Part 3: Painting the Ghost, The Eyes, Setup and Operation

Painting The Marionette: An Approach to Using Fluorescent Paint

Important NOTE: You can either paint your ghost as described in the following instructions, or take the simple route of washing your cheesecloth (or chosen fabric) in ordinary laundry detergent before draping. This dyes the cloth with blueing, which is added to virtually every laundry detergent sold today, and glows blue under black light. You'll need to drape the styrofoam head with fabric, too, if you use this method, but it's easy! Once again, see our instruction sheet for details, then press your back button to return here.

Really, the best approach to painting a fabric prop that will be used in a blacklight setting is to paint it in a blacklight-illuminated setting. Before you begin draping your ghost, when visiting the fabric store, take along a small portable blacklight and expose a bit of the fabrics you sample to UV. You may be surprised at the results. If you want to start with a dark surface, be sure your fabric is not impregnated with 'blueing' (a fluorescent dye commonly found in laundry detergents) or a fluorescent factory dye.

With this in mind, and with your draped figure ready to paint in a blacklit environ, consider technique. Don't just saturate the surface with the chosen color until it is submerged in paint! If you want subtlety, and you are starting with a non-fluorescent surface, use a very light mist, by spraying from a distance when using aerosol paint, or by using an airbrush with a very low paint-to-air mixture. Watch under the blacklight as the effect builds up on the figure or object. Stop when you achieve a mysterious glow. Remember that fluorescent paint is a visible light source, just like a light bulb. If there is too much UV paint, it will produce too much visible light, and may reveal details that you wish to keep hidden, killing the atmosphere you have worked hard to create.

When painting with fluorescent paints, remember that adding color is not the same as with ordinary non-fluorescent colors. When you add fluorescent red, blue, and green in the right mixture, you don't get a murky brown - you get white. Yes, like a color TV, which uses red, blue and green phosphor dots to get colors, you are painting with light (not mixing colors.) In short, take a scrap of material and experiment. You will be surprised at what may be done with light mists of fluorescent paint.

I suggest that you use fluorescent blue on the spectre in this example. Green, or yellow (which tends to look slightly green as a fluorescent dye) can produce an equally attractive ghost. This is your call. You can also use flat black to produce the effect of shadows under blacklight. It can help correct places that are too bright. Be sparing, take your time, and experiment on scraps before painting the ghost.

NOTE: If you cannot locate fluorescent blue spray paint, wash your cheesecloth in detergent containing blueing (most brands do) before covering your marionette. This will most likely do the job for you. If the result is too bright, reduce the lighting level by moving the blacklight fixture farther from your ghost.

When you finish with the painting, you will install the L.E.D. eyes, as mentioned below. You may wish to paint the interior of the eye sockets flat black so that the the eyes seem to float within them like mysterious points of fire. The effect is really nice, and you will agree when you see it!

The Eyes Have It

NOTE: Our friend Jim Kadel at Haunt Master Products, Inc ( has a wonderful LED-eye product line manufactured specifically for props like our FCG. They are available in several varieties and colors - including the NEW ultra-bright blue, which is amazing to see - and can flash or strobe, or work with audio for the 'talking' version of our ghost. If you'd rather leave the wiring to someone else, go see Jim! I get mine from him as well - time is money!. :-)

Additionally, these bright LED's are intense enough to use as mini-floodlights in the dim environs of a haunt - just shroud or put tiny reflectors around them. In my experiments with a 1/3 scale FCG, they were adequate to light the ghost - an alternative to blacklight - and they can flash or pulse as well. Other uses are limited only by your imagination. He also offers a packaged version of our talking eyes, which is much easier to set up than building our version from scratch. Be sure to let Jim know you want ultra-brights, in whatever color. They're a wow.

Glowing red eyes provide a vividly contrasting element to the rest of your marionette. They will immediately draw your guests' attention, and heighten the drama provided by the animatronic. If you are uncomfortable with wiring, paint two round beads with fluorescent orange, and glue them into the eye sockets of the marionette after you paint it as described below.

There are two ways to go with this part of the project. You can have steady-state glowing eyes in your ghost, which are always on; or you can have eyes that flash with a pre-recorded (or even live, through an offstage microphone) speech.

Both approaches require that you install L.E.D.'s in both of the figure's eye sockets. Carefully solder a long (6' or longer) wire lead to the short lead on one L.E.D. and to the long lead of the other. Now, solder a 1.5 foot wire to the remaining leads on each L.E.D. With electrical tape or shrink tube, completely cover the exposed soldered leads on each L.E.D. to prevent shorting.

Note: The above step is important. You need to connect the short lead (usually the cathode) of one L.E.D. to the long lead (usually the anode) of the other, using the wires that emerge from behind the head. For those who will use batteries and a trim pot (or resistor) for 'constant on' eyes, the positive terminal of the battery must feed the long lead (anode) of the L.E.D. You must know which wire is which! If the eyes don't light, reverse the polarity. The formula for deciding the value of the ballast resistor for a given D.C. voltage supply is given below in the Appendix ("L.E.D. Math for Imagineers"), with examples.

