61 Days 'Til Halloween: Making the Cauldron Pyre - Part Two

When we last left off in creating Grool the zombie's cauldron, the stone fire pit was finished. Now it was time to make the faux fire itself. But there's been some trial and error so far.

From the start I wanted it simple to make, not too high tech with X-mas lights and a bit over the top... but still fairly real looking. Most important it had to work within my annual "no budget" Halloween decorating budget.

The first version I made was okay and worked. I started by gluing on wrinkled tin-foil inside the pit to help reflect light, plus if seen would look like hot embers (actually an old Disneyland Imagineering trick). Then I attached a bucket wrapped in tin-foil to the center as a support for the cauldron (being hollow also allowed me to thread a light socket through for the cauldron's internal glow later). I surrounded the bucket with orange x-mas lights and placed a hood made from chicken wire around it. Over that I glued on a large piece of crumpled vellum and painted black.

I decided to rethink it. It didn't look the way I saw it in my mind's eye and didn't allow me easy access to the lights should I need to change a bulb or fuse. Also, being paper, it was flimsy and dangerous.

I stepped away from it for a day or so to ponder a new approach. I must of psychically put my need into the metaphysical creative ether because then, one of my favorite blogs Lost in Schlock posted a link to a great how-to called Glowing Hot Coals and literally mentioned it was the perfect thing for my cauldron project. And It was.

That project found on Halloweentforum.com by LT SCARE lead me to the original clever how-to that inspired it called Goldie's Bubbling Halloween Cauldron posted by Woodhegm on Instructables.com.
Both creations had exactly the look I wanted and used materials I was already working with. So my faux fire now is an amalgam of the two with a few changes that fit my needs.

I stripped away my first attempt but left the tin-foil base.

Both the glowing coal projects use expanding foam to create the coal mounds. Since I already had some foam blobs painted to look like ashy embers between the stones (from gluing in place), it's a great way to go and keeps the look throughout the prop.

In those projects though, the lights are permanently buried under the foam. I still want access to mine, so I'm keeping the hood over the lights concept, but making it so it's really solid and removable. I had the perfect thing for this. Years ago I acquired several large 18" plastic domes online from Barnard Ltd (which BTW is a great place to find odd decorating materials).

They've been that kind of precious thing in the material stash that you're afraid to waste on just any project and end up holding onto forever never using them. I'm finally, sort of, letting go and actually used one for a re-do of my old window monster eye prop last year. And now one will be the faux fire base.

I placed the dome in the center of my pit and used a heat gun to warp and melt it into a coal mound-ish shape. I did end up wasting a couple of domes melting them too much (it broke my heart).

Next I wanted to create a base to raise the dome up on. I traced it's shape and built up a ring of expanding foam in layers.

I wanted the dome to sit on top cleanly without gaps, so once dry I masked the ring in tin-foil contouring all the bumps. Then placed the dome on top and foamed it's bottom edges and added some all over it for more texture.

Once that dried, I peeled off the tin-foil and now I had a perfect removable top that fits snugly on the base to access the lights.

It's getting there. Next in Part Three I'll sculpt the foam a bit, poke some heat venting holes, paint, detail and add the lights!

62 Days 'til Halloween: A Scarecrow For Work - Part Three

The pumpkin patch themed interstitial set needed last week turned out pretty cute I think. I'll post better pics and more info about it when the segment actually airs in September. In the meantime here's how I made the scarecrow. I didn't take many process pics, so I've added a whole lot of notes to the one's I did. Bear in mind, this guy was not made to last forever beyond his need that day and the construction was such that I could tweak his size or shape fairly easily on location if needed.

As always, click on the images to enlarge.

63 Days 'Til Halloween: Drugstore Antiques

There's a local drugstore near me that has a terrific display of antique remedies, ointments and medicines from bygone eras. I stopped by today and took some pics for my own prop making reference.

Thought I'd share them for anyone needing inspiration and label design ideas for odd, bottled concoctions this Halloween. Click on images to enlarge.

Creative Inspiration: What Tha? I'm 12 years Old Again!

Have you ever seen something that unexpectedly triggered a dormant part of your imagination and transported you back to being a kid? Well, this one brief video of The Avengers filming in Cleveland did it to me tonight.

If I had seen this at the peak of my comic book loving days decades back in grade school, my brain would of literally melted in my skull and poured out my ears.

I think I'll go visit a comic shop tomorrow. It's been awhile.

Pumpkin Watch 2011: Linus and Sally

I realized today, it's been almost two months since I last posted about the pumpkin patch. And sadly this might be the final update. Back in early July it was lush end to end with growing vines. There were numerous buds then that seemed to have potential but only one grew into a pumpkin - a little guy I first called Jack, but have affectionately renamed Linus.

