What's scarier: a life-size plastic skeleton dangling on the door or a life-size animated poltergeist that appears to be floating in mid-air until it lunges right at you?
That's the kind of high-tech effect you should be thinking about this Halloween. And you can get one for surprisingly cheap: AtmosFX sells a variety of really cool Halloween-themed animations, with prices starting at just $6. (Want to test-drive one? Here's a .)
These animations can work on a variety of surfaces, but I'm going to focus on the "hollusion," which I think is the coolest: It creates the aforementioned mid-air holographic effect. (See below for other options.)
What supplies do you need?
Here's the short-list of required items and the expected costs:
- One or more of the aforementioned AtmosFX videos. ($6 and up.)
- A projector. (Free if you can borrow one, at least $70 if you buy one.)
- A large piece of semi-translucent material, like mosquito netting or a sheer curtain. (Price will vary depending on what you use.)
What kind of projector?
The big piece of this puzzle is the projector. If possible, borrow one from work, a friend, a neighbor, etc. It's only for one night, so you should definitely try to get a loaner if you can.
No luck? Consider buying one. You might be surprised to learn that for as little as $70, you can get a model that will work just fine for this task. That's because the requirements here are much lower than those of a home theater.
For example, the Ozmer Mini LED Projector normally sells for $90, but it's currently on sale for $76. (Ignore the rather misleading 1080p spec, which you'll see attached to a lot of projectors in this price range; it supports 1080p sources, but its native display resolution is actually just 800x480. That sounds low, but it's definitely sufficient for the Atmos animations.)
Whether you buy or borrow a projector, try to get one with built-in speakers. (The Ozmer has them.) The animations referenced here incorporate sound effects, and it's an added hassle to have to connect external speakers.
Setting up your space
AtmosFX sells a ready-made hollusion sheet, which you can hang in a doorway or set up outside, but it's currently sold out.
That's OK, because you can probably rig up something of your own. The company recommends bridal mesh, fine gauze, mosquito netting or scrim -- basically anything that's not super-visible when it's reasonably dark. I actually used an old sheer curtain that was lying around; it worked pretty well. A clear shower curtain might do the trick, too.
AtmosFX has a terrific how-to video for this, so I won't reinvent the wheel. I will say that there are tons of options for hanging your sheet in your yard, including the wood frame and archway mentioned in the video, but also hanging from a tree branch (provided you can secure the bottom to the ground so it stays taut) or building a freestanding frame out of PVC pipe.
How to play the animations
Normally, using a projector means connecting a laptop. But it's not exactly convenient to set one up in your yard. That's one reason I recommend a portable projector, as most models can utilize memory cards and flash drives -- no laptop required. In other words, just copy one or more of the AtmosFX animations to the card or drive, plug it into the projector and set the playback to loop mode.
Again, built-in speakers are great for this, but if they're not loud enough, consider connecting a portable, battery-powered speaker. (Most projectors have an audio-out jack, and most speakers have audio-in.)
Finally, give some thought to covering the projector, in part to help protect the illusion of the floating frights, and in part to protect it against the elements. (Here in Michigan, Halloween rain is all but guaranteed.) One good, inexpensive option: a clear plastic storage tote, turned upside down to cover the projector, with a hole cut in the side to allow the projection to pass through.
And that's it! Grab a spooky animation, feed it through a projector and point it at a translucent sheet. Now you've got a Hollywood-caliber decoration that's equal parts fun and frightening.