My name is Kaleena and I am an always growing, constantly learning, and often experimental studio/graphic Artist! After working at Disney World for half a year awhile back, I was always inspired by the costumes around the parks and how they filled guests with feelings of excitement and awe! I wanted to recreate this feeling for others by building my own original costume. All I knew was I wanted it to be big, and I mean BIG. Big and exciting enough to literally make people say “ Woah!” when I walked in a room. Hence the idea for a costume from the new transformers movie was born. I decided to be the revamped 2014 Dinobot Transformer, Grimlock a.k.a. the T-rex transformer from the new movie Transformers: Age of Extinction.
I am still in complete awe that the creation of this costume was a success!! I just want to say that I completely exceeded my own expectations of my artistic self and what I am capable of! I couldn’t be happier, and I cannot WAIT to continue to grow as an artist and develop more skills such as these in the future!
Warning: Start months in advance!! I started a little over a month early and was devastated that I missed Halloween completely, even went to a club without being finished and placed in the contest but did not win anything! I just finished a few days ago actually, so it took me about two months. That was only possible with the help from my girlfriend and days of no sleep/barely taking time to breathe!! It made the house very stressful, and I want to thank my girlfriend for dealing with me for the past few months! I With that being said, give yourself time, I sure wish I had so that the experience would be more pleasurable instead of stress inducing!
Also this is all handmade, no templates were used other than the ones I freehanded myself out of poster board! I have never done anything like this before. Although, I have made some awesome costumes in the past, again this went way beyond what I thought I was capable of creating! I am still astonished that this all came together so well!!! Challenge yourself, but keep in mind this was a TRIAL and ERROR process until I found a solution to building each section. It was extremely hard and I was really ready to give up at times. I even cried at times and threw in the towel some evenings but convinced myself to keep going the next day! Not to be cheesy, but it honestly is true, that if you believe in yourself anything is possible :) SO grab those art tools, some imagination and lets start creating!
Side Note: Everything turned out just as I had hoped for. As soon as I walked into a bar, everyone would stop and stare and seriously go “woah!” or “oh wow that’s awesome!” Some people would run up just to compare their size to me! With the top part of my spike on my helmet and my height extenders on my shoes, I was about 7 foot and the width of my body was almost 3 people! I was so big I couldn’t walk through some areas, and kept hitting people in the face with my T-rex heads! They would be so excited and caught off guard that all they could do was back away and check out my costume! Almost everyone thought I had bought the costume from a design shop, and were in awe when I told them I actually made the entire thing. I was like a celebrity on the dance floor, people wanted pictures galore!
I added the LEDs recently to really make this costume look like a transformer! The eyes, logo, T-rex mouths and front armor all lit up and certainly made the costume not only look more amazing, but as if I really was a robot from another planet!
Step 1: STEP ONE: Basic Building Instructions for ALL Costume Armor
The Entire build of this costume follows the same basic steps and structure. I figured it would be easier to describe, and for others to understand, by giving these instructions first and then elaborating slightly on the rest of the costume. I will also post the process pictures in the other steps!
The first thing I did was make a cast of my body. This is usually done with paper mache or some other form of hard casting, but that would take way too long, so I simply wore an old shirt and had my girlfriend duck tape my body! Stuff it with newspaper and you are good to go.
Next make sure you have GREAT references! My girlfriend was sweet enough to buy me a giant full scale model of my transformer and honestly it saved me from making horrible designs. I also brought up tons of photos from the internet so I would have multiple examples and ideas to go off of. Again, everything is handmade, even the templates, so you need a good reference point in order to make it look legit!
MOST IMPORTANTLY! Remember to have fun, as you can see me playing around with a foam mustache I made out of random pieces! Really, you will need those fun moments to get through it all. and music! lots and lots of good music! And secondly, watch out for cats! :) I have two cats who were constantly into any and everything I was doing! Just make sure you keep your cats or other animals, and your costume safe!
In order to build basically every single piece of this costume you need EVA foam mats/rolls. The mats are thicker and usually come in a pack of 4 to 6 puzzle pieces. I use those for the base of the armor, such as the chest, to give it more durability. Whereas the detailed armor such as front abdomen armor and shoulder armor are all made of thin EVA foam rolls. These are way easier to use for details as the thinner the foam, the easier to cut, glue, heat etc.
Starting off with the references, I made a template of how I wanted each piece of armor to look, and literally built the armor out of poster board! This is such an important step is it helps cut down on trial and error with real foam, which would be expensive, whereas poster board is cheap and okay to destroy and start over! After building and rebuilding, making sure the armor looked good and functioned (the hardest part) I would then trace it onto the thick or thin foam mats and cut it with an exacto knife. MAKE SURE the exacto blade is sharp, or you will cut into the foam and it will be rough and jagged and almost impossible to fix! I went through several blades throughout this project. Once you have your forms cut out, take a heat gun and evenly heat both the front and back sides of the foam. You will see the difference when the foam is heated because it will have a shiny darker texture. Once evenly heated it is ready for forming!
