Engineering Halloween

Where science and Halloween intersect, Innovation Lab director Elisa Shapiro runs down the ways you can create costumes in our very own maker space!

Engineering Halloween

Maker spaces, like the Innovation Lab, are a great resource when it comes to costumes and props, whether for Halloween, theater or cosplay. Think of the things you can print on the 3D printer, the designs you can etch on the laser cutter, and the lights, motion and reactivity you can add with a little bit of electronics!

I’ve always made my own halloween costumes, usually something low-tech the night before, out of whatever I had lying around the house when inspiration (and the ticking clock) finally struck. Even if I had the pictures, I’d like to save some attempt at garnering future respect, so I don’t think I would share them. Over the years my costumes have included a Pez Dispenser (big swatch of yellow felt with pez in black lettering on both sides), the Face in the Milk Carton (cardboard box folded up like a milk carton, sides decorated and a hole for my face) and,when faced with making a costume only out of cardboard and string, a slot machine (your arm can make a very nice lever, no additional supplies needed).

My first techy costume was the year Stranger Things first aired. Some students and I started creating the holiday light message wall out of some old fabric and the neopixel lights. One innovative kid figured out we could write the letters on the fabric with hot glue and then use a sharpie to color them in. The lights over the letters would blink randomly until a button was pressed, which made them spell out a message. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but the creation process is an excellent learning tool. One of the biggest lessons… this would have worked great hung on a wall. Because of the way it was created, when I tried to make it something wearable, it shorted out in about 5 minutes.

A picture of Joyce Byers from Stranger Things. She stands in front of a wall with the alphabet written on it in black paint. Christmas lights are strung above the letters. Joyce is looking worriedly over her shoulder.
A blurry photo of the project described in the paragraph above. There are LEDs lighting up letters "H" "E" "N" "W"

The next year I was at a robotics workshop and one of the other participants started talking about the maker space she ran and how they put on a haunted house every year. This gave me some excellent ideas! Over the next couple of years my robotics classes created moving skeletons, creepy Pennywise masks and other 3D printed and automated frights.

A plastic skeleton rests against a wall. Inside it's chest is an LED panel that shows a glowing red heart, and there are LEDs in its eye sockets. The skeleton has a red hat on and is posed in a scary manner.

Those of you who sign up for my classes (all of you, right?) will learn that my students have a lot of say in the direction our classes and projects take. My robotics class last fall was universally interested in cosplay so that is where we put our focus. One of the students introduced me to EVA foam and specifically Plastazote, a foam that is translucent, so lights will shine through. It can be cut, molded, glued and carved, and it etches nicely on the laser cutter. Best of all, when heated, it will hold the shape you place it in and might be my new favorite material to work with. For this halloween, I built a sugar skull. The picture does not do it justice, check it out in the window of Ms. Barrett’s office right by the front entrance.

A piece of Plastazote foam is engraved with a sugar skull design. There are various colored LEDs behind the skull, lighting up the eyes, cheeks and mouth.
An engraved sugar skull design carved into Plastazote.

This is a strange pandemic year, there won’t be many trick or treaters, halloween opportunities are very limited, and haunted houses pretty much non existent. The Upper School door decorating competition was announced at a very busy moment just as the quarter was about to end. There will be a couple of fantastic doors this year, but we can do better. I challenge the King community for next year. Let’s build our own haunted house, our own costumes, and our own holiday decorations. To many of you this may seem intimidating and I guarantee we will make mistakes and at times look ridiculous, but isn’t that half the fun?

Written by: Elisa Shapiro