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Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume

I saw a Zoltar machine on Cannery Row in Monterey, CA last year, and it gave me the idea of trying to build a wearable Zoltar costume that would also be usable at the house party I wanted to attend. Many of the costumes I saw were either stationary or needed a smooth surface to roll on. Neither of these options worked for my Halloween plans, so I began planning and crafting.

This costume does take a lot of time and effort, and if you want to go fairly accurate, also a bit of money, but it was worth it for the response and reactions I got from it. At times making the costume was difficult and took a lot of trial and error to make it work, but with patience and ingenuity, it was possible.

Items you’ll need for the costume:

  • a large appliance box or a wardrobe moving box (sold at many hardware stores)
  • paint
  • fabric
  • an acrylic light globe (for the crystal ball)
  • a base and lighting for the globe
  • tarot cards, coins, other trinkets for Zoltar’s counter
  • a puffy sleeve shirt, vest, sash, and fortune teller turban
  • jewelry and craft fur for faux facial hair (if you can’t grow it)
  • a tap light
  • small items you can pick up at a dollar store (plastic cups, mini Frisbees, small pump spray bottle, etc)
  • a sheet of Plexiglas
  • nylon straps with clips and a backpack to attach to the box for wearing
  • strips of luan or thin plywood to reinforce the box

There maybe a few other items that I’ll mention along the way as I’m explaining the process.

Zoltar in all his glory
Zoltar in all his glory

Preparing the Box

Once you find a good-sized box (I used a wardrobe box measuring 24 in. x 24 in. x 36 in.), spray paint it gold or orange to make it look more like wood siding. If you want to make it detailed, you can even paint wood grain on it. If you have any extra flaps from the box (such as from the bottom), use it to create a counter for Zoltar’s crystal ball. I cut windows from three sides of the box and found one piece of Plexiglas or acrylic plastic to fit the front window. Maybe find the correct size of acrylic first and cut the windows just smaller than its size. You want at least ½ -1 inch border around the acrylic so that you can attach it with hardware. I drilled small holes in both the box and the acrylic and attached it with machine bolts. The side windows were open for better airflow and to keep the costume lighter.

Before attaching the window, I hand painted “Zoltar Speaks” on it the way it looks on the machine. If your acrylic has a protective plastic sheet covering it, leave it on while you are lettering. Print out a picture of Zoltar’s lettering at the size it looks best on the window, and place it under the acrylic. With the protective plastic still attached, on the front of the acrylic, trace the letters with a dry erase marker. Using this type of marker will allow you to easily erase any mistakes. Remove the protective plastic from the back of the acrylic sheet, and paint the letters with acrylic paints (the letters will look backwards from this perspective). When you’re done, remove the protective plastic from the front, and all the tracing will remove with it. I put the paint on the back of the plastic to keep it protected from getting marred.

Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
The finished painted window


Decorating the Box

To decorate the box, I found pieces of decorative wood strips and painted them black with gold splotches similar to Zoltar’s box trim. On the corners of the box, I put decorative blocks painted gold. To save money, you could also use cardboard for these two decorative items. I also cut a coin slot and made a card chute for the fortune cards to dispense from. I didn’t want the added weight or expense of an actual card dispenser, so I did it manually. I also I didn’t want it to look like I was manually dispensing the cards, so I fabricated a fake arm! I bought a fake arm (easy to find at Halloween time) and made it look as much like my own as possible. That way when people saw me, they saw one real arm and a fake arm and my other arm was under the counter pushing the cards out of the chute. Many people didn’t even realize my fake arm wasn’t real!

The card chute is made from a wire frame stand I covered in black felt and cardboard and hot glued to a slit in the box. I made Zoltar fortune cards and put rude fortunes on the back. They were popular among my friends, because many of the fortunes pertained to the location of the party. To get a fortune, I had my friends put fake coins in the coin slot and then I would, as Zoltar, share with them a wise saying. The coins were made from poker chips I found at a thrift store that I spray painted gold. I left a bucket of the coins on the food table at the party so people could pick the coins up there and find me later for their fortune. A little pouch was hot glued under the coin slot on the costume to catch the coins when people pushed them into the machine.

