Apr 10, 2010

Skinning it with foam... Math, Trial and Error and lots of little green shavings

Now there are those out there that live and die by that green furniture foam, and those who say you have to go with a closed cell foam that won't deteriorate, grow mold from moisture and can get wet... Well, if you want to go and spend a couple hundred bucks more sure you can go with the good stuff. But like many of the hobbyist costume makers out there, like myself, the furniture foam is the only way to go.

If you watch for coupons online and through the Sunday papers, you will find 40%-50% coupons all the time for Joann's fabrics. They have various sizes of the foam ranging from 1/2"-4" thick. And when you can cut your foam budget in half this really is the way to go.

There are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube.com and Instructables.com on how to carve foam. But my favorite is the electric carving knife. These can be found at thrift stores and garage sales for next to nothing. There are cordless versions available new would work better but i use my trusty old one that I have had for years. And when it comes to putting it all together, I am using hot glue. In the past I have used everything from foam spray adhesives to contact cement but I always go back to hot glue. It seems to work the best. This time I invested in a cordless hot glue gun. With a project as big as this it is easy to get tangled up in cords. And it is very handy.

Making a curve can be as easy as taking a notch out and gluing it together, but you have to consider some math. Take this little example. I want a width of 40" around the middle but I want 30" at the ends. I need to cut out 10" in wedges. If i don't need it to be perfectly smooth I can take out 5 - 2" wedges, or to for a cleaner curve i can take out 10 - 1" wedges. The length of your wedge is also important. the longer they are the more gradual the curve is. Another factor to think is as your foam curves down you lose length. I forgot most of geometry from high school, so I would add the width of the wedge to the length of the foam to compensate for the length of the foam. It worked great for me. With a 5 inch long wedge, with a 1 inch wide wedge, I would add 1 inch the total length of my foam.

One thing that I did remember was how to calculate a circumference using our old friend Pi (or to make it simple 3.14) Using the Diameter x Pi = Circumference or Radius x 2 x Pi = Circumference. This came in handy for the thighs, which I had no tube frame for. I wanted the thighs to be about average about 15 inches wide on the inside, so 15 x 3.14= 47.1 give another inch because I was using 1 inch thick foam, you have 48" to go around the thigh. Foam comes in a 24 inch sheet, so with the 1 inch wedges on top and bottom, I expect the entire length to be 20-22 inches. Once you figure out this math you can easily calculate the total coverage of foam that you need.

Now all of this said, some of the pieces did take some re-work, once the whole body was done its best to stand back and look at your work. Squint your eyes and try to picture the complete project. For this one I went back and adjusted the thighs and forearms and I still might go back and adjust the calves. This is another reason why I started the project 9 months in advance.. I want to get it right!

Oh and if you have a shop vac, you will find yourself cleaning up little green shavings EVERYWHERE. Just look on the ground in any of these pics, you will see these. But don't trash every trimming, I found out that when I had to make a modification some of these little wedges came in real handy. When I post about the head you will see how many of these created the structure of the head without needing to go with solid foam!

Apr 9, 2010

Finally the costume... Finding the right parts

When researching for the "skeleton" of the suit I found a multitude of possibilities. But I settled on using 3/4" PVC joints with 3/4" ENT (Electrical Nonmetalic Tubing). The ENT gave me me the ability to bend the parts into shape but still give me strength to keep its shape. Also both of these glue nicely together with standard PVC primer and cement.

Also all of this would be be joined to an ALICE Pack military surplus frame. Ordered on ebay it came with the shoulder and kidney straps to keep the suit snug and with the lightweight aluminum frame i was able to attach the PVC using metal clamps and zip ties.

The arms were done in a ladder formation with a joint in the middle. On the outside of the basic framework I attached Tee Joints and bent the to form the shape of the body that I wanted. It took some trial and error till I got the exact shape.

(with a mirrored effect to show a symetrical version)

(A side shot)

Originally I was going to do the waist in tubes too but found this to be too bulky and didn't sit right, in later stages I made midsection and waist all in foam

Here is a video of the first test run on stilts. The shoulders weren't glued together yet and one popped off but you can see the range of motion.

Apr 7, 2010

Now make that frame look like you... with tape!

Originally uploaded by itsthatdude_com

To add a more accurate representation over the PVC framework I used a body double technique using water activated paper based packing tape. Many people have used duct tape, and while it works it is much harder to work with than the paper packaging tape plus more expensive.

I was able to pick up a roll at Staples for under $8! With the help from my brother and a trash bag to prevent the tape from sticking I was able to get my torso done, beer gut and all. Once the paper side was done, we covered it with some left over clear packing tape I had left over from a move. The form keeps its shape much better than my old attempt at a duct tape double years ago and I highly recommend this technique to anyone.

Thanks to threadbanger.com! Here is their tutorial.

Needing a frame to build it on.. can't find one, build your own.

Before I start any part of this costume The most important thing is I need to see it upright. In order to do that I will need a sturdy platform to make my costume on. Sure a real mannequin would help but there are a few problems.

