Kraken Attack!




Introduction: Kraken Attack!

Considering the ongoing pandemic, we knew we needed a Halloween theme that wasn't too morbid or gory. When my daughter suggested a kraken attacking a pirate ship, we thought the theme would be fun and dramatic enough to be eye-catching and Halloweeny without reminding anyone of coronavirus.

Step 1: The Design

Our kraken attack started with these very rough sketches.

Next I had to figure out how to actually MAKE it. I'd made a mast out of PVC pipes for a pirate party years ago, so I knew what to do there -- and I decided to stretch wires between our house and our front wall and drape blue fabric over it to look like waves. Those were easy enough... but how to sculpt the beast itself?

After a little research on sculpting materials, I decided to try expanding spray foam, which I'd never used before. I wanted something lightweight and easy to carve, and while I was tempted to use sheets of upholstery foam, the sheer quantity I'd need for a sprawling build like this was going to get expensive.

Step 2: Forming the Head and Body

I didn't take pictures of the first steps here, but it started with a large shipping box that I cut down into a wedge shape so the front was much shorter than the back. I taped two long strips of cardboard (for the face tentacles) to the front.

I sprayed a couple cans of expanding foam into the box and along the tops of the tentacles and it did expand impressively! It not only filled the space but erupted out the top.

(I feel like I must add a short note at this point for anyone who hasn't used expanding foam before: Work outside with good ventilation, wear a mask and gloves, and cover the area under and around your build with sheets of cardboard or plastic to catch any leaks -- this is SERIOUSLY sticky stuff and very hard to clean off if it gets somewhere you don't want it!)

I let it dry overnight, then turned the body onto its side and sprayed it (and the sides of the tentacles) with a thick layer of foam. After a few hours it was dry enough to repeat the process on the other side.

The next day I flipped it on its front and gave the back a layer of foam, a well as trying to build up the top and back of the head.

Step 3: Building Tentacles

While I was waiting for the spray foam to dry I tested a few ways to make tentacles. I had hoped to make them flexible, so it looked like they were alive, though in the end it didn't work out that way.

In case anyone's curious, I considered and opted against:

  • carved soft foam covered in liquid latex (not strong enough)
  • carved spray foam covered in paint (still not flexible, texture looked too foamy)
  • fabric stuffed with polyester filling covered in either latex or paint (too likely to get waterlogged if it rained)
  • jointed foam tubes (not flexible enough to be worth the massive hassle of making them)
  • tentacles moving by a motor hidden under the fabric "sea" (too technically difficult with limited time)
  • tentacles tethered to an overhead beam and operated like a marionette (maybe next year!)

In the end I decided on large foam tubes used for insulating pipes. They were super cheap, lightweight and fairly flexible.

I cut heavy wire the length of each one, fed it through the middle and bent it to anchor at each end. Then I bent and twisted each tentacle into a curved shape. In one case I stuck two foam tubes together to make a much longer tentacle.

I made a total of five this way, plus two short ones carved from dried foam, and two cardboard tube versions to pass out candy from a safe distance (more on those later). I wasn't set on eight tentacles -- it's the Kraken, not an octopus! -- but I was also running out of room in my house...

Next, I covered each in a layer of spray foam.

Step 4: Shaping the Body

Time to sculpt! I tried a variety of knives (and even a heated-wire foam-cutter, which just made a smelly mess -- it wasn't designed for this type of foam) but ultimately a very sharp paring knife from the kitchen was most effective.

I carved away the dried foam into the monster shape I'd envisioned, occasionally sketching onto the foam with a marker to make note of features and contours. The foam mostly came off in slices and chunks (though I wore a mask the whole time just in case), but it was still VERY messy. In the first picture above you can see a couple bags of foam chips, which I've saved for stuffing future builds.

As I carved I realized her proportions weren't quite right: I needed her head to extend much more in the back.

I opened up a couple cardboard envelopes, taped them to the back of her head, and stuffed a small garbage bag full of foam chips into the gap. Then I covered the whole thing with lots more spray foam. I even had to run out and get a couple extra cans of foam from the local hardware store, which is why some of the foam has a blueish/greenish tint -- it's just a different brand.

At this point my daughter looked at her and declared her name should be Marge.

Step 5: Finishing the Sculpt

Next was sculpting the rest of Marge's head and adding more detail to her eyes, plus evening out the shape of her face tentacles.

I also carved the freestanding tentacles to be smooth along the sides and tapered at the ends.

Step 6: Papier Mache!

I LOVE papier mache. I've made so many decorations, props, pinatas and random junk out of papier mache over the years ... but I didn't plan on using it this time. I was hoping this prop would be truly weather-proof, since October in London is pretty much nonstop rain.

