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When asking my sons what they wanted to be this year we went through many possibilities. They both fixated on one of their favorite movies "My Neighbor Totoro" by Hayo Miyazaki. If you haven't watched this film, I highly recommend it. It is a beautifully innocent animated movie from a brilliant film maker. It is also one of the very few G rated movies that doesn't have any really scary parts and that I think is also entertaining for adults.

We wanted to recreate Totoro as closely as possible, meaning we were going to do a full body mascot costume. Keeping in mind that my 4 and 6 year olds would have to war these for an hour or more. We came up with a set of goals we wanted to accomplish when creating the costumes:
  • Keep the proportions and overall look as close as possible to Totoro
  • Keep it as light as possible
  • Allow for freedom of movement
  • Have it come off and on as quickly as possible
  • Have my boys help in the construction
The oldest only took one break and enjoyed every second of the outing. The youngest… well we had a back-up costume that he used after he got tired of Totoro, but he still enjoyed the build and time he did spend in it. Overall a success in my book.

Step 1: Tools & Materials for Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Google Sketch-Up
Fabric Tape Measure
Coping Saw
Scissors
Sewing Machine
Needle

Materials:
Irrigation piping roll - home improvement store
Irrigation pipe couplers - home improvement store
Irrigation pipe couplers - home improvement store
Irrigation pipe T-connectors - home improvement store
Cross connectors - home improvement store
Duct Tape - home improvement store
1" black nylon straps - craft store
1" strap adjustment fasteners - craft store
Thread - craft store
Yarn - craft store
Brown Paper (for template making)
Thick Batting - craft store
Grey/Blue fleece (body) - craft store
Cream/White fleece (chest) - craft store
White fleece - craft store
Black fleece - craft store
Poly fill - craft store
Plasitc Mesh - craft store
Pet window screen - home improvement store

Resources:
Totoro Image
3D Model

Step 2: 3D Model for Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Printer
Google Sketch-Up
Fabric Tape Measure

Materials:
Paper & Pencil

Resources:
Totoro Image

The first thing I started with was finding a good base image that would allow me to take measurements to produce a sketch. I found this image that was perfect. This image is a straight on view with one arm sticking straight out, allowing me to take fairly accurate measurements.

I printed off the picture and measured everything in inches. I then took measurements of my two sons, who are both about the same size. Then based on these two sets of measurements I figured out a ratio between the Totoro image and my sons. What I ended up doing was multiply the image by 10, so if a measurement was 3.25" on the Totoro image, then the costume would be 32.5". This made it very easy for me. This would very greatly with a different size wearer. While the costume is a little adjustable I would take your own measurements and do your own ratio.

Next I took these measurements and created a 3d drawing using Google Sketch-Up. This allowed me to take the measurements and layout a basic frame to make sure everything looked correct. I did a little bit of tweaking to accomplish my goals of proportions while fitting my sons at the same time. The one thing I wish I would have done here was to make a stick figure in the 3d model of their measurements and put it inside the frame. What ended up happening is the first frame I made was too wide and their arms barely reached outside of the frame. Please learn from my mistakes!

If you want a base to start from I have included my Sketch-Up file here.

Step 3: Bottom Half of Frame for Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Coping Saw
Sewing Machine
Scissors
Fabric Tape Measure

Materials:
Irrigation piping roll
Irrigation pipe couplers
1" black nylon straps
1" nylon strap adjustment fastener
Thread
Duct Tape

Resources:
3d Model

I read where someone had created a Totoro costume with hula hoops, which in turn gave me the idea of using irrigation piping found in rolls at your local home improvement center. Actually they worked out so well for hula hoops that I used them as give-aways at one of my sons birthday parties.

My next thought was to have the bottom half of the costume be collapsible so I could reach inside and make any adjustments or help them in and out as needed. This would also allow them not to trip as much on the actual costume as it would give way if their feet kicked it. The top half would be more rigid.

With these idea's and the 3d model, I created the hoops and straps that would hang the bottom half of the costume from their shoulders. I measured a length of pipe by taking the diameter of the hoop and multiplying by Pi and then subtracting one inch for the coupler. (This is the first time I have had to use Pi in real life, yay Math). I didn't put the hoops together yet.

