Introduction: Make Your Own Half-Life Barnacle Using Household Materials

The Half-Life video game made its debut in 1998, introducing us to the physicist hero, Gordon Freeman, and a host of deadly, unearthly enemies. One of the strangest and deadliest creatures was the barnacle, which would hang under bridges, snare people and feast upon them.

Because you've always wanted a barnacle of your own, I'm going to show you how to make one cheaply using items that you probably already have lying about the house.

Step 1: Crack Open a Bottle

  • 2 L soft drink bottle
  • box cutter
  • masking tape
  • coat hanger wire
  • pliers
  • hole saw

Take a sharp knife to a 2 liter soft drink bottle and and cut off the spout end just where the curve begins. Discard the spout.

The bottle will form the "inner mouth" of your creature, it's the perfect shape. (I suspect alien influence in the soft drink industry.)

Tentacle Option:

Assuming that you want your monster to have a "grabber" tentacle, drill or cut a 1" diameter hole right in the valley in the center of the bulges.

Your tentacle will need a support, so cut a piece of coat-hanger wire about 2” longer than your bottle diameter. Punch a couple of holes in the bottle, pass the wire through, bend down the ends and tape into place.

Step 2: All Your Base ...

  • corrugated cardboard
  • pencil
  • box cutter

You'll need a piece of corrugated cardboard about 16” square to form the base of the creature.

Sketch an interesting “organic” shape outline and cut it out. Go ahead - loose your creativity! Cut a circular hole in the center large enough for the pop bottle to pass through easily. (The bowl was just used for spacing.)

Put the bottle aside for now. (Seriously dude, put down the bottle - you've had enough.)

Step 3: Think Inside the Box

  • cardboard
  • masking tape
  • box cutter

With some additional cardboard make a four walled box which will eventually surround the pop bottle. The sides will need to be just a bit wider than the bottle so it can slide in easily. Make it taller than your (already shortened) pop bottle by a couple of inches.

(Don't get hung up about precise measurements - it's all approximate.)

Use masking tape to fasten the walls securely to the base. Use plenty of tape!

Step 4: Pillars of Creation

  • newspaper
  • masking tape
  • saw

Take sheets of newspaper, roll them tightly into about 1” diameter cylinders and bind them with masking tape. Make four of these pillars. Saw them off at the height of the walls and fasten them to the corners with more masking tape.

You can use wads of additional paper (phone book yellow pages work well) and more tape to give your construction a nice, tapered look because living creatures have curves!

Pad the tops of the walls with wads of paper and tape to soften the sharp edges.

Step 5: Balls for the Walls

  • aluminum foil
  • paper
  • masking tape

Roll four balls from aluminum foil. Wrap them in paper, then wrap the whole thing in masking tape so that you end up with four golf-ball sized balls.

Tape these to the tops of the pillars. These will be fang supports, so four big fangs means four big balls. Use plenty of masking tape to secure them.

(The foil is meant to give you an easy starting ball shape. You could also use paper.)

Step 6: Paste Makes Waste

  • white flour
  • water
  • mixing bowl
  • newspaper
  • electric fan
  • scissors

Now for the fun, messy part: paper mache! This will solidly bind the whole thing together.

More precisely, we’re going to do “strip mache” using strips of newspaper. Prepare by tearing newspaper into pieces about 4 or 5” square; don't worry about exactness.

Make a paste from white flour and water in a large bowl, mixing it with your hand. Add warm water until the paste is like a thick soup. (I told you it would be fun!)

Dip your hand (not paper) into the paste and then smooth a piece of newspaper onto your work. It helps if you pre-moisten the work to help the first layer stick. Keep dipping your hands into the paste as you smooth down layers of newsprint. (Keep your paper out of the paste bowl; that's what hands are for.)

Take your time and smooth the paper down completely! Make it as wrinkle-free as you can, overlapping the pieces. You’ll want about three layers for strength; you can always add more later on after it dries. Each additional layer adds to the drying time but three layers works well. Let the paper overlap the edges of the base.

Moving air is the best way to dry your work. A few hours in front of an electric fan ought to do the trick.

Once it's completely dry you can trim the waste.

Step 7: Fangs for the Memories

  • aluminum foil
  • polymer clay
  • rolling pin

A scary monster needs teeth so let's make some fangs! You'll need aluminum foil and polymer clay. I used white clay here but the color's not that important since you'll paint them anyway.

After deciding how big you want the teeth to be, form four fangs out of aluminum foil – really compress that foil!
Work some clay in your hands to warm it up, then roll it out into a sheet, maybe 1/8" thick. Cover the foil fangs completely with a thin layer of clay and smooth it. There's no hurry - the clay won't harden until you bake it.

Once you’ve done that make five smaller teeth for the inner mouth parts (no foil needed, just roll some clay into pointy shapes). Don’t make them too pointy or the tips may break off.

Preheat your oven to 275° F and bake those fangs on a baking sheet for 15 minutes (or follow package directions). Don’t overcook or they'll burn. Use foil to protect your baking sheet from the clay.

Once the teeth have cooled you can sand them with fine sandpaper, then give them a couple of coats of white paint. (As a final step I like to add a few coats of gloss urethane for shine.)

Now that our paper mache body is dry let's attach those four incisors. Make divots in the "balls" with the handle of a screwdriver or something and glue the fangs into place. I recommend using an "industrial strength" adhesive.

Step 8: Cloth-ing Makes the Monster

Paper mache can be extremely strong, however, its surface is not durable and needs protection. At this point you could just slap on a coat of paint and call it done, but that's not who you are! You want a monster that inspires both fear and disgust in one rugged wrapper!

