Introduction: Alien Xenomorph Costume

About: I am an artist in upstate New York who works in a variety of mediums including illustration, digital, sculptural and photographic. Currently employed as Director of the Oneonta YMCA Teen Center, as well as pho…

There comes a time in a man's life when he has to put aside his childhood dream of having an Alien costume and actually decides to do something about it.
Ever since I was a kid I wanted an Alien costume, and after my experience carving foam into the masks of the stretched faced Maitlands from Beetlejuice for Halloween 2011, I decided to try my luck. I told myself if I could carve the head and make it look cool, I would consider making the entire costume. And hey, if you don't have time for an entire costume, you have an alien head to hang over your mantle.

It all starts with a block of foam...

Step 1: Before You Begin: Key Tools and Ingrediants

Fabric Scissors
Low temp glue gun
High Temp Glue Gun
Dremel drill with assorted bits
Caulk Gun
Mannequin Bust
Heat Gun

Foam board Insulation (Carving head, back pipes and back spine)
Liquid nails for foam board (Back pipes)
Fleece vest (chest)
Backer rods, assorted sizes (Pipes on chest, neck, legs, feet)
Vacuum Cleaner hoses (details on shoulders, chest, tail)
Foam insulation tubing (Shoulders, ribs, details throughout)
Rubber insulation tubing(tail base)
A Bicycle helmet (Head)
Black fabric (neck)
Industrial strength Velcro (Grion, sternum, back pine, neck piece)
Upholstery sheet foam (details on tail, legs, chest)
One pair of pants or leggings (legs)
Fleece gloves (for hands)
Black cord (Details on hand, chest and legs)
Masonite board (Tail base
Flag mount (tail)
A black military belt (tail)
PVC pipe that fits into Flag mount. (Tail)
2 wooden dowels (Back pipes)
Assorted screws and washers (Back pipes)
Black nylon straps (feet)
Epifoam (tail spike, shoulder shape, various supports)
1very understanding girlfriend ( to go as Ripley)

Step 2: The Head, Part 1: Carving and Painting

Initial set up: The Block:

Step1:I went to my local hardware store and bought a slim sheet of insulation foam and a tube of Liquid Nails which is used to glue just such foam board together. I then measured my head, figuring out how wide the Alien head needed to be to be able to sit on top of my head like a helmet. I then glued the boards together with the liquid nails. I glued four across to make one large block and let it dry overnight.
Note: Looking back I would have added one piece on top, glued to the four ends horizontally to help at a little more height to help with the smooth arch of the head, but at the time I worked with what I had.

Step 2: I have an opaque projector and I found a profile picture of the Alien head I wanted to make and projected it onto the foam so the head fit the length of the block I had made. For this step you can eyeball it, a projector is not necessary. This helped me with the slope of the head as well as the placement and details of the details of the mouth and tubing shapes on the side of the head, which I drew on with a Sharpie. 

Step 3: I then took a drywall hand saw and cut out the rough shape of the head, carving off the hard edges of the top to get the shape closer to the desired dome. I then took a retractable razor to continue to carve off edges and finer tune the details into the desired shape. For final smoothing I used medium roughness sandpaper as well as those sanding blocks to achieve the smooth finish of the dome.

Step 4: For the mouth and the teeth area I used a Dremel drill to carve out the details. I even managed to make the second tongue on the inside of the mouth with a steady hand, but a slip up caused me to have to shave off more of the front teeth than desired. I suppose I could always drill out the teeth and replace them with ones made from air-dry clay at a later date if I should desire.

Step 3: The Head, Part 2: Chin Strap

For attaching the head I opted for the strap-on hat approach. Originally was going to just carve out a cavity for my head on the underside, but it proved to not be tight enough.
It was really important that the head attach tightly because part of the thrill of having that 3ft head is having is be able to move fast.
I went to a yard sale and purchased a bike helmet and trimmed off the sides, leaving the straps and the center piece intact. It was essentially a strap-on foam Mohawk which looked silly. I then craved out a trough inside the alien head to fit the bike helmet and glued the piece in, then added a layer of spray foam insulation for good measure. I then cut and sanded this to shape once it had cured. The straps from the helmet are adjustable and fit under the chin.  I left the back of the helmet, the part that hangs down, intact to help with support when moving the head.