Take your pieces and from the back of the foam heat the piece until the foam is really hot but NOT burnt. If you burn foam it smells and turns deep black and is not as easy to form, or pretty! SO catch it right before that point. Once hot enough bend and shape your foam to the desired form and hold it there until it has cooled down. You may have to do this several times to get the shape just right.
Remember! It takes a lot of practice to make really good molds, and it took me almost the entire costume to feel fully comfortable making each piece! Practice makes perfect, and the more you do the more you will know. :) Also remember that poster board is a life saver when it comes to learning how to make the forms, instead of using up all your foam and burning holes in your wallet!!
Once you have the molded shapes you want, go ahead and take a soldering iron and burn out some of the foam material where you want shapes to round out a lot or even curve/bend and create angles. Then heat the foam again and bend to the desired point, and let cool. This will give you better shapes than just bending the foam without burning it because you have less material in that area for shaping.
Next step is to take those pieces you cut and molded and hot glue them together. You can use other glues that are a lot stronger but take a lot longer to stick together and need to be used in a ventilated area. I prefer hot glue because I am equipped to using it and find it easier. I learned the hard way though, that you definitely need a PRO series glue gun, as it heats faster and is way better to use for projects that take a LOT of glue, which is definitely the case here. I went through almost 50 glue sticks by the time I was done! Use a high temp glue gun with high or multi temp glue sticks because the higher temperature gives them better bondage.
Once everything is glued, go back with the hot edge of your glue gun tip and flatten out any glued seams that are really rough or lumpy looking. This is NECESSARY if you want a more flawless costume, without huge ugly seams that make the costume look less realistic and more sloppy. This is also where your dremel tool comes in! Anything I could not fix with the hot glue gun tip, I used a dremel to sand down those edges. After all of your pieces are glued and seams are flattened out, the last step to building the entire costume is going to be finishing the seams with latex caulk, but we will get to that in the last steps!
Lets move onto each armor section, and any small details and required for those builds!
Step 2: STEP TWO: Main Body Armor
The main body armor includes the chest and abdominal armor, back armor, sides, shoulder armor, and finally lower armor skirt. All of these pieces were built onto each other and it is very important to take the time to reinforce all areas with plenty of glue and different thicknesses of foam as you are building! I started with the chest piece, making it out of the thicker foam. All of the rest of the body armor, other than the top part of the lower armor skirt, is made from thinner foam. This allows the armor to sit on each other without getting to heavy etc.
As you can see from my pictures, each area is built using the same methods mentioned in the first step! You will use these steps continuously throughout your creative journey so keep that in mind! Just recall that step if you need help, as I do not wish to rewrite it over in each step you see here.
Some tips on the main armor:
I did leave space between the shoulder armor so that my shoulder could fit comfortably inside. I also split the bottom armor skirt from the top chest and abdominal area and used velcro and foam triangles to support and attach the two. I did this so that I may take the skirt off to sit if I wanted at the bar etc, but I ended up finding it easier to just stand the whole night!
As for the belt with the transformer logo, I literally spray painted the logo on and very CAREFULLY cut it out with an exacto knife! I say be careful because I did cut myself pretty bad at this part, so watch it! I then placed an orange folder behind to give it a nice frame for lighting.
The abdominal and back armor are all made of the same panels just cut at smaller intervals as you go from top to bottom. Same type of thing with the skirt, I used the same pattern for each pattern but just made it smaller as I went down the armor!
The shoulder pads will be explained in the next step!
Step 3: STEP THREE: T-rex Shoulder Armor
One of the hardest parts besides the helmet, actually probably the hardest in the entire build! I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I need to use the same design from the rest of the shoulder armor and build off of that. Then I used all my scrap pieces and looking at reference photos I created a rough build of the T-rex face.
After getting a really abstract rough build, I broke that down and traced it onto foam to build nice full separate pieces. I bevelled the edges as I cut each piece out, so that I could glue them to create the facial bone structures of the dinosaur. This is yet another step that is trial and error. I seriously think it took me 3 days to figure this build out and among those days, I found myself extremely distraught and ready to give up! Thankfully it worked, and all I can say is keep on going if you are having troubles and eventually you will figure it out!
Step 4: STEP FOUR: Grimlock Helmet
Give yourself at least a few days to build the helmet also! It is another complex piece that is very confusing at first. I literally looked up how to build a globe and instead made a half sphere and attached it to the paintball make with velcro. IT then took several attempts to get the helmet to look round and realistic instead of just plains silly. I basically kept adding to my half sphere until I had the shape I wanted! Remember, this step also is super detailed, as his face takes a long time with the detail required.
In order to create his grill on his mouth piece, I used a soldering Iron to burn lines into the foam. Take your time with this step, as it is pretty difficult to get straight even looking lines! I glued a blue clear folder onto the goggle part of the mask in order to get that robot look! I couldn’t see too well, so make sure you have what I like to call a “character attendant” (as they are called in Disney! ) to escort you around so you don’t completely maul someone over!!
