4 Animated Halloween Decorations You Can Build on a Budget

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design

Halloween is just over a week away. Don’t worry, if you want to decorate, there’s still time! You could just buy decorations, but for something unique that you’ve built yourself, PoorManProps has several ideas. The group was started in 2013 in southeastern Michigan by Randy Goddard and Steve Toby as a club that would get together every other month to build Halloween themed DIY contraptions.

As they developed the club, they realized that there were lots of people that had never turned a screwdriver, used a drill, or wired up a simple motor. As makers, we sometimes take these skills for granted, but we all had to learn them somewhere!

With that in mind, they decided to make the club into a space for both building props and teaching people the basic skills needed to build them. At each meeting, people can come in, pay for the build materials, and leave with either the finished prop or the skills necessary to make it.

Whether you can attend the meetings or not, here are a few designs for animated props that won’t break the budget. If you’re entirely new to tools, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone more experienced. Your local makerspace is a great place to start. They will likely have the tools you need at the ready.

Cauldron Creep

A witch or skeleton stirring a boiling pot of who-knows-what is an icon of Halloween creepiness, and here’s a simple way to animate this scene. The monster/person’s frame is made out of PVC pipe. One rigid arm holds a “spoon,” while the other is flexible. This allows a crank mechanism on the bottom to stir the pot.

Ghost Shovel


Digging a hole isn’t very scary on its own. On the other hand, a shovel digging all by itself in a ghostly environment gives off some very spooky implications! The setup described here uses a motor to actuate a crank that makes a shovel tilt back and forth to simulate digging.

Swaying Zombie

The Swaying Zombie device uses a very similar method to the Cauldron Creep project, but puts the crank in the middle of a zombie’s torso to actuate its PVC spine. This mechanical setup would give the monster a nice swaying motion, and you could add fake skin and clothing to complete the undead people eater.

Grave Grabber

This aluminum device acts as a platform for your fake gravestones to rock back and forth. It’s creepy enough on its own, but this design, as well as the previously mentioned projects, can also be upgraded with a proximity sensor or lighting and sounds effect to enhance their spookiness.

Bonus: Pneumatics 101

While the other projects outlined here use motor-linkage configurations for smooth repeating motion, if you’d like things to go fast, then pneumatics can be a great, if more expensive, option. Check out Paul Jameson’s intro to this method, along with a few other informative publications.

You can find lots more info on PoorManProps’ website for your spooky contraptions. On the other hand, if the Halloween deadline manages to pass you by (we’ve all been there), there’s no reason that these animatronic concepts can’t be reapplied to Christmas decorations or any other event that calls for a moving display!

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Jeremy is an engineer with 10 years experience at his full-time profession, and has a BSME from Clemson University. Outside of work he’s an avid maker and experimenter, building anything that comes into his mind!

View more articles by Jeremy S Cook


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