together with the battery strings. When he flipped the switch at dusk, I literally clapped my hands in joy as I saw all 273 candles flickering in the graveyard!
Gravestone decorating is underway with all the loaves of Pan de Muertos I made and sealed with varnish and so many skulls I decorated, and we finally got the graveyard lighting design settled Sunday evening, thanks to our resident lighting expert Scary Jerry! The graveyard is entirely lit by the new indoor-outdoor colored LED spotlights from Spirit, including a color-changing one placed in the tree for some overall light. The skeleton mariachi band is on their decorated stage in the driveway, ready for programming, hats and jackets! Unfortunately the moon screen fell off Sunday afternoon, so we are building a new one from 1/4″ plywood and hoping to get it hung tomorrow.
If you click to view the entire gallery of step-by-step photos, you might be able to guess at my secret plan why these are such Giant Gravestones. I’m very glad I took the next three days off work since there is still too much costume work, decorating and food prep to do for any more posts until after my party is over! Wish us luck getting everything done by Saturday and staying working through Halloween night!
This week has been a blur! Finishing my costume, food and decor, hosting my Halloween party, entertaining international guests, documenting the decor, advertising and running our front show for 4 nights collecting donations for UNICEF, then packing up about half of the show just in time before pouring rain hit last night! I’m on my way to Seattle this week for my grandma’s 101st birthday, so here’s just a taste of this Halloween to tide you over until I get the copious amounts of photos and HD video organized properly!
Happy Friday the 13th! I am still organizing all the photos and video from my big party and Halloween weekend, but I’ve finished the first video of Halloween 2015…the Day of the Dead full show in all its glory!
For Halloween 2015, Eerie Elegance was inspired by the uniquely beautiful and creative Mexican traditions of Dia de los Muertos for our own Day of the Dead celebration! See a “live” skeleton mariachi band sing and play for their ghostly ancestors in a joyous graveyard celebration lit by hundreds of flickering candles below a glowing harvest moon! Designed for children of all ages, this show will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.
Everything is original made by the Eerie Elegance Scream Team, from the names, stories, script, voice acting, gravestones, to the animatronic musical instruments, video editing, and all the programming to sync everything together!
Written by Jerry Diego, Britta Peterson & Glen Simon
Ricardo: Jerry Diego
Monty: Glen Simon
Ban: Britta Peterson
Halencio “Hal” Peño: Jerry Diego
Gallina P. Queño & Cielo: Tracia Barbieri & Pickles the Chicken
Cali Yente: Britta Peterson
Margarito T. Kilja: Glen Simon
Having my annual party the full week before Halloween night gave us FOUR nights to show our show to the public! We could only do last-minute publicity because we were still working on the show not even 7 days before the first public night, and we didn’t get paper flyers made until too late, but a quick promotion webpage helped, plus a sign out front so neighbors or drive-bys would know which nights to come back. Friends and neighbors spreading the word on Facebook and Next Door brought in a decent audience for all four nights, ending with Day of the Dead on Sunday November 1st. Some people told us they drove from Half Moon Bay and even Roseville just to see the show!
It was really fantastic to hear complete strangers enjoy our show so much, especially after all our hard work this year! One of my favorite comments was from a woman who said all the graveyard decorations were perfectly authentic from her home in the Oaxaca area, and that even the music we chose and our stories reminded her of the tall tales the grandfathers would tell the kids! She said it all reminded her of home, and she loved it so much she brought friends the next night! Another man on Halloween night had similar compliments how beautiful the graveyard was and so like his memories of home, and he insisted on a photo with me as La Muerte. Those were really touching to hear, especially because I wanted so badly to honor the beautiful authentic traditions and do them justice.
I did get the webcams working, one pointed at the audience and the other watching the show and driveway audience, but since they don’t have audio, I’m not sure anyone was watching. I do have screen captures so someday I might have the chance to sort and maybe make a time-lapse video, but there are always other projects clamoring for my time!
Now the problem for 2016 is that my party will only be 2 days before Halloween night, so not as much time for public shows…let alone how will we ever be able to top this one?
Click to see the full photo gallery from all four nights!