First order of business was to collect some cardboard boxes. The boxes I could get at the time were fair sized but in order to get a piece three feet wide by six feet tall, I had to cut the box to lay flat, and then, just barely. I needed to tape some gaps and there would be many fold seams that would make it floppy. It would need to be reinforced. I would need one of these for each standee, and I planned to make about eight or nine of them. Then I taped the sheet of cardboard to a wall and used an LED projector to project some gangster silhouettes that I pulled off the internet onto the cardboard.
Some friends and I took turns tracing the images onto the cardboard. It was pretty clear after a few that not everyone has the rudimentary tracing skills needed to pull this off. My friend Byron traced one that ended up with such poorly defined features, we nicknamed the character "Jimmy the Thumb", because that's what his head looked like. Needless to say, I cleaned up the lines before we continued and Byron was given other jobs to work on. After having to pull images off the internet, drag out and set up the projector (which was not cooperative), finding a place to hang the cardboard, tweak the sizing and trace all the images, that took the better part of a day. Several hours, anyway.
We traced about ten or twelve images, not all would end up being used. Each was unique, about half male gangster types, and half female flapper types. Once traced, each was carefully and painstakingly cut out with a razor knife. I took extra care in cutting them out. Any detail I could preserve in this process would improve the effect in the final product.
With the second layer added and cut out, each silhouette had to be painted flat black. I started doing this with tempura paint, but it added too much moisture and warping became a problem. So, I ended up buying a bunch of flat black spray paint. It took two to three coats to get good coverage. I also had to make sure I got the edges good and even painted around the edges on the back side in case anyone caught a glimpse behind one. I didn't want a flash of raw cardboard brown to ruin the effect. It probably took at least two cans of spray paint for each standee. Good thing I used the cheap ($1 each) kind! Including drying time, paint added about a day to the project.
Making the standees was not enough. Once made, they had to be transported to the convention in an overloaded van without being damaged. For that they would need a custom box. Creating the box was nearly as daunting a task as creating the standees. Fortunately I did come across some larger pieces of cardboard for this task. The local Walmart had just started putting bicycles together for the christmass season, and they let me take as many bicycle boxes as I wanted (would have been nice to have these a week or two ago!). Though these boxes were big, they were not nearly big enough to hold the silhouettes. I had to frankenstein together four bicycle boxes to make one giant box (about 4ft x 7ft x 9in) that would hold all the standees. The custom box has a top and bottom, like a giant shirt box. I used some butcher paper to help pad the box and keep the silhouettes from shifting around inside the box during transport. The top and bottom of the box were taped shut with masking tape once the standees were safely inside. I kept the bases out of the box so that they didn't shift around and destroy anything. The custom box is so large and unwieldy that it takes two people to carry, and is heavier that you would think. Creating the box for the standees added another two to three days to the project (including glue drying time)!
I think in all we made four males and four females. They were scattered around the perimeter of the room to add atmosphere and the illusion of more guests at the party (though that was hardly necessary!). We taped some glow sticks to the back sides of the standees in the hopes that their outline would glow against the wall behind them, but the effect was less than stunning. Maybe with a little more tweaking that could have worked better. All in all, the standees were a big success. They made a great decoration and were well worth the trouble to make. Though transporting and storing them is a problem. What I thought would be knocked out in a day or two at the most, took probably three weeks. But they do look good! And they are well enough made that they will last for several years if treated gently. In hind sight, I may have been better off to just suck up the expense of making them out of 3/8in plywood from the beginning. Cutting them out would have been much harder, but they would have required much less reinforcement and they would have been very durable.