Making a Beetlejuice Tombstone
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
This project dovetails nicely with a previous project (Animated Beetlejuice Graveyard Sign). I could have bought a Beetlejuice Tombstone. There are a number of options available commercially. But, most examples are small, lack lighting, and feel flimsy. I wanted to make a Beetlejuice Tombstone that looks a lot like the one in the Tim Burton movie. You can see the final product above. What do you think?
Here's what you're going to need:
1-2 sheets of foam insulation board
Spray paint (black, gray, white)
Roll of red plastic sheeting
Acrylic paint (black, gray, white, green)
Glue gun and glue sticks
The first thing that you need to do is lay the foam insulation board on the ground, and draw a box 51" high and 38" wide. I looked at a photograph of the movie tombstone, and hand drew the outline within the 51x38" box. It doesn't have to look exactly like this. Be creative. But make sure that you leave a couple notches on either side to mount the skeletons on. If you want to be more precise, look at my article (Estimating the Size of Objects in Images). That's how I figured out the basic dimensions. Cut along the outline with a jigsaw.
I cut two identical boards. One will be the front. The other will be the back. You will see why shortly.
I booted up Adobe Illustrator 2021, and created a sign using a Bell MT font. This font differs slightly from the one used in the movie, but it's pretty close. I'm attaching the file here.
I printed the sign on my printer over several sheets, and attached them to the tombstone with tape.
Next, I traced the outline of the letters using a pen. It's not critical to be overly precise because a little imprecision adds a certain rustic flavor.
Remove the paper. You should see the impression left on the foam insulation board. Take a Dremel tool, insert a drill bit (cutting blade) and a router stand. Use the largest drill bit that you can without exceeding the dimensions of the letter diameter (at the narrowest point).
Start in one place, and slowly move around the letters. This is painstaking work so, if you get tired, just take a break and come back to it later. You want to get this right. It's okay if you make mistakes. As I pointed out above, it adds character. But, be careful.
One word of warning: As you cut out certain letters (e.g. "e" and "B"), you will notice that the internal part of the letters are going to fall through -- there's nothing securing them in place. Don't panic! Put them aside for now. After you apply plastic sheeting to the back of the tombstone, you will glue these pieces to the sheeting; additionally, you can provide some extra stability by securing them with toothpicks.
Okay, so now, you're very nearly done with the front of the tombstone. I took a Dremel with a rotary sanding disc, and lightly grazed the surface of the tombstone to create texture. Be careful. The Dremel will easily cut through the foam, so just touch the surface lightly. The goal is to make the surface look like rough-hewn stone.
Next, paint with black spray paint and, then, gray spray paint. After those coats dried, I mixed together a combination of gray, black, white, and light green acrylic paint, and applied a very light coat by dragging the brush vertically up and down. Save the used brush water! When I finished painting, I put the brush water in a spray bottle, and sprayed the tombstone. The paint dripped down the face. That added to the weathered appearance.
You can also drip acrylic glue on the surface in places. Acrylic glue will eat through the foam a bit, and add to the weathered look.
I ordered three basic plastic skeletons from Amazon. Immediately, there were a few problems. First, the skeletons arrived with their hands on backward; whoever assembled them was not familiar with basic human anatomy. Not a big deal. I unscrewed them, reversed the hands, and reattached them. Second, unlike an actual skeleton, the spine and joints were fairly rigid and couldn't be bent to suit my purposes. More on this in a little bit. Third, when you examine the little demons atop the tombstone in the movie, you will notice that none of them have necks.
In retrospect, it probably would have been easier to sculpt the demons from clay (or clay over a form); however, since I had already taken the plunge in purchasing the plastic skeletons and enjoy a challenge, I decided to move ahead. I bent a wire coat hanger into the rough outline of wings, and then covered the wings with masking tape. I attached the wings to the spine with wire, and applied glue with a glue gun to keep them firmly in place.
I wrapped the limbs in masking tape. This was arguably unnecessary. But it gave them a bit more bulk before I applied Magic Sculpt clay-resin. After covering the limbs, wings, and chest cavity with Magic Sculpt, I made the decision to remove the neck and spine. This turned out to be a pretty good plan because the next step made things a lot easier.
I cut a bunch of rectangular sticks into segments---each of which was about 1.5" in length. I created a new spine, alternating between two parallel sticks and one stick -- bolting them together with small nuts and bolts -- to form a spine approximately 5 or 6" in length. I wired the new spine to the rib cage and pelvis, and sealed it in place with a glue gun. This made it possible to bend the spine into the crouching position that you see below.
The legs had similar rigidity issues. You could rotate them up and down in one axis, but you couldn't bend them outward. I fixed this by dislocating the legs temporarily from the pelvis, reattaching them with a wire, finding the right position, and applying both glue and Magic Sculpt to seal them in place.
Next, I added demon ears and webbing for the wings, let it all dry for a day.
The smaller figures were much easier. I had to remove and reattach the heads, remove an arm, and cut the spine off, cover with Magic Sculpt, and voila! I painted each of them with gray spray point to match the color of the tombstone, and black paint to provide contrast. I smudged black paint in places with a rag to give the appearance of weathering.
Oh, yeah, attach a dowel to mount the demons to the tombstone.
Remember how I said that I created two identical foam insulation boards? Here's why. You can attach red plastic sheeting between the two halves and glue them together; then, glue LED strip lighting around the contour, and cover with some kind of backing (e.g. foam, thin plywood, etc).
I cut the base of the tombstone from the remaining foam insulation boards, and applied Loctite foam gap filler on top of the base to provide some interesting texture.
That's it. Hope you enjoyed reading about it. Now, go build one. :)