To make the straps I used the measurements between the hoops on the 3d model. The straps had loops in them where the hoops would slide into. From the sewing points I would measure up the next amount. For instance between the bottom hoop and the next was about 5.5". I made the bottom loop then measured up from that sewing point 5.5" and create another sewed another loop. Repeat this process for each of the 5 hoop connection points. Leave extra strapping after the top hoop to connect the straps so they can sit on the shoulders with a slide fastener. Create 4 of these straps with loops.

Putting these items together just slide the right size hoops through the correct loops making sure the hoops/loops are on the inside of the straps/costume. Now you can put the coupler on the pipe and form the hula hoop. Stop here and do a sanity check to make sure it is looking right. Slide the straps apart as evenly as possible and try it on with just holding the straps. If it looks right keep going, if not go back to your 3d model and tweak things.

I needed a way to fix the pipe to the straps so they wouldn't slide all around. Take each of the hoops circumferences' and divide by 4. This is how far apart the straps should be placed. I put the pipe couplers either at the front or back of the costume and these were my reference points as I fixed the straps with tape. As I went I would use duct tape to attach the straps to the hoops. This is best done if the costume is hanging.

To make the costume slightly adjustable I attached slide fasteners between the front and back straps. Put the fasteners closer to either the back or front of the costume, they should only be a few inches away from the top hoop. This gives extra space so I could put in straps between the left and right sides. These straps create a square hole where their head fit through and allowed the straps to stay on their shoulders.

Step 4: Top Half of Frame for Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Coping Saw
Scissors
Fabric Tape Measure

Materials:
Irrigation piping roll
Irrigation piping straight
Irrigation pipe couplers
Irrigation pipe T-connectors
Cross connectors
Duct Tape
Yarn

Resources:
3d Model

So I am going to explain three approaches I went through to create the rigid top half of the frame. The first which I used failed as it was not strong enough. The second was a quick fix based on the first failure. The last is the way I would do it next time.

As you can see in the pictures I created support beams out of the plastic mesh you can pick-up at your local craft store. I sewed it all together with yarn and even had internal support for added strength. I used three of these supports going from the bottom half to the shoulder hoop, and then another three attached directly to those up to the head hoop/structure.

The reason I went with this solution was to keep the weight down as I didn't think it needed to be that strong. I was wrong. Had to go back in after the costumes were all together and add support via straight irrigation pipe with some holes drilled in it and some zip-ties. This worked well with the rest of the structure already in place, but I do not think it would work well as you are building it because there is no lateral support.

What I would do going forward would be to put in tee-joints on the top hoop of the bottom half (the last hoop before the straps go up to the shoulders). Put 4 of these tee-joints as evenly spaced as possible. Then I would get cross joints for the next hoop that will be at shoulder height. The cross joints would hold the give the shoulder hoop a place to sit and attach both the bottom frame to the head hoop. Again, I would use tee-joints to attach the top hoop/structure to the shoulder hoop.

The top hoop has additional structure to hold the fabric up and attach the ears as well. To make all this fit I had to cut the tee-joints a little shorter.

With the frame done I had the boys try it on again. At this point my main concern was that the straps were sliding around. I decided to add a belt using the same strap material that would attach to the frame. You might see it in the pictures, but we never used it. The reason we never used it was that as soon as they had their arms through the costume it pretty much kept it from sliding down. So you can ignore that stuff as I point it out in the pictures.

We added string between the shoulder and bottom half hoops in an effort to support the batting and fabric. I would like to think of a different way to do this, but it worked. Just make sure you don't put too much tension where it will bent the hoops (which is what i think eventually collapse my plastic mesh beams).

Step 5: Skinning Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Sewing Machine
Needle
Scissors
Fabric Tape Measure

Materials:
Brown Paper (for template making)
Thick Batting
Thread
Grey/Blue fleece (body)
Cream/White fleece (chest)
White fleece
Black fleece
Poly fill
Plasitc Mesh
Pet window screen

The boys wanted to be different Totoro's so one decided to be like the big Totoro and the other like the medium one. The only differences were the medium one is blue, only has three boomerang type accents on his chest, and has no whiskers. This made them both happy.