I made the back wall curtains by measuring the space of the back of the box and cutting a piece of fabric 1.5 times wider than the box and long enough to reach where I put the counter. Then I sewed a dowel pocket in the top and cut the piece in half lengthwise up to the bottom of the pocket. That way I could pull the curtains back on both sides but it was still one piece. I slid the curtains on a dowel and hot glued it to the inside back/top of the box. I tied the curtains back with a piece of sparkly gold trim on each side and hot glued them in place.

Since I needed to keep the box light, I made the sconces from plastic items I found at a dollar store. I got some plastic party cups and melted the top edges with a lighter so I could mold them into a decorative wavy shape. I used frosted spray paint to frost the bottom half of the party cup “sconce glass.” For the “metal” part of the light fixture that the party cup sconces sit in, I found some small, skinny plastic pump spray bottles and cut the bottom off. For the back plate of the light fixture that attaches to the back of the box, I used little Frisbee discs I found at a dollar store. They were about 3-4 inches in diameter. For the discs, I cut a hole in the middle of the Frisbees to fit a half-inch wide dowel and did the same to the bottoms of the spray bottles. Also cut a piece of dowel to an inch and a half. The next step is to hot glue the dowel to the bottom spray bottle and to the disc. This will be your sconce fixture. Spray paint it gold or brass. Next, hot glue the sconce glass into the fixture. For the candle, I stuck a battery operated tea light candle in the sconce glass with some earthquake putty. That way it would stay put, but I could still lift it up to turn off the candle.

Decorate the front counter with coins, beads, tarot cards, etc. If you don’t want to buy tarot cards, you can print some images from online. The crystal ball is made from a while acrylic globe from a hardware store, and a black base I got from a coaster set. The lighting effects in the crystal ball are flashing LEDs I took out of a novelty drinking glass. Not sure where you’d get LEDs like this elsewhere, but I think I’ve seen similar items at dollars stores in the past. I attached the globe to its base with some earthquake putty, because I needed to be able to open it to turn off the LED light.

I included one more light fixture so that I could be seen well inside the box. I attached a tap light to the ceiling of the box above my head with Velcro so people could actually see my face when I was in dark areas. It looked pretty cool, and gave me some artificial lighting that made me look like I was in a normal fortune-telling machine.

Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
The decorative accoutrements and the window are added


Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
Fortune cards with rude fortunes for my closest friends


Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
The finished sconce


Making the Box Wearable

To be able to wear this costume around a house party all night, I removed the straps and the back part from a backpack so I could bolt it onto the back of the box. To add a little more support, I also put a plate about the size of the backpack piece of ¼ inch plywood in between the box and the backpack. This part took a lot of trial and error to make it work.

The straps won’t be enough to hold up the whole box though, so I also got some black nylon straps with clips from the camping area of Walmart. This part is necessary to cinch up the costume to hold it upright, otherwise the weight will pull it down and forward. Some of these measurements will depend on the size of the person wearing the costume, so each person will have to figure out this for himself, but I cut the nylon straps into two pieces: one short piece (10-13 in.) that would attach to the front of the box and one piece that will be sewed to the backpack straps at the top of the shoulder (it might be best if the top strap has the clip that can be tightened). Make sure one part of the clip is attached to each piece. That way you can clip it together and cinch it tight until the box is sitting correctly. To partially cover the backpack straps, I made front vest pieces to attach directly to it. That way I’d look like I was wearing a vest when in the box and the rigging would be hidden. More about the vest will be in the section about the clothing you’ll make for the costume.

Since my box only covered about half my body, I just glued a piece of fabric to the bottom of the box to hide my legs and to make it easier to climb in and out of the box (which is necessary when you’re at a house party).

Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
Here is a view of the backpack rigging. The vest pieces, cinching straps, and fake arm are attached at this point.


