Sunday, July 16, 2017

Chronicling 2007

I don't believe I ever posted about my article in the San Francisco Chronicle from 2007. This was on the front page of the Home and Garden section. Reproduced here for your enjoyment.  It's not entirely accurate, but that's okay.  May I also direct you to my photos from that year's setup to give a better perspective of what it was actually like?

After recent rains Jasper retouches some of the paint. Jasper Anderson,16, Redwood City with his Halloween robotic display at his home. Eric Luse

The Skeleton's Hand a Redwood City family's homemade haunt

It looks scary, but this Redwood City teen's annual haunt is really a warm and fuzzy family affair

Susan Fornoff, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published 4:00 am, Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gawkers have been up and down Maryland Street for the past month, straining to hear the silly pirate jokes out of the mouths of skeletons Vern and Walter, watching to see if Will the mummy would rise from the dead, wondering what Maggie the witch is stirring in her steaming cauldron.

And, oh dear, what will costumed visitors have to do to earn a treat tonight? That's all up to the unworldly, all-seeing Magic Mirror and the brotherly wizards pulling the strings of the Skeleton's Hand, an elaborate, high-tech but down-home haunt in front of the Anderson house in Redwood City.
Jasper Anderson,16, Redwood City with his Halloween robotic display at his home. Eric Luse

The "man" behind the curtain is 16-year-old Woodside High sophomore Jasper Anderson, such a fan of Halloween that when he was as young as 4, he would design his costume and then go to the store with Mom (Donna Habeeb) to pick out the perfect fabrics and trims. His Harry Potter and dragon costumes won prizes in the local rec center costume contest, and, in July, an Associated Press photographer captured his getup as Lord Voldemort at a bookstore's "Harry Potter" release party.

A budding filmmaker, Jasper also loves old black-and-white horror movies and the more recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" films - skeleton Vern is named after "Pirates" director Gore Verbinski, skeleton Walter after Walt Disney, witch Maggie after Margaret Hamilton and mummy Will after William Henry Pratt, known more famously as Boris Karloff. (Jasper's got a sly sense of humor - there's also a Frankenstein in the haunt named Karl in another nod to Mr. Karloff.)

Four years ago, Jasper started getting ideas about decorating the front of the family's two-story house, but he got stuck in a Yosemite snowstorm and missed his favorite holiday altogether. That gave him a year to plan and build - and enlist the help of his brother, Ethan, and father, Chris - for what's become an annual display opening Oct. 1.

They're quite a team. Jasper comes up with ideas and sketches them, then papier-maches frightful faces for the figures. Ethan is only 12, but his is the engineering mind that deduces (with some help from his friend Andy) how to electronically animate the creatures with circuit boards in their heads. And Dad just happens to be a contractor who will happily salvage discarded wood and Styrofoam to fabricate the cockamamy creations his sons dream up.

Jasper attaching the pirate to the ship above the garage. On the roof is his younger brother Ethan helping his father Chris attach the sail. Jasper Anderson,16, Redwood City with his Halloween robotic display at his home. Eric Luse

"That's really why we're able to do this," Jasper said on a recent sunny Saturday, watching his father climb a ladder to assemble the team's newest feature, a giant pirate ship sailing out of the top of the garage that tonight will be animated with a computer-generated pirate projected onto the boat.

"He says 'we' but really it's him," Chris said.

"Jasper is the master and we all work for him," Donna chimed in.

Chris and Donna seem proud to serve, and a little awestruck by the workings of their 16-year-old's mind. "His creativity - I'm not going to stop that," Chris said. Donna said she would like to see some more cheerful scenes, "some little happy pumpkins," but she's appreciative of the restraint that Jasper exercises when it comes to not frightening the smaller kids. The Magic Mirror, for instance, is a jack-o'-lantern face that has a scarier side for older trick-or-treaters.

"He says he doesn't want to promote gore," Chris said.

"It's creepy," said Jasper, an honor student who hopes to go to film school, "but it's supposed to be fun. No blood."

Ethan,13, Jasper,16, dad, Chris Anderson and mom Donna Habeeb with one of Japer's Halloween creatures hanging from a tree in the front yard.
The parents also appreciate the life lessons their sons are extracting from their annual exercise in creativity. Jasper and Ethan clearly enjoy it when a couple of neighborhood boys check on their progress and ask how things work, and pause to chat with seniors from the assisted-living home next door who walk by everyday to see what's new.

