So I was walking through Menards yesterday, doing a little window shopping as I already had procured the goals of the visit. Cruised through a few of my favorite aisles – yes, the PVC section for sure and the power tool section because every guy likes the power tool section. Picked up a few things for some props I’m working on and headed towards the checkout. Almost made it there before I was completely stopped dead in my tracks. Before me were shelves filled with Halloween decorations. My heart skipped a beat – grabbed my phone and checked the date. Okay, still July – what a relief. Still a few months to go before the Haunted Trail for 2020. Clearly the commercial chains are trying to blow right past Halloween so they can put out their damn Christmas decorations even earlier. Pathetic Menards, truly pathetic. It did get me thinking about the props I built for last year… then realized I had decorations still in the post queue and then looked back down at the phone and the heart skipped again thanks to realizing I only had a few days left before the end of the month and still had not met the month’s quota. Needless to say, not a good day for the heart ha! Anyway, made a point to get those concerns addressed, so here we are.
Meet Ned, one of the new props for last year’s Haunted Trail of Tears (link here). I must say for the record, the trail shot really doesn’t capture how creepy this prop turned out. We ended up putting in in the adult section as we were not sure what kind of impact it would have on the kids. Of course, I consider that a complete success hehehehe. Hit the jump to learn how Ned came to be.
It all started with a picture I found on Pinterest of a small compact spider with a skull for a head. Pretty clever and kind of channeled the human faced dog in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That idea continued to percolate in the ol’ brain for the next several weeks. One day I was down in the lab working on some final tweaks to the latest version of the prop trigger sensors when I looked over and saw a bag of bones that I had purchased on clearance after the 2018 Halloween season.
Hmmmm. I wonder if I could create my own take on the skull spider from Pinterest. For the next couple of hours I played around with the various pieces in the bag of bones trying to come up with a twist on the original idea. Seemed logical to start with the head and I was originally thinking it would sit on the ground so I wanted the head to be angled up for a more menacing scene. Grabbed some 3/4 PVC pipe and a 45 degree connector that seemed to fit the bill. Cut a hole in the skull and slid the PVC pipe through. Now that was a good start. Didn’t exactly want the PVC pipe being that visible – noticed the spinal cord pieces – checked the fit, cut out the ends of the hollow parts to fit the PVC and slid them on. Now we are talking.
They give you a surprising number of pieces in that small bag of bones. Grouped the various bones by size paring a thicker one with a smaller one. This took me a long time to finally get an arrangement that somewhat resembled a spider and had the creepy look I was going for.
Now that the various bones were laid out, I needed a way to connect them to the PVC pipe of the body as well as connect them together for the leg joint. Didn’t take long to figure out how to do that. Grabbed the heat gun, a hammer and a 2×6 board. Took each end of the bone, heated it up to make it extremely soft, placed it on the board and then smacked it with a hammer to flatten it out. Took a couple of times to get the hollow ends to stick together. Once cooled there was a solid section to connect directly to the PVC with a self-drilling screw. Connect to the two bones at the midpoint with a bolt and nut which gave a stiff joint that was still able to be moved into different positions.
So far so good! Saw the hands in the bag and grabbed one and positioned it on the end of the first legs. Those ended up looking fantastic. Grabbed a few more self-drilling screws and attached them to the end of the front legs. There were still more pieces available. The amount of PVC pipe that was showing on the back was still annoying me. There were two hip bones pieces that were anatomically wider and had a very convenient hole in them. Had to take a few of the legs off in order to slide the PVC pipe through the hip bones. That covered up most of the pipe nicely and even hid the attachment points for the second and third set of legs.
Okay down to a few more pieces. One was a tail bone. Now where’s the best place to put that ..ha. Put a hole in the end of the tail bone and slipped it on. That really just left two very thin rib pieces that really didn’t fit the scale of the model and two small bones that completely baffled me as to what part of the human body they fit – too big for fingers, too small for arm or leg bones. Definitely not a doctor, but I have seen a number of x-rays of my body and nothing looked familiar. Can’t let pieces go to waste can I … nope. Thought about ears for a minute but that made me laugh out loud when I placed them and that was definitely not what I was going for. “It looked like a deranged Easter bunny!”
Fiddled around for a bit more until it hit me – duh, spider fangs. Put those up to the sides of the skull and screwed them in. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a prop worthy to be placed on the Haunted Trail.
Now to add some additional touches. First thing I noticed is the leg structure really wasn’t strong enough to support the body. The PVC frame and all the bone pieces ended up making it heavier than originally expected. There were also some concerns that you wouldn’t be able to get the full effect if it was simply laying on the ground. Back to the PVC aisle (in my basement). I liked it angled up – originally thinking it would look like it was jumping at the visitors. Held it up at the angle that felt right and matched up pipe and connectors that fit it. Unfortunately, I had to take a bunch of pieces off, cut the frame, insert a T-connector and then reassemble everything. Also added a base so it would stand on its own. Will cover the T in the down pipe to the stand a bit later.