I then added fabric around the edge of the head hole that would hang down and both cover my head and form the neck. I then added a couple foam tube pipes to the neck and sprayed on some striping details. I left the front of the neck open and the two pipes that frame my face Velcro together to close the neck similar to a bonnet.
Originally I was planning to put in a see-through piece of fabric in this hole, but I decided it would be easier to wear an 'invisible' hood underneath the neck, thereby hiding my face but still allowing me to see. Because most of the neck is hidden by the shoulders and the mouth, I didn't spend much time stressing about it since it would be hidden anyway and people would be looking elsewhere on the costume other than the neck anyway.

Step 4: The Head Part 3: Reshaping the Dome

When I first made the block for the dome I glued four pieces horizontally, bu I should have added one across the top to help round out the dome more. If you look at the first image of the head, you'll see the top flattens out and I tried to fix it by adding the little bulge in the front. Well, the more I looked at that the more I couldn't stand that, so I decided to bulk up the head to get the proper arch of the dome.

I messed up the order of things while doing this, and you, dear reader, have the benefit of my hind-sight.

I first decided to fill the space and bulk up the head with Bondo, but that added a lot of weight to the head, but once it was on, it was on. I then covered the top of the head with large gap spray foam insulation, waited for it to dry, then trimmed off the excess until it had the desired shape. I then sanded it and covered it with a couple layers of Bondo to seal it up.

I then put a layer of black enamel on top and left it outside to dry since it was a nice hot day...
Upon returning later, I discovered that the black paint had heated up the foam so much it caused a couple deep nasty cracks on the top of the head due to foam expansion! I then spent a couple days adding small amounts of Bondo and enamel and sanding it down to make the crack disappear. Ugh!

Step 5: The Chest, Part 1.

For the base of the chest I decided to use a fleece vest I purchased at a Salvation Army. Thinking ahead I thought about Halloween and that I would be driving to parties and such in this costume and the high rounded shoulders and the pipes sticking out the back of the costume would make it difficult to drive, let alone fit in a car, so I decided to go with the vest, making the entire chest piece removable.
I had a mannequin torso, which proved invaluable in this construction, if you can procure one, or something like it, I recommend it.
You will also need some industrial strength glue sticks, the kind from Walmart WILL NOT DUE. The kind I use are a milky tan color and bond fast and strong.
First I removed the zipper on the vest and replaced it with strips of industrial strength Velcro. Looking back the zipper would have been optimal, but since I wanted to COVER the zipper so the chest was seamless, I wanted to be able to stick Velcro to the front. More on that later. However, if you can, I would try to keep the zipper.
I then took a ribbed tube I had, used to hold computer cables together, and cut it into strips and hot-glued them to the vest to make the tubes that would run under the ribs of the chest. The fleece proved really good at accepting and bonding to the glue.

Step 6: The Shoulders

 You can see here I glued split foam tubes on as the ribs.

I needed sturdy, lightweight pieces  to support the shoulders so I opted for  a thin sheet of epifoam which I cut to fit the curve of my shoulders so it sturdy. This was glued on with hot glue.

You can also see here I added chest and shoulder details with pieces of sheet foam which was hot glued on as well.

Once the epifoam was in place I took black foam insulation tubing and glued it along the top curve of the shoulder piece. I tapered the from end to make it look like it slid into the chest, giving it a more accurate and smooth look.
epifoam does not take paint well, so I covered it with black fabric which I hot-glued on. I used a lot of glue along the curved edge because the tube is under pressure from the arc and I wanted to make sure it would stay.
I covered this edge with a quarter piece of ribbed plastic tubing with his the seam and added another layer of detail and tubing to this area which looks great.

Step 7: The Chest, Part 2: Sternum

 Since the back pipes are attached to the vest and are made of rigid foam, it makes sitting in a car while wearing it impossible.
As I explained earlier, I switched out the zipper of the vest and replaced it with Velcro. The first two strips I sewed to where the zipper would have been. Then I added another strip on top of that facing out for the sternum.
This piece is a single strip that Velcros to the middle of the chest to hive the seam and makes the chest look like one solid piece.
I took a vacuum cleaver hose and cut it in half. I then cut a foam backer rod in half and glued that to the inside of the tube. Them flipping it over I cut out sections of chest details which I glued into place to correspond with the spaces between the ribs. Where the edges fell I attached Velcro tabs so it all stuck firmly.
The piece attached as one piece and is peeled off easliy while achieving maximum effect.

Step 8: The Back: Pipes

The pipes were tricky because they have a unique, yet distinct curve to them. Many people let the exact shapes of the pipes fall by the wayside, but I wanted to make them as accurate as I could. Again I stared with a block of foam, two pieces wide with one laid horizontally on top; this gave be the rise and width to create the wavy look of the back pipes.
I drew the shapes on the side of the block, once dried and, like the head, carved out the basic shape with the hand saw, gradually refining the shape by switching to the retractable razor, and finishing off the smoothness with sandpaper sheets and a sandpaper block. For the tube details I drew the shapes on with a sharpie, then I drew on the grid lines.  I used a cylinder shape to bevel in the edge of this shape, making it look like it went under the outer part of the pipe. I then drilled out every other line with the Dremel drill.
I then bored the holes in the end of the pipes.