However, the carved build was not anywhere near sturdy enough. If anything bumped into it, it left a dent in the foam. Plus there were lots of little holes all over the place where the foam didn't fill in evenly, and the small test tentacle (or "test-acle" as my son insisted on calling it) showed that the painted foam just looked too foamy.

Marge is pretty big and I didn't want her to weigh a ton, so I tried to keep the papier mache layer just heavy enough to make her sturdy. The tentacles got a slightly heavier layer since they're much lighter in the first place.

Once that was all dry I sanded out bumps as well as I could and started painting.

Step 7: Painting

I gave everything a good coat of bright green latex wall paint, then spray-painted a background of darker green on the undersides of the tentacles.

Once that was dry I sponge-painted texture all over with a slightly darker shade, then shaded some contours with a shade that was still a little darker (and a little bluer) using a dry brush. Finally I added some deeper shades with a fine brush, mostly around her eyes and the line between her face tentacles and her body. You can see the four shades of green in the third picture above (plus the black that ended up on her eyes).

I wanted her eyes to be reflective, so I painted an undercoat of silver, with the plan of using black paint mixed with PVC glue over it, but that didn't end up being reflective enough. In the end I painted over the black with sparkly iridescent nail polish.

Finally, everything got a good coat of clear lacquer spray.

In the first picture above you can also see my first attempt at a candy-chute tentacle. I pieced together sheets of cardboard into a curved tube, then covered the whole thing in spray foam, carved it and papier mached it ... but then the little baggies of candy we'd put together for COVID-safe trick-or-treating just didn't slide through very well.

Step 8: Check Out These Suckers, Suckers!

Finally it was time to put the finishing touches on the tentacles.

I sliced smaller foam pipe-insulation tubes into 1/2-inch chunks (using the hot wire foam cutter this time), then spray painted them bright green. Next I glued them in pairs (using quick-bond clear adhesive) along the underside of each tentacle.

Once they were all stuck I finished the painting on the tentacles with some shading around the suckers.

Step 9: Installation

Everything came together surprisingly well when we put her up in our (very small!) front yard.

The tentacles were spiked into the ground using lengths of PVC pipes that fit perfectly into the holes from the foam tubes. Marge's body was propped up on a base under the sheet to bring her up to the level of our front wall. (I had to give her a little extra support because she's a bit back-heavy and it was VERY windy, so I was worried she'd fall over.) I also wired the taller tentacles to plant trellises to keep them from blowing away.

It was sadly also too windy for the mast to be free-standing -- we had to tie it to part of the wall and a large forsythia bush -- so I wasn't able to wrap one of the tentacles around the ship's mast as planned. But one of the small "test-acles" found its way into the display, grabbing the ship's wheel.

Step 10: Halloween, COVID-style

We needed to keep kids from getting too close, so for trick or treat we attached the ship's wheel to our closed gate to force them to keep their distance.

At the last minute (Halloween morning!) when it was clear the original candy-chute tentacle wouldn't work, I realized I could just paint a cardboard mailing tube and glue on the leftover suckers. It was shorter than the first attempt, but did the job -- we were able to pass out pre-bagged candy (out of a treasure chest) from about five feet away and the kids all loved catching their treats from the tentacle!

We kept a bottle of hand sanitizer on the wall for visitors. We also regularly wiped down any surfaces they could reach -- the ship's wheel, the skeleton on the mast and the tentacles closer to the wall -- with disinfecting wipes.

Step 11: The Final Display

I should note that people don't really go crazy for Halloween in the U.K., even though our London neighborhood might be more excited about it than most, so this was DEFINITELY an extreme decoration for around here!

We added a spotlight to light up Marge (and the whole front of the house), a water-effect light from upstairs shining down on the "sea" and a spotlight on our pirate skeletons in the upstairs window. To finish setting the scene we also played music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies -- and obviously we dressed as pirates too.

Despite the local coronavirus restrictions at the time (including social distancing and no groups bigger than six outdoors) and the fact that a lot of people were opting out of Halloween this year, we had a lot of visitors -- spread out over a few hours and all keeping their distance and behaving themselves. We got through a whole treasure chest full of candy ... and will definitely need more next year.

Marge was a big hit -- and I hope she helps convince our British neighbors that for one day a year they should embrace the fun, creativity -- and yes, tackiness -- of my favorite "American" holiday!

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    10 months ago

    THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!!! I love it! so crafty and smart!!

    That Redhead
    That Redhead

    2 years ago

    This is pure magic! You are an incredible artist! AMAZING!


    2 years ago

    Wow, that's so brilliant! Unfortunately, every time I see pirate themed anything, I am reminded of Pastafarianism, which kind of spoils the effect for me. Anyway, it's an inspiring make, well done :)


    2 years ago

    This is so good! Well done, great idea and execution : )