Marvin the Martian Costume (finally!)

Introduction: Marvin the Martian Costume (finally!)

I've been a busy boy this Halloween season, and my costume was right at the top of my priorities. I've wanted to do a Marvin the Martian costume for years, and I finally took the dive! Making this costume was a journey of new skills and several spills and ultimate triumph! The way I ended up forming the costume will make things a bit easier for the next poor soul who takes it upon themselves to venture to be Marvin for Halloween.

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Step 1: First, Figuring Out How the Heck Do I Do This?

To some extent, I planned the project out, but as things progressed, I found that I had to change tracks several times to accomplish my goals. The first thing I decided was that the head had to be made of fiberglass. I did some reading up online about how to work with fiberglass, and it looked fairly easy. I also had to figure out how I was going to make the oversized basketball-style shoes he wore, as well as his roman soldier-type skirt and helmet. I happened to have a large thick stock cardboard box that once housed a computer system. I realized quickly that I could do alot of building using the cardboard from that box. So a materials list began to grow. But that list would change as the project progressed, along with the very methods I was using to build the parts of the costume. The head, I decided, had to be based on a proper size of round object, a ball or globe. I finally settled on a bouncy ball about 16" in diameter from Wally World. It looked TOO big but it was only $2.50 and I figured it was best to go big to get the right kind of dimensions. I'm about 6' tall and so the head/helmet, skirt and shoes needed to be huge to make that illusion work.

Step 2: Forging a Head, As It Were...

I decided to use fiberglass cloth on the head as opposed to mat, as I figured the cloth would be less messy and less likely to cause the stereotypical scratchiness on bare skin if it came in contact. I was partly right. It was a bit less messy, and I had less scratching, but not by much. I had also hoped that the cloth, once resined into place, would make a relatively smooth curvature on the surface of the ball, but it didn't turn out as nice as I would have hoped. As I was expecting to sand the layer and then lay another layer and then yet anothe layer or three, I was disappointed to find many places where edges of the cloth poked out from the surface, making for a really uneven layer. (That's Clyde the Flying Ghoul's hands in the background) It's hard to see in the one photo, but that is what the fiberglss looked like when I got to about 2/3 the way around the ball. I decided to just make a second layer to make sure the fiberglass would be good and stiff once I removed the ball from within. I left an area roughly the width of my head and some without any fiberglass, about 1/5 of the surface area.

Step 3: Keep Forging Ahead...

After some more study, I figured that some other material had to be layered onto the fiberglass to even out the surface and maybe even serve as the finish for head. By this time, I knew this object wouls also serve as the helmet, so I made some design concessions based on that. I checked out several types of materials, and changed my mind several times before I settled. I considered Friendly Plastic, plaster bandages, papier mache, but ended up going with some stuff called claycrete. This material is basically paper pulp, and is used almost exactly like papier mache. You heat up some water and add the claycrete to it until you get the right consistency. Then you apply it to the surface like clay, molding what you want as you go. I bought one bag for like $8 at Hobby Lobby, and it was enough to do the entire head! It takes awhile to dry, so I left the head on a table under a ceiling fan overnight and it was nearly set the next day. I liked the ease with which I worked this material and the result was very satisfactory and the weight was not much of a factor. In the photos, you can see the layers of fiberglass much better.

Step 4: Making It More Helmet-Like

The thought occured to me as I was making this thing, that how easily this method could be adapted to making a Dark Helmet costume LOL, but alas I was already pushing my luck making a costume of a rather short character, so maybe for someone else to pursue... Here was an opportunity to use some of the cardboard I collected to add to this part of the costume. I had to make a flange to attach to the back bottom of the helmet, the visor and make two whatever those thingys are called that jut out the sides of the face opening. Some kind of 'face guards' maybe? Anyways, I basically measured the approximate distance around the back and guessed the length of the face guards and cut the three items as separate pieces. Note the direction of the corrugations on the flange and the visor. That was to make bending the pieces in a more 'natural' way, especially the visor.  I first laid the flange into position and taped it in place with masking tape. I then papier mache'd newspaper bits to blend it to the helmet.  The face guard pieces were matched up and trimmed here and there to make them blend in better, then taped into piece as well.  I paper mache'd the whole lot into place, and continued all the way around the helmet, leaving a round opening underneath. I then left the whole thing under the ceiling fan for a full day to set.

Step 5: Helmet Comes Together and Gets a Paint Job

I had a brief flirtation with the idea of attaching the visor using double-sided mounting tape, but after awhile I could see that it wouldn't hold the cardboard of the visor nicely in place. Another lesson learned. I later tried sticky back Velcro, and that worked much better. That particular piece of cardboard came from a completely different source than the computer box, and was a thinner grade, which I liked for the visor, because I had to form it into a curved shape and the corrugations were easier to bend. I sketched the curves at the top and bottom by hand and cut the piece with scissors. It fit just about right the first time! I tacked it on with the mounting tape, just temporarily of course. For the first coat of paint, just used flat black paint to cover the newsprint, then in the green areas, I used Rustoleum Fluorescent Green paint, which I had already in stock. I used about a whole can in the end to get the color pretty even. That particular kind of paint has a tendency to spit and splutter, and that makes the color uneven in places. So, watch out for that if you use that paint. But look at the color! I loved it!

