Introduction: Ultimate Grim Reaper Costume

[10/27/14 Update: A friend took some shots of me at a local Halloween parade and then asked me to do a photo shoot. Add a fog machine and a backlit window and OMG this thing looks terrifying! I also want to thank everyone for the great comments.]

In 1998 we started having Halloween parties for our kids and

over the years I had constructed a customized Grim Reaper costume that lasted over 15 years. Even took 2nd place at a major Halloween party in Salem Massachusetts. I’ve always wanted to improve on my Reaper but it was never worth it until I started working for a local haunt in Massachusetts last year. Last year I introduced my old reaper costume to the masses and it was a major hit at this park and I finally had the motivation I needed to build Grim Reaper 2.0.

The First Goal: Make Reaper 2.0 extremely intimidating! Some people are just not afraid of the dark so this needs to either intimidate or highly impress the brave souls first. Height – 8 feet tall, 3.5 feet wide, exposed bones, accurate proportions (cannot look goofy, must look like a giant skeleton), make sure there is no human qualities visible.

The Second Goal: Make Reaper 2.0 scare everyone else without ever having to make a sound. Yelling and screaming does scare a few but mostly startles people. I want to see FEAR!!! Have to be able to move quickly and quietly with good visibility so you can seemingly appear out of no where.

How I achieved this…

Planning is critical. You need to determine how to do all of this with what you have lying around your house or plan on spending a lot of money to get the materials you need. Building something like this does take an investment and I budgeted about $500 for this costume and built everything from scratch. THIS is the key! Building something from the ground up is truly unique and you never have to worry about running into anyone wearing the same costume.

Download several images from the internet as reference for the ribcage, skull, arms and overall look that you want to achieve. I used a mix of real images and some artist’s drawings that had that scary look I wanted to replicate.

Things you will need to

· Alice backpack frame

· PVC pipe 1” and ¾ “

· Duct tape

· Liquid latex – black, 1 gallon

· Aluminum crutches

· Black burlap – roughly 30 yards

· Several other black materials that you want to add to your costume

· Wire hangers

· led lights, battery packs and wiring to enhance this if you want

· Tools used: Dremel and various bits, Drill, rivet gun, hot knife, saws, utility knife, utility brushes, air brush, spray paints.

Step 1: Frame and Rib Cage

Build a PVC stand to build everything to size. Mount the Alice pack frame on the stand so it
is at the same height when it will be worn. Disassemble a pair of aluminum crutches and size up the aluminum poles to be used as extensions on the Alice pack to raise the shoulder level higher than your head. I used the existing poles that have 1” extension settings so the shoulder height can be adjusted up or down by 1”.

Attached the PVC pipes to establish the shoulder width and use the flexible PVC pipes to build and shape a frame for the ribcage. This is a trial and error process because you have to plan for how this will fit around you and how you will get in and out of the costume. I used several paper templates to establish the exact size of the ribs, arms, neck and skull to get the exact proportions I wanted for this. I carefully positioned the location for the shoulder joints using ringlets screwed into the PVC. Everything else will be based on this so take your time and make sure you can fit well in this before continuing.

This is where you need to have some artistic abilities. I never attempted something like this before

so I’m pretty surprised at how well this came out but I just took my time and kept referring to reference images and constantly adjusting. The paper templates make it easy.

The ribcage was challenging because it had to be shaped around the frame, be flexible but also durable. There’s probably better materials to use but this is what I had available. I decided to carve the actual ribs out of white Styrofoam and covered it with several layers of liquid latex so I would have something light and flexible. Using the template, I simply shaped the front of the ribs in the foam using a utility knife, rasp and sandpaper then covered the front with latex to hold it together. Next, using the hot knife, I removed the back of the Styrofoam until I got the depth of the ribs that I wanted. A good hot knife is NOT cheap. I own one and it was perfect to make quick work with the foam. It would take more time but the extra material can be removed with rasps, wire brushes and utility knifes. Once I had the thickness of the ribs I wanted, I coated the back with one coat of latex to totally encase the Styrofoam in rubber.

I then used duct tape to secure the ribs to the PVC frame and to hold everything in place. Once satisfied with that, I covered the entire ribcage and frame in 3 – 4 coats of latex rubber making the entire ribcage durable enough to take years of abuse.

Step 2: Sculpting the Skull

The skull took an entire weekend to sculpt. I started by gluing several pieces of dense
wall insulation foam board together. You can use some spray glues or spray foam insulation to glue foam together. At this point I held my breath and hoped for the best.

