Create a Halloween Costume Using Tape Sculpture




Introduction: Create a Halloween Costume Using Tape Sculpture

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I will show you how to use tape sculpture to create a Halloween costume, in this case, a Great White Shark costume.  As you can see, the costume is of a shark "sounding" (like a great white leaping straight out of the water), so its head is pointing straight up, and the costume-wearer peers out through the open mouth.

If you've never heard of tape sculpture, Google the term and be amazed at some of the art that people have created out of tape.  It's also called Plastic Wrap Sculpture by some (see ).  It's a bit like papier-mache, but it's not so messy and it's light and rather flexible.  Like tape, the sculptures are usually transparent and can be illuminated from within to create some stunning things, but in my case I will paint the result.

Actually, I will just be creating the head this time - the wife sewed up the rest out of 4 yards of fabric.

Step 1: Items Needed

Build list:

11-inch balloon, obtained from a party store or florist that creates balloon party favors. This will be plenty large enough to fit around a child's head.

Packing tape. Also called box tape or shipping tape.  This is thick plastic tape, not like your average Scotch or Sellotape. It's around 2 inches wide and is either clear or brown. Color is not important in this case - brown tape makes it easier to see the finished shape as you go, but I used clear in this case to show you the interior of the costume as I went.  Get 2 rolls.

Masking tape, 2 rolls of.

Cling film - plastic food wrap, like Saran Wrap or whatever

Paint to match your costume clothing

lots of pictures of the subject to model your costume after, or better yet a toy or model of it to get the shape in 3D

Not shown - a cardboard box to cut into shapes for the costume, and a sheet of craft foam rubber (white)

Step 2: Wrap the Balloon in Plastic Cling Film

Wrap the balloon in plastic wrap to protect it.  We will be taping cardboard and stuff to the balloon, and that can pop the balloon if the tape is pulled too hard.

Step 3: Plan the Shape of Your Costume

I plan to use the balloon with the stem pointing straight up to create the shark's nose.  As you can see from these two pictures, the balloon is round, bulbous, and the stem comes to a point at the center, but a shark's head is flat on the top, and the point of a shark's nose is upraised and ends at the flat top of the head. At least, that is what my scientific model shows me, and I have no reason to disbelieve its accuracy.  So, we will need to add a flat top to the balloon in a roughly triangular shape, widest at where the eyeballs are and pointed at the nose, and add a cylinder to the base of the balloon to build up the shark-head to where the gills are.  This will leave a gap between the stem of the balloon and the nose of the shark, but we will fill in that gap with pieces of tape.

Step 4: Build Up the Shape of the Shark Around the Balloon Using Cardboard

 I first set a flat piece of paper on the balloon to get an idea of the shape I would need, making marks on it for things like the width of the balloon, and the location of the balloon stem when the paper was placed at the tip of the shark nose. 

I then roughed out one side of the triangle head-top on the paper, folded it in half, and cut along the lines I made. When I unfolded the paper, I had a symetrical shark-head shape. I laid this paper on top of a piece of cardboard, transferred the shape on to the cardboard, and cut out the cardboard.

I then laid the balloon onto the cardboard, with the stem where I had marked it on the piece of paper, and begain laying strips of tape from the balloon to the nose of the cardboard.  I also taped the balloon's other end to the base of the cardboard,in a sort of tripod so that the balloon wouldn'tmove around as I added more tape.

I continued to add more tape between the nose of the balloon and the nose of the cardboard, until I had a solid wall of tape built up, making the nose of the shark out of a sheet of tape strips.  I only did the nose at this point, since I would be adding cardboard to the base of the balloon, as you will see in the next picture.

I then took another piece of cardboard, bent in sort of a half-cylinder, and laid it on the balloon away from the nose. This would form the neck of the shark head.  I taped this piece of cardboard to the balloon where I wanted it, and then added a few strips of cardboardbetween the cylindrical neck-piece and the top-of-head piece of cardboard (so that the neck would be fully supported and not collapse), and taped all that in place.

When I was finished, I had built up a basic shark's head shape that was stiff due to the cardboard, but light and round thaks to the balloon.

