Pepper’s Ghost: Make your own

by Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

A pair of hands touch a piece of glass with heavy condensation on it.
Ghostly hands image by Tumisu from Pixabay

You can easily make your own small scale Pepper’s Ghost. Take a cardboard box, like a shoe box, and paint the whole of the inside matt black. Cut a large rectangle out of one side (the lid of the shoebox). That will be where your audiance view the stage from. If you are that way inclined you could fasten curtains to pull across it! We will stick to the basics here though!

Now cut a sheet of perspex to fit diagonally inside the box ideally at 45 degrees, with the top above the hole you cut, towards the audience and the bottom at the back of the box. Ideally you want stiff perspex – you should be able to buy sheets from a DIY or craft shop. My local high street hardware store sold me offcuts for a pound or so. This is the equivalent of the sheet of glass. It divides the stage area in two. The audience can look directly through it and see the back wall of the box. That is the main stage area. However, with some suitable lighting, you can project anything from the floor of the box, in front of the perspex onto the stage.

To allow for the lighting, cut a stage door into the side of the box, in front of the perspex. That will allow you to shine a torch on objects on the floor that you want to appear “on stage”.

Finally, put a scene onto the back wall – perhaps a lunar surface. Then stick a picture of an object on the floor (say a TARDIS) – you may need to experiment to get the position right. Dim the lights and you are ready.

Shine a torch from the front to light up the stage, then when you want the TARDIS to appear, shine a torch on it from the side. It will suddenly appear on the moon. Switch off the torch and it disappears.

Once you’ve got that working you can start to experiment with variations. That effect is a bit flat. Want to be more 3D then put in a piece of card as a stage floor and populate the stage with 3D figures. By mounting figures on small black boxes you can make the ghostly figures appear at different depths on the stage.

By mounting the glass to reflect from the side rather than below, you can create a theatre that has two normal vertical stage areas, when the audiance can see directly and one they see only as a reflection. That makes it easier to position objects at different depths in the “ghost” area.

If that’s all a bit static, then you could turn it into a pupet show. Put the figures on sticks and cut slits below so you can move them around (take care not to let light in through the slits though).

Now if you want to be a bit more hi-tech, download a Gorillaz (or similar) video on to your (ideally black) iPod. Place it in the understage area, hit go and they will perform on the moon for you. You might even want to make your own movies to project onto stage. Shoot things in a blackened room with anything you don’t want to appear black. Download to iPod. Lights. Action.

Back to Pepper’s Ghost article or our blog.

This article was originally published on the CS4FN website.

This blog is funded through EPSRC grant EP/W033615/1.