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It's been a longtime goal of mine to make the singing busts for my Halloween display. I wanted to share how I did it, and make some recommendations for those who are interested in doing the same. First, I started the project with a budget in mind. I wanted to keep it under $500. Second, I evaluated a bunch of previous efforts. Third, I wanted it to be a durable result that can be used year after year.

MAKING THE BUSTS

I looked at the styrofoam/mannequin head projects. I also looked at the paper mache. And I looked at modeling the entire project in resin or clay. None of them was quite right. There's nothing wrong with styrofoam but I wanted to go a bit more sophisticated. Paper mache + coating probably wouldn't hold up well in Seattle rain. Resin and clay was pretty expensive. So, I started looking at using real plaster busts. The basic problem that I encountered was two-fold: expense (most of the life-size busts would have exploded my budget), and not really life-size (most of them had small heads that were not visible enough from a distance of 50 feet). Then, I found this:

https://www.amazon.com/Torino-GES-93-Plaster-Mannequin-Artistic/dp/B019CWRB3K/ref=sr_ph_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1542659631&sr=sr-1&keywords=life+size+bust

It's a bust designed for use by artists (sculptors, sketch artists). The price was right ($59).

But here's the important detail. You can't just project a video on the face of this bust, and call it a day. You need smooth surfaces around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Plus, it's a pretty basic bust. You probably want to add little details like a collar, tie, and other little things. I did some research, and found a kind of air drying clay called Magic Sculpt. You don't need a kiln. It comes in two parts -- one, clay and the other resin epoxy. You mix equal parts 1:1, and knead together very well. You have about 2 hours to sculpt it, and it will become as hard as concrete. You can find it on Amazon for around $35 for 5-lbs.

https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Sculpt-Lb-Epoxy-Clay/dp/B003ALAZS8


THE BASICS

I filled in the eyes, nose, and mouth. This took some time, and you want to get it as smooth as possible. I also added hair. There's no easy way to do this. I basically plopped a bunch of clay forming the outline of the hair, and then added more clay within the outline. You can use a wooden brush or a comb to get the texture of hair, if you really want that level of detail.


SCULPTING THE DETAILS

During the course of my research, I ran across a video on YouTube from a very talented artist who used Magic Sculpt to make a really cool mask; unfortunately, I lost the link. But I'll describe what she did. She cut out cardboard pieces which she attached to a mannequin head with tape/glue. When that dried, she started applying plaster cloth to the cardboard and let that dry. Then, she applied Magic Sculpt on top of the plaster cloth, smoothed it, and applied detail with sculpting tools. I got the idea to make shirt collars, ties, and other details the same way. Except I skipped the plaster cloth. I used a shirt collar as a template to cut out the cardboard, glued it to my bust, and taped it until dry. Then, I applied Magic Sculpt over the cardboard, and let it harden. The cool thing about using the cardboard is that, unlike pure Magic Sculpt, the cardboard provides some rigid structure -- an armature -- but it can also be bent and shaped as needed. I applied different appliances to each of the 4 busts that I made. One of them has a bow tie and collar. Another has a braided military epalettes. I even used bits from my old naval officer uniforms (buttons, insignia, etc). The basic point here is that you can get creative. You don't have to reproduce the Disney busts exactly.

I decided to dress up the busts a bit with some resin appliques from Etsy. You can pick them up for about $4 each. I glued them to the bust with a masonry glue, and taped them in place with duct tape.



BASES

I had never heard of a plinth before. It's essentially a plaster (or plaster-like) base that you use to support vases, statues, busts, and other architectural elements. I found a cool looking (medium) plinth on Design Toscano's website for about $50. I painted it with combination White primer/exterior spray paint, and coated it with 2 coats of polyurethane spray.

https://www.designtoscano.com/product/classic+statuary+plinth+bases+-+medium+-+ng314105.do?sortby=ourPicks&refType=&from=Search


UGH. NOW FOR THE FINISH WORK.

When everything was applied, I let them dry for a day. Then, I got out the sandpaper, and started sanding to smooth the surface. I started with a medium grit, and eventually used a fine grit. You can use a rotary sander but be careful. It's very easy to take off too much material. When they were relatively smooth, I blasted them with air from my compressor to remove all of the dust.

I coated them with several coats of polyurethane. You can use a spray can or paintbrush. This is important. Plaster and dried clay are very porous materials. They basically soak up any moisture that you apply to them. So, really coat them well with polyurethane. When that dried, I applied a couple coats of combination White primer/exterior spray paint. Finally, I applied another couple coats of polyurethane.



