Introduction: Professional & Durable Giant Robot Kaiju Costume!
For most of us, growing up watching monster movies was a staple of our childhood. We loved to watch enormous atomic-fire-breathing beasts, stalking a cityscape while crushing both buildings and terrified denizens alike underfoot. At one point we've all imagined ourselves either being Godzilla, Ultraman or the Megazord itself, either defending or terrifying the imaginary cities of our minds.
We're older now, so why not bring that fantasy scenario to life by building your own Kaiju robot?
My name is Curtis Jaeger and I'm Directing my own Kaiju film, Mind City Terror. The Kaiju genre has recently received a revival with "Pacific Rim," but regardless of your feelings for the CGI monsters of Guillermo Del Toro's film, my crew and I always had a soft-spot for the latex body suits of the originals. There's just something so much more fun about smashing something practically.
We wanted to share how we made our costumes in hopes of encouraging other DIY filmmakers to aim high as we believe the sky is the limit for costume makers and amateur filmmakers alike. Too often the multitasking and budgeting of filmmaking causes inexperienced makers to abandon a project before they really give it a shot, so without further introduction here is our guide to making your own Kaiju monster.
As a caveat, the instructions for this Instructable are for our project specifically. We encourage you to experiment and share with us your results! If you found the article helpful, check out our Kickstarter and contribute to get yourself a copy of the film when it's complete!
Step 1: 01: Concepting
Before you purchase materials you need to know what you're going for. Like any project, a strong design concept at the start will guide you more efficiently and produce stronger results.
If budget is a concern, designing your creature based on what you know you can afford or scrap together isn't a bad idea. If you have a lot of a certain material you can get access to, or even things like found objects, you can produce good work for little money. However, from a design standpoint, you might find a lot of ideas in the creative process by sketching out multiple concepts. Don't spend a lot of time on detail at the start, just focus on the big features and move on. For design's sake, don't be afraid to make a couple crazy ones. You might find something you like!
When you have a good start here, start selecting the ones you like best and perhaps consider integrating or changing your design to suit what you like best about each one. Then start refining your drafts until you have something you can work with.
Step 2: 02: Making Molds and Sourcing Materials
Materials can be almost anything but in our case we had to consider our stuntmen inside the costume. While the costume had to be flexible enough to move cleanly to allow our performers to do the required stunts, we also had to ensure their safety. This meant that we had to be conscious that any materials we used had to produce no risk to the performer, particularly in cases with rigid parts at joints or around the neck and head. It's paramount that you keep this in mind if you plan on doing anything physical in the costumes.
For our giant robot, EGO-1, we used mostly sculpted parts. Original models were sculpted from wax-based clay, then rubber and plaster molds were made from those sculptures and final plastic and foam rubber positives were pulled from the molds that were then used on the costume. This is beneficial if you'd like to create an original lightweight design. It is also very easy to create multiples this way. If you plan on beating up your costume or just want a backup, making multiples can be advantageous as even costumes that aren't made for stunts can take damage when being transported or just from accidental misuse.
There are lots of tutorials on how to make proper molds available here. Smooth-On is a great resource for mold making materials and information. We purchased a lot of our supplies from Douglass and Sturgess, a Bay Area seller however Smooth-On can direct you to a supplier near you.
Before you make the molds, be aware of the size of your performer and take good measurements to ensure that the positives will fit. What might be good on one performer might be too small on another and it would be a shame to have spent a lot of time making parts only to have it be ill fitting. Parts that are too big might also be a safety issue, so be sure to get the best measurements possible.
We also made some of the rigid parts by vacuum forming plastic over molds (this can be done over certain found objects). Check out a vacuum forming demo here.
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing is also another option to make parts (however at this time could still be as time consuming and more costly than hand sculpting and traditional mold-making).
Access to vacuum forming, 3D printers and milling machines can be found through local workshops like Techshop. Techshop is a great resource not only for it's equipment and training but also for the onsite professionals and peers that can assist you.
Foam matting is an easy option for creating parts directly on the costume. see tutorial here: We used foam matting for the inner thigh pieces of the costume and sides for flexibility and softness.
When creating parts, try to choose materials that are the color you'd like or remember to add dyes when applicable.
You can use found objects or prefabricated parts such as shin-guards or pre made masks and parts if you find sculpting and mold making to be too difficult or time consuming. For example, we only built out the mask instead of the full helmet and fit it into a
Cotton spandex bodysuit. Cotton spandex/lycra is ideal for comfort and very important because the glues will adhere best to cotton. Make sure you choose a color that fits your design, as the bodysuit will fill in gaps where it might be difficult or uncomfortable to put molded costume pieces. A premade dancer's bodysuit will also work, but keep in mind that your performer will need to take off the costume so one with a zipper in the back is ideal.
Step 3: 03: Primer Painting
Before you start applying your parts to your costume, you should coat your parts in a primer paint not just to make detail painting later easier, but also to provide your pieces with some protection. Depending on your work environment, it's inevitable that your pieces will have to endure a little manhandling during production.