That's where "cloth mache" comes in. (Dan the Monster Man pioneered this technique.) You'll need:

  • PVA white glue (e.g., Elmer's)
  • a worn bed sheet*
  • disposable bowl with lid
  • cheap disposable gloves (optional)

Tear a bunch of squares out of sheet and pull off the loose threads. You may want scissors to get the strips started. Make a pile of squares - you'll need them for both the inner mouth and the outer monster. If you want, get some cheap, disposable gloves so you don't have to keep washing glue off of your hands. Pour some white glue into your bowl.

Tear a square of sheet (about 12” square) and remove any loose threads. Soak it in the white glue, squeeze out the excess and drape it evenly over the "bumpy" end of your bottle. A rubber band will help keep it in place. Smooth the sheet down with your fingers and leave it to dry.

For the main body start by reinforcing the fangs with strips of glue-soaked cloth then work your way down covering all exposed paper. The great thing is, you don't have to worry about making the cloth layer totally smooth because wrinkles look cool! They will add life-likeness to your creature.

Set it aside to dry and put the lid on your bowl.

*No, you don't wear it, this ain't no toga party. But hey, it's your house!

Step 9: And I Want It Painted Black

  • black house paint
  • water
  • small jar
  • paint brush

By this point you have picked a color for the inner mouth and painted right over the cloth. Now we're going to paint it black!

Dilute some black house paint with water (a 1:1 ratio ought to be fine) and slap it all over that lovely shade of brown. Now take a rag and wipe the black off. The black wash settles into the crevices and makes the colors pop! If it turns out too dark you can go back and dry brush the object to lighten it up.

Save the black wash; we'll do this again for the main body.

Step 10: Nothing But the Tooth

  • drill & bits
  • hot glue gun
  • utility knife

Take the inner mouth and an appropriate-size bit and carefully drill holes in the bumps where the five smaller fangs will go.

Test the fangs for fit, then hot glue them into place.

If you opted to install a grabber then go ahead and cut an 'X' in the center hole.

Step 11: The Root of All Evil

We’re going to make some roots or tentacles for this bad boy (why not?) with just five ingredients:

  • coat-hanger wire
  • paper
  • masking tape
  • white glue
  • cloth strips
  • hot glue gun

Decide how many roots you want. We’ll make four in this example, so cut four lengths of coat-hanger wire about a foot long and straighten them. Starting at one end, tightly wrap the wire with paper. This takes practice and tires the hands but hang in there! By adjusting how much paper you add at a time you can make the root thin at one end and thick at the other. Secure the ends with tape. Now wrap the entire length of the root in masking tape, overlapping as you go. A handy method is to hold the tape roll between your knees and roll the object you’re wrapping toward yourself.

At this stage we’ve got four pointy things that look like anorexic carrots, so give them some natural-looking bends and make each one different.

Now we’re going to do some more cloth wrapping, this time using strips about 1” wide. Estimate the length you’ll need. Prepare by tearing the cloth strips and removing the loose threads like before. Dunk a strip in glue, squeeze out the excess and wrap right over the masking tape in an overlapping manner.

Step 12: Sweet Painted Lady

  • paint, various colors
  • paint brush

I gave it a "sore-throat red" paint job on the inside. The outside is some boring beige color I picked up for cheap - but it won't be boring for long!

Just like you did with the inner mouth step, black wash the creature's outside and then wipe it off. See how it really brings out the wrinkles and crevices - just the opposite of makeup!

(Initially I had used hot glue to secure the fangs in place and they fell out! I fixed this later.)

Step 13: ... Are Belong to Us

  • pressure-molded board, 5-6" square
  • drill & bits
  • jigsaw to cut the slot
  • duct tape
  • strong adhesive
  • cloth strips
  • white glue

Barnacles hang from ceilings so how are we going to hang this critter?

Like so:

Cut out a piece of some thin pressure-molded board large enough to cover the hole in the base. Drill a hole in the piece large enough to allow a screw-head to pass through. Cut a slot about the diameter of a screw. Gently insert the inner mouth-part (teeth first!) into the hole and secure with duct tape.

Go ahead and use some strong glue to hold the slotted board in place, but also use some cloth mache strips to make sure it doesn't come loose and drop your barnacle on someone's head! (Unless you mean to do so.)

The hole in the slotted board is meant to slip over the head of a screw or nail and then slide to one side to lock it into place. You'll need to locate a ceiling joist for your screw. Make sure you have the permission of the home-owner!

Step 14: How's That Grab You?

To make the grabber / tongue / tentacle thingy you'll need:

  • plastic tubing (about 1/2" diameter)
  • several brown plastic shopping bags
  • a heat gun
  • a bit of wire
  • pliers
  • awl

The tubing is one item that you may not have on hand, but it's not very expensive when you only need a few feet. Yes, you'll need to beg, borrow or buy a heat gun. I found some of this clear, flexible tubing at my local hardware store. Decide how long your grabber will be and cut it to length - four feet ought to be plenty long.

Bend a piece of wire into a hook and secure it to one end of the tubing. This will hook onto the support you made back in Step 1.

Cut a couple of the shopping bags into strips and start winding them around the tubing starting at the hook end. Heating the strips with the heat gun will cause the plastic to shrink and stick to itself. It's probably a good idea to wear gloves so you don't burn yourself. Once you reach the other end of the tube go ahead and add a second layer of plastic strips. Let it bunch up, wrinkle and blacken in places; you want it to look monstrous!

Step 15: It's (half) Alive!

Here are some glamour shots of my barnacle. I went back and dry-brushed it with a reddish color which really made the veins and wrinkles stand out. Try your own color scheme. Add extra tendrils, teeth, eyes or whatever. Make two and give them a baby barnacle.

I'd be delighted to see other people express their barnacle creativity!

Happy Barnacle-making!

See more of my monsters at Monster Mache.

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