Who is Hot Rod?
Hot Rod is a dog from another dimension, and he is also a race car driver. One day, he accidentally broke the dimensional barrier with the power of his awesome racing! Unfortunately, the power source in his vehicle was burnt out during the passage between worlds, and Earth technology is woefully inadequate for effecting repairs. Now, Hot Rod is trapped on Earth until he can either discover a new way to cross dimensions, or catch a ride to another planet with superior technology.
The costume was inspired by the Hot Rod dog mask I made earlier in the year, and I spun out this whole ridiculous character idea.
However, while I was making this costume, I ultimately decided that the original mask (the one that inspired the costume) was no longer awesome enough... so I made a new mask, the Hot Rod 2 mask, which was far more appropriate!
Step 1: Coveralls
The centerpiece of the ensemble, obviously, is the red suit. All of the other details would be shaped by this primary item, so I had to sort that out as quickly as possible.
Now, I don't know if you've ever shopped for professional racing gear – as an indoorsy person who's never had a driver's license, racing gear isn't something that has come up a lot for me. But the ugly truth is this: actual racing gear costs about 36,000 dollars a pound, so I was pretty sure that I was going to need fake racing gear.
There are a lot of coveralls to choose from out there, but when it came to red suits, there was a pretty sheer difference in quality and price. First, there was the short sleeved lightweight coverall from Dickies, in the thirty dollar range. Then there were long-sleeved, insulated, fireproof, acid-resistant encounter suits made from chupacabra leather and costing a hundred dollars each. With nothing in between.
So, even though my original vision had included long sleeves, it quickly became apparent that if I didn't want to drop a hundred bucks right out of the gate, I was going to need to make do with short sleeves. I ordered the Dickies.
Before purchasing anything new, of course, I had visited every second hand shop in the vicinity, and I had tried on the only red suit I found. It was beautiful, and slightly padded, but there was no way it was going to fit me. It was far too short. I barely hunched my shoulders into it, the crotch gelded me, and the legs were complete high-waters.
However, I liked the last part, and when I drew the sketch of my costume I kept the high-water look, inspired by that coverall that was much too small. So when my dickies arrived, the first thing I did was cut about nine inches off the legs (they don't actually ride that high, but they were a little long in the first place.) Then I hemmed them up.
Apart from that, my immediate task would be to add a paint job to this garment that would instantly remind an observer of racing gear (even though short sleeves kind of destroy that illusion, but I'm a dog from another dimension. Leave me alone.) So I drew in side panels, from the underside of the sleeves all the way down to the hip pockets, which created a contoured shape on the front of the suit and totally changed the look of it.
I knew that I wanted the whole panels to be painted in a high-contrast yellow, but I couldn't use a solid, unbroken surface or it would fold weird or crack or something. At least I imagined it would. So I designed a flame pattern that incorporated negative space at regular intervals, and painted it all in with gesso (always keeping a sheet of paper inside the suit, to prevent it from soaking through.)
Next I added a series of large flames all around the bottoms of the legs, and painted those with gesso too.
I knew that there was going to be a lot of painting involved, but I couldn't predict how much. Besides the coveralls, this costume would probably end up with other props, and everything always needs painting, so I made one of my increasingly rare wise decisions. I mixed up a big jar of yellow paint, so that I would have plenty of it on hand. That way I could make sure that everything I painted would match perfectly.
As I began painting in my first sets of flames, I was thinking long and hard about the back of the coveralls. I knew that I wanted to design a logo for my character who, in my head, I was just calling Hot Rod. I guess that's his stage name. The logo needed to incorporate that name, and also convey the concepts of driving and being a dog. Ideally, the logo would also be something that would allow me to repeat a simplified version in other places on the costume. Branding! Also, I would need to be able to accurately portray the design using only yellow paint on a red background.
What I came up with was this Hot Rod logo that uses a single large tire for the O in both words, with a series of flames across the top and a pawprint on the hubcap. I measured it to fit the space, and created a stencil for each part in case I needed to do it again (I'll be extremely glad for that later on!)