"I thought it would upset the neighbors, creep them out," Donna said. "But Jasper treats it like a set, changing things every day, so they actually enjoy it."

Jasper's resourcefulness includes funding. To raise money for his production, he mows lawns, handles sound and lighting at an area theater, and even created a sister to Maggie the witch for a neighbor. He can make an entire skeleton from 50 sheets of newspaper and sometimes finds defective medical teaching skeletons at half price. Fingernails come from plastic water bottles, heads from wig forms covered in Crayola Model Magic clay. A thrift-store sheet wraps a mummy, tombstones are sheets of Styrofoam lettered with the tip of an empty, hot glue gun. One of his gags is just a simple piece of paper rendered into a Lost Monster posting that can go up on a neighborhood tree for amusing double takes.

"Of course, the time to shop is after Halloween," he noted.

In his workroom Jasper works on the servo robotic skull that goes in the pirate ship above the garage. His brother will be the distorted voice for the skull. 

More elaborate are the animatronics skulls controlled with an airplane remote. The brothers use Adobe After Effects for animation, as well as Final Cut Pro and the free Audacity sound program. Jasper found the pirate jokes on a Web site and recorded them with Audacity, using his own voice, at quiet moments in the house.

Theirs is one of the bigger houses on their block of ranch-style homes, and that's because Chris built an addition a few years ago that includes an upstairs laundry/project room where creativity blossoms year-round. The desks are covered with paint, glue, art materials and electronica. Donna has her own projects - she makes jewelry when she's not managing Chris' business.

If there's a "make things" gene, it's surely in the family, and the Andersons will put it on full display this evening. Last year, more than 150 trick-or-treaters stepped up to the Magic Mirror, which had the face of a gargoyle and spewed vapors when it distributed treats.

First, though, it wanted a song or a dance. Jasper couldn't believe how many trick-or-treaters complied. Visitors this year might be asked for a cartwheel or a headstand - Jasper's not saying what the Magic Mirror's got in mind. He is, however, already thinking about next Halloween.

"Next year, I think all the skeletons will be a singing group in the garage," Jasper said.

Team Anderson awaits its instructions. Even Donna.

"Although my mom originally wanted to get more cheerful features in the haunt," Jasper said, "she is now shopping in the spooky aisles with me."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


I'm sorry if you're seeing a bunch of error messages from Photobucket as you're reading my blog now.  They recently issued a surprise change to their terms of service, and now won't allow you to see pictures that I've hosted there unless I pay $400 per year.

I'll be slowly migrating all ten years of photos (776 images) to another host so this blog can live on.

I know I have dozens of projects on HauntForum, HalloweenForum, and the RPF that are also affected, and I'll do my best to save those soon, too.  But it will take a while.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Wall Presser

Did you see something?!

It's my new Wall Presser projection effect! Check it out!

This is one I've had on my list for quite some time, so I'm very excited to finally have it released.

Available now:

Monday, July 3, 2017

Silly Bird

Before buckling down to Midsummer Scream prep, I spent a Sunday afternoon doing a little loosey goosey craft day.

I sketched out a little scene that popped into my head the night before.  It felt like a good candidate for paper mache.

I used some assorted spheres I had collected for the body shapes, a bit of aluminum wire for the neck and legs, old business cards for the nose and feathers, and a well used paint stick for the base.

It's been years since I did any actual paper mache (see Appendix B: "Chicken Mache"). I used to do water and flour, but I never liked that much.  I had some off brand white glue that I mixed with water and flour (for a little texture maybe?), and dipped my newspapers in that.  I used paper towel for the worm and dirt because it's a little softer.

I stuck that in front of a fan for a few minutes and it was ready to paint.

I tried to get a sort of iridescent quality to the bird by selectively drybrushing some green and purple.  Even if it doesn't read quite like that, I just didn't want it jet black.  You'll see it's all a little dark here, but the clear coat on top (polycrylic-- I've been nursing a gallon of that for several years now) makes all the colors pop.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What's up with that Candle?

The latest from Mr. Chicken's Prop Shop: a fake candle that's burnt out and still smoking! DIY Kit available now for pre-orders!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

A recent post to the Mr. Chicken's Prop Shop Facebook page reminded me that we're all just building on what's been done before.

