Making The Tree Portal From The Upside Down

nancy hand portal daylightSince I decided to build an Upside Down World for my 2021 Stranger Things Halloween display, making a huge Mind Flayer was a must. It was the first thing accomplished. Then, making all kinds of vines.

Next, it was The Tree Portal. The scene when Johnathan pulled Nancy back out of the tree, from The Upside Down World, must have struck a cord. Because I was determined to recreate it.

I knew whatever I used, had to hold up to the elements, allowed for a light to shine from inside out, and show Nancy’s hand through the goo and vines, reaching for Johnathan. This is how I accomplished it:

Supplies Needed:

  • 2 Large plastic bin lids (or equivalent)
  • 7  3/4″ PVC pieces, cut each to approx. 6″ long
  • A Dremel or saw to cut lids and/or PVC
  • Dust Mask
  • If using a Dremel, you’ll need a plastic disc, and a drill bit (or saw/drill with bit)
  • Galvanized 25 Pound Wire
  • Thick Plastic Sheeting in Clear AND in Black
  • Heat Gun
  • Set of Red and/or White Christmas lights ( approx. 100 bulb count,  with green wires, not white)
  • 3 types of vines
  • Fake Hand with forearm
  • Various pieces of pool noodle (you’ll use approx. 1 wider pool noodle)
  • 2  Clear Plastic, 2 liter bottles (labels removed)
  • Black Duct Tape
  • Clear Packing or Duct tape
  • A Table or Wide Work Bench
  • Acrylic Outdoor Paints: Brownish tones/Red
  • Red Spray Paint

The Frame

Luckily, I had a couple large, plastic bin lids, that were kept for protecting the garage floor, during spray painting. I cut an arched grave stone shape, from one lid. This would be the bottom. For the other lid, I cut a ‘U’ shape to match the bottom shape (see slideshow below for better understanding). The ‘U’ shape had to be wide enough around, for the 3/4″ PVC pipe to fit underneath, plus approx. another inch added.

After you’ve cut your PVC pieces, position them, as in the picture in the slideshow below. Place the top ‘U’ piece over to make sure you’ve cut it wide enough. Then mark a spot (on top/bottom) where the middle of the PVC hole is, on your frame. These will be your drill marks.

Remove the top ‘U’ piece, put the PVC pieces aside, and drill at the spots you made in both bottom and top.

TIP: If you think you can just use glue instead of drilling holes to attach PVC to plastic, I will stop you from being frustrated, from my own fails. After attempting to glue the PVC with several types of glues ( including 2-part epoxy), I found that PVC is really hard to glue with another kind of plastic, or even metal.

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After you’ve drilled holes all around the “U” arch bottom and top, you’re ready to cut approx. 12 ” of wire, for each PVC piece you will attach. The wire will go through the middle, with the ends going through the top “U” shape and bottom piece. Wrap the wire up and around each piece of PVC, to keep in place. The 25 pound wire is strong enough to keep it secure.

Once the PVC pipe is secure in the arch frame, drill holes, as in the image in the slide show:  Two at the top, four in the middle, and two to middle outer edge. The four in the middle will be used to attach the arm, the top/side holes will be for putting wire through to attach the prop to the tree.

*Before melting any plastic on the back, or filling gaps, make sure the wires are in place along the mid-sides, and top. Once the pool noodle filler is added, access is much harder. The middle four holes can still be easily poked through, when attaching arm. 

Filler

With the wire pieces in place, add slices of pool noodle to all the free spaces within the arch. Make sure they fit tightly, between the PVC pipe.

Adding Black Plastic

You are now ready to start adding strips of black sheeting to the frame itself, melting a strip (strips approx. 2 ft. long by 1 ft. wide), at a time with heat gun. Since melting plastic shrinks, always over lap each piece you melt.

Continue melting the black sheeting around whole front, sides, and most of back (remember you’ll want to keep the four drill holes accessible in back). Leave the bottom of the arch, open for now. You’ll also want to be mindful of where you decide to make a hole for the exit of the lights used, later. I suggest the bottom section, near the back.

Adding the Arm/ Hanging Wires

Before adding any other layers, you should attach the arm with wire through the holes. Make sure the wire is secure, because getting it back into place after layers, will not be the easiest. If it does come loose, you might have to cut out the layers and redo from that point.

The wires that will be used to hang the prop on a tree should have been stuck through the holes while doing the back. If not, feel for the holes, poke that wire through. Make sure it is long enough to wrap around your particular tree.

Adding the Vines and Lights

It’s time to add some twisting vines around Nancy’s arm. If you haven’t made the vines already, check out my tutorial on four different kinds to make. I used the thinnest, most pliable “vines”, that I wouldn’t normally use for regular hanging. Just twisted cheap plastic wrap, spray painted in spots – about six to eight feet. Then I took my heat gun, and quickly went over it for a rippling effect.

The lights should be added after the plastic vines cool. Make sure the red and white lights are tucked behind and in front of the plastic vines. Your plug should be hanging about a foot at the bottom of the frame.

IMPORTANT NEXT STEP: Protecting Your Lights/Wire From the Heat Gun

Take the two, 2-liter bottles and cut the top inch or so off (where the bottle cap is). Cut the ripple bottom off, and remove the labels, on both. Make a cut from top to bottom of each bottle. Each piece will now make a sort of dome shape, when pulled apart.

Take the dome clear plastic, and cover the entire areas of where the lights are. It may seem a bit awkward, but tuck any straggling lights underneath. Using clear duct tape, secure the plastic domes over all the lights. This will prevent the lights from getting burned up, as you carefully add more melted layers.

Add More Vines/Layers of Clear Plastic

Even though the lights are securely underneath the bottle plastic, you must still be careful to not keep the heat gun in one place too long. Bottle plastic can only protect so long. Add another layer or two of clear plastic sheeting. Melting it in areas to give interesting depth.  Add strips over Nancy’s wrist, hand, and over plastic domes. Add a better vine or two coming outside of the plastic in the front, if you want. Once you’re satisfied with the layers/vines, paint golden brown tones, and red blotches and patches. TIP: Adding too much paint will take away from the light effects, so to remedy this, you can simply wipe down places that you feel are too opaque (not as transparent), with a wet rag. Acrylic paint comes off easier when it hasn’t been left to entirely dry.

Last Layers and Sealing Bottom

Add another clear plastic layer over painted layer. Then seal the bottom with black plastic strips, being careful not to get the heat gun anywhere near the plug/wire. Any gap you leave for the plug can be closed with black duct tape.

Last Vines

The last step is making the expanding foam vines on the outside frame, and reaching several feet beyond. Most of the vines should be added when the prop is still laying flat, but once it is on the tree, I’ve also added them. After the foam dries, spray paint them. I didn’t completely cover these with paint, because I thought it gave a more earthy look to be of various colors.

If you are trying to make this prop and have a question, please feel free to send me a message. If you’ve made your own version of Nancy coming out of the tree, send me a pic. I love seeing other people’s creations!

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