The first thing was to get the basic size of the skull that would work on the reaper. It had to be bigger than any human head but not so big that it looks goofy. This part involved hand saws, rasps and wire brushes. At this point, the skull is still bigger than I wanted but I knew it would be reduced in size as I continued to sculpt the details. Better to start big.

The dense foam was difficult to work with and I tried using several tools to figure out what worked best. I found that I had to use a Dremel rotary tool to work with this foam. Anything else simply caused damage to the material. I used a combination of small grinding bits and various wire brush attachments for the Dremel which worked great. For my first attempt at creating a skull out of foam board, I don't think it would be possible to get this level of detail without a Dremel. And if you think about it, this is the MOST important part of the costume. Love my Dremel.

By the way, if you don’t already own a dust collector, it’s a good investment for a project like this. The amount of foam dust is insane and will cover every inch of your body. The final step for the skull was to coat it with a special epoxy coating I ordered online.

Step 3: Assembly

This was a challenge because you have to put aside any

reference drawings and start looking at what will look good in the costume. What you want to show and what you want to hide will determine how much work you put into this. I wanted as much of the ribs to show as possible without seeing a person inside.

The construction here involved the same process as above. I used various pieces of foam and PVC to build the shapes and then covered with the black latex rubber to hold all together and still allow some flexibility where it was needed. I also covered all of the bones with a base coat of off white or antique spray paint so all the bones have a uniform color.

I also added the lower arms and hands to the frame. I don’t have instructions for these because I
had made them years ago using wire hangers, PVC tubes, duct tape, pen tubes and latex rubber. They were the perfect size for this project and with a little paint, they went from monster hands to skeleton hands very quickly.

Step 4: Creating the Cloak

After extensive searches on the internet for the best

looking reaper cloak, I settled on a Jedi or rather Sith cloak for this costume. This was a perfect choice because I wanted the cloak to flow in the wind as I moved around. Having a single piece of material wrapped around you looks like you’re wearing a dress and isn’t very scary. There are plenty of plans on the internet on how to create this robe. The hard part was sizing it for the Reaper. At 8’ tall, it took close to 24 yards of black burlap and I had to spread the material out in my driveway to mark it out and make the cuts.

Ok, I’m no seamstress and I don’t own a sewing machine so I had to sew this cloak entirely by hand. Buy a large needle and some strong black string and give up a weekend or two and you’ll be satisfied with the results.

Under the cloak, I found a great nylon stretchy material that was heavy and hangs like a drape creating a great covering for my body. The stretchiness of the material makes it easy to move around and it hangs so well under the ribs that it almost appears as if there’s no body underneath. Oh, and I had to hand sew this as well so I took the easy way out. I bought 4 yards of material, cut a hole in the center for my head and draped it over my body covering my front and back. Then I only had to stich up about four feet on each side to create a makeshift dress. Yes, I’m wearing a dress and it looks good!

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Once I was finished with the cloak and ‘dress’, I removed it

to paint the bones. It would be difficult to get a great old bone look without airbrushing this and where I want the bones to show, I had to go into a lot of detail here. I took the approach of making the bones darker than I originally planned so it would look very evil in daylight and even scarier at night.

I also mounted some red LED lights for the eyes. Basic setup with a switch and battery and
there’s plenty of instructions online for lighting so I’ll leave this to your own imagination. However, while walking through an auto store, I came across some red LED light strips for a car and bought a few to shin up from the collar bone to light the skull from below and the second strip shined down lighting behind the ribcage making it appear there is nothing behind the ribs. These light strips were easy and perfect. They come prepackaged with batteries and a button. I only had to stick them in place and extend the wires so I could press the buttons at will.

I also used the handle from the crutches to create a nice
grip to manipulate the arms just below the elbows. All the wires ran to the back of the frame and I created some areas behind the shoulders that would fill out the back of the costume and hold the batteries. I have very good visibility inside this costume and I wear a black nylon hood over my face so even when the red lights are on, you cannot see any details behind the ribs creating a wonderful hollow effect behind the ribs.

Step 6: The OMG Moment

Putting this all together took another weekend because I

spent a lot of time tweaking many little details, velcro’ing the cloak to key points of the frame and I even extended a rod up through the PVC neck pipe into the base of the skull. I attached a “U” shaped wire to this rod that wraps around the back of my head when I wear the costume. This allows me to turn the head left and right just enough to look cool.

Stepping back and looking at this thing fully assembled
simply blows you away. I’m 6’2” and you simply want to step back away from this reaper to take him all in.

