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Tutorial: How to Make a Jack Skellington Costume for Halloween

As a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I'm always happy to see that Jack and Sally remain popular staples at Halloween on any given year. There's just one problem -- it's almost impossible to create a great Jack Skellington costume because of his odd proportions and lanky appendages. Painting your face like a skeleton and wearing a black pinstriped suit will get you part of the way, but it just doesn't quite capture the magic that is Jack.

So this year for Halloween, I had an idea... what if I made Jack as an exoskeleton suit that I could puppeteer from behind? Behold...

Pretty good, right? Decided to do Santa Jack over the traditional black suit in the end, because I figured the colors would pop more, and also I've never seen it done before.

If you'd like to make one too, here are some instructions!


Materials you will need:

  • 1 or 2 lengths of 1/2 inch x 10 foot PVC Pipe for the arms and legs (see Step 1 below to cut in-store)

  • 2 90 degree elbows for PVC Pipe (optional)

  • 1 Foam Half Sphere (hollow) for the head - 8 to 12 inch diameter depending on the size of your head

  • 2 plastic skeleton hands

  • 2 elastic wristbands with a snug fit ( you can buy wrist supports from a drug store)

  • 1 plastic dustpan, not too flimsy (for Torso)

  • a 6" Bolt , with 6 nuts and 4 washers

  • Zip ties (long enough to wrap around your arms and ankles, plus a little extra)

  • A backpack with plastic loops (buckles?) on the front straps

  • A few cardboard scraps for feet

  • String or elastic

  • A drill

  • A hot glue gun and lots of glue sticks

  • Tape

  • A Santa Hat

Fabric needed:

  • Red velvety Santa suit material ( 2 yards should be more than enough)

  • White fur piping (1 yard)

  • Black see-through material for the eyes (1/2 yard)

  • Black Material for boots and belt

  • Some rags to stuff the torso


Got everything? Great, let's get started! Look at the diagram below for a general sketch of the skeleton assembly - we'll be using PVC pipes as bones, and a dustpan for a torso.


Step 1 - Cut the Bones:

First, cut the PVC pipe (which you can do in the store at Home Depot or Lowes) into the following 8 pieces:

  • Upper Arm x 2 Roughly from your collar bone to your elbow

  • Lower Arm x 2 From your elbow, to however long you want Jack's forearms to extend. I went about 6 inches past my own hands

  • Lower Leg x2 Roughly from your knee to your ankle

  • Upper Leg x2 From your knee to your belly area (this should be longer than your own upper leg, as it will connect to Jack's smaller dustpan torso)

Step 2 - Drill Holes:

Drill 1/4" holes into the pipes as shown on the diagram to the right.

Note: the ankle and shoulder holes should go in the back of the pipe, as you will use those to fasten the rig to your body later. The two holes on the top of the dustpan are also for rig fastening purposes. All the other holes should be center drilled through the "side" of the pipes.

Step 3 - Connect the Joints:

Tie the Upper Arm to the Lower Arm with string. Leave a little wiggle room so that the arm bends easily. To make the joint feel more stable, you can also hot glue a little bit of cloth to the inside of each of the pipes. I then stretched cloth around the outside of the joints as well and hot glued it on.

Repeat this step for both arms and both legs.

Step 4 - Add Hands:

Hot glue your skeleton hands to the wrists of your arms. Depending on what hands you can find, you may need to do a little painting first to make them look like Jack's, as I did.

Step 5 - Connect the Arms and Torso to your Rig:

Use a zip tie to connect each shoulder to the corresponding plastic loop on your left and right backpack strap. If you bought them, you can also place the 90 degree elbows onto the upper arm pipe to further define Jack's shoulders.

Once in position, you can tighten the zip ties all the way...

Next, use zip ties to secure the top of the dust pan to the same left and right backpack loops. Don't tighten them very much, as you'll need some room for adjustment (not to mention space to fit your head through when you put the costume on)...

Step 6 - Assemble the Hips:

  • Run the 6" bolt through the holes in the bottom (handle) of the dustpan.

  • Screw a nut onto each side so that it's snug with the handle. Then screw another nut onto each side, marking where the inside of each leg will be positioned.

  • Add a washer, and then slide the legs into place.

  • Make sure that the there's enough space for the legs to rotate smoothly.

  • Next, add another washer and then cap the whole thing off with a final nut. Add a little super glue to secure the nuts, and be careful not to get the legs stuck to anything.

Step 7 - Make the Feet:

I just hot-glued a little cardboard to the bottoms of the ankle pipes. Jack's feet are not very big, so a little should go a long way!

Step 8 - Create attachment points:

Now, you need to create some attachment points that will connect the arms and legs of the rig to your own body.

Measure the distance from the rig's elbow joint to YOUR wrist (not the rig's). I hot glued some wristbands I found at the dollar store to the underside of the lower arm bones, but you could also probably drill some more holes and use a zip tie for this as well.

You'll also want to add some fasteners at the ankles. Thread some zip ties through the ankle holes you drilled in the back of the leg. When the time comes to wear the costume, you'll secure them around your own ankles.

By now, the hard work is done and your skeleton is complete!

Your project should look something like this.......


Basically, you need to cover the whole thing with red Santa fabric now. Start with the legs.

Step 9 - Wrap the legs:

First I hot glued the red material, then added the black boot material over that. You can use cloth for the boots, or gaffer's/duct tape. When you cover the feet, be careful not to bury the holes you drilled for your ankle connectors.

* Tip: Try to align your material so that the seams are in the back and not as noticeable.

As a final touch, wrap the white piping along the top of the boots, covering the seam.

Step 10 - Cover the Arms:

Wrap the arms the same way you did for the legs, and add the white piping at the wrists.

Step 11 - Pad the Torso:

Take a bunch of old rags and pad the torso out. I think it helps to tape it in place as you go. Don't add too much fabric over the waist, as Jack is a pretty skinny fellow!

Also, be careful not to let the fabric interfere with your hip joint mechanisms!

Step 12: Wrap the Torso

When you feel good about the shape, hot glue your red fabric over the top. Make sure it also wraps over the shoulders and a little bit of the arm tops so that everything connects.

Again, no one except you will ever see the back of this rig, so put your seams back there. The front is the only part that needs to look pretty!

Once the red fabric is on, add a little black belt.

If you like, you can also cut out some red suit tails and glue them to Jack's back.

Step 13: Make the Head!

  • Look up some reference photos on the internet and choose an expression of Jack's that you want to use.

  • Draw out the eyes, nostrils and mouth with pencil and when you feel happy -- carve out the holes with an exacto knife.

  • If you like, you can use a little fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges.

  • Hot glue and krazy glue seem to melt styrofoam, so I just used gaffer's tape to secure a piece of elastic accross the back of the head.

  • Use more tape to lay in the black see-through material over the backside of the eyes and mouth.

  • Finally, use some glue or tailor pins to secure the Santa Hat and a Beard (I used more of the white piping material) in place. If you use pins, be careful that they don't stick through to the inside of your mask (ouch!)

Step 14: Put it all together!

The head is done, the body is done -- now it's time to test out your creation. Play around with the rig a bit before the big day and make sure everything feels comfortable and secure. Also, it's a good idea to wear all black clothing behind the costume so as not to draw attention away from the Jack when you go out trick or treating!

And with that -- CONGRATULATIONS!! Your Santa Jack costume is complete!

Happy Halloween everyone!

If you wind up creating a Jack Skellington exo-suit of your very own (and if you've made it this far into the tutorial I'm assuming you have), please share pictures in the comments below so I can see how it turned out!

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