The Predator Costume

Todd Murray - September 2010

This is the story of my most complex costume build yet, stretching nearly nine months from December right up through the end of August. I originally presented this costume at the Masquerade at CONvergence in Bloomington, MN in July 2010. Since then, I made some improvements, including a new mask, a new biohelmet, and some improved armor. I brought the new version to Dragon*Con in Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend in September 2010. I entered the costume in the costuming track costume contest, and I also marched in the annual Dragon*Con parade in downtown Atlanta.

I'm not going to write up every single step of the costume construction since it would take too long and be too much to read. Actually, this writeup was for the judges at the Dragon*Con costume contest, so I guess I could be a little more verbose here. But if you want to know any more detais about any specific pieces, or want to talk shop, you can always e-mail me.

Background

I got the idea for this costume from The Hunter's Lair, a forum of Predator costume builders. I found this forum while looking for information about applying Perma-Wet to my previous project, a Sleestak mask. I checked it out and thought, "These people are speaking my language." There was all sorts of information about making latex masks, sculpting and casting props, building armor, and other fun stuff. So, I started the project in late November 2009.

The Mask

I originally sculpted, cast, and painted my own mask, but after CONvergence, I wasn't satisfied with the shape. Compared to other Predator costumes, my mask had the "hairline" too low, so the dreadlocks were in the wrong position. I hated to admit that my first sculpt had a problem with proportion, but I wanted to get things right.

So, I bought a mask made by Pete Mander, a professional sculptor. The mask came unpainted, so I got to work painting it using a tutorial from The Hunter's Lair. I painted the mask in several layers, starting with a base yellow/tan coat, then gradually adding layers of red, red spots, and dark brown spots. Here's a sequence of the paintup. The old mask is included in the first picture.

Wristblade Gauntlet

I wanted wristblades that would extend and retract, so I built an animatronic gauntlet to operate them. The mechanism is built from the eject mechanism from an old CD-ROM drive. (Or was it a CD-RW, DVD-R, or something else? I forgot after I took apart a pile of my friend Paul's dead electronics.)

I sculpted the basic gauntlet in clay and then cast it in Smooth-Cast 300 two-part urethane plastic. Then, I mounted the tracks from two CD trays onto the gauntlet. The motor mechanism is mounted on a traveler that moves back and forth on two rails. Then, the blades are mounted onto the traveler. The motor is controlled by a reversing switch that switches the motor polarity. I also incorporated limit switches to cut the motor off after traveling all the way to the end.

When I posted the description of the gauntlet on The Hunter's Lair, the response was very enthusiastic. I started getting inquiries from people who wanted me to build one for them, so I've sold a couple of the completed gauntlets already. If you're interested in either a full gauntlet or a wristblade mechanism for your gauntlet, e-mail me.

Here's a video of the wristblades in action:

Computer Gauntlet

The left wrist contains a computer with a countdown timer. I did this in May. There are four digits consisting of nine LEDs each. The LED format is pretty close to that in the movies, and the digits are in the Yautja language (Yautja is the name of the Predator race.) I got the format from a Yautja font on a Predator web site.

The LEDs are controlled by an Arduino microcontroller through a MAX7219 LED driver chip. I got the original idea from a thread on The Hunter's Lair, but I decided to improve on it.

I also took a few pictures of the sculpture and the silicone mold process, so I could write up a tutorial on The Hunter's Lair. The top of this sculpture is actually made of wood, with various computer components (like capacitors and surface-mount ICs) to make it look computer-like.

     

I did the sculptures for the computer lid and the wrist gauntlet in clay, and then I did the silicone mold and cast them in urethane plastic. Actually, for the wrist gauntlet, I used a brush-on silicone product with a mother mold, instead of the pourable silicone shown above, because pouring a bunch of silicone into a big box would have been impractical.

Here's a video from YouTube:

Here's the finished product:

Again, I have these for sale, either as a complete gauntlet or just the electronics to fit your own gauntlet. (The version for sale doesn't include the four additional blue lights on the cover, though.) See my e-mail address above.

