DIY Halloween Character Prop

Look, we love Halloween animatronics and character props as much as the next spook-thusiast, but unfortunately they’re just not in most folks’ budget (ours included). Luckily, this DI-Friday, we’re going to show you how you can make one of your very own without breaking the bank!

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Allow me to paint for you a familiar scene… It’s August. It’s hot and gross outside, but luckily your favorite Halloween shop has finally opened its doors! You walk in on that first trip and are greeted by an armada of animatronics and characters, and you think to yourself, This is it. This is the year one of those guys is coming home with me!

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And then you see the price tag, laugh at the idea, and file that thought away in either the “Someday” or “Pipe Dream” section of the brain. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there! Those characters are super cool, but unfortunately they’re just not in the budget for most of us. But what if I told you that it was just as easy and way more cost effective to make your own Halloween character prop? Well brace yourself, because both of those things are true, and that’s what we’re working on this week!

When you really break those character props down, they’re comprised of three main elements: a rudimentary skeleton, a head, and a costume. Tackling each part of the character is easy enough, and when you bring them together, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind Halloween character that you can use again and again!

The first thing you’re going to want to do is make some basic decisions about your character. What kind of character you’re going to make and whether they’ll be sitting or standing are two great starting points. For our character, I had the idea to create a fortune teller that would sit at a little table on our patio. I envisioned her as a mystical fortune teller one might happen upon at a mysterious circus, and since she was to be seated, we only really needed to focus on her upper half. And as for additional props, the only thing we wanted to make for her was a crystal ball, which was super easy.

pvc pipe being cut and assembled to make a halloween character prop
I’ve seen a few different methods online for building the interior skeleton of these characters, from tomato cages to clothing hangers, however we opted for PVC pipe since I’ve worked with it before when putting event backdrops together. Plus, it’s affordable and available at most home improvement stores in pre-cut sections of varying diameter.

From here, I cut the pipe into various lengths for the spine, shoulders and arms, using connector pieces to put it all together. To connect the neck to the PVC pipe skeleton, we opted to use a dowel rod that we could sand down for a tighter fit, which allows the head to be placed in position and removed when it’s time to store our fortune teller away.

Since we were making a seated character, we needed to figure out a way to keep her from falling forward since she was a little front heavy. While out initial idea was to pick up a flag stand, we later decided to create a base of our own using a cement garden stepping stone crafting kit and another piece of PVC pipe that would fit inside the spine. This was a lot more cost effective and we were able to position the pipe and the weight how it needed to be to best situate our fortune teller. This worked well at first, but the stepping stone cracked after a few days, so if you're going this route, I'd suggest going with a larger mold and more cement to make sure it's nice and sturdy.

For the head, there are a few different routs you could take with your character. Most craft stores have foam heads available in both female and male varieties that are affordable and easy to customize.(Some craft stores even started stocking character foam heads this year!) We actually got ours from a beauty supply shop since they also carry foam and mannequin heads, but theirs have holes pre-drilled into the neck for easy mounting to the skeleton, which craft store foam heads don’t always have.

styrofoam mannequin head being painted for a diy halloween character fortune teller propIf you’re going with a classic monster or character that will be using a full-head mask, you don’t really need to do much else with your character’s head as it mostly serves as a base. I would definitely recommend at least painting on eyes if they’ll be visible through the mask. The great thing about making your own character is that you are the person who decides how ornate and detailed you want the character to be! And as we got further into the project, one thing became abundantly clear: Our fortune teller was going to be very involved.

Devin took the lead with her head, working on it over the course of a few days. First, we picked up a cheap wig at a local costume shop (it was actually a knockoff Katniss Everdeen wig!) that he re-styled into the masterpiece you see here with braids and crystals effortlessly incorporated throughout. From there, he painted the foam, using a few layers of liquid latex mixed with acrylic paint for the skin. Once it was thoroughly dried, he added some basic makeup and created a scarf from a bit of fabric and trim with dangling paillettes. I wanted the eyes to be very detailed, so I painted on her purple irises and Devin finished them with pupils, light reflections, and eyelashes. He then did a makeup job on her that was so impressive that I decided that she was no longer an outdoor decoration.

homemade DIY halloween character prop fortune teller being assembledFor her crystal ball, all we had to do was get a large plastic ornament from the craft store. We filled it with fluff stuffing and wound some string lights through it. We propped it up on a lava lamp base to give it the height it needed. You can of course pick up a crystal ball prop at most stores during the Halloween season, but going this route cost about half of what those crystal balls cost.

Once all of our fortune teller’s components were ready, it was time to put her together! Devin and I had stocked up on fabrics we wanted to use for her, and we knew we wanted to dress her in layers, so we had plenty to choose from for her dress as well as her shoulder wrap. We had also picked up a pair of gloves when we got her wig, so we filled those with some of the left over fluff from the crystal ball and placed them at the end of the arms. Once she was dressed, we attached her head and placed her hands around the crystal ball so that she could get on with telling some fortunes! We also hung a few trinkets around her - including a chalkboard sign, some crystals, and small mirrors depicting the phases of the moon - to complete the scene and really give the feel as if we were inside of her fortune telling tent.

I can honestly say that this was one of the most involved DIY projects that Devin and I have ever done. She was a true collaboration between the two of us which was so much fun, and we loved how she turned out! As I mentioned, I had originally planned for her to live on our patio throughout this Halloween season, but as she came together, we decided she was better suited to hang out in our dining room, waiting to tell your fortunes (and freak me out in the mornings while I’m getting ready for work!).

Of course, we wound up going a little (...okay, a lot) more ornate with her than we’d originally planned, but she was still pretty cost-effective, especially when compared to the character props you’ll find in stores. And she turned out so much better than I could have ever imagined when I originally had the idea for this project! So the next time one of those characters catches your attention, think about making one of your own! It can be a lot more affordable, and much easier than you initially think - and the end result is a one-of-a-kind Halloween character prop you can use year after year.

Happy crafting!

🎃👹

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