Introduction: Angler Fish Costume

This is a deep sea Angler Fish costume I made for Halloween this year.  I Hope you enjoy following along with the process here.

Material list
EVA Foam (purchased in the form of 'Anti Fatigue Mats'
Poly Foam 1/2" thick
Aluminum ski pole
Steel Electrical Conduit 1/2"
Acrylic Hemisphere's 9" and 12" diameter, 2 each

Contact cement
Spray foam Adhesive
Hot Glue
Super Glue
Latex Paint
Gorilla Glue

Fiber optic cable
Blue LED string lights
Speaker Wire
Color Changing LED's
AA Batteries
PVC pipe
Translucent Plastic Ball
Cable ties
Electrical tape
Heavy duty Zipper
Wood (teeth)
Electrical switches
Retractable ID badge cable
Assorted nuts and bolts

Step 1: Make a Plan

As with any complex crafts project, drawing is the first important step.  I started with a few sketches to work out the design and figure out what this thing was going to look like.  If you follow this instructable, perhaps you can skip the design phase and move straight to building.  After a few sketches i had a sense for the scale of the fish and how I was going to fit inside. 

Step 2: Armatures

I figured our very quickly that building in EVA foam without a form to build around was not simply not going to work for me.  I then set out to build armatures for the interior volume of the costume.  I cut 1" sheets of expanded polystyrene into the basic profile of the fish- glued them all together with Gorilla glue- then mounted the block to a plywood stand.  To carve the foam I need to stabilize the whole set up so I screwed the stand down to a sheet of plywood to increase the base area.  With a Sure Form rasp I shaped the foam block (here you see it's final shape.  It was important at this point to consider the width and depth of the armature to insure that I would fit inside the suit. 

Step 3: EVA Foam

Over the initial armature I began to build with EVA foam.  I use 3/8" thick foam purchased in the form of anti fatigue mats that I bought on Amazon.  The material is very light, strong, and cuts easily with a razor blade.  These mats came with texture on one side and smooth on the other.  I used the smooth side for the head and the textured side for the lips.  By gluing the mats together edge to edge using contact cement I was able to form the skull of the fish around the polystyrene armature.  It was very much a trial and error process and takes some patients.  The lips were formed using thin strips of foam with beveled edges.  The eyes are acrylic hemispheres and are simple tacked on temporarily to help me understand the look of the fish.  They are not installed permanently until much later.  Same goes for the aluminum ski pole I used for the lantern. 

Step 4: Another Armature

For the body of the fish I used 1/2" poly foam sheets.  It comes in different stiffness's and I found that the "firm" type was the easiest to work with.  The same philosophy applies to building the body of the fish- without a form to build around poly foam is very difficult to work with.  Again with polystyrene I sculpted a foam block in the shape of the fish's profile and carved it to the appropriate size and shape.  This time I used a hot knife to carve the foam (this was MUCH more pleasant than the sure form rasp- no white snow.  Set up a fan and use an appropriate vapor mask- I'm confident that burning polystyrene is bad to breath.)  The dimensions of this bottom armature were taken from the actual size of the fish's head that was already built.     

Step 5: Building the Body

The poly foam I bought comes in 72" x 72" sheets.  I began by wrapping the sheets around the form and tacking it down with nails.  Here you see the armature upside down since it has a natural base at this orientation.  Little by little I removed material and glued the foam together edge to edge using contact cement.  You can also use spray foam adhesive- it's faster and very strong but it's expensive and I found it difficult to work cleanly with.  The hot knife proved to be the best tool for cutting good lines into poly foam.  Again, be wary of vapors. 

When the basic form was closed around the armature i added sections to form the belly paneling and made marks where i would cut leg holes. 

Step 6: Attaching the Head and Body

Here you see the head and body coming together for the first time.  At this point it was necessary to hang the suit from the ceiling to continue working on.  The body section has been removed from its foam armature and is hanging from the head and tacked together using nails. (Note: The body would not slip off the polystyrene armature so Ihad to slice down the length of the back to get it off.  I later used this slice in the material to install a sleeping bag zipper.)

When was satisfied with the positioning of the body, the 2 pieces were glued together using spray foam adhesive.  The poly foam body was glued on the inside of the head and I left a small section in the back unglued to make it easier to get in and out of.   By this point I have also covered part of the lower jaw with grey poly foam to give textural continuity with the belly instead of with the head.  This covering was glued on with spray adhesive as well. 

In the second image I have cut out holes for the eyes and I am about to tie in the last section of the belly with the lower jaw. 