Step 5: Add Two or Three More Layers of Tape to the Whole Thing

To strengthen our shape and smooth it out, add a lot more tape to everything.  Boring, but necessary.  When finished, the head shape will be a lot better.  Go slowly with this so that wrinkles between tape layers are minimized. Don't get me wrong, some wrinkles will still be there, but just keep telling youself how cheap this is, and that papier-mache is also lumpy and a lot messier. An MP3 player will help you a lot.

Step 6: Get Rid of the Balloon

Now that the shape is coated with several layers of tape, pop the balloon and remove the rubber fragments.

What you end up with is a cling-film balloon shape inside the costume head.  This is no problem for traditional tape sculpture, but for a costume, it will get in the way of the wearer's head. So, cut away the cling film balloon shape as much as you can, hollowing out the costume head.

After you have hollowed out the head, there will still be some cling film scraps inside of the head, and there will also be a lot of bare tape, sticky side out, on the inside the head.  The costume wearer's hair will stick to this if we don't do something about it, so take some more cling film sheets and stick them to the exposed tape inside the head, so that all tape of the costume is now sticking to something and no glue is exposed.

Step 7: Test Fit and Make Adjustments or Fixes

At this point, a test fit reveals that the shark head will not sit properly on the child's shoulders, it's too big and her shoulders slip inside (if you flex the head enough), and when that happens the child can't reach her arms out, as they are trapped to her sides by the shark head.

I decided to cut out arm-gaps for her arms to stick out, and then added two strips of duct tape inside the head to act as shoulder straps, much like a backback.  To make sure that the duct tape didn't stick to her later, I stuck sheets of cling film to the sticky side of the tape, much like in the last step, so the straps are only stuck to the head of the costume and not the wearer.

Step 8: Even More Tape?

Packing tape is great for building up the shape of the costume, but it laughs at paint or other finishes.  The only thing that sticks to packing tape is other tape, so we need to encase the whole thing in a layer of masking tape so that we can paint the costume and add any final touches. So, get out a few rolls of masking tape and a large-capacity MP3 player and get to tapin'.  Once again, take your time to avoid wrinkles.

Step 9: Paint!

I lucked out with the color - the rest of the costume is...  Primer Gray!  Finding the exact shade was therefore a snap.  I decided to spray paint this year for time reasons.  Paint several light layers instead of one heavy layer to reduce dripping. Actually, painting last year's costume with acrylic took less time since I could brush everything on with one coat, and it didn't stink  up the place with paint fumes either.  Lesson learned.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

Next, the mouth shape is cut out, with heavy scissors to get through all those layers of tape.  A few more test fittings were needed to get the mouth placement right so that the wearer could see out through the mouth.

I then made shark teeth out of a thin sheet of white craft foam rubber.  You can get this at a fabric place like Jo-Ann, or a craft store like Michael's, or one of many big box stores that carry craft supplies (I got some at Wally's once).  I could use paper for the teeth, but the thin foam rubber sheet won't fold or bend, and won't make paper cuts.  Once the teeth are cut out, they are secured to the head with more packing tape.

I decided to just paint on the eyes and nose holes (actually used a Sharpie).  The shoulder cutouts took up the area where the gill slits would go, so I didn't have to paint them on.

Success!  Just remember to bring the packing tape with you as you go trick-or-treating, in case you need to do some quick repairs to the shoulder straps or the teeth or something.

The last two pictures below are of last years costume, a T-Rex. In that one, the 11-inch balloon was placed with the stem facing forward, so the head's snout came to a point, the top of the head was built up with cardboard and tape, and the eyes were made of a plastic foam ball cut in half.  The whole thing was supported by the child's bicycle helmet, hidden inside and secured to the rest of the head with black zip-ties under the tape.

Happy Halloween!

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    3 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the idea! It inspired our Halloween costume this year...THE STREET SHARKS!!

    Streex, Jab, The Big Slammu, and Ripster


    10 years ago on Introduction

    "Plummer!  Caaandygram!"
    "You're a shark aren't you?"
    "No M'am, I'm just a dolphin"  


    Cool shark head!  Maybe just add a grey overall and a dorsal fin and you got an awesome costume! 


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I bought a couple of yards of grey fabric and white fabric.  I asked my wife to sew them up into a sort of poncho that the kid could wear over her shoulders.  I came by a few hours later, and she had sewn an entire dress with a cardboard fin enclosed on the back!  She used a mermaid costume as the inspiration, but it was way better than anything I envisioned.  That's a story for a whole different Instructible, tho.