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Three Ways to Create a Haunted Portrait!

You've seen the effect on stage and in amusement parks or in Haunted Houses. As you pass a lovely victorian portrait on the wall it suddenly morphs into something spooky or strange. Maybe the eyes move, or have a red glow. Or maybe a skull appears instead of the head. Or maybe the person gets up and walks out of the portrait.

These are all special effects that you can achieve with a special tool called a scrim. A scrim is a special type of stage fabric that can be seen through or not depending on lighting. It can also take projection like a movie screen.

Technique #1: Use a Printed Scrim

First obtain a scrim printed with your portrait. You can also paint a portrait on scrim--be careful to not fill the holes in the material. You want the final portrait to be at least life size with extra space around it. So don't try for a 12 inch x 12 inch portrait--you want at least 48 inch x 60 inch (4 foot x 5 foot). If you struggle with the size consider printing the frame as part of the image. Studio Productions, Inc. can print your artwork on scrim ( Click here to order a printed scrim ). Prices for your size scrim can be found on the estimator on that page. Note:You can save money with multiple pieces by combining images.

Update: This article was originally written in 2012. At that time the scrim was the only choice. The scrim is still an excellent choice for larger sizes, but another option is now available. If you only want one or in a smaller size, like 48" x 60" consider Ultrasheer. It prints well and for smaller sizes the image quality may be better. You need to call for the price, but it costs less than the scrim in the smaller sizes.

Frame and hang the portrait with enough space to light and position an actor (or prop head/skull for haunts) behind the scrim. You normally need about 3 feet behind the portrait. Drape the area behind the actor in black.

Warning: Be careful of hot lights around any fabric. Do not position anything hot against fabric.

Arrange lighting to light the portrait.

Now when you want to see the portrait, light the portrait and keep the actor in the dark. When you want the portrait to transform, light the person behind the portrait and bring the light down on the portrait itself.

Variation: Have two portraits printed. Arrange one directly behind the other. Light the front picture and see it normally. Light the back portrait and the two look superimposed. Light the bakc portrait more strongly while reducing light on the front portrait and see the portrait behind become predominant.

Spacer Haunted Portrait Effect with ScrimHaunted Portrait Effect With Scrim
Our apologies to Ms. Emily Dickenson. Her portrait was an easy victorian portrait to find.
These effects are simulated.

Order Chameleon™ Printed Scrim.        Order Chameleon™ Plain Scrim.

Technique #2: Use Projection on Scrim

Some types of scrim are good projection surfaces (not sharkstooth, the holes in it are huge!). You can project on a Chameleon Scrim from the front or from behind--just angle the projector. So project from the side, or above or below and adjust with the keystone adjustment of the projector. This is important to get a good projection quality. We suggest using rear projection so that the projector can be hidden.

If you have an lcd projector you can arrange a video loop to move the subject of the portrait from sitting position to standing to walking out of the picture. If you have two still projectors, or one that is capable of multiple images you can switch from the portrait to the scary version of the same portrait. You can also superimpose images from two projectors. (Click here to order Chameleon™ Plain Scrim)

Technique #3: Combine a Printed Scrim with Projection on Scrim

Print a scrim as above, now either project the second image on a wall behind the scrim or project directly on the scrim from behind. This is particularly good for the effect of bloody text appearing to be ghost written on the canvas.

Some haunted rides use a similar technique to open secret ghostly doors behind the painting. You print the portrait, but project on it a ghostly door opening into a cavern with bats flying out.

Variation: Hang a printed scrim, but shine red lights onto the eyes, from behind with flashlights. The eyes will turn a sweet psycho-demonic red. ( Click here to order Chameleon™ Printed Scrim or click here to order Chameleon™ Plain Scrim)

Three other haunting variations:

You can make a silhoutte appear instead of the picture. Consider a picture of Dr. Jeckyl, after a minute the shadowy form of Mr. Hyde appears instead. If its a lifesized silhouette of Mr. Hyde, this is a silhoutte screen. Or if the shadow distorts and becomes larger or smaller, this is a shadow screen. Or if the image is just outlined in light, this is the hamburger light effect.

To do a silhoutte, place a light colored surface behind the scrim--we will call this a 'back wall'. Have a person stand between that surface and the scrim. Now evenly illuminate that back wall and you will see a perfect silhouette of the person. He can move or doff his hat at the viewer.

To do a shadow screen is very similar to the camp game you played with a flashlight and your hands. You may have made animal shapes out of the shadows your hands cast on the wall. In this case the wall is a scrim and you stand behind the scrim and to the side of it. You want a light behind you casting your shadow on the scrim. Now the closer you move to the light, the larger your shadow gets. The closer you move toward the scrim the smaller your shadow gets. Anything you act out gets cast on the scrim as a shadow dance. You can use puppets instead of people to cast the shadow. Puppets can be as simple as a cardboard cut out.

To get a 'hamburger light' effect think how they used to light Roma Downey on "Touched By An Angel". If you have an actor behind the scrim and cast a light up or down the BACK of that actors head & shoulders you will create a rim of light around them. You can use this effect to make a glow around a portait's head and also to make its eyes glow by cutting out the shape of the head in the portrait and also the eyes of the shape. Now when you light the head from behind you will get glowing eyes and a light halo around the portrait head.

Do I Have to Order Big Pieces? What Sizes Can I Order? You can order Chameleon scrim, printed or plain colored. You can order small pieces (like 4' x 5') or big pieces like 15' x 40'. Most of these options can be ordered online. For smaller pieces call 1-800-359-2964 (812-579-5063 in Canada). Order Printed Scrim--or-- Order Un-printed Scrim.