Step 5: STEP FIVE: Armor for the Legs, Feet and Arms
I would say this is the easiest part of the entire costume, at least that is what I thought! OF course it is easier than the rest of the costume, it still took a couple days to figure out. You have to really plan out the leg armor in order to be able to walk!! I had my leg armor come up to the backs of my knee so I could still mostly walk, even though I struggled a little. You also have to leave a gap between the leg armor and your feet in order to be able to move your ankles to continue to walk!
The feet were made out of old Nikes I had from working at Disney! So I guess it’s kind of like I put a little Disney magic in my costume from all the time spent in those shoes in the parks! :) I literally hot glued my shoes into about 3 pieces of thick foam to make myself quite a few inches taller! I then build thin foam pieces around my shoe to make it look like a giant metal shoe! They make my feet a lot bigger, which is another hassle to walking so be careful!
For the arms, I have most my upper arms cover by shoulder armor so I just need to make my forearms look larger! I made them with thinner foam and wrapped them around my arms until I got the look I wanted. I used old lacrosse gloves painted with black fabric paint for my hands which were perfect for a transformer!
Step 6: STEP SIX: Caulking and Painting the Armor
Even after using your hot glue gun to flatten out seams, you will still have some unevenness and that messy look. So in order to attempt to fix that, you need to caulk the seams also. I bought small tubes of latex caulk and used my finger or a piece of foam to spread it evenly into the cracks left in the hot glued seams. You must get a Latex based caulk because others may eat away at the foam! And unfortunately, you won’t have perfect seams unless you spend DAYS on this step, and unfortunately I did not have the time. But hey, if you start early enough, take the time and make the smoothest seam possible! This will give you the most realistic costume!! You have to let the caulk dry a few hours before painting or your paint will also just rub right off!
Painting is also a painstakingly long step and needs to be done in the correct weather conditions. I tried to paint when it was too windy and cold outside and it put me back a few days because the paint would just stay tacky and never dry! Read the bottle, make sure you paint in the weather conditions recommended!
PLEASE remember that spray paint will not stick properly to EVA foam without a base to stick on. Thats where Plasti-Dip Spray comes in. This spray is a special spray paint that puts a rubber-like base on the foam so that it will not soak up spray paint and look really horrible. I would coat your foam with this at least 3 to 4 times before painting with colored spray paints. I STILL had a weird texture once I spray painted, but it looked a lot better than it would have. Make sure you give the spray time in between coats and practice painting beforehand! I did not realize spray painting to get even coats is actually really hard!
Once you are done with your Plasti-Dip, paint your Metallic silver areas next! Use the same process as the plasti-dip by reading your instructions on the bottle and using several coats. When those are all done and dry, take blue painters tape and tape them about two inches in from any other areas that will be sprayed different colors. This is also a very annoying step and I am lucky that I had my girlfriend yet again to help me make the process a little shorter! This however is also necessary if you want a good paint job! It is so easy to get splatters of orange onto silver etc if you do not take the time to tape properly. Then spray paint the orange areas the same way.
Next spray paint black after taping off the orange and silver! Then once all is dry, spray a clear gloss coat on the entire costume to keep it more durable and shiny! I have yet to finish this step because everything should be fully dry and finished before hand, and seeing as I just finished a few days ago, thats the last step to my costume :)
Once the gloss is on and dry, you are ready to put lights on your costume!!
Step 7: FINAL STEP: Bringing the Transformer to Life - Lights!
This was by far my favorite part of building the entire costume! Attaching lights to the costume completely brought my transformer to life! It was crazy to see it at night, and made it ultra creepy because the eyes and armor all lit up gave the illusion that my costume was a real robot.
I spent a lot of money on separate light sticks for my armor, because I honestly did not have the time or patience to wait for LED light strips or anything of that matter. But if you are schooled in the art of putting together battery powered LED light strips etc, then that may be the best bet. I took the light sticks apart for the logo, front abdominal armor and T-rex eyes. Yet, I left them as an actual light stick for the legs, spike and T-rex mouths. I simply took a dremel tool and textured the light grip so that I could hot glue velcro onto it, without it falling right off of the otherwise smooth edges. As you will learn hot glue does not stick to smooth edges at all! I velcroed all of the lights into the costume so that when the battery finally dies in each, I can replace it if I wish too, or even set up LED light strips later! Just make sure you use strong velcro as they are easy to pop out with cheap velcro.
Turn all of your lights on and FINALLY get yourself into that costume! Walk around and feel empowered as you are now 3x your human size and able to impress everyone around you! I loved it, and can’t wait to go around town with it more in the future! And finally take a break and celebrate going above and beyond in your creative endeavors!!!! If you are at all like me you will need it! I hope this intractable has helped, and if you have any questions about the process, or just anything you want to know about me, feel free to email me on this site!!! Autobots (and Dinobots) Roll out! :)