Sunday, August 30, 2015

Year of the Dragon

I had so much fun making the Hawkman helmet in 2011 that I wanted to make something bigger the next year. My concept was the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dragon.

Body Construction 
I started with some foam-wrapped heavy-duty wire and decently thick craft wire and made the skeleton. To add thickness, I surrounded the wire with soda cans stuffed with paper and added a foam ball as a placeholder for the head.

Testing for size and wearability:

It wasn't as thick as I wanted it to be, so I added packing peanuts and sheets of packing foam. This is where I should have worked out how to attach it to myself, but I didn't until later and it was a bit more difficult than it should have been. Note to self.

Legs are made from cardboard boxes, paper, and duct tape. More on those later. The tail flourish was drawn paper, cut out of a yellow plastic binder, and glued to a shape that became the end of the tail.

With the basic structure in place, I started adding scales from the tail so the layering would look right.

Fun fact: fake fingernails look a lot like scales when overlapped and glued.

Fake fingernails weren't practical for the entire body, so I used tape. I folded a length of duct tape over on itself, placed that along one edge of some wide blue electrical tape, traced a rounded edge to make a scalloped pattern, and cut it out.

My template was a dime at the tail, and scaled up through larger coins as the body became thicker. Vinyl (electrical) tape was great because it's very forgiving. If I put it down wrong once or twice or six times, it was easy to peel up and re-stick.

Fold tape, trace coins, cut scalloped edge, attach to body, repeat for hours and hours.

Back Legs
The basic shape is there from taking a cardboard box, flattening it into a large single sheet of cardboard, rolling it into a tapered tube, and slicing where the joints should be. Then I stuffed the open areas with crumpled paper and duct taped it into place.

The toes are taped at the ankle and held apart by a small foam spacer.

I smoothed out the shape of the knee with cardboard strips and wrapped it all in duct tape, jammed some wire for a center toe into the foam spacer, then wrapped everything in packing foam and tape until I was satisfied with the shape and size.

The claws are triangles of cardboard covered in black duct tape, the knee joints are paper triangles  covered in tape and attached at the inside of each joint. This was a lot easier than trying to get the right number of coin-sized scales to go around a bend that sharp.

Shortly after this picture, I ended up wrapping some tape-covered wire around the top of both back legs and under the belly to keep them from rotating around at an awkward angle while I was wearing it.

Harness System
Another wearing test.

The belt is a regular belt, just looped around the wire keeping the back legs in place, buckled at my natural waist. The shoulder strap is something I found for holding school books or something. It's perfect - an adjustable loop at one end and a velcro strap meant to stick to itself at the other. This enabled me to wrap it around the dragon's torso behind me, sling over my shoulder, tuck under the belt, and velcro to itself to stay in place. It almost looks like I'm wearing a seatbelt.

Not that you can tell from this photo, but take my word for it.

Front Legs
The front legs followed the same process as the back legs.

I started with the mouth. I started with a folded cardboard shape and taped on some rolled-up foam sheet pieces, creating the basic nose shape with cardboard strips. Then I realized the cardboard had the right idea but needed more flexibility, so I cut the bottom half out, replaced it wire, and taped the whole shape to the foam head placeholder. The bottom jaw outline was wire wrapped in foam sheets attached directly to the placeholder head, now functioning as a skull.

Tape time! Red vinyl tape inside the mouth, blue outside. The teeth are doubled-over white duct tape, cut in a sawtooth pattern. 

The brow ridge basic shape is half a foam egg and wire, wrapped in a foam sheet strip, to make a comma shape. Then covered in yellow tape-covered-paper triangles and taped to the head. A foam egg cut in half became the eyes.

Antlers, jaw frills, and whiskers.

Spine Scales
This is the same basic process as the eyebrows and joints, with different triangle dimensions. Triangles traced on paper, covered in tape, cut into individual shapes, folded lengthwise and taped together, then taped to the body where the spine would be.