I've shared quite a bit about my paper towel and latex paint corpsing technique, but I don't believe I've shared the origins.  The paper towel idea came from a site called Here's an archive of the tutorial. The site is no more. ARCHIVE

The Rotting Corpse

What's awesome is that when I go back and read it, he learned the trick from someone else in 1997!

 The earliest archive is from 2004, but I believe it's older than that, because I know I had studied this for some time before I finally got my own Blucky to work with.  That's another thing, by the way, you kids don't know how easy you have it with these fully detailed skeletons for $20-$30.  Back in my day, you could either get a "Blucky" from Big Lots for $7.77 (later $8.88, $9.99, and so on-- I kid you not), or a fully accurate Bucky from Anatomical Chart Company for a pretty penny.  But I digress.

This is the zombie guy I made in 2005, based on that tutorial, but with paper towels dipped in flour/water mix, and plaster bandages for the neck, as I recall.  If you want to see how this guy in the coffin evolved into my first Wacky Zombie, check out this post.

Now, how did I come across that site in the first place?  There was an awesome resource called The Monsterlist of Halloween Project Links, curated by Mark Butler.  He actually has a little info page on how the link list was born out of the Halloween-L mailing list in 1999 (was that the first online haunters' group?).  The Monsterlist is still there (here), but it looks like it hasn't been updated since about 2014.

For me, the Monsterlist was the big thing.  Before Facebook and Youtube, and even the forums, this was how you found out what people were building.

The page is organized alphabetically, with just a title of the project and a short description, so if you were looking for something in particular, command+F was your friend.  It was always exciting when you checked back on the page to find it had been updated with a slew of new tutorial links, which might be a couple times a year.

Incidentally, Mark Butler did some how to's of his own, and I used one as the inspiration for my first animatronic talking skeletons in 2005.

All this to say, let's remember to look back on where our favorite projects come from.  Any time you're making something, you're building on the ideas someone else was kind enough to share and explain about their tools, materials, and processes.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Feathered Fiend

I just realized I never posted last year's biggest Halloween project here!

A client wanted a custom built, fully functional copy of the animatronic raven seen in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.  Here's how she turned out:

Here's a taste of the build process.

I sculpted the head and body of the birdie first.

Then molded it.  This is just the first layer of silicone going on the sculpture, but it looks so cool like that, right?

Lots of servos and hardware arrived.  Thank you online shopping.

And I started to puzzle out the animatronic mechanisms within a vacuum formed copy of the body.  There was a lot of trial and error involved to get it working the way I wanted.

Remember the Haunted Mansion wooden skull trim details?  Here's the reason I made those in the first place.  The raven would sit on a shelf that used these as brackets.

I saved the head from the water clay sculpture, and let it dry out.  I thought it was kind of cool in its own way, so I mounted it to a plaque with the scientific name for a raven on it.

In her new home...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Wacky Zombies??

One of the first props I ever made for another haunt was a copy of one of my wacky zombie groundbreakers, about eight or nine years ago.

I've just completed three new weirdos, using the same techniques in my How To video, available for you!  Head over to Mr. Chicken's Prop Shop to grab one before they're gone!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spooks Arrive for the Midnight Spree

I recently acquired another weird Haunted Mansion casting.  This time of the face of one of the ghosts that rise out of the organ pipes in the ballroom.

Here's how they appear in the ride, materializing by Pepper's Ghost effect:

Thanks to behind the scenes photos like this, I knew what they were supposed to look like in person, so I set to work.

I originally wanted to do this in one go, without molding or casting.  I thought I would bulk out the back of the head with aluminum foil and sculpt the missing surface detail with Apoxie Sculpt, but as I considered it, I realized that would result in a heavy, less stable piece, so I went at it with traditional clay.

Head on a spike, with WED clay in back.  I have a writeup here on different types of clays that may be of interest.

The beginnings of a Smooth On Rebound 25 silicone mold.

Cast in resin and primed grey.

A little paint, a little cheesecloth.  Not too shabby, eh?

Shadows and Things (New Projection Effect!)

It's here, it's here!

I finally today put the finishing touches on the latest projection effect available at

This is a back to basics illusion, requiring almost no setup, and only the cheapest of projectors.  Check it out, and let me know what you think!