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Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition

The Jack Hanna Pumpkin Carving Competition featured a Masters Division that included 2 days of live carving by ten highly skilled carvers. The Masters 3D event was on day one, the the Masters Build was on day two. The “Masters” were invited to compete by invitation. This is currently the largest Professional Pumpkin Carving Competition in the U.S.A. I was lucky to be there serving as a judge. It was not easy. All the entries were so magnificent.

On Saturday morning, after the set up of the “People’s Choice” entries, the “Masters” chose the big pumpkins that they would be carving for the competition for the Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition. More than 20 large pumpkins (technically squashes) were ready to be transformed by talented carvers.

Big Boy Pumpkins at the Masters 3D pumpkin carving competition

Each contestant chose a “Big Boy” squash

Prize winner pumpkins

Each competitor also chose a smaller “prize winner” variety of squash

Gus Smithhissler, who usually grows the large pumpkins for this competition, had a crop failure due to far too much rain in June and July in Ohio. This year, he brought the giant squashes in from Michigan.

There were enough “Big Boy” variety of pumpkins for each contestant to choose one. The remainder were the smaller “Prize Winner” variety of squashes. The pumpkins were selected by a lottery. The contestants picked numbers from a hat and than got to choose their pumpkins in that order. Once chosen, the pumpkins had to be moved on pallets using a fork lift. They were that heavy.

3D Masters Pumpkin Carving Competition

Some of the masters had complete plans of what they would carve and looked for pumpkins that were the right shape for their plans. Some had no idea what they would be carving. They said that the shape of the pumpkin would reveal what they were going to carve.

Dean Murray day, masters 3D competition - getting started

Dean Murray just getting started on his “Big Boy” pumpkin. What’s it going to be? The original shape of the pumpkin shows why Dean carves what he did. You’ll see.

Each contestant was allowed to choose which pumpkin they would use for day 1 of the competition. Many chose to use their smaller “prize winner” and a few chose to use their larger “Big Boys”.  The judging focus would be on 3D sculpting. We’d be looking for multiple levels of carving detail. The sculptural category during judging was given double the weight of the other categories. The other categories included: over all impression, utilization of the pumpkin, detail, knife skills, structural, creativity and a few others.

Each sculpture had to be completed within 6 hours.

Here is how some of the Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition entries looked in the process.

Stephan Koch 3D pumpkin carving on "Big Boy" squash

Stephan part way through the 6 hour competition. Note the shape of his Big Boy pumpkin. You’ll see how it influenced what he chose to carve.

Jon 3D pumpkin carving in progress

Almost 2 hours in, Jon’s pumpkin looks like he didn’t do much. I discovered why later. You’ll see, too.

3D pumpkin carving masters competition shannon

What do you think Shannon is carving?

masters 3D carving competition gus

Gus’s squash part way though it’s transformation.


This was Mikes’ very first live competition. It’s about 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours into the competition.

masters 3D competition Deane

The public was fascinated by the process as Dean sculpts his “prize winner” squash. “Prize winner” is the type of variety of the squash.

3D pumpkin carving by Tittus

Titus was busy as a bee.

Jim's 3D pumpkin carving

Jim works on pieces to add to the inside of his sculpture.

Dean's octopus pumpkin carving half done

Here is Dean about half way through the 6 hours. Can you see what this is becoming, yet?

The Winners of the Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition – Day 1

At the end of the 6 hour carving time, all the completed entries were impressive.

The masters 3D pumpkin entries were judged by a panel of 4 judges. I was one of them. The other three were experienced ice carvers in addition to being fruit and vegetable carvers.

Scores were given to each entry based on a number of different categories. Some of the categories were first overall impression, design, sculptural, structural elements, knife skills, creativity, and more. For this 3D event, the sculptural aspect was most important. The scores for sculpture were doubled for each entry. That is why some pieces scored differently than what you might think from how they look in the photos.

Each judge had their own opinions. The combined judges’ scores determined the placement of each entry in the Masters 3D Pumpkin Carving competition. Here is how the rankings ended up for day one.

1st Place

Dean Murray’s octupus titled, “I’m not Kraken” came in at 1st place.

giant 3D pumpkin octopus by Dean Murray

Dean Murray’s octopus named “I’m not Kraken” won first place

This amazing octopus has to be seen from all sides to appreciate it. If you look at the photo of the original shape of this “Big Boy” pumpkin, you’ll see how Dean used the shape to it’s best advantage.

giant squid pumpkin carving by dean

Dean’s 3D pumpkin octopus was sculptural all the way around.

The name “I’m not Kraken” refers to the mythical sea monster, the Kraken. But it also has roots in some friendly rivalry. Dean is the overall champion of Jack Hanna Pumpkin Carving Competition for the last 3 years. You could say he had a target on his back. For the other competitors, Dean was the one to beat. Thus, his title, “I’m not Kraken” is pronounced, “I’m not crack’in”.

Dean Murray's octopus named "I'm not Kraken" won first place

Here’s a look at the back of the giant squash octopus. Very 3D!

You can see Dean carving in action on the Food Network’s Halloween Wars. It begins Sat, October 3, at 8:00pm |7:00 central time.

2nd Place

Mike Brown’s “Captain Jack O’Lantern” place 2nd.

Pirate 3d pumpkin carving by Mike Brown

Mike’s Pirate carving shows a wonderfully realistic expression

Mike is a newcomer to live carving competitions. Last year, he won an online 3D carving competition. Based on the talent displayed in his photos, Mike was invited to compete in this year’s Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition at the Columbus Zoo.

pirate pumpkin face by Mike Brown

Here’s a closer look at the detailed facial expression.