Using a long ice-pick or knitting needle, punch holes through the head assembly from the eye sockets to the back. Next, finish the painting of the figure, as described below, before inserting the L.E.D. assemblies into the eye sockets. When you have finished painting, and the figure is completely dry, attach the back ends of your leads near the point of the knitting needle (or of a long piece of stiff coat-hanger wire) using electrical tape. Make sure that you tape the wires to the chosen guide tightly, so that the needle or wire does not hang on the fabric while going through. Use this assembly to pull the wires through the holes in the eye sockets so that the leads exit the back of the head. Be careful not to damage the L.E.D.'s, the wires, or the solder connections while doing this. Remove the electrical tape from the guide, and extract it, being careful to hold the wires so they do not pull back out with the guide. After the guide has been removed, pull carefully on the electrical leads that emerge from the back of the head until the L.E.D.'s rest in the bottoms of the eye sockets.

Now, make the electrical connection between the short lead from one eye to the long lead of the other eye (connect the two short wires right near the back of the head. You will end up with only 2 long wires trailing to the power supply or amp driver system (for the voice version.) Keep in mind which wire is which at all times, if you plan to use the non-voice D.C. version.

Setting Up the Talking Version:

The recommended circuit for the talking FCG is shown at left. With the L.E.D. hookup completed, play a tape through the amplification system of whatever the ghost is to say. Adjust the trim pot so that the eyes flash on the words: start with the eyes dark, and slowly 'turn up the volume' of the ballast potentiometer until the eyes just begin to flicker. Do this with the system volume set to the level you expect it to run at during the operation of your attraction, and all should go well. I have suggested a potentiometer value that will most likely handle a wide range of settings on the amplifier, from a whisper to a loud scream.

If the eyes don't light, check the continuity of the wiring, check to see if your solder connections are still holding, and be sure that you aren't using a bad (open or blown) L.E.D. in one or both eyes. It may be necessary to 'match' pairs of L.E.D.'s if one of the pair lights dimly (or not at all.) This is matter for experimentation, and it is a good idea to buy a bulk pack of L.E.D.'s.

Also, note that the above circuit introduces a crude rectifier into the A.C. audio circuit, and will thus introduce a slight amount of distortion. If you find this objectionable, use a stereo amplifier and separate the functions of the eyes and speaker. Use a 'Y' connector to feed the voice track to both channels of the amp. This requires only one transformer on the output of the 'eye channel.' Connect a speaker directly to the 'speech channel'.

Preparation for Public Operation

Hang the motor platform in your haunt, or in a location suitable for testing. Be sure the marionette has room to move freely. Run-test your spectre. Make sure the pulleys don't hang, and that the armature works without snagging. Run your voice setup (or constant-on eyes) with the figure in motion, and be sure your wiring is robust. Allow it to operate for a few hours, but be sure to supervise this test! If you use a battery for the figure's eyes, be sure to disconnect it at the end of the evening when you shut down your haunt.

Observe Safety Precautions! Don't locate the hot part of the motor drive within a foot of anything flammable. There will be a small amount of rising heat from the motor sitting atop the gearbox. Avoid using paper and draperies above the mechanism! Although the Dayton motor doesn't get hot enough to ignite any regular materials I know of in normal operation, there is no point in taking silly risks. Turn off all power when you shut down. Check the figure continually throughout the night for malfunctions (hang-ups) that might cause overheating of the mechanism.

Another important issue - don't point blacklight sources into customers' eyes. This is one of our pet peeves, here at Phantasmechanics: "It's a haunt, not a tanning booth!" Flooding public areas with blacklight is unsubtle, unnecessary - and your guests' clothes may fluoresce so brightly that your staging is ruined! Unlike white light, blacklight does not warn the iris of the human eye to contract normally, and may cause the person to have the effect of a temporary loss of visual acuity, although minor. It can be like the effect of staring into a car's headlight if the blacklight source is strong enough. Even though short exposure to long wave UV (blacklight) is harmless, be kind to your customers!

Locate your ghost where it cannot be mangled by the grasp of a passerby. If you spend a lot of time on a figure, don't subject it to possible abuse.

Finally, enjoy your creation! Spend time looking at your actress in action. Play with the rig, and make little adjustments until she is playing to your audience the way that you - the director - desire.


For those of you wishing to use L.E.D.'s in any Halloween project, the following information will be invaluable. Walls of 'bat' eyes and many other such effects are possible with these little wonders, which commonly outlast miniature light bulbs many times over. If you've never played with them, here's your chance to experiment.

L.E.D. Math for Imagineers

R (ballast) = V (power supply) - V (L.E.D.'s) / 15 x 10^-3 (or .015)


V (L.E.D.'s) values

(Multiply these values times the number of L.E.D.'s you use in series.)

Red 1.8V
Yellow 2.0V
Green 2.2V
Blue 3.4V
(Good luck finding blue ones, but they look great!)


For 2 Red L.E.D.'s on a 12V supply, use a 560 Ohm resistor

[or: 1.8 x 2 in series = 3.6 V of Red L.E.D.'s, so...
(12-3.6) / .015 = 560 Ohm or 560 Ohm ballast required]

For 2 Red L.E.D.'s on a 9V supply, use a 360 Ohm resistor For 2 Red L.E.D.'s on a 6V supply, use a 160 Ohm resistor

2 Red L.E.D.'s on a 3V supply need no ballast - it will probably work, despite the predictions of the formula, but it will eat your battery alive. In other words, you should use at least 6 volts or higher to be practical.

NOTES: The LONG lead on an L.E.D. is the ANODE, which expects to see the positive (+) terminal of the D.C. power supply or battery. As mentioned above, the anode of one L.E.D. must be connected to the cathode of the other for the pair to work. L.E.D.'s are, as their name implies, diodes, and thus they will only pass electrical current in one direction. DO NOT connect L.E.D.'s in parallel.

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