Reinforcing the Structure of the Box

Since this costume is made from cardboard, it’s going to need a bit of reinforcement to keep from collapsing on itself from all the weight and pulling from the straps. I strengthened the sides with strips of wood in hidden areas. I bolted two vertical strips of wood to the outside back of the box for attaching the backpack rigging and to keep the box sturdier. Then I added wood in anywhere that might need a little more support (such as the counter area). The cinching straps that are attached to the front bottom corners are major points of stress, since your whole costume is resting its weight on these areas. Make sure that the straps are bolted into the extra wood in these areas, if you have the means and equipment, maybe even adding a metal plate would help here too. Another area that will need extra reinforcement is the backpack area. This was the only area on the costume that started to fall apart while I wore it at the party, so really add some wood to strengthen this area. If it’s not too heavy, maybe add a thin wooden board to the whole back area of the box to keep it from buckling.

A good time to install the counter is after you put the wood reinforcements in because you can rest the edges of the counter on top of the wood strips and glue it down. You might need to reinforce the counter depending on what you put on top of it. Two pieces of cardboard sandwiched together was strong enough for my counter.

Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
A closeup of Zoltar’s counter resting on pieces of structural wood strips.


Making the Clothing

I looked around online for a shirt similar to the golden one the Zoltar machine wears, but I couldn’t find anything that looked right. I tend to like accuracy with my costumes, and decided to make one. I found that the pattern Butterick 3072 had a colonial shirt that was very close to what I was looking for, and I bought a slightly sparkly yellow gold satin to make it out of. I’m fairly new to sewing, so this was a little daunting to me, but since it’s only a costume, it doesn’t have to look perfect. Since I was making the fake arm, I had to also make a third sleeve, so if you make a shirt, remember to buy extra yardage for the extra sleeve.

I found beautiful blue brocade for the waist sash and vest. I didn’t have patterns for these, but I found some simple instructions online for vests and made the sash by eye balling it. The front of the sash was the brocade lined with black cotton and on each side I attached a black satin ribbon to tie it behind me. Since the vest was only for show, I didn’t have to make a full vest. I made the two front brocade vest pieces, also lined with black cotton, and attached a piece of black felt to make up any parts of the vest that looked like the back panel of the vest. It’s a little hard to explain, but the side panel of the vest was the felt and it attached the front of the vest to the back of the box, while doubling as the side of the vest.

To make the fake arm, I took my dummy arm and sewed a sock full of batting to it to make a full-sized arm to fill the sleeve I made. The fake arm I found had a smallish plastic hand attached to a stuffed white cotton forearm. The stuffed sock served as the upper arm. I sewed the arm to the top of the inside of the sleeve and then sewed the whole arm with sleeve into the vest/backpack strap area. I had to fiddle with the placement of the arm a bit until it looked natural when I was wearing the whole costume. Once you find a good fit, sew it into place.

I didn’t like the facial hair options I found in stores and online, so I made some with craft fur. Cut the fur into your preferred Zoltar facial hair shape, and glue it to your face with spirit gum. I styled the mustache with some white glue.

The rest of the costume can be bought such as his turban, jewelry, etc. I wore plain black pants for the bottom since they wouldn’t be seen while I was in the box.

Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
I’m modeling the vest pieces in this photo to make sure they look correct, but they will eventually be sewn onto the backpack straps.
Cool Zoltar the Fortune Telling Machine Costume
I’m testing out the effectiveness of the fake arm here. Once it looked natural enough, I sewed it to the backpack straps too.


This is how I looked when not wearing the machine part of the costume.
This is how I looked when not wearing the machine part of the costume.

Wearing the Costume

The costume was fairly comfortable to wear around a house, even when it was crowded but my mobility was a little obstructed. Since my box was only 24 inches wide, I could, however, fit through doorways easily. Even with the open side windows, it could get a little hot in the costume while indoors, so if you wear this costume, take breaks outside of the box. The best part of the costume, I found while at the party, was that I had a wearable table for food and drinks. Very handy!

To get out of the costume, I would rest the bottom edge of the box on a couch or table and slide out of the bottom. I found this to be the easiest and quickest way to climb out on my own. If that doesn’t work for you, you might need helpers.

My costume was so popular at the party I attended, I won 1st place in their costume contest! I was super excited. I’d placed 2nd and 3rd in this party’s contests in the past, but the year I wore Zoltar, was the first year I grabbed first place, and it made the whole process worth it.

Coolest Homemade Costume Contest 2023

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