I recently took him out at the Halloween Event I work at last weekend and this was a major hit at the park. Up close or far away, this costume makes a great impression. I’m standing next to a giant clown head entrance (which I also created for this event) and the wall of that structure is 8’ tall so you can see the size of it. I’m also standing next to two other characters who are 6’ tall and the girl is 5’4”.

Hope you like my first Instructables project. Happy Haunting!

Comments

author
monkaboo (author)2015-03-19

Great work. I have started my setup. I know it is only March, but I want to make it really amazing. My question to you is, the hands. How do you work them? What I mean is, I get the alice frame is on your back and that brings the Reaper head and shoulders up, but the arms you work with and they are probably up by your ears. So how do you work the arms comfortably? Could you take a photo on what inside the cloak looks like? I can only picture you grabbing the "elbow" of the costume and being in a semi permanent "Birdie Dance" pose. I hope that makes sense on what I am asking you. How do you work the arms when they appear to be up by your head? Also, do you think there is a way to set it up to make the head moveable? Meaning, when you turn your head to the right, the Reaper does as well?

author
gpetit1 (author)monkaboo2015-03-24

Awesome, cannot wait to see how yours comes out.

I'll take it out of storage soon so I can attach some photos of how it fits on me without the cloak. I'm actually standing upright and it's very comfortable considering the size of this thing. The alice pack gives it that hunched over look.

When you extend the Alice pack, I used aluminum poles from old crutches and riveted them on the pack and made the height of the costume shoulders just above my head. I then used pvc to create the shoulders about 8 inches wider than my own shoulder width. This allows for the arms to hang down right inline with my own arms. The arm length is proportionate with the overall height of the costume. Your hands probably reach down to about mid-thigh so if you adjust the arm length like this, the appearance looks more realistic.

You also need to consider the rib construction to make sure you have plenty of room to move your own arms around while inside the costume. With the handles attached just below the elbows, it was pretty easy to manipulate the arms. Also consider the arm holes in your cloak. It needs to be long enough so that you can easily put your arms through the sleeves too.

author
Green_Primus (author)2014-10-14

once youve articulated the hands do you plan on a equally large sythe? Also if yes anyway to incorporate some (drywall) stilts into it make it even taller?! If you cant tell I've wanted to do something simular for a while! Oh AWESOME JOB!!

author
gpetit1 (author)Green_Primus2014-10-15

Thanks and YES I already have an equally large scythe. Made one years ago for my old reaper costume and it still works very well with this one. Adding an old image with my previous reaper costume.

I found this beautiful, worm ridden oak branch in my yard one day and couldn't stop myself from turning it into this scythe. The blade is made out of 1/2" plywood with rude etchings I made with my dremel. The construction utilized mortise and tenons to attach the handle and blade. Add in some old twin string and a rubber skull on top and you have one creepy scythe.

I plan on taking a video of the costume in action this weekend and will also add some pictures with the Scythe.

ReaperAndSythe.jpg
author
gpetit1 (author)gpetit12014-10-20

https://www.instructables.com/id/Grim-Reaper-Scythe...

Just added more details about the Scythe to a new instructable.

author
dark blade (author)gpetit12014-11-03

i have a question gpetit1. Whats your favorite part of the costume :o

author
gpetit1 (author)dark blade2014-11-03

Interesting question... I have to say the Ribcage is my favorite part of the costume. It had to be just right to pull this off and everything else connects to it. If the proportions were wrong here, it might look a bit goofy but when people see this thing, even in daylight, they have a lot of difficulty trying to figure out what's inside. I keep hearing, "is he really that tall?", "is he on stilts?", "is he inside the ribs?", etc... which tells me that I got the proportions just right and I can keep them guessing. For many, it's also the first thing they see before looking up so I wanted the ribs to look as good as I could make them.

author
astrong0 (author)2014-10-16

Oh my hell that thing would be terrifying.

author
avayan (author)2014-10-14

Well, you were not kidding; this is truly the ULTIMATE!!! Grim Reaper Costume. For years, I have contemplated the idea of making me one of these. Great inspirational material, that's for certain!

author
Random_Canadian (author)2014-10-13

Terrifyingly AWESOME!!! You really hit the mark with your build! That skull sculpture is superb!

author
gpetit1 (author)2016-03-07

For those of you who are interested, I've been working on the Articulated Skeleton Hands and just published that instructable. I'll be incorporating the new hands into the costume a little later this spring.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Articulated-Skeleton-Hand/

author
monkaboo made it! (author)2015-11-01

This is it!! Friday at my office, I won 1st place. I BARELY fit in my office. I did scare one of my attorney's kinda badly. I didn't even mean too! I really wish I had my GoPro recording at that time. She is fine now, but yeah. Screaming and cursing...IT WAS GREAT!! lol

The photos provided were from last nights trick or treating. My family had been watching me build this thing via Facebook for sometime now, so when I showed up to my Grandparents, I was shocked to see a lot of my family AND their friends there.