With the logo on the back and some more flames on the sleeves, the coveralls were looking pretty great. Except that real racing coveralls have nifty epaulets (which, according to my virtually nonexistent research, can be used to pull a driver from a car.) Well, mine wouldn't be very functional in that respect, but I definitely wanted some, so I made a pair from the leftover cloth that I had cut from one of the legs.
This left a big empty space down the front of my coveralls. Starting with the premise that Hot Rod was a race car driver in his home dimension, I had originally seized upon the idea of devising some sponsorship logos. Either on applique badges or painted directly on the fabric, the fake corporate sponsors would really help sell the illusion that this was a racing coverall.
The problem was that I didn't want to mess up the good thing I had going with this suit! I felt like it was looking really good, and a misstep with the logos would be nearly impossible to correct. And even if I did decide to move forward with the sponsors, what would they be? There was only one idea I really liked, which was “Little Brown Dog Food,” a fake brand featured on David Lynch's short-lived comedy series On The Air. But what else? It seemed inevitable that they would all just end up being bad puns or otherwise dog-related corporate names, which draws unnecessary attention to them, and frankly doesn't even make sense if you think it through.
I wound up doing something a whole lot simpler, and I think it was the right decision. A bold V shape, from shoulders to fly, repeating the flame motif of the side panels but painted white instead of yellow. Chronologically, by the time I painted the V shape I had already made the cape, and it seemed important to balance to white of the cape with something on the front of the suit. Also, too much red and yellow just starts to look like a McDonald's french fries carton.
Step 2: Burning Rubber
I tend to hold onto things that I think may prove useful in costumes down the road, and this is one of those fortuitous occasions where that practice turned out to be pragmatic instead of merely evidence of hoarding.
A few years back, during a dark period, I spent several months working at a terrible clothing store that sold low-quality, disposable clothing for teenagers. Their Chuck Taylor knockoffs are awful, but they cost nothing and they're totally red, even the soles! They'd been in a bin in my closet for years, and would be a perfect complement to this outfit – with a few modifications, of course!
A line on the sole wraparound (where the black line would be on real Converse) in yellow. Some flames on the sides and on the toes. And where the Chuck Taylor All Star device would have appeared on the real deal, I painted an isolated flaming pawprint tire from the Hot Rod logo.
Step 3: The Greatest Cape
I'm not sure exactly when I started thinking about adding a cape, but it definitely had something to do with Evel Knievel. The Hot Rod character was always a little fluid in my mind, though I had started with the idea that he was a race car driver. But that definition was spreading to potentially include activities that are adjacent to race car driver – such as stunt rider and daredevil. If Hot Rod also did stuff like that, it might explain why he only wears his own name on his suit, and not a lot of corporate sponsors.
So naturally Evel Knievel comes to mind, when that mind begins to wander into such territory, and Evel Knievel often wore a pretty sweet cape. I liked the idea, but I've not made such a cape before and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to it. I wasn't sure I liked it enough to actually do it.
I ran the idea by my boyfriend, kind of hoping he wouldn't be into it, which would give me permission to think of something easier. As if that was going to happen! Bill liked the idea too, which just proved what I had known ever since I first thought of it: I was going to make a cape.
“But,” I said to him, “If I'm going to do it, I've got to do it right! The cape has actually got to look legit!” Then I immediately bought the cheapest, worst fabric available: generic 'costume satin' that cost less than two dollars a yard. Two yards each of yellow and white. The price was right, but literally everything else about it was wrong.
The stuff is basically plastic, but is so thin that you can (not joking!) read a book through two layers of it. Maybe that's why I decided to just bluff my way through the process, but here is how I made the cape.
I held my fabric tape in both hands, stretched it across my back and shoulders, and measured the distance from wrist to wrist. Let's say that was 54 inches.
Then I pinned the two pieces of fabric together, face to face. Along the straight edge, I marked 54 inches, and the 27-inch midpoint.
Then, I kid you not, I taped a pencil to the 27 inch mark of my fabric tape. Holding the end at the midpoint mark, I used the pencil to trace an arc from one end of the fabric to the other! And to make it even more sloppy, I didn't bother to do this on a hard surface. Oh, no, that would be far too sensible. I did it on my bed.
