Introduction: Indominus Rex in a Long Weekend
Here is a simple way to make large scale, complex models that are light weight, inexpensive and fast.
I came up with this technique when my sister asked me to make her an Indominus Rex costume, the Friday before the school costume contest she had known about for two months. Paper-mache would have been too time consuming and requires actual sculpting talent and I didn't have the materials to make anything out of EVA foam, or the skills to pattern such a complex shape. So this is what I came up with.
This technique uses a 3D model and slicing software to create an accurate cardboard lattice in any shape you want. It becomes a real shape and not a collection of corrugated cardboard pieces with the addition of stockings which can be painted to achieve any effect you like.
I managed to build this in a weekend plus a random scattering of hours equal to another full day. I did have two people helping with the first few steps, which I would recommend.
Because I did not have time for multiple trips to the craft store it is made mostly from things already in the house. In total it only cost about $25 dollars to make. so if you are looking for a cheap, quick Halloween costume to amaze and terrify, this is it.
Most of these things you can find, beg or borrow. The only thing I paid for specifically for this project were the spray paint and some extra hot glue.
- Cardboard boxes - We got a huge lot of these for free, just by asking my sister's school if they had any spare. This should be the case in offices as well but if not, big box retailers often have loads that they are happy for you to take.
- Sticky Tape or glue sticks
- Paper for blueprints, a printer
- Hot glue gun and a lot of glue sticks.
- 3 pairs of nylon tights -get women's extra large if you can.
- Wire- use a decent gauge. I think ours was for fencing or for home repairs.
- Bike helmet
- A chunk of styrofoam or other support material
- Thin elastic
- Grey spray paint
- Acrylic paint - the most important colours are red, yellow and black and white, but others are useful.
- Fastening device - hook and eye, velcro, press stud etc.
- Scalpels or box cutters - I prefer scalpels because they are sharper and flexible but it is down to preference. Box cutters are easier to sharpen
- Ruler, pen etc
- Needle and thread
Step 1: Get the Digital Stuff
For this project you will need Slicer for Fusion 360 or a similar program. You can download this for free from their website. Make sure that you download the slicer program specifically as this is the feature we will be using.
Follow the installation instructions and you should be right.
Next you need a model. If you have the skills and the program, by all means, make your own dinosaur. Or if you are less talented (like me) grab one from many of the free CAD model sharing websites such as Thingverse or GrabCAD. Make sure the model you choose is an STL. file. This is not the actual file that I used (my last computer ate all the files for this project) but I like it in particular because it has already broken the model into parts for you.
(As a side note this is in fact a T-Rex head not an Indominous Rex, no one has yet to notice)
Step 2: Prepare Your Model
Now you have the program and the model, it's time to put the model in your program!
The first thing to do is scale your model within the software to the correct size.
To determine the size you want, take a tape measure and measure above your head in the mirror. This will be the height of your model (approximately). I tried to find a balance between large enough to see the details, but not so large that it made my sister's human sized body look tiny. This was important because when using her own arms and legs for the dinosaur's appendages everything needed to be approximately proportionate in order to create a more realistic result.
Also, remember that you will have to support the weight of the cardboard on your neck, so bigger isn't always better. Alternatively you could mount the head to your torso with an over shoulder harness and can make it as big as you like.
Use your software to slice the now scaled model as you wish. Take care to include the thickness of your cardboard in your paper settings as this will directly impact the size of the slots it creates.
Find a compromise between enough detail and the minimum number of cardboard pieces when you slice, as you will have to cut and assemble each piece you see on the screen and this can really increase the time of this build. The fewer slices, the more little details will want to float in mid air. These should be left out of the final product, so make an assessment around where the detail justifies adding extra slices in one direction or the other.
Step 3: Print Your Plans
Use the Poster setting on your printer to print out the plans that you previously generated.
Be prepared to spend a long time making the world's most boring jigsaw puzzle as you tape them together.
You can set the size of the paper you want to print on (A1, A0 etc) on the slicing software, so take some time to find the most efficient combination. Make sure not to scale the plans when printing. You can print these over-sized pieces of paper using the poster function on your printer.