Pieces were then painted in two layers of flat black enamel paint to allow for spraying later.
Pipes were then places against the back of the chest-piece and their bases trimmed at the proper angle to have them stick out properly from the torso.
On the inside of the chest I put thin strips of foam, though I would have used something like Masonite board, so that the pipes have a rigid base to sit against so they did not wag back and forth. This needed to be thin, but since it is sandwiched between the wearer's back and the vest.
I drilled holes in the Masonite where the center of the pipes are. I then  got long screws and some washers and from the inside out poked  the screw out and drilled it into to wooden dowels. I drilled out a hollow tube inside the pipes approx the diameter of the dowel. I filled the pipe holes with  liquid nails adhesive and slid the pipes on. I also put adhesive on the bottom of the pipe so it would attach to the Masonite itself. I left to dry overnight.

Step 9: The Chest, Part 3: Paint

When painting the tubular foam there are two important things to remember: spray paint will deteriorate the foam AND it will flake off when rubbed. This doesn't matter so much because the foam was grey and the area they are in looked fine as grey, but if I had used a neon green pool noodle...I would have been in trouble.
I ended up painting a couple layers of flat black enamel paint on the ribs and the shoulders. That way it created a crust, same as on the head, so some spray paint would affix to it and it wouldn't just flake off like the spray paint, or peel off like latex which doesn't adhere at all.

The quality of the paint job all depends on the time you want to put into it. I did mine quickly because I will be wearing this on Halloween night or in dim places and I jest need enough detail for people to make out the main shapes and imagination will fill in the rest. If you look at the costumes used in Aliens, the suits were black body suits with only a few sections glued on the arms that provided just enough information and detail when hit with dim light and that was enough.

Step 10: The Arms

The arms are part of the undershirt and the same piece that the stomach parts are attached to.
Compared to the rest of the costume, this part is relatively simple because it is all simple surface details. The tubes and details were made by gluing black cord on the sleeves. The round panels on the biceps and forearms were corduroy pieces cut to shape and glued on. The elbow protrusion is made of foam foam, so it  sticks out but won't snap off if it hits anything.
Al parts were then sprayed black they dry brushed with gray paint for details.

Step 11: The Tail, Part 1: the Sections and Shapes

When you come to this stage, you must decide whether the tail will drag on the ground, or will you opt for the raised, lolling look.
Both have their pros and cons:

Dragging the tail:
Pros: No fancy rigging to attach it to your butt.
           You can pick it up and hold it if you need to be in a tight space like an elevator.
            Won't smack people in the face.
            Weight of tail not an issue.
Cons: People can step on it
            Not as impressive as a raised, moving tail.

Raised Tail:
Pros: Looks cool and adds a level of movement and life to the costume.
           You can smack people in the face.
Cons: You can smack people in the face.
            Must be very aware of your surroundings and when you turn.
            Makes turning fast difficult.
            Rigging is more intricate to strap to body due to raised weight.

This being said I opted to go for the raised look because I don't have enough to do. I have seen videos of costumes that had raised tails and they look great so I figured if I tried this and failed, I could always settle on having it drag on the ground.

The inside of the tail was a piece of PVC that I melted into an "S" shape. I made it smaller than the length of the tail so the end would swing around more.
To attach the tail to my waist I opted for a pivoting flag mount that you would use on the side of your house. It has a butterfly nut on it allowing me to change the angle the tail leaves my body. This piece is light-weight and the PVC fits in it perfectly. I recommend putting a screw through the mount and the PVC when it is in place for extra support and to cut down on the chance of it falling out.
I made the tail from black rubber pipe insulation which I cut a long notch out of so when I glued it together it tapered to a point. I figured rubber was the best choice if in the end the tail had to drag.
I then hot glued this together and glued half-sections of plastic tubing to the outside for the pipes that run along the length of the tail.
The spike on the end was made out of epifoam. I wanted it to be sculpturally  sharp, but, considering it would be waving around behind me, I need it to be of a soft/ sturdy material so it would not hurt anyone or snap off if it hit something. This piece was carved, then glued and tape n the end of the tail. Because paint does not adhere to epifoam well, I covered the shape with gaffers tape because it has a black matte finish instead of the gloss shine of Duct Tape.
I cut repeating segmented shapes out of the thin sheet foam so it would not add weight to the tail and glued it around the tail.
After this was all on I carefully threaded the tail onto the curved PVC pipe.