Now, with this so-professional half circle complete, I pinned it all out and cut the cloth. For the neck opening, I measured the outside of the collar on the suit, and drew it in by hand on the cape.
I sewed it all up, leaving the bottom of the cape open because I definitely needed to place something between the layers if I was going to paint on it.
And obviously I had to paint on it, because the cape was going to cover up that awesome Hot Rod logo that I had already painted on the back of the suit! So here is where I was really glad for having made that stencil earlier: I just painted the whole thing again, because that gives me options! I've got the logo whether or not I want to wear the cape.
At first I tried to replicate the same color scheme as I had on the suit, but that looked terrible, so I ended up with a more elaborate red and yellow design that was much more satisfying and didn't look gross against the white background. Which is tough, because that white background is very clearly cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. And tawdry.
The logo made it better, and some red flame designs on the lining made it better still. But the coolest part was embedding three powerful magnets at the neckline, which is how the cape attaches to the suit. They're strong enough to hold it securely, but it whips off very easily and snaps back on in, well, a...snap.
Step 4: Decorative Arms
Since the coverall has short sleeves, I purchased a long-sleeved, bright yellow undershirt to wear with it.
I wanted to get some elbow pads, but I couldn't find any that I liked. When I was at the thrift store buying the flashlight reflector for my ray gun, I looked through every single thing in their sporting goods aisle and I found one. It was actually a knee pad, but it worked for my purposes and had the aesthetic I was looking for (roller derby, not X-treme Sports Challenge).
Symmetry be damned, I bought the one elbow pad. I sprayed it to match the red of the gun, then painted the flaming tire logo in yellow.
Then to balance out the elbow pad, which I intended to wear on my left arm, I painted red flames on the right sleeve of the yellow shirt. The fabric is really, really thin, so I rolled up a tube of poster board and stuck it into the sleeve to create a surface I could paint on.
Step 5: Gloves, Kid!
Red and black shop gloves were the basis for my costume gloves, and the modification was pretty simple. They had a small logo along one side of the back of the hand, and that needed to be painted out, and I added yellow flames to hide the alteration.
Additional black paint changed the contours, making the fingers appear shorter, an effect that was amplified by the application of yellow flame “claws” at the new tips. Bright yellow pawprints on the palms finished the job.
Step 6: Dog Tags
It was clear from trying on the costume that a lot of my pink, furless human neck was showing. Being a dog, the obvious solution was to wear a dog collar, which I fashioned from some more of the red cloth that had been cut from the legs of the coverall.
To complete the collar, I used oven bake craft clay to fashion a simple dog tag. Round, with a raised edge, it was painted with my initials in a firey font!
Step 7: Ray Gun
Even expanding the original character sheet from 'race car driver' into related fields like 'stuntman' and 'daredevil' does not create a natural pathway to gun ownership. But I've always wanted a ray gun (even one that doesn't actually shoot rays) and I knew that this character would look really cool holding a ray gun. So just this once I was willing to throw logic out the window!
I started with a tiny Nerf dart gun that I picked up for about four bucks. I opened the grip and removed the spring-loading mechanism, because it was ungainly and I wouldn't be needing it.
Obviously I was going to need a reflector from a handheld flashlight to make the tip of the barrel, but aside from that, I didn't have a solid plan. So I figured I'd go to the thrift store to find a flashlight, and while I was there I'd poke around and see if anything else looked interesting.
I unscrewed all the flashlights until I found one with a reflector that wasn't attached to any sort of base, but nothing else stood out as particularly useful for a ray gun. However, that green ball (which is pretty flimsy, like a ball-pit ball) was laying on the ground next to the signpost where I locked up my bicycle. I picked it up.
Also on my bike ride, I got a few things at the hardware store – notably a length of grey pipe and some epoxy putty. Less notably, some bits and bobs that I thought might come in handy, but didn't.
