Or: How I Spent Last Spring
Todd Murray - 7/5/07
I've done a few different costumes for Halloween parties and for CONvergence, a local science fiction convention, over the past several years. I've done Moltar, Zorak and Brak (all villains from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast), as well as Thundercleese (Brak's next-door neighbor in The Brak Show. Typically, I've only worn the costumes I've built at friends' Halloween parties or in the halls at CONvergence, even though friends have liked the costumes I've built.
In spring of 2007, I decided to put forth a lot more serious effort into a costume. After the 2007 theme for CONvergence, "Creature Feature", was announced, my friend Melinda told my friend Kate, "And tell the Murray creature that he better do a creature! He's at least as good as most of the people who enter, and his costumes are significantly less lame." Encouraged by these words, I decided to do a costume of Gamera, the giant turtle who fought several nasty monsters and destroyed Tokyo several times, rivaling Godzilla. I decided to do the Heisei-era Gamera, the version from the 1995-1999 film series, instead of the Showa-era Gamera from the 1960s and 1970s. The Heisei-era Gamera is fiercer than the Showa-era Gamera, who looked obviously like a guy in a rubber monster costume and who had a cheesy habit of being a friend to all children. Also, it was easier to get pictures of the Heisei-era Gamera.
Even though the Heisei-era Gamera looked a lot more believable on screen, I didn't have the same budget, timeframe, or large crew that Daiei Studios had. I did, however, have inspiration from The Monster Makers, an online shop that sells latex mask supplies and provides the basic instructions on how to create a monster mask. Armed with this information, and some parts from Home Depot, I set out to create the costume.
Technically, the back part of a turtle's shell is called the carapace. I formed the basic shape of the shell with some PEX pipe from Home Depot, along with wires and small plastic tubes. I initially decided to form the shell itself out of fiberglass.
|The shell formed out of PEX pipe and wire, with plastic wrap to hold the fiberglass somewhat in place.||The shell with fiberglass cloth ready to be glassed.|
The fiberglassing didn't work out so well.
|The fiberglass compound didn't set hard - it just kind of gelled up and gooped up.|
Since the fiberglass didn't work, I decided to use Sintra, as I saw listed in The Ultimate Boba Fett Costume. I found some Sintra (actually a generic brand of foamed PVC board) at Plastics International, conveniently located just a couple blocks from my office. So, I cut the foamed PVC board to size and started forming it to the shape I wanted. The Boba Fett costume guide said to use a pot of boiling water, which wasn't big enough for a human-sized shell. I used a heat gun to soften the plastic, then sprayed it with water to cool it and lock it into shape.
|Cutting the foamboard into shape for the top of the carapace.||Bending the foamboard into shape and locking it onto the PEX pipe.|
|Tools of the trade: A heat gun and a water sprayer. The washing machine in the background wasn't really part of the process.||The final product of the Sintra-forming process.|
I also had to replace the truss bars (as reinforcements) with an aluminum
frame that held the PEX pipe into shape.
The next step was to create scales for the turtle's back. I did these with a vinyl fabric and used flexible foam as a backing.
|The carapace with scales on it.|
I knew I wanted to do a latex mask, but I also wanted to do the gloves (hands, claws, whatever) so they'd look monster-like. Besides, building the gloves first would serve as good practice in latex mask-making.
|Making a mold of my hand in modeling goop.||Caution, sculpture may be fragile.|
After making the hand cast, I built up the model in modeling clay. Usually, oil clay is used. I used Klean Klay, an oil-based clay conveniently available at Dick Blick.
|Starting to carve the hand. I just put clay over the broken-off finger to reattach it.||A rough carving of the hand with its claws.|
|The finished hands, sprayed with Krylon Crystal Clear and ready for plaster casting.|
To do the plaster casting, I used Ultracal 30, as recommended by The Monster Makers. Plaster casting is done in two stages: casting one side, with a water-based clay dividing wall between halves, and then casting the other half. The idea is to make a mold that can be taken apart into two pieces (so the clay can be removed), then reassembled for the latex casting. The Ultracal is reinforced with burlap, sort of like rebar in concrete. Oh, and to avoid having the two casts stuck together permanently, you must spread Vaseline on the dividing wall, or you will end up with a plaster and clay blob that isn't good for anything.