By early August, all the vines lost steam and stopped growing. Just when I thought Linus was all alone as in the Great Pumpkin story, to my surprise I discovered he had a friend hidden under a large grouping of leaves and off-shoot vines. I've named her Sally.

Today, the entire patch is spent and naturally withering. It would be a Halloween miracle if any more pumpkins appear. Linus is looking ready to harvest and Sally is catching up turning orange.

Although both are really small, they will find a place of honor sitting together as our coffee table centerpiece this October.

70 Days 'til Halloween: A Scarecrow For Work - Part Two

The scarecrow is done, except for a few details I'll add tomorrow. I hoped to include a "making of", but it's been a long day so I'll make that a Part Three sometime this week.

71 Days 'til Halloween: A Scarecrow For Work - Part One

We're shooting a Halloween themed interstitial for work later this week. I have to create a small kid friendly pumpkin patch set. All the set dressing has been rented (including fantastic realistic rubber pumpkins) from a local prop house and is ready to go. What's left is to make is the scarecrow which I decided to do in the comfort of my grim garage this weekend.

I'll post pics of the "making of" and finished prop later tonight in Part Two.


When I was a student at RISD, I was aware of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and loosely knew the mythos he created being a fantasy and sci-fi fan. But it wasn't until years later living in Los Angeles that I actually read any of his work and discovered that Providence was Lovecraft's hometown and the setting for many of his stories - which included familiar RISD campus locations.

Thankfully, my Alma Mater no longer lets this kind of ignorance happen. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was assigned summer reading for this year's incoming freshman. For more details click here.

My New Tenant Shows It's Face.

For the first time, my new workshop tenant hung from her web facing me.  I hope you all appreciate that my camera's zoom is not this good, so I had to get pretty close for these pics... too close... and I did not enjoy it.

Note the eye-shine from the flash.

77 Days 'til Halloween: Making the Cauldron Pyre - Part One

Now that the Cauldron is finished, today I started to make the pyre it will sit on boiling old Grool. I'm revising the one seen in the initial sketch. It's now going to be a decrepit stone fire pit. I want it to look like it was once pristine and perfect masonry, but the elements and hundreds of forbidden rituals have taken a toll.

Using a 36" plywood round as a base, I glued chunks of Styrofoam on with expanding foam. Then carved into wonky stone shapes using a paring knife. I have to say, I've used a lot different tools to shape bead foam in my time - hot wires, electric carving knives, box cutters, saws, grinders, etc. - but non compare to a good sharp kitchen paring knife.

After cleaning away the debris, I used a heat gun to "seal" the rough edges and shaped the foam blocks even more. I did this very quickly and wearing a respirator! The fumes are really noxious.

I always enjoy painting Styrofoam when it's supposed to look like rock. It's texture and absorption does most of the faux finishing for you. Just an initial black wash on it looked pretty good.

Because there will be a lot of black scorching and grey ash details in and around the pit, I added some olive green and tan color wash to the stones for contrast using a spray bottle. The green, especially puddling in small divots and crevices added a really cool, old growth mossy feel.

To help the pit look well used, I glued some bits of foam in between the stones as piled up embers spilling out. They were based coated black and dry brushed with a bluish grey for an ashy look.

I'm probably going to add more embers all the way around the bottom edge, but I'll do that as a finishing touch once the entire piece is done.

That's it for now. Next in Part Two - creating the faux fire itself. My hope is to make it big and bright enough that it will cast a nice glow on some surrounding props in the yard.

79 Days 'til Halloween : Building a Better Cauldron - Part Two

The cauldron is done, ready to be placed on a fire pit and have Grool the zombie inside. I painted it as a stand alone prop for the moment. Once the entire display piece is done, I'll probably add some blackened scorching on the bottom and a few drips of stew running down the sides.

From where I last left off in Part One, It was sanded it down and base coated, inside and out, with flat black house paint ( I removed the rings temporarily so they could be painted separately ).

I decided to give the cauldron some "character" by notching out and denting areas of the lip - as if it's been heated and cooled too many times over the centuries. Then it was painted with the faux rust treatment I use on most of my props. Once dry I splattered on some watered down orange and brown for extra weathering.

I made a "how -to" demo video of my simple rusting method. It's really basic and good for beginners (and an alternative for more advanced prop makers who find themselves money and time constrained on a project).


My new friend was busy tonight.

81 Days 'til Halloween: New Workshop Tenant

Opened up the grim garage this morning and discovered I'm now sharing space with someone. Work might be slow today constantly looking over my shoulder in paranoia. Not to mention keeping my paint brush steady getting "the willies" every 2 seconds.