In 1953 George Pal produced a big screen cinema adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells 1897 science fiction story “The War of the Worlds.” It wowed audiences at the time with its amazing special effects. I always enjoyed the marvelous screen version of the mechanical war machines that were brought to life by the wonderful work of Production Designer Al Nozaki (1912-2003) who produced the cool cobra head death ray device perched atop the manta-ray-like body of the Martian war machines. To see the actual Martians was an extra treat even though they appeared less than 10 seconds on the big screen.
For the 65th anniversary of the 1953 film and in recognition of the 80th anniversary of the original Orson Welles radio adaptation, I decided to go ahead and make a full-scale Martian as it originally appeared in Pal’s 1953 film. What follows is a step-by-step guide that, along with the many photos that I took during its creation, will allow you to build one just like mine.
I started building my Martian on October 8, 2018. Three weeks later I finished it. One of the things that drew me toward deciding to make one was the fact that the original production Martian from the film was very crude. The skin texture as shown in the brief screen shots reveal that the body lends itself very well to the old papier-mâché method of production. I had done papier-mâché before and knew that all of the seams from the bits and strips of paper would add to the realism of the rough texture of the skin as shown in the original production model.
Even though there are very few good still photos of the original 1953 Martian, Pegasus Hobbies in 2012 built a wonderful 1/8-scale completed model that proved to be very helpful in guiding my construction.
I should point out that I started building my Martian using scrap lumber and other hardware that I had in my shop. I am a carpenter and comfortable using power tools. For those less experienced, you still should be able to build the Martian and don’t need any fancy power tools other than a cordless drill and an electric or cordless sabre or scroll saw (a portable jigsaw). The rest are simple hand tools.
Materials for building my Martian totaled about $600. If that sounds like a lot, you will be amazed at how quickly the price of odds and ends of things needed to build the Martian quickly add up.
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Step 1: List of Materials Needed
LIST OF MATERIALS NEEDED
Roll of bubble wrap (3/16”x12”x100’)
Assorted screws, washers, nuts and bolts (as needed)
Assorted 1-1/2” PVC fittings and adapters (as needed for arms)
1 roll of plumbers galvanized steel roll banding
9 yards of 2’wide x 1/4” thick sheet foam
Two flower pots approximately 12-16 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall
Six 4-5-inch segments of copper piping with an inner diameter of 5/8”
One 6 inches by 16 inches sheet of aluminum (like that used to make trim for aluminum siding)
2 cans of Pro Stick Hi-Strength Spray Adhesive
3 tubes of Liquid Nails (and caulk gun)
1-gallon Titebond Brand Wood Glue
6 Wreath Hanger suction cups
1 roll or 36” x 10-foot long chicken wire
1 bag of 48” heavy duty cable ties
1 can of PVC cement
1 can of PVC primer
1 roll of shrink wrap
1 gallon of Elmer’s white school glue
2 rolls of 2:x50 yards foil tape
3/16” x 50’ polyester rope
¼” x 50’ polyester rope
3/8 x 10’ nylon rope
1 tube of Liquitex “Basics” brand Red Oxide color acrylic paint
1 package of stiple natural sponges
1 gallon Behr eggshell sheen latex paint to match Liquitex Red Oxide acrylic paint
1 can of Mod Podge
4 rolls of Viva-brand white paper towels
(2) 1/12” x 5’ sections of PVC pipe
5/8” ID x 20’ vinyl tubing
3 5-gallon buckets
1 milk crate
1 measured 4’x4’ sheet of ¾” plywood or chipboard
2 packages of 1.75 pound Sculpey polyform modeling clay
3 cans of Testors brand transparent spray paint (1 can each of green, blue, red for eye)
1 roll of blue masking tape
1 can of acrylic Gesso brand white paint.
