Scrim experiment feature

Halfway to Halloween: Try A Spooky ‘Scrim Effect’ Experiment

Crosspost Featured Holidays

This weekend is officially the Halfway to Halloween mark, so I am going to give you one of my rare hot takes as a scary movie watcher on a “controversial” subject:

Practical effects are always better than CGI.

I’m not slamming the advancement and beautiful results of computer effects in today’s films and television shows, but there is just something so immersive and real about knowing someone was bent over a work table, dirtying their hands and wearing out their backs to create a special effect or environment, even one you might just see for a few seconds.

In celebration of those who still work with practical effects, and in the spirit of Halfway to Halloween, here’s a great beginner practical effect experiment for all ages based on something that has been around for a along time: a reveal or “scrim” effect.

A scrim is a special type of opaque material used for effects in live productions like musicals, concerts, or magic shows, and works great in haunted attractions. It takes advantage of the direction of lighting to reveal or hide an object.

When a light is shined in front you see what appears to be a solid surface, when a light is shined from the back, it reveals what lies behind it.

It is a surprisingly easy concept to create a cool effect, so let’s try a little “mock scrim” effect with just some paper, cardboard…and a light source.

This isn’t going to give you the full on special effect like the one shown in the video above, but it will demonstrate how the concept works in a cool little piece of art you can keep.

First, cut four identical squares out of cardboard, and use a glue gun to glue them together, to create a cube with the front and back open. A good size to start with is about 2″ x 2″ or 3″ x 3″. The result will look like a little square tunnel.

box shape steps
Glue four identical pieces of cardboard together to make a cube with two open sides.

Next, use a plain white piece of typing or drawing paper (the thinner the better, and cut it a little bigger than the cardboard squares, so it can be folded over the top. White tissue paper also works.

You can leave it plain or lightly draw a little scene on it. Note:the scene on the front won’t disappear like a real stage scrim. Keep that in mind when drawing your design. Paste it over the front of the opening of the box.

Now. Cut out a simple shape on cardboard or black construction paper to fit in the box. Classic monster or horror icon shapes are cool when you want an element of surprise.

Glue or tape the cutout to the inside bottom of the box from the other opening. From the back, it now looks like a very basic shadowbox.

Cover one hole with plain thin paper, and place the hidden cut out in the back opening. Your effect is ready to try out.

Okay, now to try out your special effect.

Shine the light on the front of the box (the opening covered with paper). Nothing too special about holding a flashlight to a picture or paper, but it looks solid.

Now, move the light to the back opening. Surprise! There’s something back there! A little silhouette! This is the most basic, elementary way to show off how this really effective and cool special effect works.

shadow steps
Light shining in front is completely black. From behind the little shadow figure appears. The result is a good way to explain the how haunted house and stage magic works.

With younger kids, you can move the flashlight back and forth slowly to see how the little cutout blocking the light causes the silhouette to “move” a bit. It’s all a trick of light and shadows.

There’s your practical effect magic!

It works best in a slightly darkened room, but you don’t have to be in pitch black.

If you want to decorate the box when it is done, go ahead. This makes your little scrim effect project a cool keepsake.

It may look like just a little cardboard cube to those who don’t look closely, but we, the little effects builders and lovers of storytelling, know the secrets hidden within.

You just have to shine the right light on it.

Effect with design
My daughter had a little tree appear in a doorway, when lit from the back. Remember, any drawn design on paper will not disappear like a real scrim cloth. Plan your shapes and ideas with this in mind. All images: Lisa Tate
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