Step 12: The Stomach

This is the section where having an action figure of the alien really came in handy, although I did take some liberties with the shapes, I tried to keep the main shapes and ideas truthful to the original design.

I started with another plastic ribbed vacuum tube and cut that in half and glued it to the shirt. I then covered the end with the bulbous, turnip shape that the tube goes into. I glued that down as well. The second bulbous part below that also included the part that hung down below the bottom of the shirt. The reason for this was that all that tubing business doesn't break in the design, so I wanted it all to be able to run together, the idea being if I constructed it as one piece, it would hang down over the groin of the pants and attach to the pants via Velcro.
This section war really just a matter of cutting the pieces and gluing them down. The grey ribbed tube was a foam tube I cut in half and then added the grooves to it using the dremel drill. All the stomach is foam bits, allowing it to be flexible when I sit, as well as light weight.

Step 13: The Legs

 The legs, like the arms, are all surface details. I chose to use a pair of black cargo pants because I didn't want any fabric that would stretch and cause glue or foam to rip off. Also, because of time and preference, I opted for the ribbed sections on the thighs and calves to be painted on instead of doing corduroy patches. I made a stencil of stripes and used it to spray on the ribbed design instead. It worked just as well.
All the tubes and textures on the pants were once again sheet foam or foam tubing that was sprayed black and then highlighted with gray spray paint or dry-brushed on with acrylics.

I added strips of Velcro to the inside of the legs that when joined would fold the pants in giving it a tighten look to the legs since the pants were a little t baggy and didn't look right. This helped to streamline the legs.

I also added two pieces of industrial strength Velcro on the crotch on either side of the zipper that correspond with pieces on the back of the stomach piece. This made it so the stomach wasn't flopping around and  actually flexed when I twisted, giving it a more organic look.

Step 14: The Hands

When I first started this project there were a pair of latex Xenomorph hands on eBay which I did not buy and I kick myself to this day. But in the end I just made the hands like everything else, and that's more satisfying. Unfortunately I did not take many pictures of this steps' process, so I have tried to keep the description as helpful as possible.

Start:The base of these gloves were black fleece gloves from Walmart. I wanted to keep with the black fleece because it worked so well with the chest piece in taking paint for details. Even though the gloves were L/XL, they felt tight and I didn't want my hands too hot, so I cut out the inner layer of thinsulate and fleece to make the gloves more roomy.

Fingertips:I initially tried making foam finger extensions but they were not strong enough. I also toyed with the idea of those latex Halloween witch fingers, but they were not long enough. In the end I bought some rigid latex skeleton gloves from the Spirit Halloween store. I cut the fingers off the end and hot glued the fingertips of the fleece gloves. I then covered them with black fleece because I knew the latex would be hart to paint.

Details: The ribbed texture strips on the top of the hand were created with come fabric I found at JoAnne fabrics. I bought it because I thought I could dry-brush it to get the ribbed detail look, but that did not work. However It still took paint well and once the hands were painted it looked fine. To hide the edges and make it look more polished, I glues simple black nylon cord around the edges of these pieces. This also helped with texture and detail once painted while allowing the glove to remain flexible.

Claws: Made from space filler foam tubing, I cut the claw shapes out and simply glues them on the end. I opted for this because i wanted them to be sharp looking but didn't want to risk breaking a nail on Halloween of stabbing a kid in the eye. This foam is rigid enough to keep the shape but also flexible so it will bend on impact. I can also keep its natural color to help highlight the claws in the dark.

Extra Thumbs: If I was going with the ALIENS style Xenomorph, I could go with the large 3-fingered hands that they have in that movie, the two large ones actually being comprised of two long fingers joined together. However, since I am going for the classic look, I had to go with the 6-fingered look, with two joined fingers and two thumbs. I  did not make these functional, and they look a little funny if I make a fist, but they look great if my hands are open. 
I ended up carving a base thumb shape out of epifoam and covering it with sheet foam. (I could have just covered it with black fleece and saved time, but no) I then glued that to the opposite side of the palm where my actual thumbs are and painted the foam black with spray paint.  Again, the foam keeps it lightweight and able to take a hit if it gets knocked into something.