1 large blue tarp
1 portable electric light shop light (AC)
1 box of 1½” finishing nails
Step 2: Building the Frame for the Lower Torso
Start by purchasing a 4’x4’ foot sheet of ¾-inch plywood. I would use chipboard as it is cheaper. You can easily purchase this at Home Depot, Lowes, Menards or any other similar big box retailer. You will probably have to have them cut it from a 4’x8’ foot standard sheet but if you buy it at Home Depot they will cut it down to size for you for free on their vertical cut-off saw. In fact, you can have them cut a 4x8-foot sheet into two 2’x4’ foot sheets which will be easier to carry and put into your car or van.
You will also need three 5-gallon buckets. If you don’t have any already that you can use around the house, Home Depot sells these new. Remove the metal handles from the buckets by using pliers to pop the wires out of their plastic side holes.
You will also need one milk crate but if you have something to substitute that is fine. The idea behind the buckets and milk crate is to build up the lower torso to the proper height and to start to build the shape of the lower torso.
From the above photos you can see the assembly. You will need to cut the base wood shape as shown as well as the top wood torso shape. These can easily be sketched with a black Sharpie pen onto the sheets of plywood. They don’t have to be exactly these shapes but something similar. Again, we are trying to get the basic body shape started.
The milk crate is secured to the base by cutting out another square from a scrap piece of ¾ inch plywood. The square is cut to size so that it will fit inside the open end of the milk crate. Glue this with Liquid Nails and nail to the center of the base. This gives a lip of square wood that you can then glue and screw the open end of the milk crate to so that it will fit securely to the base. You don’t want your Martian to be wobbly.
This step is important. You now want to secure together two 5-gallon buckets as shown in the photos. You can line them up and drill a hole through the bottoms of both buckets. This will allow you to use washers nuts and bolts to tightly secure both buckets together. Use some Liquid Nails as well to help secure the bond. I would put at least two or more screws in these buckets to secure them together tightly. You will notice that one of those two buckets in my photos is slightly longer than the other. This was because I had these buckets on hand as scrap. The second bucket is larger but that is okay if you can’t find a bucket just like that. Two 5-gallon buckets will work fine. Your finished Martian will just be a little shorter. It is important to secure these two buckets together first because you won’t be able to do this if you go out of sequence in these instructions. If you try and secure one bucket to the milk crate first, you can’t get inside that bucket to secure the second bucket atop the first.
After the buckets are secured together you now want to secure them to the milk crate. I used a scrap of ¾” plywood to cut a circle the size of the opening of the orange bucket that sits atop the milk crate. I then glued with Liquid Nails and screwed the circle of plywood to the milk crate. This gives me a lip that allows me to glue and screw the open end of the orange bucket to the milk crate. You can use sheet metal screws with washers to give a nice tight screw bond that will secure the two-bucket set solidly to the milk crate. The washers are used to help give a wider area for the screw to push against on the outside of the milk crate.
The top orange 5-gallon bucket should easily fit into the open-end of the two secured bucket stack. You should be able to easily rotate the orange bucket as it fits inside the bucket stack.
With the second piece of plywood, cut out the top torso shape as shown. You will want to drill with a hole-cutter drill saw two holes large enough to fit a 1 and 7/8-inch outer diameter piece of PVC piping through. These are where the arm connectors will go for your Martian.
Cut another circle using scrap ¾-inch plywood that is large enough to fit into the open end of the top orange 5-gallon bucket. Secure this round circle of wood in the center of the top torso cutout using Liquid Nails and finishing nails. This will then form a lip so that you can glue and screw securely to the bucket. The goal here is to basically secure the top orange 5-gallon bucket to the torso wood piece so that the bucket can fit into your two-bucket stack as shown. The bucket acts like a bearing to allow you to rotate the upper torso of your Martian. This also allows your to remove the upper torso of your Martian from the lower body.
Step 3: Preparing the PVC Arm Sockets in the Upper Torso
In order to connect the PVC arms of your Martian, you need to add the PVC connectors in the upper torso frame. Recall that you drilled the two 1 and 7/8 inch holes in the previous step. You now need to connect the threaded PVC joints so that they are secured in these holes.
These threaded connectors are shown in the photos above. The upper part is secured into the wood torso by cutting a small piece of 1 and 1/2-inch PVC and inserting it through the wood hole. Glue one end to the top part of the threaded connector and the other end with a 1 and 1/2-inch PVC union. This will allow the top threaded part to remain hanging secure below the wood so you can thread connect the arms later.
Step 4: Securing the Globe Eye and Shoulders to the Upper Torso
I had on hand a large plastic globe from a light fixture to serve as the eye of my Martian. This plastic globe was moulded white and was approximately 14 inches in diameter. I was lucky that I had this because the whole scale of my Martian was determined by this globe.
It was a challenge to try and properly secure this round globe to the wood upper torso of my Martian. What I ended up doing was building a shelf extension that held my globe. I then added wood pieces around it which acted like a clamp or nest to more properly seat the globe. I also used two 48" long industrial plastic ties to help clamp the globe in place. You can see these in the photo. I then Liquid Nailed this plastic ties to the plastic globe for extra security.
To make the "shoulders" of my Martian, I bought two large planter pots at a thrift store. Each of these were about 12-14 inches in diameter and about 12 inches tall. I simply used Liquid Nails to glue them to the upper torso wood base.
Since the back of my eye would not be seen, I used metal duct tape to cover the back part of the globe. This helped to reflect the light forward as well in the finished Martian. If you have not used metal duct tape before it is very good stuff. It is basically aluminum duct tape but it has a peel back surface underneath. You have to peel back the tape underneath to reveal the adhesive. The adhesive is very strong.
Through the opening in the back of the globe, I inserted a small AC strobe light that I had in stock in my shop. This would be the light source that would illuminate my eye.
Step 5: Covering the Upper and Lower Torso With Chicken Wire
Before beginning to cover the upper and lower torso with chicken wire, you might want to add a few extra internal ribs behind the globe eye on the upper torso. You can see that I made some small ribs out of wood and glued these to the upper torso wood base. These gave me some additional "bones" in which to secure the chicken wire to make the upper torso shape.
You can now cover both the upper and lower torso with chicken wire. Secure all chicken wire to the frame using sheet metal screws and washers. You need the washers to help grab hold of the chicken wire to secure it. If you don't use washers, the heads of the sheet metal screws will go right through the openings in the chicken wire. The sheet metal screw will screw into the wood edges of the lower base and upper torso. They will also screw into the plastic buckets. Just be careful to not put screws in the top bucket of the lower torso or you will not be able to rotate or remove the upper torso from the lower torso.
You might want to use gloves when handling the chicken wire. It is very sharp and will poke and cut your hands. I used pliers to help trim the chicken wire to size. You can also push and bend the chicken wire to form the shape of the upper torso as it will hold its shape.
The area around the globe eye also needs to be fleshed out. I ended up using bubble wrap to form the curve around the top and bottom of the globe. I secured layers of bubble wrap using metal foil tape. The metal foil tape is very sticky. You have to peel the back away from the tape to reveal the adhesive which is super strong. I also used strips of the metal foil tape to help secure the chicken wire edges to the rest of the body.
Step 6: Covering All the Chicken Wire With Tape
We now need to cover the chicken wire with something that will serve as a base that the 1/4-inch sheet foam will stick to. I had some surplus rolls of shrink wrap that I used (the transparent stuff you see wrapped around skids of freight to keep the freight together). This stuff worked fairly well because you could stretch it very hard to secure around different shapes. It was tricky though to use when you had a concave surface. As a result, I also used both clear plastic shipping tape and metal foil tape to cover areas of the chicken wire where the shrink wrap would not form to.
Step 7: Applying the 1/4-inch Sheet Foam and Coating With Glue
This step involves cover the entire Martian frame with a layer of 1/4-inch sheet foam. I did not know about this technique but it works quite well.
Sheet foam is just like it sounds. It is poly-foam that is various thicknesses. You can purchase this stuff at most fabric stores. I bought nine yards total of 1/4-inch sheet foam. It was on two-foot wide rolls. The 1/4-inch thickness is perfect for laying over the chicken wire. But before you lay it over the chicken wire you need to spray the surface with spray glue. The spray glue allows you to reposition the foam so that you can lay it right where you want it. I have used spray glue before, the 3M brand but the kind that I used is a special grade that will stick to most anything.