Once assembled, cut your printer paper plans out and attach to the cardboard. I like to glue them on using a glue stick, letting the adhesive dry for a little while before adding the paper. This creates a solid bond while cutting but lets you peel the paper off pretty easily after.
Step 4: Cut Out Your Cardboard
Just in case putting that jigsaw together wasn't boring enough, here comes the cutting out bit. Grab some buddies if you can. I think this took 3-4 people about 2 hours to complete. (This is definitely a step that would be great to laser cut, if you have the equipment.)
Slowly and carefully begin cutting the pieces out of your corrugated card.
Some safety advice:
*Make sure you have a sharps-safe surface underneath your work piece. I used a big sheet of scrap ply for the large pieces and a self-healing cutting mat for the smaller.
*Never cut through cardboard if there is nothing between you and the blade except air. Air does a terrible job of preventing you from getting stabbed.
*Always cut away from yourself, or if that is unavoidable (because sometimes you really just need leverage) then make sure the hand stabilizing the piece is well outside of the logical path of the blade if something goes wrong.
Work slowly, change blades or sharpen your blade often if you can. Sometimes stabbing through the cardboard and sawing is the fastest way (but don't do this with the blade facing anything on your body, see above safety note).
In the interest of good craftsmanship, try to use a ruler to cut the straight edges. This will help the fit of the pieces when slotted together, but it can and will get tedious.
I strongly recommend marking your cardboard pieces with any identifying symbols from your pattern pieces. Use a pencil so that you can erase it if you want.
Be sure to have a good podcast cued up for this step, I recommend Planet Money from NPR, 99 Percent Invisible or This Podcast Will Kill You (if epidemiology appeals to you).
Step 5: Assemble Your Monster
Using the symbols on your cut out pieces to help you, slowly assembly your parts.
If you are feeling confident you can start gluing from the get-go, but I made a practice dry assembly first. I did this mostly because I did not number all my pieces and became really confused (learn from my mistakes) but it did highlight areas where it was easy to get the pieces swapped or I had made a mistake cutting out.
The Slicer soft-wear has a 3D assembly walk through to help here.
Once you are confident of assembly order, add a really liberal amount of hot glue to every seam. This cardboard construction is going to take quite a bit of man-handling later, so think about how structurally sound you can make it now.
*Hot glue can and will burn you, especially if you leave the gun on while you assembly a new piece. Have tools like pencils and skewers handy to touch the glue when your fingers can't. This will also help get the glue into hard to reach areas.
This part of the process will be pretty stressful because it is both when you have to flex the cardboard in ways it isn't supposed to and also when you see all your cutting out mistakes. I recommend going slowly, fixing things as you find them and if anything doesn't makes sense, take that extra minute to figure out the problem before you glue, it will take so much more time to re-cut the piece if it rips disassembling.
But, if you do break a piece check out the next step before you throw the whole thing out.
Step 6: Fixing Your Mistakes
Any piece that became a little too bent out of shape I reinforced with some hot glue and skewers. Make sure to use a few and to have them extend a fair way above and below the fault.
If you make any slots too big, just fill in the empty space with hot glue.
Step 7: Clothing the Monster
Take your panty hose and slowly start stuffing your cardboard monster into them.
I took full advantage of the two legs of the stockings to make the upper and lower halves of the dinosaur's mouth.
Work in little stages, pulling all the loose stocking up over the part you have covered before stretching it over the next section. This will stop the stockings pulling along the cardboard as you try to cover the next section, and potentially bending it out of shape.
Eventually you will reach the point where you can't pull the stockings up anymore. At that point take your second pair and start working from the other side of the model so that the two pairs meet in the middle.
You will find that at this point the cardboard model is surprisingly resilient and will feel a lot more solid. The stockings are essentially acting as Dino Spanx and compressing the structure which gets rid of a lot of wiggle and jiggle. (Physics facts, a lot of materials are stronger in compression than tension - see concrete)
Any loose and dangling legs of the stockings can be removed by twisting the stocking until it is really taught, then sewing up the twist and cutting of the end. With a bit of smart needle work you can sort of push the cut end into the twist and secure it there very neatly.
Stitch together any other points where the stockings aren't joined. I only had to attach the waistbands where the two pairs of stockings met.