I tried out a few configurations, including some shapes that I had carved from a plastic bottle, but ultimately I enjoyed the clean old-fashioned look that came from running the pipe through the middle of the ball and then sticking the reflector on the end. It's very simple, almost elegant.
I used epoxy putty to hold it together and blot out all the Nerf logos. And I finally broke out the professionally made paper mache clay that I bought months ago, but haven't had a chance to try! I used it to extend the grip, because I'm a grown man and the gun was manufactured for a child with unusually childlike hands. Then I put it aside because the clay has to cure for several days. Afterwards, I sanded.
Using a white spraypaint that is supposed to bond well with plastic, I gave the gun a nice base coat before I sprayed the whole thing bright red.
Again, I let it cure for several days, actually leaving it at Bill's house so I wouldn't be able to constantly poke at it.
I had those bits and bobs left from the hardware store, and had always intended to attach some more stuff to the ray gun after it was painted. But everything I tried just detracted from its sleekness, so in the end I just added some yellow accents and left it alone.
Step 8: Holster
Hot Rod would definitely look cool holding a ray gun, but I had a feeling he wouldn't want to hold the ray gun all night long. The solution was a holster, but it needed to be fat enough to accommodate a gun with a ball in the middle of its barrel and a flared reflective tip.
To make the holster, I bought a yard of cheap white vinyl fabric. That way, there would be enough left over for me to whip out a matching belt of uncertain quality.
The vinyl was not the best, being really cheap and having a fuzzy back which resisted any attempts to glue the fabric to itself back-to-back. But I made it work.
First I looked at some pictures of holsters to get an idea of the shape I wanted, then laid the ray gun on a paper and drew what looked to be more or less the right design. I used this as a template to cut out the shape on the vinyl (back to back), then went all around the outside with a leather punch. Using those holes, I stitched the piece together with black embroidery thread.
To keep things as simple as possible, I would create the gun receptacle using a basic cylinder shape with a flap at the bottom, and I approached these pieces using the same methodology. The result was a bit dodgy, requiring some reinforcement in a few places; I used krazy glue for seams that gapped open, and I used cloth medical tape over the backs of the stitches where it was necessary.
I also added a small strap with a snap to go over the narrow part of the ray gun, holding it closer to my hip. Finally, I placed a red flame design on the cylinder!
The belt is, frankly, kind of a mess. To make a narrow belt with parallel edges out of cheap fabric, which can't be effectively glued, and cant take fusible webbing because the slightest heat will melt it, proved to be something of a challenge. I pretty much had to hold it all together by hand while I sewed it, and I didn't do a bang-up job.
However, I did make a “buckle” out of oven-bake craft clay, in the shape of a fireball, and once that was in place you really don't even notice the rest of the belt. Which is exactly what I was hoping for.
Step 9: Hot Rod & Moon Dog
This whole thing was conceived as a couples costume, even though the characters themselves are totally unrelated. My boyfriend designed his look around the Moon Dog mask I made for him, and I helped where I could but the character was all his own!
I did wind up creating two additional accessories for Bill: a "Moondog" dog tag, and a striped walking cane with a Moondog cane topper painted in bronze.
One thing I hate about making weird costumes is that people constantly expect you to explain to them "What you're supposed to be," which is especially annoying when you're wearing a mask and don't want to try to talk to people through it. So I printed up a bunch of business cards that say HOT ROD & MOON DOG, with like twenty different things written under their names:
Not A.K.C. Certified
Stuntmen And Party Planners
...and so forth. So we could hand people a card and then walk away, which provides a sort of explanation without really giving them any more information than they had already. Additionally, this cemented the phrase Hot Rod & Moon Dog in their minds, so they knew our names and that we were together, without relying on any performative aspect.
My secret goal there was this: I was hoping that we would win the costume contest, and when they announced the winner that the judge would say "Hot Rod & Moon Dog!"
Step 10: And the Winner Is...
It worked. He announced the winner as, "That doggy duo, Hot Rod & Moon Dog!"
I've never been so proud!
The last picture juxtaposes my original sketch from June with the finished costume in October. It's pretty different, but also exactly what I intended.