3rd Place

Danny Kissel, another past Food Network Halloween Wars competitor took 3rd place with his “Ready to Strike” 3D pumpkin sculpture.

3D pumpkin snake by Danny Kissel

Danny Kissel’s rattle snake pumpkin placed 3rd.

Just as judging was getting started, Danny’s giant pumpkin snake started to collapse. It was judged before it fully collapsed. But I only got around to taking this photos after judging ended and it had shrunk down. Even so it’s sill impressive, isn’t it?

3D pumpkin snake by Danny Kissel

Side view of Danny’s 3D pumpkin snake shows off the rattle.

You can see Danny on reruns of Season 4 Halloween Wars on Food Network. The episodes are titled “Haunted Farm” and “Don’t Go Into The Forest”.

4th Place

“The Hive” by Titus Arensberg placed 4th.

3d pumpkin sculpture bee hive by Titus Arensberg

Titus turned his pumpkin into a bee hive covered with bees.

It was carved all the way around the pumpkin.

bee hive pumpkin carving by Titus

The hive and bees were carved all the way around the giant squash

5th Place

Jon Micheals’ entry “Hide and Seek” place 5th.

pumpkin crab by Jon Michaels

Jon Michael’s crab placed 5th.

The name of this alien looking crab refers to what was hidden and revealed it in the finished sculpture. What does that mean?

Remember how I showed the photo of Jon’s sculpture 2 hours into the competition and it looked like almost nothing had been done? All I saw Jon doing at that point was patching the back. He had actually spent all that time removing pieces of pumpkin from the inside of his pumpkin. After he got what he needed, he patched up where he had cut. Then sculpted crab legs from the harvested pumpkin pieces.

The finished sculpture looked as if more than one pumpkin was used. But, the rules of the 3D pumpkin day 1 competition required that only one pumpkin be used. Jon’s “Hide and Seek” crab followed the rules – creatively.

3D-pumpkin carving crab by Jon Michaels

The legs took so long to harvest and sculpt that the face was carved in the last remaining moments of the competition.

You can see Jon Michaels in action on the new upcoming , Food Network show, Cake Wars: Christmas. This 6 week program premieres on Food Network on Monday, Nov. 9 at 9|8c.

Pumpkin by 12 Year old Austin Micheals

While Jon was busy carving his competition piece, his 12 year old son, Austin, hung out in the booth and carved this fun pumpkin

“Childhood Memories” by Stephan Koch placed 6th.

Stephan transformed his squash into a baby elephant.

baby elephant pumpkin carving by Stephan Koch

Stephan Koch transformed his “Big boy” pumpkin into a baby elephant. It looks as if it’s a newborn trying to stand up.

3D pumpkin elephant carving stephan

Side view of baby elephant sculpted by Stephan Koch

elephant back before and after

Look how Stephan utilized the shape of the pumpkin. The original shape looks like the back of a baby elephant.

Stephen is one of the carvers who used the original shape of his “Big Boy” pumpkin to determine what his finished piece would be. Take a look at how the shape of his pumpkin looked like the back of a baby elephant before it was carved.

Shannon Gerasimchik’s “Extinction” place 7th.

masters 3d pumpkin carving shannon

Shannon’s triceratops emerging from the pumpkin

This triceratops pumpkin carving is similar what Shannon carved in a 300 pound pumpkin. That first triceratops was to be entered in the People’s Choice Competition. But it collapsed while being transported to the Zoo. Shannon cleverly transformed it into a Sea Turtle that ended up winning 1st prize in the People’s Choice.

triceratops pumpkin shannon

Another view of the triceratops carved by Shannon. Look at the People’s Choice Competition to see how a collapsed Triceratops can become a Sea Turtle.

Gus Smithhissler placed 8th with “Changing Colors“.

lunching lizards 3D pumpkin carving by Gus

Gus Smithhissler carved thus pretty scene of chameleons in a tree.

Gus used the color from the outside of the rind as a design element. Note the pretty leaves.

lizards pumpkin carving

One of the lizard catching it’s meal is a clever addition to the carving.

Jim Morgan’s “Don’t Eat the Fish” placed 9th.

shark shipwreck pumpkin by jim

He sculpted the head of a shark and filled the mouth with shipwreck items. I wish I had another photo of the other side so that you could see the top of the head and eyes of the shark.

Dean Arnold placed 10th with “Globlin”

Deane Arnold was also a newcomer to the Jack Hannah Pumpkin Carving Competition.

One of the young children visiting the zoo inspired the name when he exclaimed, “Look Mommy, a globlin”. The name stuck.

3d pumpkin goblin by Dean

Deane Arnold carved this expressive pumpkin goblin dubbed “Globlin” by one of the onlooking children

So ended day 1 of the Master division of the Jack Hanna Pumpkin Carving Competition. In spite of any judges scoring, every one of these entries were fantastic! Don’t you agree?

This was only day 1. Day 2 brought even more impressive 3D pumpkin carvings to life.

The scores from day 1 were combined with the Masters scores from day 2. The rankings from the People’s Choice were then added to come up with the overall champion. You can see the final winners in our next post.

Oh, by the way, if you want to learn to carve 3D pumpkins, check out our video lessons, Ray Villafane’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Tutorials in our online shop.

Learn to carve like a pro

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4 Responses to Master’s 3D Pumpkin Carving Competition

  1. Kate October 3, 2015 at 1:22 pm #


    • Kate October 3, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

      Amazing! I hate auto correction.

  2. Jessieann October 26, 2017 at 3:33 am #

    Nita ;thank you so much for the pretty mind blowing carvings.I love seeing them often.May you continue your good works .My sincere wishes to you.

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