Step 7: Installing the Backpack

This turned out to be a very simple and effective way to support the suit around me.  I used and old trekking backpack with metal frame stays.  I first cut away all the unnecessary backpack material leaving only the panel holding the frame stays in place.  I then bent two pieces of 1/2" electrical conduit piping into the shape of the interior profile of the head.  Bending the hollow steel tube is easy with a pipe bender- without it, you may have to get a little creative with leverage.  I used the initial armature to check the shape of the bend against. 

The bent pipe is then bolted directly to the frame stays with 1/4" carriage bolts.  You can easily punch holes into the pipe with a awl and a hammer.  Then if the hole needs to be worked larger you can use a drill.  Make sure that the bolts face away from your back for comfort.  

The pipes connect to the fish's head inside with strips of EVA foam used like bandages with spray foam adhesive. 

First test was a success...

Step 8: Fins and Arm Holes

I then made a couple of fins from the same combination of EVA and poly foam glued together with contact cement.  Here you see them tacked on with nails to figure out their positioning.  When their position was decided I cut arm holes into the sides beneath the fins. 

Step 9: Paint

And now it's time to start painting!  I used high gloss acrylic latex from home depot.  I'm a big fan of the Home Depot's "oops" rack where you can get rejected gallons of paint for $5 a piece.  The EVA foam takes paint quite nicely but the poly foam is like a sponge in the beginning.  Since it soaks up so much paint a brush will go dry in a single stroke and it takes forever to cover.  For that reason I used a spray gun that made the work go much faster.  I started with a green base that was a totally arbitrary color choice (oops rack).  Building up the paint is very important on the poly foam.  Without a thick painted surface the foam still tears very easily.  By the time I was finished painting it took about 15 coats.  All in all the suit held about 4 gallons of paint and added probably 20lbs to the overall weight (well worth it though- the paint really increases the structural integrity of the foam).

I wasn't sure what color combinations I wanted so I experimented with a few variations as I built up the paint.  Eventually the pores in the poly foam close and you can get a nice gloss surface- which was important for the fishy quality I wanted from the skin.  

Step 10: Reinforcement

As much as the paint does help strengthen the foam it is important to reinforce the seams.  Overlapping seam joints can be very strong, but edge to edge there is very little surface area and is an inherently weak seam construction.  I cut strips of poly foam about 3 inches wide and backed each seam from the inside, adhering the strips with spray adhesive.  If i did it again I would reinforce the suit with a strong fabric like denim to cover the entire interior surface of the foam- this would make the suit very tear proof.

The leg holes were an obvious tear risk so I glued in a ring of EVA foam.   

I did the same with the seams in the head section using strips of EVA foam as reinforcement. 

Step 11: Closing the Back

I glued a sleeping bag zipper into the slice down the back of the suit.  No sewing required, the spray foam adhesive works very well on fabrics too.  To cover the zipper I added a flap of poly foam that closes with a strip of Velcro.  Note: if there is not enough paint built up on the foam the self adhesive velcro will not stick well.  I recommend buying non adhesive velcro and gluing it on with spray foam adhesive-much stronger this way. 

Step 12: The Angler Rod and Eyes

For the angler rod I used an aluminum ski pole.  The pole was bent using a pipe bender and then painted black with acrylic paint.  For the lantern I used a glowing plastic ball that I bought on Amazon.  It had its own LED components but I gutted the ball and used my own.  The translucent plastic ball was glued to the end of the of the ski pole and connected by a small poly foam cone that helps to taper the shapes together.   For the light I used a battery powered blue LED string passed through the hollow ski pole and stuffed inside the ball.  Inevitably, the wiring will be hooked into a switch panel in the roof of the suit.   The pole slips through a hole cut into the back of the head and is glued in place with liberal amounts of hot glue. 

For the glowing eyes I used EL wires.  EL wires are glowing wire strands that come pre-wired into a battery pack with an on/off switch.  They have a few different modes of pulsating and solid light.  The EL wires are hot glued onto the inside rim of the plastic hemispheres I used for the eyes.   At this point I glued in the eyes as well (The final set of eyes.  I had a sacrificial set that stayed in while I was painting).  The hemispheres came with a flange that made gluing them in place very straight forward.  From the inside, the hemisphere passes through the eye socket hole and gets stopped by the flange.  I used contact cement to secure them in place. 

For a more dimensional touch, I  installed a second, smaller hemisphere painted black inside the main eye.  The black hemisphere is supported by EVA foam than spans the back of of the outer hemisphere.  I cut out sections in the support to increase visibility. 