Don't worry about doing detail work just yet! That comes later.
Step 4: 04: Fittings!
For a full body costume it's a good idea to get a mannequin of equal size to your performer. Partial mannequins, such as a torso or bust won't allow you to fill out the bodysuit and can lead to poor fittings. Mannequins are relatively cheap and can be purchased at a retailer like Amazon for relatively little expense. We purchased our mannequin from AMT Mannequins for about $100. Shipping can be expensive, so consider that in your purchase.
It's best to purchase a mannequin slightly larger than your performer to allow for movement in the suit. A mannequin of the exact size or too small might cramp the actor or cause parts to bust under pressure and that's no good at all. We purchased a mannequin about one inch larger than our performers dimensions.
Once you have a mannequin to work with, use plastic wrap to cover the outside of your mannequin completely. The big movers wrap is preferable to kitchen wrap not just because of its size but also because it's cheaper per square footage. The reason we wrap the mannequin is because we'll be using adhesives to hold our costume together and any accidental gluing of the bodysuit to the mannequin could cause severe damage to both the mannequin and your costume.
Make modifications as needed. Make sure all seams are lined up correctly and trace where the parts will fall on to the bodysuit with water soluble dressmakers pencil or ink. Measure twice and make sure parts are centered. Make any revisions and modifications to parts and repeat until all parts fit. This is a very important step to do before going any further.
Once you've covered the mannequin in wrap, use baby powder to coat the outside in order to prevent any additional stickage. Being thorough here can save you a lot of time down the road and will improve the overall quality of your costume, so don't cut corners!
Step 5: 05: Detailing Parts and Attaching
Now is the time to begin detailing your parts and applying them to your costume. Before you start applying your parts to your costume, finish parts for the aesthetic with a paint/finish appropriate to the materials you're applying it to.
For our mask, we used two-part plastic and used sunglass lenses behind the eye cutouts, fitted the face mask onto a custom cut motorcycle helmet that we then added further sculptural elements to. This added the benefit of providing safety for our stunt performer.
For our padded armor elements, we used a molded foam that we shaped and cut before sealing it inside latex that we folded around it. We glued these molds to the bodysuit and placed our molded latex-rubber over it. In some areas, we used the molded form to produce a more detail in areas we didn't have time or the inclination to make a mold for. You can see in one of our pictures that we used this technique to give the robot some more substantial "ribs." Use a sprayed adhesive to the back of your parts to adhere them to the bodysuit.
For more rigid parts, use 100% cotton and mold it into the back of the parts, then use adhesive. This gives it more protective cushing and the cotton serves as a good intermediary to stick to both your parts and the bodysuit. It helps to also use things like small straps (either sewn or velcroed) to keep them in place. Simply attach the strap by cutting a small hole or gluing a velcro strip to your suit and do the same to the piece. This helps keep the part in the correct place when you remove the parts to make adjustments and it also is more reinforcing to make sure your stunts don't move the part when the suit is in action.
Once you get your main pieces into place and are comfortable with the look, use more 100% cotton to give the costume more additional molding and shaping around the parts. You can also add smaller parts and pieces between them to fill out the costume. You can use cables, little bolts or just found computer parts to really enhance the overall detail of your costume. Get nuts!
Step 6: 06: More Painting, Adding Lights and Testing!
Once you get the parts fitted to your liking, now you can add your final coats of paint. Before you glue, make sure to lightly tape around your zipper so you don't accidentally glue or paint your zipper shut. This would be a bummer for many obvious reasons. Otherwise, now you're ready to really get in there and get crazy on making it looks amazing.
For your foam-latex-rubber parts and other soft foam pieces, we suggest using a latex glue called "Snake Skin," made by Smooth On. It's a fantastic material for protecting your costume but also giving it a luscious look that adds buckets of production value to your final product.
For our model we also added a few choice LED lights to give the helmet and the body some more feature. LEDs are cheap and small, meaning they're easy to place on your model. You can put a battery pack behind some of your larger parts and link that to the lights. The LEDs can also add the benefit of drawing attention towards parts of your costume that should be featured and are of higher quality, and thusly away from parts where you might not have much detail.
Once you've finished adding new parts, painting and adding lights, remove the tape. Be careful when you do so! You're so close to being finished it would be a shame to damage the costume now! Power under the costume as you remove it to reduce chances for stickiness.
Now your costume is ready for testing! Be gentle with it as you get started. Make smaller movements in it and look for where the costume might damage itself and make adjustments carefully. When you're confident you can move without damaging anything, give it a whirl. You definitely want to test the sturdiness of your costume before you take it to stunts.
Our costume is undergoing it's final stages so well have a picture for it here in the next couple days. Hope you enjoyed the article and leave a comment if you plan on doing something similar or just want to share your opinions! We'd love to hear them here or on our Kickstarter! Check out Mind City Terror and donate if you think this article was helpful and you'd like a copy of the movie when we are finished! We'll update this article when are costumes are soon completed when we begin doing stunts.
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