Okay, excellent progress. The shape was looking awesome and it was officially freestanding. To be honest, I was thinking it could go on the trail as is. It actually stayed this way for several weeks in the basement – each time I would go to the lab it would be sitting there scaring the beegeezes out of me when I turned the basement light on. Then one day I saw a tutorial on Pinterest that explained how to “corpse” Halloween decorations. Now that is interesting and I had the perfect prop for it. Pretty simple process, wrap the bones in thin plastic (I used painters sheeting) and hit it with a heat gun until it melts tight on bones. Next up, take some gel stain and smear it on the plastic. Let it sit for a bit and then wipe it off to the consistency you want. For the record, the directions were spot on and the effect looks incredible. Each piece was removed, corpsed and then put back together.
I lost count on how many times I had to take this thing apart and put it back together again. All good things take effort and time. Fully assembled now it had taken on a whole new level of creepiness.
It is extremely dark on the trail thanks to having minimal ambient light. To help compensate for that, I tend to put lights on as many things as I can. At this point I can solder LEDs out in a matter of minutes. Picked a color that went well with the corpsing, drilled through the eye hole in the skull and then spent a ridiculous amount of time feeding the wires through to the back of the skull and down the frame PVC to the stand connector. Another +2 on the scare factor.
Okay, now is the point where Bri’s habit of going over the top when it comes to Halloween decorations comes into play. Early on, I noticed the structure lent itself to having an additional feature – perhaps maybe some form of a webbed victim. Wasn’t sure at the time, but that was the reason for putting the T-connector in the down pipe of the stand – just in case something came to mind further down the line. Sure enough, it did. Then the wheels kept spinning to the point I was grabbing a motor in order to have the victim rotating like it was being spun in a cocoon.
Main problem was trying to figure out how to put all the required pieces together. First task was to figure out how to put the motor into the structure. Noticed that the motor I had was slightly smaller than a large T-connector I had laying around. Sat down at the computer, create a 3D model of an adapter and started up the 3D printer. Presto, motor issue solved.
So now it fit nicely into the T-connector – a reducer and it would fit perfectly on the down pipe. Next up was putting a long PVC shaft on the motor to attach the victim to. Back to the computer, created another 3D model for the shaft, fired up the 3D printer and presto – shaft problem solved.
Here is what it looked like fully assembled. Pretty profession looking if I dare say. Since I wanted to make sure I could get to the wiring and swap out the motor if something happened, the motor adapter was fixed to the PVC connector with hot glue. What later turned out to be a not so good decision, I also connected the shaft adapter to the motor shaft with hot glue. Late in the night, the glue gave way and the shaft just spun freely – luckily most of the guests were gone by then so not a big issue – this has been fixed for this year.
Here is what it looked like with the extended PVC pipe attached.
All that work was easy compared to what came next – trying to figure out how to give enough support to the shaft so it wouldn’t simply breakoff due to the weight of the victim. This took a very long time and finally went with a design that was a bit bulkier than desired, but really gave the shaft a very solid support. Basically, put a support bar on the bottom that the long shaft sat inside of and then spun freely on inserts I also modeled and printed out. In case you are wondering, 3D modeling was my college curriculum and a good part of my early career at my day job. Always enjoy the chance to get back at it.
The spinner inserts are my proprietary design and have been leveraged in a number of my moving props over the years. They fix tightly to the inner shaft and then the adapter keeps them centered while still being able to spin freely in the outer connector. And here we are with the rotating shaft assembled.
By the way, I re-engineered the down pipe to allow the motor to sit back on the prop. This allowed more room for the victim (didn’t want to go past the arms of the spider or it would defeat the effect) and more importantly gave more balance to the overall structure. That just left figuring out the “victim”. Rummaged around in the decorations bought on clearance the year before and found the perfect victim. Fit the scale of the prop and well, yeah, it amped the cringe factor up significantly.
A bit hard to tell in the shot, but it basically is a gothic girl doll. Attached her to the long shaft that would rotate whenever a guest passed by the trigger sensors. Oh, and big thanks to Ron for helping me get the new triggers modified to support both turning on the motor and lighting the LED eyes. That worked flawlessly all night.
Now added some webbing to the doll so it would look like it was being spun into a webbed cocoon. It was Ron’s great idea to drape more webbing around the back legs to make it look like it was hanging from its web. Another of Ron’s ideas was to add the orange lights at the base which really helped to light up the prop. Here it is again out on the trail.
Well, what do you think? I personally couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I got to learn some new concepts like corpsing and really got to exercise some creativity and modeling skills. Now, let’s just hope Spirit doesn’t still it like they did one of my previous props. By the way, Ron came up with the name for this prop – “Ned” .. as in arachNed. Very clever. Spook on everyone – see you soon with a couple more new props from last year’s trail.