  1. They are rarely symmetrical
  2. They are not my height, I am 5'4"
  3. they also are not the height of the costume 7'6"

  4. They cost way too damn much!

Now that I got that off my chest, I had to find a solution. So I began searching the web for everything ranging from Duct Tape Dummies, to the 2x4 version that I made to display the Beast, I finally I came across http://www.dagobahswamp.com/projects/mannequin/index.asp. Using a combination of PVC and metal hinges, I thought with some slight modifications this would work great for me. Oh, don't forget the cardinal rule of any project MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE! After measuring myself ad estimating what I thought would be right, I was 9 inches off... that would really of sucked in the real deal. I would have been fine because it was 9 inches too long but its worth making a mock-up like below. If you don't have graphic programs draw it on paper, and make sure you are accounting for any overlap from the PVC and the curves of the tubes (that was my mistake). The mock up, although shrunk for the sake of the web is to scale to my body. The outline of me is from a photograph, and for every 10 points it equals one inch. So it was easy for me to double check all the measurements. Behind #2 you can see the outline of the Wampa, this is the desired size of the costume. The dimensions were from a photo of an early costume that was full size made for Empire Strikes Back. (photo at bottom of post)

I know with a costume as large as mine, the feet would have to go. In exchange I will be using some steel mounts found at harbor freight, that are attached to a 3'x3' plywood & 2x4 base. With those steel mounts, I can slide the PVC tube on and off of them, which also gives me the ability to add 2' extensions to represent the stilts (light blue, diagram 2). These will give me the ability to work on the two halves of the costume. As mentioned before I plan on splitting the costume in two. With the leg extensions on I can work on the bottom overalls. Without, I can work on the top.

Below is the updated mock-up showing some more details. I will add some more mock-ups side by side photos of the progress. Now the mock up stage is done, it is time to start cutting and get this thing started! The photo above is an early version of the Empire Strikes Back Wampa (notice the head). This early version had the head way too high (see action pic in the inset) so I modified it, removing the actors head, and brought it down closer to the version seen on screen. Click on photo for details

The other costume... the Beast

Before I make the Wampa I want to share with you the other costume that started it all, the Beast. The Beast was also a 7 foot tall costume that won me over $3000 in costume contests and even was featured on the Discovery Channel's You Spoof Discovery. It was made of solid foam glued to a painters jumpsuit covered in fur and had arm extensions made off of forearm crutches. It was modified many times and eventually had to be retired because of storage and I knew it was time for a new one.

Apr 3, 2010

Wampa Costme Stage 1: Research and Digital Mock Up

This is something I have been working on for years so to say, because of the on again and off again status of this costume. Eying the original ESB Wampa Costume has gone back all the way to the first stages of the Beast costume, The picture below was the big inspiration, seeing how tall that original ESB costume really was that impact that I wanted. Now the Special Edition suit was regular size, and it was all camera tricks, (see second pic) but there was a more natural flow and more detail.

I always felt if you are going to go with a high impact costume, go big. And a stilted costume is usually the way to go. My goal is to go with a blend of both costumes. SIZE MATTERS, but so does detail. I am willing to sacrifice some mobility to have that large costume. I am 5'4", which makes the costume complete at 7'6" with stilts, with the discription on Wookiepedia.org, a Wampa stands at over 2 meters tall, which is about 6'6. With my stilts even though it is a foot taller, it is still withing that reasonable "over" 2 meters range.

The photo above is an early version of the Empire Strikes Back Wampa (notice the head). This early version had the head way too high (see action pic in the inset) so I modified it, removing the actors head, and brought it down closer to the version seen on screen. Click on photo for details

I have seen three other Wampa costumes on stilts some are decent but there are some bad ones out there, but I feel that I can take it that next step of realism. Improving on that old body frame of the beast by using tha PVC frame to keep the body in proportion and keep the arms bending in the natural positions. Now the elbow will be my wrist joint, but there wont be as much tension on my wrists because the forearms will be attached via clips to the "bone". Then attached to the skeleton will be the muscle frame to fill it out without the need of solid foam. Outside this frame will be a layer of thin material that a thin layer of foam will be applied to get more detail in the muscle structure.

The legs will be slightly different than the top frame. Since the goal is to be easy to put on and take off, the suit will be split down the middle, bottom half going on first like a pair of overalls, and the top half going over them kind of like a babies onsie and a snap in the crotch. With long fur and good measurements, this should fit snugly together and with some grooming you can hide the transition in the hips.

The hips and thighs will be curved 1 inch foam, to keep them soft enough for movement and to to step into them with stilts on. The calfs and feet will be attached to the stilts and the bottom of the overalls will slip over them with a slit down the inside of the leg, that can be closed up via snaps, zipper or velcro.

Here are two of the sites that really inspired me with the PVC framework.

Wecome to MyWampa - My quest to build the snow beast.

Hello My name is Jeremy and I am a Star Wars Fanboy. Born in '75 I was raised on the original Saga. I had the toys, and watched the movies anytime they came on. I have always considered Empire Strikes Back my favorite of all of the movies and now that it is the 30th year anniversary I wanted to give back to the movie that I held so dear.

I am recreating one of the most memorable creatures in the Star Wars Universe, the Wampa. Although it only has seconds of screen time it stuck with me. It influenced me when building my first large creature costume "The Beast", a 7 foot high hairy creature that won me back thousands of dollars in costume contest money. After it was featured on Discovery Channels "You Spoof Discovery" I retired the suit.

I had been itching to build another suit, but being a new father got in the way. I had always pondered between a Bigfoot suit or a Wampa, and when Star Wars Celebration V was announced right in my back yard it was like the decision was made for me. Now with a new house and the kids are a little bit older I begin to create the costume that I feel is my tribute back to George and the bunch that changed my life!