Step 1: Inspiration and Goals
I discovered plaster strips last year when I made a Predator costume. They were lightweight and very strong. I began to experiment further with them, trying to make a sort of statue with them. I used foam boards (found at craft stores) to make a sort of skeleton/frame, and then covered that with plaster strips to fill out the shape, which could then be painted. The Velociraptor I made was a good test to see the extent of what could be done with the method.
This was the first project that I did a lot of research for. On previous projects, I might have simply found a few reference images to go off of, maybe watch the scenes from the movie. But this time, I wanted to reach a higher standard of quality; I wanted this to be extremely accurate. So I went through the Queen's scenes in Aliens, as well as going through the behind-the-scenes featurettes and image galleries. I fell more in love with the design and how she was created, and it gave me motivation to do justice to the classic monster. I had a statue of her (made by Palisades) that I used for some reference, but after looking at my research images, I found that the statue was inaccurate in a lot of areas, so I always double-checked to make sure a detail I was making was accurate.
Those were my main goals for this project: to make her life-sized and accurate in detail. And, as always, I wanted to make it cheaply. The size was huge, but since the Queen's legs and arms were pretty thin, that would cut down on the amount of plaster strips that would be needed for it, and I would still be able to keep a modest budget. I also wanted her to be free-standing. I'd have to figure out some sort of support to go under the front half of the figure, since she was so top-heavy and the legs are so far back on the torso.
Another issue with her size was that I would ultimately assemble this in the garage, which had a height of 11 feet. Various sources put the Queen's height at 14 or 15 feet. But in the movie she fits into the elevator that's only about 8 feet tall, so I figured as long as her torso wasn't upturned and her head was parallel to the floor, she'd fit.
Step 2: Materials and Cost
Plaster Strips - $60
Foam Boards - $42
PVC Pipe - $20
Spray Paint - $15
Hot Glue Sticks, Mod Podge, Wooden Dowels, Water Noodles - $28
A grand total of about $165. All things considered, pretty modest for something of this scale. I'd first found plaster strips at craft stores, but when I started needing them in large amounts, I turned to Amazon.com, which had the best deal on a bulk package of plaster strips.
Step 3: Making the Skeleton/Frame
Step 4: Teeth and Tail, and Other Details
The teeth were a particular challenge due to the fact that they are transparent. I experimented with trying to cast resin in a clay mold, or somehow cast hot glue in a mold, but the end result was never clear or clean enough. But I took another look at the glue sticks, which were clear, and came up with a solution: I used a wood-burning tool to melt the glue sticks and shape them into points, and make teeth with them that way. They looked good and clear, were relatively cheap, and even had the subtle yellow tint that they should have. These teeth were glued onto a gumline made from air-dry clay, and the whole thing was then glued onto the jaw areas.
The tendons on the jaws were also fun to make. I'd initially planned to make them with plastic wrap, but they didn't look right. I then thought about wax paper instead, and that looked better (still good and semi-transparent), but it didn't have the right texture, so I added some hot glue onto the wax paper and smoothed it out to make it look "stretchy".
Step 5: Plastering and Finishing Pieces
To smooth it all out, after putting the strips on, I took some plaster (of Paris) and mixed it with water to a milky consistency. I could then paint this on top of the surface to cover any small holes that the strips had, smoothing out the surface. To make the surface shiny and glossy (like the Queen needed to be), I took some Mod Podge and mixed it with a little bit of water and painted a layer of that over the top. And after that, I even sprayed some clear lacquer on top for added strength and shine.
Painting was easy enough. Lots of black, which could usually be found for $1 a can. Which was a good thing, because it took 12 cans to cover the whole thing. After that, a few highlights of yellow on the neck and shoulder areas, and then highlights with blue on raised areas. Those blue highlights help a lot as to how well it photographs.
Step 6: Some Assembly Required
Then I needed a stand to go under the neck to support the front side. I made one out of PVC pipe. I put strips of duct tape across the top where the neck would be able to gently sit on top of.
The feet also needed to sit on the ground more solidly, since her feet were so small. I hot-glued some wooden boards onto the bottom of the feet to make them stronger.
Step 7: Final Assembly
The whole thing weighs in at about 50 pounds, which for the size isn't bad. The torso/head piece was 25 pounds in itself, then 6 pounds for each leg, and the rest of the weight in the other pieces. It stood about 10 feet tall and 13 feet long. Full sized, but in a position that did allow it to fit in the 11-foot garage. It was a success!
Well, almost. After it had been standing for a few weeks the duct tape on the neck stand became detached and it became less balanced and I had to take it down. I never got to get pictures of it and my Power Loader both assembled at the same time. :( But after I repair the neck stand, there may be another chance for that in the future.
Step 8: Final Thoughts and Advice
The size and scale of the project was a nice accomplishment, but it was also satisfying to have put that much detail into the "sculpt". I didn't skimp on the detail just because it was huge; rather it allowed me to add details more easily. It was definitely a good step up for what quality I could achieve in my creations.
For making a similar project, or using methods like the one I used, these are the main bits of advice and warnings of potential problems:
- For large quantities of plaster strips, ordering online will help a lot in keeping a modest budget.
- Foam boards are indispensable. Useful for many, many things.
- To smooth out something covered with plaster strips, mix some plaster (of Paris) with water to a milky consistency and paint over the top. Joint compound would be another good option for smoothing. You can also use sandpaper to smooth further if you wish.
- Make sure stands are strong and weight is well supported, especially for something like this that would take a lot of damage from a fall.
- When attaching a PVC pipe or dowel to somewhere where it will take the burden of weight, it needs to be on VERY securely. Don't be afraid to add extra pieces of foam board and hot-glue the crap out of it to make it stable.
- Get tons of reference photos, and make sure they are accurate to the original creation you are trying to replicate.
- Adding the smaller details that people won't even notice is a good exercise. You get to figure out why these details exist and how important it is to translate them. It's fun to study these designs and see what makes them so unique.
This is a video that goes over a lot of the same things explained in this Instructable: