I've always been an Aliens fan. It's one of my favourite movies. I remember watching it to death on VHS when I was in my early teens, and playing the arcade side-scrolling game when the visiting fair came to town. Then, when I turned 18, I decided I would get an Alien tattoo, so I did.
That was 22 years ago and I've since then had the tattoo redone. But this isn't about my tattoo, this is about my love of the Xenomorph. In September 2015, Cardiff Comic Con was fast approaching and I hadn't thought about what to do for it. I'd always wanted a full size Xeno, but simply hadn't had the time nor the resources to make one, so at this point it was still a pipe dream. However, I did want to do something Aliens related for Comic Con. I remembered years ago I had a T-Shirt with a rubber chestburster sticking out the front of it. The rubber on it had long since broken down and deteriorated, so I figured I could make myself something similar out of an old sock, some EVA foam and liquid latex that I had laying around. So I did and "Chester" - as he became known - was a big hit! He was covered in gore and latex "skin", and when I pressed his belly, his mouth opened up and little needle like teeth were present! He was such a hit, I joked about him being grown up for the 2016 October Con.
Only it turned out not to be a joke. It got the old cogs working in my brain and so...
...that's when this story starts...
Materials and tools needed are mentioned along the way - I don't like making lists!! But it's essentially sheets of EVA foam, pink styrofoam, a black morphsuit, LOTS of gluesticks and some sheets of latex and condoms (black and extra strength, baby!!)
By the way, the photos used in this intro section were from a shoot taken by the talented Shanea Gaiger AKA Harpy Images http://harpyimages.deviantart.com/ and the girl is my Daughter and equally talented actress and model Mercy Gaiger http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5156180/
Step 1: Step 1: the Jaw
This was the first part I made. I made the jaw first because I wanted it to open, and I also wanted the lips to curl and snarl, so I knew it was going to be a difficult step.
Now I don;t have any experience with animatronics, and I wanted to keep the build as simple as I could, so I opted for a mechanical jaw rather than an electronic one. The other reason I favoured this is that due to my VERY limited budget, I didn't want any part of the Xeno's movement to be robotic in any way. Adter much thought and carboard prototypes, I devised a mechanism that when the bottom jaw opened, it curled the lips with a slight delay. That is to say the lips curled just BEFORE the jaw opened for a more natural look. I wanted this to be achieved with a single pull cord!
I do have one picture of the design, but for some reason I can't upload it, so hopefully I will at a future point!
The main jaw construction is 3mm foamex and carved pink styrofoam, with sculpy teeth made seperately and held into place with aluminium pegs. The teeth were originally painted silver and rubbed with graphite, but I eventually them covered in aluminium tape for a metallic look.
I decided to just use the rear parts of the foamex jawline for a more lightweight option. To strengthen it - and also to make the hinges and take away stress from the foam itself, I made the hinges out of different diameters PVC piping' one inside the other.
The mechanism is electrical wire on a small pulley system. I made the lips from an old sheet of black latex and covered it in liquid latex and eventually I stretched a condom over it for a more organic look. I used flexible electrical wire for the lips under the latex as I wanted to keep the movement in the lips as they curled, so I didn't get a rigid lip line. It opens as the line that moves the mechanism is clipped to the front of the tail belt via a carabina, so when I move my head, the jaw opens up. I did it this way as I simply couldn't get enough leverage by just opening my own jaw due to the resistance of the condom tendons.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to make the inner jaw protrude, so that's held in place with a simple hinge at the rear so it moves a little when the mouth opens up.
Condoms were then used for the outer tendons - a technique taken directly from the original puppets.
Step 2: The Head
I wanted to make a lightweight head, and so I chose to carve it from blocks of pink styrofoam. I couldn't find any blocks large enough, so I opted to cut out basic shapes and stick them together. I went through various tests of how to bond the layers and nothing worked: spray adhesive melted the foam, likewise with contact adhesive. White PVA glue wasn;t strong enough and didn't dry - the same as wood glue. Tape wasn't an option as I wanted to carve it. I eventually used expanding spray foam from a can. It worked perfectly! Bonded the parts together and was itself carveable, too!
Then came the mess making! I carved out the shape, initially with a reciprocating saw, then craft knife blades, then with sandpaper and my trusty Dremel!
The head is attached to my head with an old cycle helmet padded out with foam. I had to cut various parts out inside to make it comfortable! Something I'm still working on - especially as I did a full Con in it!
I then screwed the jaw to the head and held it in place with Gorilla Glue!
The neck flaps were next, and these were made in the same way as all of the body panels: EVA foam cut to shape and detailed using a soldering iron. I then sealed and textured it using a heat gun - it gave it rather a leathery look. The piping is various diameters of ribbed electrical conduit cabling. I added various panels of an old black T shirt for added flexibility as there was going to be movement in the head. Also, because I needed to see, I cut viewports in the front and side and backed them with heavy denier tights - this was extremely effective to let air in, and also allow me to see out, but reduced what people could see from the outside!
There's a clip added to the rear, that attaches to the tail belt (which is round my chest) to hold the head in place when I open the jaw.
The whole thing was brush painted in blackboard paint to seal, the rattle canned for the details. I then sealed the shiny sections with LOTS of coats of polyeurethane varnish.
Step 3: The Body and Torso
This was one of the easiest parts to make. It's fairly common knowledge that the stunt suits in Aliens were lycra suits with bits of rubber details stuck over them. I decided that as I was making the suit mainly from sheet EVA foam, I would need to keep the flexibility somehow, so I decided to take inspiration from the original suits and make the main under suit this way. I purchased a cheap black zentai suit, cut the head off and replaced the zipper for a heavier duty one as the original one was pretty rubbish. I then went about cutting the shapes needed for various parts of the body, arms and legs out, using as many reference pictures as I could find to try and match the details as much as I could. Once again using a soldering iron and heat gun as detailing tools.