Though this thing took over my home (I live in the desert. We were still in 100+ degree weather in September), I learned a lot. My friends helped some, but I relied heavily on this instructable.

What I like about him is his cloak. I thought that would be the hardest thing, but unlike the OP, I had a sewing machine and two other people to help with the material. We knock that thing out in about 2.5 hours! One thing I didn't like is his collar bones. They just don't look right... and his hands. I really wanted to make movable hands, which did work on a smaller scale, but when I would try to make them to size, they would fail and I didn't want Skully (yes, I named him) to be flipping off my bosses by accident.

Overall, It was fun, but I am happy Halloween is over for now. I want to make my own Instructable to hopefully answer questions, if anyone is interested. Until then, thank you, OP, for posting this a while back. It took me 6 months, working on it here and there, but it made this October 31st fun!

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author
monkaboo made it! (author)2015-09-30

I am 85% done. Will finish almost everything except the cloak by the end of this weekend. Just wanted to say thank you for the motivation! I opted to stick with the static hands for this year. I tried sculpting the head but came out way too small and opted to go store bought. Worked out better. Thank you again!

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author
stringstretcher (author)2014-10-13

Super cool! I recall this instructable for an animated hand... it would take you 15 more minutes... please do it :P (not my instructable!)

https://www.instructables.com/id/Simple-Animatronics-robotic-hand/

author
gpetit1 (author)stringstretcher2014-10-13

Thanks, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist and if I'm going to add an animatronic hand t this, it has to look like a skeleton hand. I actually built a prototype earlier this year but it wasn't working well enough to incorporate into the costume. I've already started working on version 2 of that hand for next year. Here's a pick of the prototype made from wood. The new hand will be made from nylon and will have a more "boney" appearance. I'll have to publish a new instructable for that in a couple months.

20131116_185445.jpg
author
monkaboo (author)gpetit12015-08-24

Just out of curiosity, where are you with this wonderful thing?

author
gpetit1 (author)monkaboo2015-08-24

Unfortunately it's still on the drawing board. Life and job keeps getting in the way of progress. sigh.

author
monkaboo (author)gpetit12015-08-27

I hear that. Work always seem to get in the way of fun. Thank you for all your help so far. Your skull, you used 2 inch pink insulation, correct? I am starting that fun task this weekend. I am not a sculptor. But, I do have time on my side right now. I am guessing your skull has to be a foot tall about 8 inches wide and a foot deep. I hope so, because that is what I am shooting for for mine. Current update with my build. Also, added a cool pic I found in the RPF Facebook post. I am going to try something similar out too. Thank you again!

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author
gpetit1 (author)monkaboo2015-08-27

Your guesses on the skull dimensions are accurate. I'm no sculpter either but it just takes patience. i like your approach on the ribs. Looks great.

author
dark blade (author)gpetit12014-10-30

i want to thank you because i am making a grim reaper almost like that and i am telling them i based of it a little bit

author
stringstretcher (author)gpetit12014-10-14

That's a great looking arm/hand! I see the grim reaper just moving his index finger, beckoning you to follow him... that would not be too hard to disguise into bones. It is going to be great when you get that part incorporated. Wonderful costume!

author
monkaboo (author)2015-08-12

Hey Gary,

I am at the part where I am going to start sculpting the skull. My question is, what was the epoxy you used to coat the head? There are loads of epoxies out there and some that I know EAT foam. If you can point me to the exact kind, I would appreciate it.

