How To Make Animatronic Coffin Props Lift With Skeleton Hands

Picture this: a coffin dweller emerging from the shadows, sending shivers down your spine! This eerie prop is made of two wire-framed hands wrapped carefully in tape and aluminum foil. Connected to a lifting device, it moves up and down so realistically, giving everyone a good scare.

Creating the Coffin Prop with Skeleton Hands

Sculpting the Hands

Form a wire frame to create the hand’s basic shape combining a wire clothes hanger or similar gauge metal. Firmly tape to a 3/4″ – 1″ round PVC pipe.

Cover the wireframe with wire mesh and aluminum foil to add bulk and shape while keeping the knuckles and fingers exposed.

Finish by applying RigidWrap (plastercloth) to cover the structure, giving it a solid form.

Use Das Pronto (air-hardening modeling clay) for finer details and to smooth the surface. Keep it pliable with a bit of water during the sculpting process.

Look at how realistic those bony fingers look!

Securing the Hands to the Lid

  • Drill holes into the styrofoam lid of the coffin where the hands will be mounted.
  • Attach candlesticks to the holes, allowing them to wobble when the lid moves, creating a dynamic effect.
  • Make sure the candlesticks resemble a spooky, aged appearance, perhaps resembling brass, using faux finishing techniques.

Building the Mechanism

The mechanism that lifts the coffin lid could be powered by a deer motor or wiper motor. We talk more about the different types of motors in our DIY motors guide. The important thing to remember is that your motor has enough torque to sustain the movement.

Inside the lifting mechanism is a brilliantly simple design. A single pivot point and one motor control both the height and length of the upward and downward movement (detailed view in the image below).

Each notched section determines how high the arm will lift and how long it will stay up. Then, the following notch sets the timeframe for how long the lid will stay closed. Ingenious design!

James Lopez, Animator

Images by Haunted Mansion Northside

Our big thanks to James for sharing!

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