A few years ago at a stoop sale, I came across a set of plastic props to make a fake safe – a combination dial and a handle. They cost $1 and looked vintage and realistic, so I purchased them “for a rainy day.” I knew I would eventually use them for a costume – I have been making elaborate Halloween costumes for the NYC Halloween Parade for years, I call them “Human Floats,” as I literally wear a whole scene with me smack in the middle of the action. After casually thinking about it for a few years, I finally decided this was the year: I would be a thief in the middle of a failed bank heist.
Step 1: Making the Main Prop Piece: the Bank Safe
The first step was to make the safe using a rounded edged Styrofoam cooler. I got the cooler for free from my neighborhood pet store (where they get deliveries for fresh frozen pet food). The first thing to remember that styrofoam cannot be spray painted or hot glued as the styrofoam will melt, so you have to use gentle materials that are less "instant" - so plan ahead! On these pictures the safe is mostly upside down because the glues that I used took so long to dry.
I first created an imaginary door for the safe by tracing, then cutting an outline of one into the bottom part of the thick styrofoam cooler using a box cutter - cutting in slightly but not all the way through. Next, I painted the cooler metallic gray using a acrylic paint. Then I made a circular frame for the dial using a round cardboard box lid which I painted the same color as the safe, adding a small painted black arrow onto - once that was dry, I screwed the dial directly onto the center of this round frame using a screw and extra foam core scraps for reinforcement. I made 4 feet for the safe using plastic lids (from 4 deodorant bottles) spray painted black, and affixed both those and the round safe dial box to the cooler in their appropriate places by tracing and cutting out their outlines slightly into the styrofoam using a box cutter, imbedding them into the foam slightly by pushing into it, and then using white glue along the edges to keep them in place (remember to leave appropriate drying time!). I attached the safe handle using a screw from the inside using scraps of foam core and washers as reinforcement. Finally, I made an elastic strap to attach the fake safe to my body diagonally across my back by cutting , so my arms could be free to perform the “carrying” moves during the parade – I would shake the “safe” as though it was so heavy that my thief couldn’t take the weight anymore, hoist it higher up dramatically and involve my chin in the carrying, move my hands up and down the side, etc…To attach it, I cut a 1" slit all the way through at the top and side of the cooler/safe (you decide where is the best side for you so it's comfortable), just wide enough to feed in an elastic strap which I then adjusted and secured from the inside using a large binder clip over a wooden dowel on either side of the strap. Finally, I traced the fake door outline of the safe with a black sharpie to highlight the fake opening, and cut some fake money up and affixed it around the fake door using more white glue.
Step 2: Making the Frame and the Bank
Next I moved on to the frame of the costume/float and creating the bank. I made a light aluminum frame to support the “set” with two long right angle pieces and 3 cross pieces (2 aluminum, one wood), drilling into them using a metal drill bit and using nuts and bolts to secure them. On the middle (wooden) cross bar, I attached an old metal backpack frame (with 3 "L" brackets, nuts and bolts) for me to wear the whole scene comfortably. The floor and backdrop were made of large pieces of foam core. The floor was painted gray and I cut a hole for my body to fit into in front of the affixed backpack frame, and the backdrop, which had 3 bank teller windows made of flexible clear plastic, had a foam core base and frame, created by scoring and folding the foam core into teller booth shapes and setting them with hot glue. Once they were set, I covered the booths with fake wood paneling Contact paper. Both the floor and 3 booths were secured to the aluminum frame using nuts and bolts and large washers and hot glue as reinforcement, so they wouldn't rip through the foam core. Smaller pieces of foam core were used to create privacy ledges separating the teller windows (tall right angled triangles), and a long shelf with pass-through window holes (for the teller to exchange money through) were made using foam core and cut center sections of a large wrapping paper cardboard (painted silver – essentially like giant toilet paper rolls). The fake bank logo (“Gotham Bank”) was attached to a rectangular piece of foam core using spray mount glue, and that was hot glued onto the top of the frame. The 3 identical chain pens with holder glued to shelf and the gold “Member FDIC” signs at each window were a great way to make each teller look legitimate.
Step 3: Final Touches
Silver tape was used to hide any imperfections all over, and to line all the edges (including visually separating the 3 teller windows) throughout, making it seem more streamlined. I purchased fake money from a costume shop, dispersed and glued it all over the floor and peering out of the fake safe’s door - it was a great way to hide all the imperfections on my foam core from any nicks or mistakes I made along the way! I made twill money bags using beige fabric and painted a money sign onto each - then stuffed them with packing peanuts, leaving a few fake $100 peering at the top while I tied them shut - I carried one in my hands, and the other I rested on the bank "floor" behind my backpack frame, and I added a few beanbags into the bottom to counter weight some of the front. I used an old black stocking with eye hole cutouts to make a mask for myself, wore black gloves, a black sweatshirt and a black winter beanie hat (with more fake money tucked into the ledge).
To most people, this costume would be done...but I had titled the costume "Failed Bank Heist" - and to justify the “Failed” part of my costume title… so I made a small “NYPD” helicopter out of a plastic Tropicana juice bottle for the body, another plastic deodorant lid and foam core scrap for the tail, a half of a plastic ball for the rounded front window, small black dowels for the legs and using epoxy paste to connect everything/fill gaps. I was planning to attach the blades to a small motor and I feared someone might bump into it, so I used some L-200 soft foam painted metallic for the helicopter blades. I also had 3 small red lights built into the helicopter body, but ran out of time to rig a battery pack to it all (soldering takes time and cannot ever be rushed!!) - so I ended up affixing the blades with black gaffers tape instead. The helicopter was painted blue and white and I printed small versions of the NYPD logo and purchased blue stickers to make the lettering for each side. I affixed it to a tall black dowel at the front of the costume which was connected to an upside down plastic cup (for extra stability, secured with more epoxy paste) and screwed into one of the metal cross brackets under the bank floor, so the helicopter hovered over my thief with a small spotlight coming from it that shone into my face. My performance incorporated panic and wincing at the light throughout the parade, it was very fun! I also purchased a battery powered flashing red beacon light for the back of the costume, that made it seem there was a police car on my trail.
Step 4: The Result!
The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade has a lot of police along its course, so I used this in my performance throughout the parade route and the audience LOVED it. I would tiptoe past clusters of police and look at the audience making the “Sssshhhhhh” sign with my finger, mouthing/whispering “There are cops EVERYWHERE in this joint!” I would hide my face with the palm of my hand flat along the side of my face as I tiptoed past them. When there weren’t any police in sight, I would ask the audience “you guys haven’t seen any police around here, RIGHT? I’m totally safe, right?” and they would laugh and reply sarcastically “oh yeah, TOTALLY safe!” Sometimes, I would struggle to carry the safe and shake or lean back dramatically, and other times I would have panicked looks up in the sky as if I heard helicopters, and then I would spot my little helicopter and I would slow-motion run away in fear. A few times I gave the audience fake money and told them “That’s for you to keep quiet, alright? You didn’t see NOTHING” (and then I would wink dramatically).
Overall, it was a great success and we all had fun. I am grateful for that stoop sale find (and hot glue!). Halloween is the best!