When I put it on, I realized the head had a tendency to droop over time, so I taped a bottle cap under the chin and wrapped a drumstick in black tape.

You Might Be Wondering...

What were the materials? I'm going to estimate 12 rolls of duct and vinyl tape, two packages of foam sheets, 4 rolls of 3-5mm craft wire, 3 pieces of large foam-covered wire, a package of styrofoam eggs, a styrofoam sphere, fake fingernails, lots of hot glue sticks, a belt, and a velcro strap over the shoulder.

How much did the materials cost?
I got nearly everything but the foam eggs at the ¥100 store, and I already had the belt. I think I spent about ¥2800, or $35 USD.

How much does it weigh?
About 5.5 lbs, or 2.5 kg.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gift Wrapping: Sushi Bento

At the first baby shower I ever attended, one of the other guests wrapped a onesie in rubber bands so that it looked like a teeny polar bear with the snaps on the butt flap as eyes. Regular gift wrapping would no longer be good enough, since I had seen what was possible. I needed to up my game. 

Now I go through baby registries looking for shapes and inspiration.

So for the second baby show I ever attended, I took inspiration from an I Love Sushi bib and wrapped some washcloths and tub toys together like a bento box.

All I really needed was dark green ribbon for the nori, some curly pink ribbon for the ginger, and a box just the right size.

This may still be my favorite gift wrapping.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hawkman and Hawkgirl

The Halloween Plan in 2011 was to dress up as the Justice League, Husband and I were Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

Pardon the crappy photo, it's the only one we have full length and just the two of us.

The Hawkman helmet was probably the single most successful costume piece I made this year. I used a store-bought mask and a stuffed plastic bag for the shape of the face and size of Husband's head, then layered on cardboard and paper maché until it got to be the right shape. There are some bits of foam filler in the eyebrows and cheekbones for articulation.

The Hawkgirl helmet followed the same process as the Hawkman helmet.

It was early enough in my serious costume experience that I didn't think to make a mold of Husband's torso out of duct tape, but that's what I would do for any future breastplates.

We covered his torso in a plastic bag and I covered that with paper maché. Then more paper mache, including a paste made of flour, water, and tissue paper mixed with a home improvement putty for sculpting. Then paint and a logo, details in duct tape.

Bracers were made from vinyl sheets cut to the right size with rivets and laces added, edged in duct tape. Maces are styrofoam cones on balls with wooden dowels for handles.

Hawkman's wings were a more convoluted process that I neglected to document, but it was essentially felt wing shapes over dowels, shoved in umbrella carrying cases, worn like a backpack. This was just because I could not for the life of me find any affordable PVC piping to make a proper frame.

Next time.






Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Welcome to the Screaming!

Hi! If you've seen my blog Neko to Meoto, about the years we lived in Tokyo, some of the earlier posts might look familiar.

This blog will be devoted to making things. I've always loved Halloween, but it wasn't until the last few years that I've gotten more serious about making costumes and learning new techniques to do it. Every time I make a costume, I learn something new – I'd forgotten how much fun paper maché is, the sewing machine isn't as terrifying as I thought, craft foam sheets and cardboard are more versatile than I'd given given them credit for, and painting depth and battle damage is one of my favorite things.

For some cosplayers it's all about becoming a character. For me, it's about creating something and wearing it out for a night or two (three, if Halloween is on a Saturday) to show off what I've done.

I've come to the realization that costumes are more fun when you aren't one of a hundred of the same thing that year, but people still recognize it. It's a tough balance to find.

I'm a graphic designer, so I'm artsy, but I'm not a professional seamstress, sculptor, puppet maker, or FX makeup artist. What I do isn't movie-perfect, but it looks pretty good from a distance.

There's a lot of planning and a lot of trial and error as I slowly figure out what I'm doing. It usually turns out all right in the end, but sometimes I might find myself covered in glitter and screaming.

(Shout out to James for the name!)