|Preparing for the top half of casting.||The top half cast in Ultracal 30. Notice that it's too runny. The effects of this problem will be shown in a bit.|
|Preparing the other half for casting.||This is what happens when you mix Ultracal 30 too thin and don't use enough burlap for reinforcement. The cast didn't come apart properly, so I had to chisel the top half of the mold apart, fix the problems with the carving, and cast it again.|
|The other hand, prepared for casting. It sort of looks like a baseball glove.||Ultracal 30 mixed to the right consistency.|
|A successful cast!|
After creating the Ultracal 30 mold, I did the latex casting. That goes relatively easy: First, brush a detail coat of latex onto the Ultracal 30 mold, then strap the mold halves together and fill the mold with latex. (The Monster Makers sells RD-407 mask latex, which is made specifically for mask making.)
|The detail coat of latex.||The finished glove after latex casting. I'm trying it on for size.|
Next comes painting, which is best done with an airbrush. This meant I had to go out and buy an airbrush. The paint is also specifically made for mask making, consisting of a special latex with whatever color is mixed in. I also bought this from The Monster Makers.
|The first cut of painting. I added more details later, of course.|
To create the mask, I started off with a lifecast of my head, assisted by my friends Todd and Kate.
|Two heads are better than one.||Tonight, on Face to Face... nevermind. This is just philosophically weird.|
I then did the modeling from more Klean-Klay. I started the carving on April 12 and finished on May 12, although I didn't spend all of my time on it. (Other things, like the hand carving, as well as those pesky work obligations, took up some of my time too.)
|Forming the basis of the face, with the eyes, the prominent eyebrow ridges, and the prominent beaklike shape. This would define the rest of the sculpture, so that's why I started this first.||Forming the lower jawline and one of the tusks. Cream-colored clay doesn't show up in the white hot spotlight.|
|A side view of the face, lower jawline, and the left tusk.||The other tusk, along with the beginnings of the top-of-head crest.|
|The finished head sculpture. I removed the tusks because I realized it would be nigh-impossible to do the Ultracal 30 casting with such a prominence -- it would have been a nasty undercut. Also, I had decided to do the tusks out of a harder compound (Sculpey clay) so they would remain relatively rigid.||The front view of the finished sculpture. I've used texture stamps and clay tools to put some texture into the face. The teeth also took a pretty significant amount of work. There are no manuals out there explaining monster dentition.|
|Getting ready to cast the first half of the sculpture in Ultracal 30. The dark rust-colored clay is water-based clay, which will not adhere permanently to the oil clay.||The first half is cast, and the second half is ready for casting. I put some Handy Wrap in there to make it easier to pry the two pieces apart.|
|The two halves have been cast, and I've removed the scupture from the mold. I hated to cut up the sculpture and destroy it, but something was better to come: the latex.||The Ultracal 30 mold of one of the halves of the sculpture.|
|The latex mask after casting.||Beginning to paint the latex mask. I had cut between the teeth so the mouth would open, and I've also added tusks carved out of Sculpey clay.|
I had other work to do with the mask besides the latex carving and painting. As I mentioned, I built the permanent tusks out of Sculpey clay, and I added a support structure in the chin (using expanding foam and aluminum tubing) so the tusks would stay in place. I also formed eyes out of clear acrylic plastic, and painted them to match.
Don't know what a plastron is? It's the front, nearly flat part of the turtle's shell. I made the plastron out of 1/2 inch thick foam with a greenish/brownish vinyl fabric on top, and painted the scale lines on there using fabric paint. I also made monster pants out of the same vinyl fabric, with a tail filled with some kind of quilting-type foam. I'm not really experienced in sewing, unlike most other CONvergence masquerade participants, but I got by. I also made sleeves out of the same material and attached them to the arm straps that I was using to hold the carapace in place.
|A front view of all the fabric work. I had the tusks installed in the mask with some detail paint, but the eyes weren't finished yet.||A side view of the fabric work. Note that the plastron, which I had wanted to attach with Velcro, didn't want to stay in place. I eventually turned to more durable metal hooks.|
I wanted the skin to look wrinkly, for the appropriate monster effect. My friend Melinda showed me how to reinforce it, using rucking stitches to hold it into place. She also helped me out with the choreography, which should be a big help.
Another part, but one that I left for late in the process, was making monster feet. I did a rough sculpture out of Styrofoam for these, then applied enough clay for texturing and for claws, and then modeled them with the same process that I used to carve the latex gloves and mask. Even though I left this part of the build for last, the feet really add a completed dimension to the turtle.