One thing I did not do was sew any of the stockings to the cardboard itself. I think this could be really useful for slightly blobby areas like the mouth where the stocking stretched out the detail. Some judicious stitches could nip and tuck the stockings into a more defined shape. However, I would use small stitches and be sparing because it will weaken the cardboard and could eventually pull loose or cause a ladder in the stocking.
There may also be areas, like the teeth, where the cardboard should really be outside of the stockings. You can make a little snip there to ease the cardboard out, but do this last. Work in tiny snips and hot glue the stocking to the cardboard immediately when you achieve the desired affect so as not to let the stocking pull the cut wider.
Step 8: Attach It!
If you are planning to head-mount this model, I would strongly recommend doing so now. This means you can hide the attachment points with your paint job.
With a friend or in the mirror, position the model so that it looks how you want it to on the helmet. Mark any points where the model touches the helmet with some Sharpey. Try to have at least two points.
Apply hot glue to the model where it contacted the helmet and then attach the two pieces as the previously marked points.
Carefully try the contraption on. Does it feel stable? Is it wobbly?
If it feels a little "not safe", get some Styrofoam or cardboard and cut some wedges to chock up the head. I only needed one, but it will depend on your shape and size.
The model should still be a little flexible meaning that you can wedge your support structure into place even after the model is attached. Hot glue the bejeezuz out of the structural part of your monstrosity.
I absolutely glued this model onto the helmet backwards. This was a big mistake and makes it hard to wear for long amounts of time. Make sure your helmet and Dino head are facing in the correct direction. Draw an arrow on your helmet if you have to, I don't care, just please, let only one person in the world make such a silly mistake.
Step 9: Making a Tail. or Don't. Up to You
I am including the steps for making the tail here, but it is not necessarily how I would chose to do this if I repeated the process.
Pros of this technique:
- I liked how much movement the tail had.
- The slightly skeletal effect was in keeping with the head form.
- The disks kept the angle they were placed at within the stocking, making it easy to create a realistic pose for the tail.
- It was fast and cheap and utilised the materials I had to hand at the time.
- It looks kinda goofy compared to the realistic head.
- It was a lot of effort to get the stockings on, given the mediocre visual result.
Cut a lot of circles of decreasing diameter out of cardboard. The more disks you have, and the smaller the change in diameter, the closer you can thread them together for a more "fleshed out" looking tail. Balance this against time and tail length through.
Poke a hole in the center of each disk and at a few points around the perimeter. Ideally there should be a hole at each third or quarter of your circumference for balance.
Thread string through the perimeter holes until you have a lovely string of disks. This is just as tricky and annoying as you think it would be.
Take some strong fencing wire, loop the end to make it safe and then thread it through all the centre holes.
Space your disks as you wish along the string and wire and then dab some hot glue where the string threads through the card to secure.
Force your stockings over the whole contraption as with the head model. You may need to cut some stockings apart because the big pieces of cardboard will need the waist end of the stockings.
Take the time to angle the disks in the stockings so that the tail has the shape you like, then dab some hot glue where the disks stretch the stocking the most.
Add some form of waist band (I used ribbons and hook and eyes for minimal bulk).
If I remade this I think I would take a 3D tail model and cut it into three or four sections, then slice it on the same program as the head.
I would then string together each small cardboard model within the stockings.
By making 3D lattice structures like the head, this would give a lot of shape and solidity to the tail, which should translate to a much more professional look. Hopefully by breaking the tail into chunks it would still have the movement that I appreciate in the current solution.
Of course you could always make a simple stuffed tail using the stocking, or shape a more sophisticate one with EVA foam. I look forward to seeing your solutions!
Step 10: Paint Your Monster
Use spray paint to add solid colour to your model.
You could use some sort of primer, like pva glue, to add a level of opacity to the model, but the time constraints I was working under meant that the drying time would be prohibitive. Feel free to experiment if you have a little longer.
Add thin, even layers of dark grey to the model. Several thin coats works better than one heavy one, as you run the risk of saturating the cardboard. This is a problem because the painted cardboard shows through the painted stockings and the contrast between the spray paint and the natural cardboard will show up as blotchy patches in your build.