Once you cover all of the chickenwire frame with the sheet foam, you can then begin to paint it with Wood Glue. I used Titebond Wood Glue which is easily available in gallon size jugs at most big box him improvement stores. You will want to buy at least two gallons as that is about how much intakes to put two coast on the Martian.
The first coat will soak into the foam and when dried, you will begin to see a firmness form in the foam. After 24 hours, you can apply another coat. Each coat will make the surface harder and harder. It also gives a very interesting surface texture to the skin of the Martian.
I was first was going to cover the foam of my Martian with latex but I found that latex is very expensive. Also, I found that it was very difficult to get in large quantities after hurricane Michael which hit the gulf coast earlier this fall. It turns out that this region is where the largest supplier of liquid latex is located so finding large quantities was next to impossible as the supplier was taken out of production as a result of the hurricane.
Step 8: Building the Arms
Building the arms involves purchasing two five foot sections of 1 and 1/2 inch PVC piping. You also need to buy an assortment of PVC unions, elbows and fittings that will allow your arms to be placed into the position that you would like them to appear. You will also nee to purchase a can of PVC Purple Primer and PVC Clear Cement.
The purple primer needs to be applied to the unions or fittings prior to the glue. The primer acts as a mild acid etch which helps prepare the PVC piping for the cement. After applying the primer let briefly dry. Then you can apply the clear cement. The cement dries very fast so make sure you have all of your fittings prepped and ready. Once they are glued they are GLUED and will not move.
After you make the PVC arms, you will now need to build up the muscles. I used bubble wrap which I wound around the arms to make the muscles. I secured this with clear plastic packaging tape shrink wrap. The shrink wrap works well because you can squeeze the bubble wrap really tight with it to make it very firm on the arms.
Once you built up the muscles on both arms it is time to coat them in papier-mâché. I simply used warm water mixed with Elmer's white glue. I used Viva brand paper towels because they are not patterned and they also come in the select-a-size form which means they easily tear into manageable sized strips for soaking and applying. I applied three coats of papier-mâché, letting each coat dry overnight before applying the next. Once done with the papier-mâché I then used Mod Podge to coat the papier-mâché. I applied two coats of Mod Podge which gives the papier-mâché an extra hard shell coating.
At this time you might want to take some scrap pieces of sheet foam and glue them to pieces of cardboard. These will make test sections which you can use to test the various layers of wood glue coatings as well as paint colors. Polyfoam is very susceptible to petroleum based products so you want to be careful not to use them in building your Martian. If you do they will melt the polyfoam.
Step 9: Building the Fingers
The hands of my Martian proved to be the most challenging part. I really had to think this through in order to get realistic looking hands. What I ended up doing was making my Martian hands in two parts. There was the basic hand portion and then there were the fingers.
The fingers I made using segments of 5/8-inch inner diameter extruded aluminum tubing that I had in stock. I also had some very heavy gauge wire that served as bendable "pipe cleaners" so that my fingers could pose. I bought some 5/8-inch outer diameter clear acrylic tubing which the copper wire would go inside. Commercial wreath hanger suction cups worked perfect for the finger tips and they even had little hooks that perfect fit into the open ends of the acrylic tubing.
The acrylic tubing fit perfect inside the 5/8-inch inner diameter extruded aluminum tubing.
Step 10: Building the Hands
To build the webbing between the fingers, I used some sheet aluminum that I had in stock. This was leftover rolled sheet aluminum that I used when I put aluminum siding on my house. I carefully drew out a triangle pattern with webbing. This aluminum pattern I would then screw the aluminum tubing onto. Make sure that when you screw the tubing to the sheet aluminum that the screws are located far enough down the tube so that the clear acrylic tube fingers will still be able to slide into the aluminum tubing.
Note that I used some plumbers galvanized steel banding to give extra strength to the joints in my hand. All of this was screwed to the aluminum base.
The base of the hand was made of aluminum racking that I had in stock. You could use and scrap metal at this point. You want a long metal arm so that you have something to grab hold of when sculpt the hand in clay.
