Tired of having to choose just one face for your jack-o’-lantern? Why not give your jack-o’-lantern the ability to express a multitude of emotions by bringing it to life as a zoetrope animation!

There are so many ways to make and display a jack-o’-lantern, and while this project may not be ideal for the front porch, it’s a great way to add a little extra magic to a Halloween party or haunted house. All you need to make your own jack-o’-lantern zoetrope is: a pumpkin, a knife, a turntable, a pen or pencil, a pair of scissors, and some paper to design your animation. You may also want to try using a strobe light, or your smart phone, since flashing lights are often used in haunted houses anyway.

Pick Your Pumpkin

Zoetrope animations are fairly forgiving, but your images have to look similar enough to each other to trick your eye into seeing one image in continuous motion. One way to ensure that your animation comes out best is to choose a pumpkin that is as round as possible. This will help to display the images in an even fashion as your jack-o’-lantern spins. You may also want to consider the size of your pumpkin, it should be small enough fit easily onto your turntable, but big enough to accommodate the images that you carve into it.

In my project, I used an artificial pumpkin made from foam. This was partly because I started the project before any pumpkin patches had opened, and partly because I wanted my jack-o’-lantern to last for future Halloweens.

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Make A Paper Mock-Up

There’s certainly an art to creating a convincing zoetrope animation and you will probably have to do some finessing to make yours work best. So, before picking up a knife and carving into your pumpkin, pick up a pencil and draw your animation on a piece of paper to create a mock-up of your jack-o’-lantern zoetrope. This will essentially be a classic zoetrope, but customized to transfer your animation onto your pumpkin.

Start by measuring the circumference of your pumpkin, then make a strip of paper that’s a little longer than the circumference of the pumpkin by taping a few pieces of copy paper together. The thicker the paper, the better it will work. Divide the circumference of the pumpkin by the number of frames you want your animation to be. In general, you’ll probably want to plan on somewhere between six to twelve frames, depending on the size of your pumpkin and your confidence in your carving abilities. Measure your paper strip into equal frames and then draw your images in the center of each frame. Keep in mind that this will eventually have to fit on the pumpkin, so leave yourself plenty of room.

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Test The Animation

Once you’ve drawn your images at even intervals across your paper, cut slits in the top of the paper in the spaces between your images. You’ll look through these slits to see your animation, so make sure that they’re evenly spaced. Curl the paper strip into a cylinder with the images drawn on the inside and tape the ends together.

Now, you’ll need a lazy Susan, a record player, or some other kind of turntable to view your zoetrope animation. Center the paper cylinder on the turntable and spin it. When you look through the slits your images should appear to move. You may want to start out by making narrow slits and then increase them in size until you find the width that works best. Experiment and make adjustments to your mock-up until you have an animation that you’re ready to carve into your pumpkin.

A tip for those that don’t have confidence in their drawing or carving skills is to trace around a cookie cutter to make your images and adjust it slightly for each frame of the animation. Then, press the cookie cutter into the surface of the pumpkin to help get started carving the images.

Finally, use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the images out of your mock-up, just as they’ll look on your pumpkin.

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Transfer The Pattern

Once you have an animation that you like, slip the paper cylinder over your pumpkin and trace around the pattern that you’ve cut out. This will ensure that you recreate the same imagery at the same size and spacing as your mock-up animation.

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Carve The Pumpkin

Be very careful to carve your pattern as accurately as possible. The thickness of the pumpkin’s walls could change the look of your imagery, so be sure to touch up your carving when you’re done.

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Display The Animation

There are a few ways that you can show off your jack-o’-lantern zoetrope this Halloween, depending on the circumstances in which you’re able to display it. The most immediate way to display your animation is to use a strobe light with an adjustable flash speed, which you may already be planning to use as a haunted house decoration. This method works best if you use a record player as your turntable, so that the jack-o’-lantern turns at a steady speed. Then you just have to set your strobe to flash in sync with the turning of the images on your jack-o’-lantern. The animation will look best when the strobe is timed to flash just as each image has turned to where the previous images was.

One quick way to procure a strobe light with an adjustable flash speed is to download one of the many strobe applications available for smart phones. If you happen to be using a smart phone as your strobe light, or some other battery-operated strobe, you might consider lighting your animation from within by placing the phone inside your jack-o’-lantern. Of course, if you’re using a real pumpkin, you may want to put the phone in a container of some kind to keep it clean.

If you’d rather not use a strobe to display your jack-o’-lantern, then you can simply cut slits into your pumpkin, just like you did with the mock-up. Once you have the slits cut, you should be able to look down into your jack-o’-lantern and see the animation displayed on the inside of the pumpkin. You may be able to see the animation even better once you’ve placed a light inside your finished jack-o’-lantern zoetrope!

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If you’d like to see more zoetrope ideas, then be sure to check out my pizzoetrope tutorial to make a spooky animated pizza! There are also a couple of other jack-o’-lantern zoetrope projects that are worth taking a look at to evaluate your options before starting on your own. Instructables member PenfoldPlant shares a tutorial for animating a flying bat on your jack-o’-lantern, including instructions for making your own turntable. Or make a stop-motion animation of the creation of your jack-o’-lantern zoetrope, like Vimeo member Picturesmith.