This could potentially be avoided if you if you pre-painted the card before covering it in the stockings. Make sure the cardboard is completely dry before you attempt to stuff it in the panty hose. Again time will be a deciding factor here.
I used two cans of grey to cover the head, the tail and the ugg boots that you will see in the next few steps.
You will see here that I masked off the helmet for this step. In future I would probably just spray the helmet with the same base colour as the head to save time. BUT! If you used Styrofoam as a support structure, mask this carefully as the spray paint will likely melt it.
Step 11: Decorate Your Monster
Here is the magic step.
Use acrylic paint to create details and a life like illusion.
Add eyes, a mouth colour to define that area, nostrils and ear holes if you are feeling it. Paint any carboard teeth that you have sticking through your stockings. Add battle scars at this point if your Dino has been through some stuff.
For the eyes and skin texture I used lots of reference pictures and worked in layers. The paint will become more opaque the more layers you add.
Try to use a little more contrast than you think is necessary, ramping up the shadows at the points where different parts of the face/eyes would meet in real life. This will help sell the illusion from afar, and will counteract any slight transparency that you still have going on. I could have done this a little more I think.
Use two or three shades of your base colour to add skin texture - this breaks up the shape and makes it feel a little less like a toy. Use the darkest colour to lay down big random dots, then the mid tone for smaller spots and liberally apply the lightest colour in little spots at the high points to bring them out. If you feel like being really realistic (which I didn't) you can add a thin line of light colour around one side of each dark spot and a darker line on the opposite side to mimic shadows and highlights.
Try playing with warm and cool tones versions of your base colour to add more depth and realism.
Finally, really really don't beat yourself up about how it looks. If it ends up looking a little cartoony, it will read as intentional. If its a little lopsided, no one will notice. Regardless adding features like eyes and noses will take this from a slightly amorphous blob to recognisable head, which means that everyone will be absolutely amazed by how cool it looks. Also most people will view it from a distance, and you will be in motion, so detail will get lost anyway.
If you masked off your helmet now is a good time to paint it either your model colour or a neutral black. Make sure to cover your support structure as well.
Step 12: Accessories: Teeth
The way I built my head, it lost a little of the toothy horror I was going for. So I cut some very basic triangles out of card and painted them with bone white and red for blood. I hot glued them straight onto the stockings on the inside of the mouth.
If you cut around the stockings to show off your teeth when you covered the head, you might be able to skip this step.
Step 13: Accesories: Claws
You can just leave this costume at head and tail, but in my opinion, the details are what really sell this build.
Honestly, these claws may be my favourite idea in the whole costume. They are so easy and fast to make and make you feel ridiculously impressive. I especially like these claws because you can still use your fingers while wearing them, and they are pretty easy to take on and off.
Cut out three claw shapes from cardboard and stab two rows of two holes, one at the base and another about halfway down the length. Push your thin elastic through to form finger loops. Get some help from someone else to knot or hot glue the elastic on the other side, tight enough to hold it onto your fingers.
Paint them all, add blood as you wish.
Step 14: Accessories: Feet
Again use cardboard to add flair to the extremities. Cut out 3 claw shapes similar to the hand claws, and an additional ankle spike.
Take a pair of shoes (I used uggs because I liked the proportions they added to the feet) and shape the cardboard claws to them. This will take a little trial and error to cut the claw ends so that they follow the curvature of the shoes. Make sure to have the claws angled pretty sharply away from the ground, because otherwise they will get caught under your toes as you walk.
Spray paint your uggs and let them dry thoroughly.
Use a very large amount of hot glue to attach your claws, or sew them on. When made like this, these shoes are not a super strong build. If you are intending to use them a lot, maybe look into making EVA foam boots. However, it is an easy, inexpensive and fast way to get a pretty impressive costume addition, so I am ok with this compromise. (Also you can probably rip the claws off and keep using the shoes later).
Paint the toe claws to match your hand claws.
Step 15: Dress to Impress
Assemble clothes in your correct colour scheme.
I recommend a fairly loose upper layer, so you can hide the tail belt if you like.
Dress yourself, get some help to put on all the claws, shoes etc and go forth and impress!
Please show me if you build anything using these techniques.
Participated in the
Cardboard Speed Challenge