Next we covered the frame with the batting which just entailed wrapping and forming and sewing it down. Cut holes for the arms and nose (where they would look out of).

We measured and cut templates for the fabric elements
- The main body 1 template for both the front and back
- Chest
- Sleeves
- Gloves (Made by tracing their hands)
- Eyes & Pupils
- Mouth
- Nose
- The boomerang like shapes on the chest
- Ears

We cut the fabric and pinned it together. Then sewed everything together bit by bit and test fitted as we went. The items that were placed on top of the main body were hand stitched, these were the eyes & pupils, the mouth, and the boomerang chest accents. The teeth were made by stitching a dark gray line between them. The ears were made and stuffed with filler and put over the pipes sticking up on top.

The nose was a little tricky as this was going to be where they looked out of. The top was made of plastic mesh to give it a stiffness so it would stick out a little and hold the screen open. The screen was a screen from the local home improvement store that was for pets. Looked a little thicker and more durable. Covered the plastic mesh with black fleece and sewed the two pieces together. Then cut a hole in the costumes head and hand sewed the nose on. The nose is big and almost beak looking, but I didn't know how to make it look better while still being usable to see out of the costume.

The gloves were the only piece separate from the over all costume. We could have attached them, but that would have increased the complexity of the build and made it harder to get in and out of. To accommodate the gloves and keep the look close to the original we made the sleeves a little long so they would cover up to the first set of knuckles. Then put a piece of elastic at the end of the sleeve and a hole for the thumb to come out. This was actually the thing that slowed down putting on the costume the most. So if we were lazy the boys could just stick their whole and through. This worked very well, just make sure the thumb hole is a little bigger than you need.

To finish everything up we hand stitched the bottom of the fleece onto the frame and the top of the head and ears. Then attach the tail which is a simple filled cylinder.

Step 6: Finishing Totoro Mascot Costume

Tools:
Sewing Machine
Scissors

Materials:
Burlap Bag
Thread
Black Pipe Cleaners

The grey Totoro needed whiskers which I used black pipe-cleaners for. I wish I had a different material to do this with as they bend to easy, but it worked well enough.

To finish up the look we got a burlap bag and made a couple of sacks from it. This looked close to what the medium Totoro in the movie carried the acorns in.

All in all they came out fantastic. We also accomplished most of our goals. Hope you enjoyed, and please if you make one based on my design send me pictures, I love that part of this site!
<p>I don't know if anyone will read this as it was posted 5 years ago but I think you could get around the problem of the nose (which is the only thing that spoils the finish of an otherwise perfect costume) by having the wearer look through the mouth instead. You could make the mouth open in a laugh, having black mesh at the back of the mouth to see through. </p><p>The basic design is excellent, and could easily become a russian doll, dalek or pikachu.</p>
I love that movie!
<p>Could you stuff it instead to make it a plush?</p>
This is great and so informative. Thanks. Nice job!!!!!
Thank you :)
How do you see through it?
Wow they look great, Compliments!<br>Are they flame safe?
They are made of fleece and batting material gotten from the local fabric store. My guess is those don't come flame safe. But the costumes come of incredible fast, plus we were walking with our kids.<br><br>If you are interested in that then I am sure there is something you could probably treat the fabric with?!?
Excellent!!<br>These costumes came out GREAT!!<br><br>And Im a big Studio Ghibli fan as well! <br><br>I love how you built the frame. Much easier than hula hoops. Gives me some ideas now...hmmm..<br><br>But a truly lovely costume!
Love it! So cute. And my daughters and I love all of Hayo Miyazaki's films (even the ones with scary parts). Great costumes, they must have had so much fun in them.
They haven't watched Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but everything else Ghibli has done. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's are by far their favorites right now. Probably change as they get older. :)
I just love what you have done! Thank you for sharing!!
What great costumes! It looks like they came together very well. <br><br>Thanks for posting this, it makes me want to see the movie. I'll have to check it out for the family!
Thanks! It really is a fantastic childrens movie. The other Studio Ghibli movies are worth a look as well.
That is an intense costume. So much detail! Great!
Yes, intense would describe these (and my others) well. It helps that my sons get into it with me, their smiles make it that much better.

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