I also made a couple of stands out of spare 1 and 1/2-inch PVC tubing. I cut two 8-inch length segment of PVC and glued them to some bases made of scrap wood. This way I could put the hands in this bases allowing them to stand upright making them easier to work on.
You need to make sure that all of the superstructure for the hand is made of metal because it will eventually need to be baked at 275 degree fahrenheit.
I used two 1.75-pound packages of Sculpey-brand polyform sculpting clay. One package is needed per hand. This is great stuff. You need to work it in your hands to make sure that all of the polymers get thoroughly mixed into the clay. It molds very nicely so you can cover all of the metal armature and shape it to make the alien hand.
At this point, make sure that you include the threaded PVC fixture into the base of the hand (at the wrist). You want to make sure that the clay gets molded so that it will fit inside this threaded PVC piece. You can't include the PVC piece at this point (it will melt in the oven when baked) but you can glue it to the finished hand with Liquid Nails after the hand has baked and cooled. This threaded PVC piece will allow you to screw each hand to the arms of the Martian.
Once sculpted, you then need to bake each hand for 30-45 minutes in your oven at 275 degree fahrenheit. When done, you have a rock-hard sculpted hand. You can now inserts the fingers that you made.
Step 11: Making the Veins
Now it is time to have some fun. You can build veins on your Martian. Because Mars' gravity is only 1/3 that of the Earth's, the Martians were not used to the gravity here. It was oppressive to them which is why you see bulging veins on the upper torso and arms of the Martian in the film. The gravity of the Earth was pressing down on them.
Note that I did not put any veins on the body or lower torso. This is mainly because I ran out of time but also because there are no visible bulging veins in this area on the original prop.
Make sure you apply Liquid Nails to make the veins on the hands as well.
I at first thought that I would make all of my veins out of different diameters of rope. I thought that I also would dye the rope in advance. The dye of the rope did not work but I still ended up using rope to make some of my veins on my Martian.
To glue the rope to the skin of the Martian, I used Liquid Nails but this was very time consuming. When you cut either polyester or nylon rope you have frayed ends. To seal the frayed ends you use a propane torch to briefly heat each end. This forms a very hot and sticky melted goo that will burn your skin if it comes in contact. Be very careful.
One thing that I found is that I could heat the rope briefly with my propane torch. It was then hot enough to stick to the skin of my Martian. This was faster than using Liquid Nails.
However, in the process of laying down the Liquid Nails first before applying the rope to it I learned that Liquid Nails makes excellent veins by itself! Simply apply different thickness caulk or Liquid Nails and when it dries, it looks just like veins or arteries.
You will also note that there are visible seams in both the lower and upper torso from where the sheet foam came together. I used Liquid Nails to help fill in these seams but don't worry too much about filling them in completely. They make nice looking veins.
At this point, I also used some rope as well as some of the clear acrylic tubing to clean up the eyelid around the white globe or eye of my Martian. I glued both around the edge of th globe where the globe meets the foam to make it look like an eyelid.
Step 12: Painting the Tri-Color Eye
Before painting the three colors of the eye, first go over the white globe with sandpaper to slightly rough up the surface. Clean with a damp cloth. Now carefully divide the globe into three equal sections, one each for the red, green and blue sections of the eye. Mask and apply spray paint for each color. I used Testor's transparent enamels. You need to be very careful about not getting any of the overspray from the rattle cans on the polyfoam as it will melt the foam. Spray in very light coast as it will run. Let each color thoroughly dry before masking off the next color.
Step 13: Painting the Body of the Martian
This is the most fun. You can now start to paint your Martian. I based the color of my Martian off of a tube of acrylic Liquitex paint that I bought. The color of this paint was called "Red Oxide" and I used nothing but this acrylic paint to paint the hands of my Martian. I applied two coats to my hands.
I then took a sample of this paint over to Home Depot to have them match it. I used one gallon of Behr Premium Plus latex paint and it goes on beautifully. I painted two coats of it on my Martian.
I used the acrylic paint to paint the thong-like pattern between the separate colors of the eye.
Step 14: Enjoying Your Finished Work!