MEDIA PLAYER

Because this was going out in my yard, I didn't want to put a laptop out there. So, I found a good media player on eBay for around $35. It supports HDMI and allows you to loop a video from a thumb drive. That's a really important feature. Be aware that a lot of media players display some kind of animation between iterations of the same video, which completely destroys the illusion.


https://www.ebay.com/itm/Mini-USB-MMC-HD-HDMI-Multi-Media-TV-Player-1080P-MKV-AV-Port-Video-Audio-Digital/152026945455?_trkparms=aid=111001&algo=REC.S EED&ao=1&asc=20140107095009&meid=6e9e3 833163b4c64bf255f0580496727&pid=100040&rk= 2&rkt=4&mehot=ag&sd=152026945455&itm =152026945455&_trksid=p2046732.c100040.m2060

PROJECTOR

I bought a NEC projector from eBay for around $135. It's 2600 lumens and supports 1920x1080 video and HDMI. When buying a projector, be mindful of the number of lamp hours remaining. You don't want to replace the bulb. Some of them are as expensive as the projector, itself.

THE VIDEO

I found a really good loop on YouTube. The color, quality, and audio are decent.


The only problem with the video is that Thurl Ravenscroft's head is tilted to the right at an angle of 20 degrees. That's by-design, and approximates the spirit (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk) of the original loop. I spent a bunch of time thinking about how to build a base for the bust so that it tilted to the right. I even created a cutting template to create the wood base; but, eventually, I decided to abandon that effort because it was simply too much work. Since I'm a software engineer by trade, I decided to modify the video, instead. I downloaded a copy of FFMPEG (an open source command-line video tool), and manually rotated/cropped/recomposited Thurl's head onto the original video. I would give you instructions, but odds are pretty good that I'd lose you after a minute. So, send me a private message if you want the edited loop.

NOW FOR THE TEST.

I did this test in my home gym. But you can do it anywhere that you have a little darkness. I plugged in the media player to the projector, and started the loop. Then, I painstakingly moved the busts into position until the projected faces were aligned with the bust faces. Tip: You can move the busts forward and backward to decrease or increase (respectively) the size of the projected faces.


HERE'S WHAT'S LEFT

You will notice when you project onto the busts, there's a halo left on the background behind them, where the projector light bleeds around the busts. You can fix that by lighting the background. There's also a pretty stark contrast between the bust faces and the plinths. Put another light on the bases so that you reduce the contrast.

Let me know what you think.
 

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Nice work!
I can see the time and effort that went into this project.
I made some busts years ago, and know of the difficulties and time involved.
 

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Thank you for sharing your research with links to your suppliers. If you were to paint the bases with Wildfire optical white blacklight paint and hit them with a blacklight, I think they would glow with a blueish-white color very similar to the color of the faces.
 

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Like yourself TominSeatle, I have wanted to build these singing bust for some time. I have done some research on them but what you have come up with is nothing short but genius. Thank you for giving me the info to attempt this prop finally. I do have a question. Do you have a good copy of the video with Thurl Ravenscroft's head tilted? I would like to build mine with a little kink in it. Thanks in advance and once again, great job.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Like yourself TominSeatle, I have wanted to build these singing bust for some time. I have done some research on them but what you have come up with is nothing short but genius. Thank you for giving me the info to attempt this prop finally. I do have a question. Do you have a good copy of the video with Thurl Ravenscroft's head tilted? I would like to build mine with a little kink in it. Thanks in advance and once again, great job.
Thanks, man. Appreciate your feedback. Here is a link to the original video: https://1drv.ms/v/s!ArnvJDSOzBXpg_oIDoSpkTleYgCrZg
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Nice work!
I can see the time and effort that went into this project.
I made some busts years ago, and know of the difficulties and time involved.
Thanks, bobzilla. I remember your project. I started replicating it. The mannequin. Paper mache. Very clever approaach. i ran into a few snags. i didn‘t put enough separator on the bust, and it was difficult to remove. it would have worked but I ran out of patience and time. It inspired me to keep thinking, though.
 

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Thank you for sharing your research with links to your suppliers. If you were to paint the bases with Wildfire optical white blacklight paint and hit them with a blacklight, I think they would glow with a blueish-white color very similar to the color of the faces.
Good suggestion, thanks!
 

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I actually updated that video since then also but ended up just doing projection mapping with a different video and made them a little different. However even with projection mapping the foam heads were difficult to align so before I try projection mapping the HD video I got a hold of I need to find a good sized strafoam head or something like what you found which would work great ! Here was my finished product https://youtu.be/JmRXFz7zIZQ .
 

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Thanks for this post. I'd like to try to make these this summer. Not sure I'll be able to pull it off, but this is incredibly helpful to try to work from!
 

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Thanks for this post. I'd like to try to make these this summer. Not sure I'll be able to pull it off, but this is incredibly helpful to try to work from!
You can do this. But it does require a little determination to push through. Be artistic. You don't have to make them look exactly like the ones at the Haunted Mansion. Improvise a little.

If you have any questions, happy to help.
 
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