I have a thing for life-size figures. I just think there are few things that can as easily, and inexpensively, bring an individual from the past to life more than a life-size image. Whether you are profiling a specific person, or trying to evoke a type (a logger, longshoreman, farmer), you can create one of these figures for $25-100, depending on the fabrication method you choose.
To start, find a good quality photograph of your subject. Ideally, the subject should occupy most of the height of the photograph and be in sharp focus. Few photos fit this ideal, so do the best you can. Scan the photo to produce a resolution of at least 150 ppi at 6' high. (That means if your person is nearly 10" in an 8x10 photo, you need to scan your 8x10 at 1200 ppi)
If you are handy with photo editing software, consider fixing creases or dust marks. You can play with color to make the person "pop." I've even added half a length of dress to turn a three
quarter portrait into a full-length portrait!. If you want to "contour cut" around the person, draw a cutting line for your printer.
Next, decide if you fabricate yourself or if you'll have a printer take care of printing, mounting, and cutting for you. If you do it yourself, you can get an B&W "person" for a total cost around $25. If you use a printer, your total cost should be about $100-150, and you can get color.
If you decide to use a printer, talk with them about options in materials and costs. My current favorite process is direct print on coroplast. Relatively inexpensive, full color, and even out-door usable! Most printers will provide a "stand-up easel" on the backside at no extra cost (that cardboard easel is not out-door friendly).
If doing it yourself, send the file to your neighborhood copier store and ask them to print it on their oversize B&W copier (the one they use for blueprints). That will likely cost you $10-15. If the final copy appears grainy, don’t despair. Seen from a distance, the grains blend, and the figure is convincing. Next, prepare the foamcore. If your figure is less than 60 inches high, you can use a single 42 by 60 inch sheet of 1/4-inch foamcore (about $13 through Office Depot). If your figure is more than 60 inches tall, you will need to piece together separate sheets. I do this simply by placing a wide strip of foamcore behind the seam, securely attached with lots of double stick tape. Cut away excess paper around your figure (don’t worry about a close trim yet). Using a spray adhesive, spray the back of the paper and stick the figure to foamcore. This usually takes two people, one to hold the paper over the foamcore and one to guide it into place. Finally, use a sharp craft knife to cut through the foamcore around the edge of your figure. This takes some patience. When finished, you can attach the figure to a wall, or use leftover foamcore to create a simple support and “stand” the figure in position.