Now you are all done and can enjoy your work.
Step 15: Mars in Astronomy and Culture Photo Exhibit
The planet Mars has fascinated humanity since early in human history. The Chinese observed it before 1000 BCE. The Egyptians knew of the red planet as well, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire was aware of it by the sixth century BCE. It enthralls us even more now because it is the only planet in the solar system that could be made to support human life.
Beginning in the mid-1600s, scientists first created astronomical drawings of Mars. This was followed by ground-based photographs in the early 20th century, and then those from numerous spacecraft, the first of which began to reveal details of the Martian surface in 1965. With the recent discoveries of the Curiosity rover and continued popularity of science fiction film and literature, people all over the world are engaged with the exploration and popular culture of Mars.
In august of this year, Grand Valley State University opened a new exhibit in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts Art Gallery. The exhibit was originally assembled by Jay Belloli, the exhibit organizer and curator.
Mars: Astronomy and Culture is presented in partnership between the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery, the Center Art Gallery at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and The Holland Museum in Holland, Michigan.
Mars: Astronomy and Culture brings together photographs, drawings, movie posters, book covers and video projections. In doing so, it connects the recent scientific images of Mars to the entire history of photography of the red planet, and to the drawings by famous astronomers that preceded the development of photography. Crucially, it shows the impact of Mars on popular culture even before the twentieth century.
I was involved in helping to assemble our exhibit by adding items from my own personal War of the Worlds collection. Such items as copies of the Pegasus scale martian and war machine from George Pal's 1953 film adaptation of the story were included along with an assortment of other items.
In addition, I volunteered to build a full scale replica of the Georg Pal martian. This is something that i always wanted to do and the new exhibit gave me the extra motivation to try and do it. I was very pleased with the results.
In support of the photo exhibit, I also gave a free public lecture entitled THE WAR THAT NEVER WAS: THE 1938 RADIO BROADCAST OF “THE WAR. On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre production group gave a live radio broadcast adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic 1898 science fiction story “The War of the Worlds.” That evening, millions of people gathered around their radios and listened to the unfolding drama as invading Martians landed in Grover’s Mill New Jersey to begin their conquest of the planet. Some knew the broadcast was a play. Others did not. This presentation took a historical look at the “spoof that spooked a nation,” exploring what happened in the context of the period and how and why the “The War of the Worlds” continues to be popularized in film, television and music.
My wife, Professor Deana Weibel, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology at GVSU, also gave a talk entitled CONFRONTING THE MARTIAN: HUMANITY'S CHANGING CONCEPTS ABOUT LIFE ON THE RED PLANET. Human beings have always told stories about the planet Mars, starting with ancient civilizations who connected the celestial body to various deities. Once Mars was understood to be a planet, similar to Earth, concepts began to shift, with astronomers and others envisioning our closest planetary neighbor as somewhere rife with potentially dangerous, very alien life. An increase in scientific capability and resulting knowledge, however, has changed our understandings yet again, with Mars now seen primarily as a place where humans themselves will someday come to be called Martians. This presentation took an anthropological look at humanity's fascination with life on Mars (including popular cultural representations of it, from 'little green men' to Gardner Elliot), and considered what this fascination reveals about societies here on Earth.
To close the exhibit, we held a Martian Halloween Party on October 31. The party included a presentation by the GVSU symphony of Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War from "The Planets."
Included on this page are photos of the completed exhibit which ran at GVSU through October 31.
This exhibition was curated by the Pasadena Arts Council for the Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California. It is a project of the Pasadena Arts Council’s EMERGE Fiscal Sponsorship Program.
Step 16: Bringing Mars to Kids
As part of the GVSU Mars in Astronomy and Culture exhibit that included the Martian, I went to our son's school and talked about Mars. Out son is in 5th grade and attends Grand Rapids Montessori. We did a field trip to Calvin College, one of the partners in the GVSU Mars exhibit, to view their exhibit. We also toured their roof-top observatory and visited their mineralogical exhibit.
Step 17: Greetings From Mars
Second Prize in the
Halloween Contest 2018