Once the fingers were made, the proportion of the hands looked off. The fingers were long but the palm was really small looking. To offset this look I decided to web the fingers slightly. I took elastic fabric and cut it in "V" shapes and glued it between the fingers. This not only made it so finger movement was not restricted, but gives a cool  look when you splay the fingers and the membrane stretches with the movements. This also makes the hands look larger and more imposing. A good, but not necessary addition to the hands.

Final touch-ups: Once it was all glued together, the whole thing got a layer of black spray paint (or enamel on the epifoam parts, sans claws) then then I used simple grey primer to add details and coloring as well as some dry brushing with grey acrylics on the black cords. 

Afterthoughts: It pays not to be sloppy with your glue here because when you paint it with grey the spray paint will adhere to the glue brighter because it is smooth instead of textured, so it can leave globby splotches. In the dark it won't matter, but the perfectionist in me noticed.

Step 15: The Feet

Many people would choose to have an old pair of shoes to build off of. But after looking for months I could not find any black shoes in my size at a secondhand store and I did not want to buy new shoes to butcher.
I chose to go the slip-cover route, this way they could be a shell that straps over my foot without sacrificing any footwear.
Wearing the shoes I cut nylon straps and wrapped them around my shoe nice and snug where I wanted them and glued them in place to the other straps. On the strap around the heel I glued on a strip of Velcro, so they slide off from the back.

I made sure to have enough straps cross-crossing the top of the shoe so there would be plenty of places to glue the tube-toes onto them while still allowing for flexibility.

Over the straps I glued on a piece of black fleece to cover the shoe and provide ample surface for gluing of the pipe details of the feet.

After drilling out the corrugation lines on the backer rods pipes I cut them in half and glued them on with low temp hot glue. I wanted to the feet to extend out slightly so they were in proportion to the costume, but no so much I would be tripping over it. 
I glued a foam piece over the top of the foot that came down on either side to make a ankle shape so that part of the foot was not as empty and to flesh it out. 
I then cut a portion out of the backer rod and cut one end in a quarter circle shape. The other end I made a "V" shaped incision and glued the two pieces together to make the rounded toe shape. I then cut nails out of foam and glued them on the ends of the toes.

Step 16: The Tail Part II: Attaching to the Waist

This was the step that concerned me the most because it could either make or break the costume. Luckily enough, it turned out fine, and here's how it works:

I went to a Army/Navy surplus store and got myself a thick, military belt with eyelets in it, which was essential for attaching the Masonite to it without loosing strength.

Picked up some small nuts and bolts from the hardware section.

picked up a piece of Masonite from the art store.

Originally, I was going to saw the Masonite into a sort of T-Bone shape. While I was planning on wearing the belt tight, I knew the weight of the tail would pull the Masonite (henceforth called "The platform") down, to it was important to have a piece that hung down to add extra support when it pressed against my butt. However, I didn't want a Masonite thing, so I kept the piece intact for the initial trial just to see how it worked out.

Through the eyelets on the belt I marked spot on the Masonite and then drilled out the holes with the Dremel. I then threaded the nuts through the holes from the backside out, so that was the bolts would not dig into my back when worm. On top of the belt, I then screwed on the flag pole mount that makes up the top of the tail and is the anchor point for it. The PVC on the inside of the tail is inserted into the flagpole mount and secured with both the tightener ont he piece as well as a couple other crews for good measure.
This mount is then screwed on over the belt and through the Masonite, giving it a nice sturdy platform with a lot of surface area for support.
Originally I was going to have the Masonite on the outside of the pants, but after trying the tail and belt on, I realized that just putting it inside the pants made more sense. The mount is not very large and poke out between the pants and shirt without an issue. This was nice because it saved me more work and allows for a large, supportive base that keeps the tail in place without anything digging into anything else.
I did however, sand down the pointed edges on the Masonite so they would not dig into me by accident or otherwise.
The belt, although worn with the pants was too big for te belt loops on the pants, so it is worn on its own under the shirt and over the pants. Its only purpose is to hold the tail, not hold up the pants. This was ideal for me because I wanted the tail to be removable in case I had to drive any were.

Step 17: Suit Up!

At last it is time to suit up! Here are some pictures taken of the suit in the dark. I figured since it will be worn at night I should photograph it in low light to get the effect of the details and such.

I can see very well and the only real hindrance of the costume is that I have to be aware of where the tail is so I do not knock anything over.

It has been a great experience and I have learned a lot. The last thing to do is to unleash it on the street on Halloween. 

If you are reading this and are aspiring to make your own Xenomorph costume, I hope this instructable has been helpful and informative in giving you some ideas you may have not initially considered. I hope that this, like the ones I looked at when I was planning on making this costume, will inspire you to do great things.

Thanks for looking!

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