Step 13: Fiber Optic Glowing Pores

I wanted a bio-luminescent effect in the fish's skin.  For this i turned to fiber optics.  I bought a bunch of party favor fiber optic table centerpieces.  After breaking them apart was able to thread the hair thin cables into the fish's skin.  To do this you will need to start by sharpening the end of a hollow inflation needle.  You can use a file of a sharpening stone you would use for your kitchen knives.  The fiber optic strands were too thin to use singularly so i bunched 7-10 together and fed them through the hollow needle.  Use the needle to puncture the EVA foam, then push the bunch of cables into the skin and remove the needle without removing the cables.  When the end of the bunch of cables is close enough to the skin so that it gets stiff, tap the end of the cables until they sit flush with the skin.   Then from inside the suit use a dot of super glue to secure the bunch of cables to the EVA foam where the cables exit the material. 

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat....x300 or however many times your tolerance for tedium permits.  I kept the clustering of the cables around the eyes and cheeks like a freckle pattern. 

When all the cables have been glued in place you will need to gather them into bunches on the inside of the suit.  Use zip ties and electrical tape to gather them together into bunches.  While bunching them, be aware of how much strain you put on the cables- the super glue holds them well but they can still be torn out if accidentally if your not careful.  I ended up with about 25 bunches.  Each bunch should then be stuffed into a short section of plastic tubing approximately 2 inches long.  I used electrical tape to secure the tubing to the bunched cables.  In the end of each tube will go an LED bulb whose light will bend through the cables and exit through the pores of the fish's skin.

You can use any kind of LED bulbs for this, but I wanted the light to rotate through the color spectrum.  I used "slow cycle RGB LED" bulbs that automatically rotate colors without the need for a micro controller.  A single bulb is placed into the end of each tube and connected to a 3V AA power source using speaker wire (I highly recommend using red and black colored wire to keep things organized).  The forward voltage for the bulbs i bought was 3V. Make sure to read the spec sheet that comes with the bulbs you buy to insure you use the correct voltage.  Since my batteries were putting out the exact right voltage I did not add resistors to the circuitry.

After the wiring is completed and tested to make sure everything is working right,  bundle everything with electrical tape to keep things organized.  The circuitry and fiber optic cables were all pretty fragile feeling so I covered everything up with a piece of poly foam so I would get caught on anything while wearing the suit.  

Step 14: Switch Panel

After I had tested all of the circuits and connected them to batteries it was time to wire everything into a switch panel.  The battery holders had their own on/off switches already...but let's face it, switch panels are super cool so I had to include one.  I cut a piece of plastic out of the bottom of one of my empty paint cans and installed 4 switches.  Then I tapped into the positive wire in each circuit and ran them each into a switch.  Toggle for the lantern- center switch for the skin- and a rocker for each eye.  The switch panel is then glued into the roof of the fish's mouth. 

Step 15: Teeth

I carved teeth from wood scraps that I had lying around.  Mine happen to be poplar but really anything will do.  I drilled small holes into the bottom of each tooth and inserted the back end of a finishing nail.  The nail allows for sticking the teeth into the lips while playing with positioning.  The teeth are then painted white and glued to the lips with contact cement.  I waited until the very end to glue in the teeth because they get in the way while reaching into the mouth for any work on the inside. 

Step 16: Attaching the Arm Fins

The final step is to install the fins. 

I wanted to be able to reach through the arm holes an control the fins freely with my hands but I had to make sure that i would not drop them and loose them.  I was also concerned that jokers would walk away with my fins if they were only attached with velcro (which was a legitimate concern since I was headed to a night club with this thing).  In addition to the velcro that held the fins in position when my hands were inside the suit, I installed auto retractable cables that ensured my fins would stick around.  For this I used heavy duty retractable badge reels.   The reel is glued to the inside of the suit with spray foam adhesive and passes a cable through a small hole right above the arm hole.  On both the inside and outside of the hole that the cable runs through I glued in T-bolts to prevent the cables from slicing through the foam. 

To attach the cable to the fin I used nylon webbing.  The cable clip came with little plastic end piece that made the attachment fairly simple.  The nylon wraps around the plastic piece and is glued to the fin with spray adhesive. 

Step 17: Wear in Public and Bask in Glory.

And there you have it... Angler Fish 2013. 

I wore this suit in a night club costume contest with a 1st prize of $5000...I was eliminated before 'Bikini Clad Diva with Angel Wings'  :(

Halloween Costume Contest

Third Prize in the
Halloween Costume Contest