The pieces were attached using a hot glue gun. I bought an old mannequin and dressed him while I stuck them on. To make sure they're as secure as possible, you'll need to press the panel and wiggle it about while it's still melted, so the glue gets into the weave of the material, this holds it very well! The foam is more likely to tear than the glue come away.
The torso is pure EVA, simply cut to shape and stuck together. It's held together with plastic clips on elastic glued to the rear, and there is an additional flap that is held from one side with velcro. This is used to cover up the top part of the tail so it looks like the tail will look like it's coming from the suit itself.
The shape of the pipes were obtained by cutting a two long triangular-ish shaped pieces with a long curve to get he taper. The edges were then joined to get the unusual shape.
The entire thing was then painted black and detailed in varying shades of brown and blue with an airbrush. Then sprayed with gloss lacquer and painted with water-based gloss varnish for a shinier,more organic look.
Step 4: The Tail
I wanted a long tail. With a huge barb on the end. I wanted it to LOOK dangerous. Yet not poke people's eyes out while walking around. I knew the suit was going to be big, and I didn't want the tail to be dragging on the ground for people to trip on/stand on and break. So I opted to make it into an "S" shape. Essentially, it's a core of thick EVA cut to a length, then silver foam insulating pipes or pool noodles stuck to it (Be warned, this stuff melts VERY fast and doesn't like sticking nor taking paint - I roughed it up first). Detailing was a long piece if thinner EVA wide enough to fold around the central core and cut with detailed shapes. The spines were lots of pairs of leaf-shaped foam stuck at the top and opened out and stuck to the tail along the segments. The barb is just a but of thick EVA cut yo shape, heat-gunned for organic texture and stuck on.
The curve was kept by heating up the tail core (Before sticking outer detail on it) on various points and reinforcing them with crescent-shaped foam blocks to match the shape which were then glued into shape.
It's held on by a larger foam panel at the end top of the tail and a long leather belt is bolted to a reinforced panel at the back. The belt then goes around my chest and the jaw mechanism is clipped to the buckle at the front. I did it this way because it means that it's very lightweight (I've seen flag pivots being used and I thought they would add extra weight,plus I couldn't afford one!). The top 60 cm or so of the tail is also running down my spine, underneath the torso so it adds extra stability and also allows me to sit down without removing the tail.
It was held up and off the ground (ish) by a loop of heavy duty see-fishing line. I made a hole sideways through the foam in two places where I wanted the curve to be held the most (the first bend). I then reinforced the hols with pen barrels so the line wouldn't cheese wire it's way through, and simply looped it round, tensioned it, tied and superglued it together.
Once again, the whole thing was painted black and detailed with an airbrush.
Step 5: The Feet and Hands
For the hands, I thought about constructing them over gloves - something I tried, but it didn't work out! So I simply made them from scratch out of varying panels of EVA. Drawing around my own hands for size and making them a panel at a time, then detailing them in the same way as the other panels.
The feet details and panelling were done in exactly the same way. However, I constructed the shoes first!
Now I'm not tall. I'm 5ft 8. I wanted my Xeno to be about 7 and a half feet, so because of the neck and my dumpy legs, I needed to be taller, otherwise the whole thing would look out of proportion. I looked about online for stilts, digitigrade stilts etc. All of which were awesome, but all of which were way too bulky for what I needed. The Xenomorphs are pretty thin (I'm not!). So I decided to essentially turn a pair of trainers into heel less high heels using cut and shaped pieces of pine and screwing the trainers to them. I cut the panels to rough feet-shapes because it looked less bulky than having rectangle panels. The angle I opted for was around 35 degrees - 45 was too uncomfortable without leg supports. I also added thick insoles for comfort.
Because of the bulk of the costume, I needed to make sure they were safe to walk on. The soles were simple flat panels of wood with grippy drawer liners glued on. This was fine on a flat surface, but I did a photoshoot prior to the Con and it was extremely unstable going over uneven ground, so I modified them afterwards to absorb any small rocks etc. I did this by screwing sections of bicycle tyres to the bottom. This worked well and gave very good grip, however they became more unstable, so I added two small triangular bits of flat metal to either side of the soles towards the rear and stuck tyre sections to these. This greatly reduced my ankles from going sideways and helped prevent injury.
Step 6: And That's It!
There we go.. My Xenomorph, called Fluffy! He's the result of just over 6 months of evening work, about a million hot glue sticks and lots and lots of swearing!
I am since making a few minor modifications to the comfort of the head etc. but that's pretty much it. I thougth about making slime/drool pipes in the mouth, but decided against it due to health and safety reasons in public. I can;t exactly have people sliding around wherever I go, can I!
I must say, until my friend took a video, I was imagined the suit to be pretty bulky and clomp around, but as you can see from my daughter and I in the cosplay masquerade, I was pleased with the mobility I had.
One final not to add, it gets VERY hot in there. If you can install a fan, do. That is another mod that I'll be making. While I was at the con, my wonderful friend and daughter both used a small pocket fan to blow air into the vents..it was bliss!! Also, drink lots of water - I have a hole in the neck where my mouth is for a straw. You'll also need some friends to help get you into in and out of it. I am lucky and have some AMAZING friends who helped..and to whom now I owe lots!
This is Fluffy, last remaining member of the Cardiff Comic Con. Signing off....