book collections email follower instructable user

"Magic" mirrors -- that is, mirrors that show or morph into something other than your own reflection -- are a classic effect in movies and haunted houses. But unfortunately, there are very few resources on the internet to show how to build magic mirrors that can be used as a stage prop in a live performance. For a PTSD-themed indoor drumline show, we wanted to make stage props that appeared to be mirrors but when the actor looked into them, he saw his reflection change into flashbacks from his war experiences. This needed to be pulled off live, in a gymnasium, during a 5 minute show where the mirrors are being moved around on the floor by the performers. We had a feeling that it would be possible to do, but when we consulted the Google, there was absolutely nothing anywhere on the internet to explain how we might go about this.

We tested a variety of potential mirror materials using an improvised prototype (a cheez-it box with a flashlight inside!), and ultimately settled on one that appeared to work. Over several weeks, the cheez-it box gave way to a larger full size prototype and then finally to the real thing. Along the way, we had several failed attempts and I'm writing this instructable in the hope of sparing you from the same trial and error process we went through.

Ultimately we were able to create 6 magic mirrors, each one showing a different war image. We accomplished this by building a basic frame out of 2x4s and plywood, getting banners with war images printed and mounted as a backing, building a face frame and basically making a "mirror" insert out of one-way-mirror security window film and mounting this on the front of the mirror, and then adding LED strip lights to the inside to illuminate the inside of the prop. Because the props had to be mobile (they got moved around the stage as part of the show), we used 12 volt batteries to power the lights. At first we designed the lights to be turned on via a switch on the back of each prop because we had performers behind each one to move them. However, we later decided to also add remote capability to 3 of them so we could "flash" them at a point in the show when there was no one behind them to flick the switches.

Note that our mirrors work by putting a picture/image inside the mirror, behind a piece of one-way mirror/window film. When the room light is bright, you only see the reflective mirror film. But when you use lights to light up the inside of the mirror to the point where it is brighter than the ambient room light, you can see through the mirror film to the image that is behind it. Thus, for these mirrors to work to work well, you need to light up the inside of the mirror brighter than the ambient room light where the mirror is located. This is key -- if you are using these mirrors in a darkened theater, you will not have any issues, but if you are trying to use them outside on a sunny day, it will be nearly impossible to get them bright enough for the "magic" effect to be visible.

Because we are a high school band program, our budget was pretty limited. We tried to save money where we could by using scrap/donated wood or random hardware that we already had, so for some of the steps, I can't link you to exactly what we used. Also, we had parents do some of the work (especially the wiring) so I can't give you specific directions for that. If you need more info, comment and I will try to track down the parents who can answer your questions.

This is my first instructable and I am only writing it because having directions like this would have saved us so much work and several failed prototypes. I wasn't planning to write instructions from the outset, so unfortunately I don't have many pictures of the mirrors during the actual build process and I don't have detailed dimensions or plans. But hopefully my instructions as well as photos of the finished product will be detailed enough for you to get the idea. Enjoy!

Step 1: Building the Frame

Picture of Building the Frame
wheels.jpg
20190508_153609.jpg

The basic structure of the mirrors consists of a wood rectangle made out of 2x4s attached to a plywood base. Because of the size of most of the venues where we'd be performing and the distance between the floor and the audience, we decided to make them about 8' high x 4' wide - this would be large enough to be easily visible to the audience and we figured this would be easiest as we could use stock lumber dimensions.

When I went to Lowes I accidentally ended up buying 2x4s that were like 93" long instead of the full 96". This actually worked out better because when we used 4' wide plywood bases, there was room on either side to add a plywood gusset for stability. So I would recommend looking for those shorter 2x4s or just cutting the ones you have so the final width of the frame is about 46" instead of 48".

From the photo hopefully you can see that each mirror frame started with a rectangle made from 3 2x4s. We used 2 full length (93") 2x4s for the sides and cut one 2x4 in half and used those pieces for the top and bottom. We placed the shorter pieces (top and bottom) on the top and bottom of the longer ones and screwed down from the top and up from the bottom. This left us with a rectangle that was ~ 8'tall x 46" wide.

Then we built bases out of 3/4 plywood. We used mostly scrap wood that band parents had laying around and so our bases ended up being 17" x 48" because that's how big our scrap pieces were. If we were cutting it from scratch, I probably would have gone with 18" for no other reason than it is a nice round number. It pays to use good plywood here - one of the bases was made out of much lower-grade plywood and by the end of the season, it had warped pretty badly while the others were holding up nicely.

In each corner of the base, we added wheels. We used random wheels that we found in a bucket in the band room, so I'm not sure of the exact size and can't provide a link to the exact wheels we used, but I am attaching a photo - I think they are 2" rubber wheels and you can probably find them at Harbor Freight. We drilled completely through the plywood and used bolts, nuts, and washers to attach the wheels because we figured there would be a lot of stress and weight on the wheels and we didn't trust screws that only went partway into the plywood. We put the finished end of the bolts on top - see the photo.

To attach the bases to 2x4 rectangle, we measured down the center of the base, drew a line, laid the rectangle down on something that was about as high as we needed to reach the center of the base, and screwed up through the base from the bottom into the 2x4 frame. We put in screws every couple inches (probably overkill really) because the height of the rectangle meant that there would be a lot of top-heavy-ness and we wanted to make sure the rectangle didn't tip.

For further stability, we also cut triangular shaped 3/4" plywood gussets and attached them to both the base and the sides of the rectangle frame (see the photo). This was designed to keep the rectangle from its natural tendency to tip forward and backward on the base. Again, we used scrap wood for these gussets so I don't have exact measurements or a template, but if you look at the photo you should get an idea of about how high and wide they are relative to everything else.

Once everything was screwed together, we painted almost everything with black paint. We did paint the inside of the 2x4 frames white in order to allow for maximum brightness and reflectivity when the LED lights were installed -- you will read more about that later.

ucn4 months ago
I've come across mirror film that is made for precisely such stage-mirror purposes before. Apparently it comes as a lightweight membrane, think mylar balloons, which you glue/clamp/staple at the edges. Then the magic last step is to use a hairdryer to hear the whole surface. This stretches it taut to the frame and gets rid of all wrinkles.

Can't remember where exactly these are from. Can try Rose Brand online, who supply stage fabrics and drops.
zozoty (author)  ucn4 months ago
Thanks, yes, that is called heat shrink mylar and it makes a beautiful stage mirror. Unfortunately, it is not at all see through so it doesn't work for a "magic" mirror effect -- that is why we had to use the one-way mirror security film, which cannot be shrunk with a hairdryer. But yes, thanks for the suggestion - perhaps it will help someone else who is just looking for a regular mirror stage prop! Thanks for taking the time to read!
seamster4 months ago
This was a really interesting project, and a good write up of how you made these. Thank you for sharing your process, the results, and the background story. Well done!