-Monk

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author
gpetit1 (author)monkaboo2015-08-13

Looking good!
I used an epoxy from Smooth-On, http://www.smooth-on.com/.
Look up EPSILON® EPS Foam Coating Epoxy on their site. Not cheap but only needed their sample size for the job. READ ALL THE INSTRUCTIONS!!! It's an exothermic process and it gets very hot. If you are not careful, the heat generated can melt the foam. There's a tip somewhere that says after mixing the chemicals, spread it onto a cookie sheet and then apply from there. That was great advice to keep the reaction temperature at a minimum and it extended the working time a little too.
-Gary

author
Himers (author)2014-11-17

Nice job... but I didn't see any instructions for the hands and arms.

author
buffy.irwin.7 (author)2014-11-14

give you 20 bucks to stand off to the side at someone's funeral better yet $50 and stand at my Funeral and not make a sound just look around at everybody in attendance lol. The video will be priceless. nice job

author
gpetit1 (author)buffy.irwin.72014-11-17

LOL, thanks, I've been getting this request frequently.

author
iceng (author)2014-11-16

Great ible, in your place, I would use the Step_4 picture as the very first one.

author
ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2014-11-16

That is one impressive reaper. And very well done Instructable. I have wanted to build a reaper similar to this to use as a decoration for many years but never seem to have the time or money for the materials. Anyway, I definitely got some ideas about how to put it together from reading this. Maybe next year.... (famous last words).

author
syedhamzahasan (author)2014-11-15

skull shows some serious skills mate. keep up the good work!

author
ashleyjlong (author)2014-11-14

The grim reaper seems like such a simple costume and a lot of people probably throw on a cloak and mask to be done with it. This was really exceptional and totally parade/ haunted house worthy! Great work. The foam sculpting section was interesting for me.

author
N3crojoker (author)2014-10-12

Wow that skull is sick dude. Nice carving skills

author
dark blade (author)N3crojoker 2014-11-03

i love the skull too. SICK!!!!!!!

author
gpetit1 (author)N3crojoker 2014-10-13

Thanks, it was my first attempt. Next year I'll create a new skull that will be more accurate and detailed and will have a fully articulated jaw.

author
anotheryoung38 (author)2014-10-23

Very well done and kudos to making this out of almost all DIY materials. It's rare to see a costume this good that doesn't require Arduinos, 3D printing, or 6 tons of pepakura.

Given the scale, had you considered stilts, or is that too much for this?

author
gpetit1 (author)anotheryoung382014-10-23

Thanks for your comment.

I did not want to use stilts for a couple reasons. First, I'm often on uneven ground and it gets scary. Second, with stilts, it's hard NOT to look like someone on stilts. Third, the skull draws immediate attention and even though it is large enough to cover a normal persons head, the proportions and neck bones make it unique and not like someone wearing a mask. Plus, when I'm back lit, you can see through the burlap robe and the skeletal structure shows through making a great impression in well lit areas.

I tried hard to make the overall proportions realistic and it has paid off. I've had so many "victims" who have seen me that cannot easily how the costume works. I've had people arguing whether or not I was on stilts. Several thought I was a basketball player and a few who thought it was robotic. They were obviously in shock but it made me very happy to know they were having so much difficulty trying to figure out what they were looking at.

author
Alexis313876 (author)2014-10-16

wow

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clawler3 (author)2014-10-15

AWESOMENESS!

author
makerje (author)2014-10-15

Como decimos en España... Oleeee!!!

author
makerje (author)2014-10-15

Hi, your work is incredible!! Amazing

author
ericCycles (author)2014-10-14

Truly wonderful! Change the lights to blue and it would be perfect for disc world movies.

author
truliwicked (author)2014-10-14

I need this for everyday purposes!! This is AWESOME. Job very well done.

author
bstorer (author)2014-10-14

Your Grim Reaper is very cool! Are you sure you weren't one of the contestants on "Face Off?" Good job! Well Done!

author
Blaise_Gauba (author)2014-10-14

Nice job!

author
cybercapri (author)2014-10-14

Dude, this is GREAT, and you have MAD carving skillz... Well done... I can easily do the construction part but my carving skills suck monkey balls at best...

author
pballerss (author)2014-10-13

Duuuuuuuude, you rox! That costume is awesome, Congrats!

author
D.igitalMedia97 (author)2014-10-13

Thanks much!

author
D.igitalMedia97 (author)2014-10-12

What resin did you use? Finding some that doesn't react to the foam is difficult. And I looks like it applied/coated evenly too.

author
gpetit1 (author)D.igitalMedia972014-10-13

Used EPSILON® EPS Foam Coating Epoxy. Expensive but needed it to create a hard shell for the skull. Used two coats, about 2/3's of a quart of this epoxy. You can find a lot of great products at www.smooth-on.com for working with foam.

author
conks_cuties (author)2014-10-13

This is very cool and creative, you've got talent. Great job!

author
robocop2 (author)2014-10-13

great skull, good job, man

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