I built a cheap Styrofoam replica of the Sheraton hotel so I could destroy it on stage for the Masquerade. The hotel itself is pretty jerry-built, but I built a lighted "Sheraton" sign to put at the top of the hotel. (Thanks to Emporis Buildings for measurements and pictures.)
I showed the costume to several friends at a July 4th party. My friends thought it was a really great costume, although some neighbors and passers-by were pretty confused by the whole thing.
|Making a heroic monster pose.||Here I am terrorizing my friend Jim. He needed to be terrorized at that point.|
|Melinda leads me down around the house to scare its unsuspecting occupants.||"Honey, there's a giant monsterous turtle in the neighbors' driveway. Should I call the Monster Patrol?"|
2007 was the first year I had ever entered the Masquerade, so I didn't really know what to expect or how it would all work out. Melinda, pictured above, is a veteran Masquerade performer, though, so she gave me lots of advice. She was also in the Masquerade as "Veritas", a parody of V for Vendetta in which she reveals the character is a white, nerdy geek. Melinda's performance is at this YouTube video — go to about 4:38 in to see it. (Actually, the same video also has a sketch entitled "Super Lovin'", in which several spandex-clad superheroes reenact a scene from Grease, starting at about 3:53. And, my performance in there starts at 4:17, though she misspelled "bizaar".)
In fact, since you probably want to see the performance itself, here it is:
There were several other entries in the Masquerade that I liked. One guy, Rob Roberts as "Red Dragon", was wearing his costume at the Serenity/Firefly room party the night before the Masquerade. He did an impressive job for a hall costume, especially with the fold-out wings that he created. I told him that he just had to enter the Masquerade, and a couple others nearby agreed. Another guy, James Rasmussen, did a costume from Ghostbusters, including a well-detailed backpack that contains the ghost containment system. I believe he did the vacuum forming for the plastic pack. There was also "The Mutant", which was just... strange. I liked the headpiece, though. I also loved the innovative costume of Dan Havens as "There Goes the Neighborhood", where he built a Genghis Khan-like costume with armor made of car floor mats, as well as lots of belts from Wal-mart. Yes, that's right, floor mats. The armor looked quite realistic. "Black Chaos" also had excellent use of black leather and highly detailed craftsmanship. (Well, craftswomanship, I think.) I also liked the large, scary costume of "Those We Do Not Speak Of".
My presentation, "Gamera vs. the Sheraton", was near the end of the Masquerade. Actually, the YouTube video doesn't show this, and I hadn't noticed, but people were laughing as soon as they saw the red lit-up "Sheraton" sign on stage. I didn't really have any fancy choreography -- I just got up on stage, stomped around monster-like for a bit (making sure to show the costume from all sides), then swung my arm out and smashed the Sheraton to the ground. I also stomped on it for good measure, then made a triumphant pose and stomped off. As you can tell from the YouTube video, people loved it. The audience started shouting and applauding as soon as they heard "Ladies and gentlemen, Gamera vs. the Sheraton!", and the applause had just died down at the moment I smacked the hotel. Then, the applause and shouting started all over again. It was a big hit. In fact, you could say I brought the house down.
After the Masquerade and the intermission performance, Erin Kasper announced the awards. She said, "The judges went just monkey crazy with the awards this year." The first award was "Best Theme of Convention" -- and I was the winner! I was pleased with this -- after all, I had made a monster costume specifically for 2007's theme, "Creature Feature". "Super Lovin'" won Best Re-creation, as well as an honorable mension for workmanship. "Those We Do Not Speak Of" won an honorable mention. "There Goes the Neighborhood" won Best Workmanship, "The Mutant" won the Best Performance award, and "Red Dragon" won Best Novice. By that point in the awards, I wasn't expecting to win anything else -- I figured that each costume would be eligible for just one award, and even though I had recruited my competition for Best Novice, he deserved it.
"Black Chaos" won Best Journeyman, and my friend Melinda won Best Master for "Veritas". Then, the final award was announced for Best in Show. Erin said, "A surprise winner, ladies and gentlemen... Gamera vs. Sheraton!" I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that I could win Best in Show on my first entry in the Masquerade. I guess all the effort I put into the costume paid off, combined with a memorable presentation unlike most typical Masquerade presentations. I spent the rest of the evening posing for photos, visiting various room parties, and even faced off against a guy in a King Kong costume. It was a lot of fun.
I've been told that the staff of the Sheraton still remembers my performance on stage, when I destroyed a styrofoam replica of the hotel.