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Scary Video Projections on (and through) Your Window

I am a firm believer in real scares, not cute stuff that might scare a two year old. So here’s a twist on window decorations that will send a chill up the spines of all those cute little trick or treaters as they approach your house: Live (or at least on video) shadow dramas taking place on a window, sound and all. Even better, how about a talking head, or if you like “cute”, a singing head?

Back in the old days, you could just hang a sheet on the window and project an out-of-focus 8mm movie on it from the inside and viola! Shadowy weirdness that people can see from the outside. Most people don’t have that stuff around anymore, and if you do, it probably doesn’t work. If you’re a real cheapo all you need is a bright harsh light, a cape with a fedora hat and you can stand, maybe holding a knife, in front of the sheet with the light behind you and sway back and forth. All they see outside is the shadow.

…OR…

OR… you can make a video of said creep and, using a video projector, project the video onto a sheet, or a large piece of white paper hung over the window, complete with scary sounds coming from your stereo (see my article on “Making Scary Sounds with Sony’s Sound Forge”). Even better, I think, are those old 8mm home movies copied onto DVD and projected, out of focus, on your window.

How to Create Video Projections for Your Halloween Haunt

First, come up with a creepy idea and video tape it. Keep it simple. If you are going to project this on a tall window, turn your video camera sideways and then project it sideways so the image fills the window.

Second, you’ll need a projector. You’ll need one that has a fairly bright light. At least 2000 lumens, I’d say. “But video projectors are expensive” you say, and I agree. But if you live near a larger town or city, there are audio visual rental houses that will happily rent you a projector for a day or two for not too much money. OR… maybe it’s time you bought your own. I did a little checking around to see if there were any good quality projectors for a relatively low price.

It turns out there are several inexpensive projectors available, “inexpensive” being a relative term, but my main concern is if there are enough lumens (how bright the light is coming from the projector) to pass through the paper or sheet. The least expensive is the Merch Source Entertainment TV Projector. I couldn’t find the lumen level, but it has to be low. It uses a standard 50 watt, 12v, MP-16 halogen light bulb, which means inexpensive to replace. It has its own speaker, albeit mono. The reviews were fairly good for this projector, with brightness and “lines” being the biggest complaint, and it’s less than $200. My best guess is that this projector would probably work for how it’s being used, so long as it’s not too far from the screen, and the ambient light is kept very low. I couldn’t find anything else this cheap.

The next level up in price for a video projector is about $400, but the projectors at this level look pretty good and most run around 2000 lumens. The 1080i HDMI Video Theater Projector at 2000 lumens appears to be a good piece of electronics; it had a good review, and is reasonably priced at about $450. That is about what you’d pay for a regular TV, and this could project on a wall, so you wouldn’t have to put it away ‘til next year. You could play movies and games with it in the mean time!

Next, you’ll need a translucent “screen” to project the image onto. A sheet is okay, but the light from the projector will “defract”, and you will have to experiment to see if the light is strong enough to penetrate all the way through so the trick or treaters will be able to see it from the other side.

Other ideas I’ve seen for this purpose are those cheap disposable table clothes. Another idea is a vinyl shower curtain, or, check out the local hardware store for translucent sheeting in the lighting department.

I was using a very low power projector, about 700 lumens, and so I tried using a large piece of white paper that comes in rolls used as art paper or to cover table tops.  I pulled off about six feet of it which was plenty to cover my window. That worked ok if the image was bright, but some of my images were dark to start with, and the projector didn’t help, so I dashed off to Walmart and found some cheap, white, vinyl table covers and used that. Being thinner than the paper, it did well with the dark images.

Here’s a video of me reciting poetry in black and white, in duplicate. This was on white butcher paper, and it did not cover all of the window. It showed well since the image was bright, but for a darker image, this didn’t work well at all:

projections-poetry

Below: I hung a cheap, white, vinyl table covering over the window (I just realized that I had knocked one of the support rods loose… don’t tell my wife).

projections-covering

Below: Replacing the paper with the plastic vinyl, I did a spooky face by simply putting a cape over my head and only lighting my face with a flashlight. This one really creeped my wife out when she saw it, and she’s a teacher so it takes a lot to creep her out!

projections-spooky

Other materials you can get just for this purpose are, if you want to do this up like a real pro, theatrical gels from Rosco or from Lee Filters who make special filters and papers for putting over windows and lights to diffuse light. The gel that will make your window into a translucent screen is what is called “heavy frost”, and comes in rolls or large sheets. This stuff is a little pricey, but is made tough and flame resistant. The good news about the heavy frost sheeting is, if your projector doesn’t have a bright light in it, this gel will let enough light through to see the image well.

Finally, sound. Make sure the windows are open so that you can crank up the stereo and let them have the scary stuff, up close and personal! Sound is the depth of vision (have I mentioned my article “Making Scary Sounds”?).

Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s the problem (there’s always a problem). To keep the image going for as long as the little devils are coming to the door, about two or three hours, you’re going to have to make as long a video as you can. Some of you might act creepy all the time so no big deal, but for most of you, you could get pretty tired acting creepy for longer than a few minutes. Here are your options:

  • See if your video player has a “loop” or “repeat” feature.
  • Have your little brother sit and keep hitting “Play” button every time the video ends, or… drum roll please…
  • Read my upcoming article on “Making Scary Movies” coming soon to a Halloween Alliance Website near you! I’ll show you how to take 2 minutes of video and stretch it into an hour!

Another cool thing to do (it’s an old idea from the film days), is project the image of someone’s head on a mannequin’s head (like you would store a wig on), or an inflated balloon. If you’re using video, the head appears to be talking.

I made a simple little video wearing all black and a black background, and I recited some poetry. I then went into Sony’s Vegas Movie Studio and reversed the image and the sound (again, see my upcoming article “Making Scary Movies” and I’ll show you how to do this) and projected it on a white balloon sitting in the window. Zer kool!.

As you can see below, I cut a small hole in a cardboard box and stuck a balloon in it so it wouldn’t move around too much (a little bit is good – spooky) and then projected the image on it. What’s cool about this is that the image not only projected on the surface, a little bit went through to the other side, only real blurry.

projections-balloon

Don’t stop here. Come up with ideas that follow the basic principles of “scare” and make your own video version of Window Horror!

Happy Haunting!


About David Lay

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