Bodysuit

Again, I got the idea for this from The Hunter's Lair. They have an excellent tutorial there about how to transform a Mr. Incredible muscle suit costume into a Predator costume with realistic skin texture, by applying latex in several layers. I also decided to reshape the shoulder, since it looked anatomically incorrect, and apply a few more abdominal muscles.

Dreadlocks, Hands, Feet, and Latex Armor Pieces

These are purchased items. I bought the dreadlocks from a member on (guess where?) The Hunter's Lair, because he has the materials to make cold foam castings and I don't. I also bought the hands, feet, neckrings, and backpack from another member because I didn't really have the time to make them all myself. The hands, feet, neckrings, and backpack are made of latex, and they arrived unpainted. I painted these using latex mask paint from The Monster Makers, mixed with various tints to get the colors I wanted.

After CONvergence, I bought more armor upgrades. I bought new back and chest armor cast in latex, as well as shin armor pieces. Again, I painted these myself, using Monster Makers paint. I got a really cool metallic weathered effect by doing the base paintup in gray, with spots of brown and black airbrushed on, followed by applying Perma-Wet mixed with silver Createx paint.

It seems to be a common thing on the Lair for costume builders to buy several costume pieces from people who make and sell them. Then, those builders do their own paintup and assembly. I may have been one of the few Lair members who built a majority of costume pieces himself. That means I'm either ambitious, insane, or both.

Dreadlock Beads

 

I commissioned my friend Amy of Sprite Creations to sculpt the dreadlock beads. She made them out of polymer clay, rolled around wooden forms for each desired diameter, and then baked to perfection. She sculpted a Yautja clan symbol resembling a "T" on one side, and a pair of antlers on the other side. The antlers represent both my online alias "Elkman" and my character, a Predator hunter visiting Siberia.

Loincloth

Let's face it: Nobody wants to see a Predator's junk. I made the loincloth out of two pieces of leather with a belt to hold everything in place. The belt also holds up the codpiece and the thigh armor.

Armor

There are several pieces of armor in the costume. Most of my original armor was made of Sintra, a PVC foam plastic that can be heated and molded into shape. When the Sintra is cooled, it locks the shape into place. I don't have any pictures of this process, though, because it's kind of hard to hold a camera, a hot piece of plastic, and the form all at the same time.

The armor pieces include a shoulder bell, a codpiece, and upper thigh armor. These pieces are also layered in Sintra. My original chest armor and backplate were made of Sintra, but I replaced them with a cast latex piece as described above. I also bought new shin armor.

Biohelmet

After I bought and painted the new mask, I needed a new biohelmet. I decided to depart a little bit from the original Predator movie's biohelmet, and based my design on one of the characters from the comic "Predator: Cold War". (See below.) I sculpted the biohelmet from clay, using a plaster cast of the original mask for a base. I then made a silicone mold of the sculpture using Smooth-On Rebound 25 silicone, then cast the biohelmet using Smooth-Cast 325 using a slush-casting technique.

To do the paintup, I applied several coats of acrylic craft paint by sponging it on, using black for the darker areas, then mixing in a gray/silver mix. This description sounds simple, but the effect is really cool. I followed this tutorial on The Hunter's Lair. I also added a red lens using aluminum mesh, and three LEDs, for the targeting system. The original character has three lasers, but I can't do that on stage without putting someone's eye out.

My Character and the Paintup

I based my character primarily off the first Predator movie, but I also have an anthology of the Predator comics that I used for reference. Here's the character I used for inspiration for the biohelmet:

I liked the chunky, angular look of the biohelmet in this one. I also carried the more yellowish skin color and the speckling into the bodysuit as I painted it up.

By the way, the black plastic spray-on undercoating and the silver spray paint that I used for most of the armor really wasn't all that harmful. The three-horned rhinoceros and the 37 pink fuzzy bunnies in my basement told me so. Or was I hallucinating from solvent exposure?

A Few Completed Suit Pictures

I took a few pictures of the completed suit so I could show the judges at the costume contest what it looked like.

 

Here are some pictures taken by Bryan Humphrey, a professional photographer working at Dragon*Con.

 

And here are a few pictures that my friends and/or minions took.