Step 6: Making Eyes to See With

The time came to remove the ball from inside the helmet. I found I had accidentally covered over the valve, so I just took a regular old stick pen and poked the ball until it popped. And it deflated almost instantly! After I removed the ball, I saw how nice and smooth the interior surface was. A pleasant surprise to be sure. After trimming the opening a bit, I lifted the helmet over my head and found that I was definitely going to need something to regulate the position of my head inside this thing. More on that later.

All this time, I had kept going onto YouTube and pulling up Marvin cartoons to study the shapes of things so I could try to get it right, which also had the rather pleasant effect of my enjoying those toons all over again! I practiced his voice, ("There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!") studied his skirt, his shoes and even his walk. But I knew it was of great importance to get his eyes right. I had pondered whether to go so far as to make some kind of workable way of changing the expressions in his eyes, and that may have even worked, but time was of the essence. I was not only working on my costume, but I also had a yard display to finish (See my other Instructable for Halloween), so the animatronics would have to wait for another occasion. I went with the wide-open, almost innocent look, which also had the advantage of allowing me to see better out of the mask. So, with Sharpie in hand, I found the center of the face area and drew two huge, oval eyes on the surface. After tweaking the shapes a bit, I took my angle grinder (my new favorite tool) and cut away slowly at the openings until they were relatively even and as smooth as I could manage with a large power tool. Actually not a bad job at all! A little sanding along the edges to rid myself of burrs and sharpness, I touched up with more black paint.

To cover the eye openings, I knew I had to choose a type of cloth that was thin enough for me to see through but not allow my face to show on the outside. I enede up buying a bit of chintz. To attach the fabric, I sprayed some adhesive on the inside around the openings and laid a squareish piece of cloth onto the wetted area. I pressed down here and there with the butt end of a pen until everything adhered sufficiently. I didn't try to make the cloth taut or anything, just for it to stick in place. It worked out fine, and after the glue had set, I carefully drew the pupils of the eyes directly on the fabric with my trusty Sharpie.

Step 7: A Little Matter of Adjusting This Huge Mask for My Puny Earth Creature Head

I had to do something about where the helmet would set onto my head, so I ended up using a margarine tub as a spacer. I melted about eight glue sticks and poured it directly on the inside top of the helmet. I then quickly placed the tub bottom side up right into the poll of molten glue, holding it down with my hand so as much of the surface would bond with the glue as possible. I then tried on the helmet and looked into the mirror. It fit just fine! I then fitted a strip of sticky-back Velcro (the hook side) along the bottom front inside edge of the helmet so I could use some black suede as a neck piece to hide my puny Earth creature neck. It also completed the illusion of a round head. The suede stuck quite nicely to the Velcro, eliminating the need to sew the other side of the Velcro onto the inner edge of the suede.

Step 8: Final Touches for the Helmet

The crowning touch (as it were) of Marvin's helmet is that broom brush on top of the helmet.  A real Roman helmet would have sported feathers, but this is a Warner Brothers cartoon character we're talking about, so how appropriate is it to use an actual broom brush head for the crown of the helmet? This one was a $2.98 job from Wally World minus the screw-on handle. I held it handle-end on top until I could eyeball the correct position. With trusty Sharpie in hand, I traced around the bottom of the handle-end, leaving a small circle on the helmet. I drilled a good sized hole, and finally used my jigsaw to cut the opening. I then trimmed away at the opening until I enlarged it enough to insert  the handle end almost to the top. A good, snug fit was achieved. A final touch up of paint all over, and I attached the Velcro'ed visor back onto the helmet. It was now ready to wear.

Step 9: The Skirt: What NOT to Do...

I think the most difficult part of the build had to be the roman soldier-style skirt. I had a certain design in mind, and if I had been working with a different material, my original plan probably would have worked, but I found that even thick stock cardboard had some peculiarities that made this part of the project a real pain. But it is for the benefit of you, dear reader to see what I went through to make the skirt. I had originally planned to make each piece dimensional, in that the edges would turn down (or up, as the case may be) and interlock in a way with the adjoining piece. There would be top pieces alternating with smaller bottom pieces all the way around the waistline. I made some scientific wildass guessing as to the size of the pieces, which wasn't that far off. But as I proceeded to assemble the skirt pieces, I ran into several problems which ended up making me rethink the whole thing and practically start over from scratch. The main problem I had with the cardboard was that once I cut the underside ply to make the piece dimensional, it weakened the whole structure of the cardboard. That problem didn't become apparent until I tried to assemble the skirt. I was adhering the pieces together using the double-sided mounting tape, and after awhile the weight of the skirt started causing separation of the plys along the inner sides of the edges. Eventually, the whole thing got so floppy, I had to disassemble the skirt and start over.

Step 10: The Skirt: the Solution

After disassembling the original skirt, I revised the design a bit, and after THAT didn't work, I went right back to the start and thought "Okay, I am going to salvage this somehow!" I ended up taking the original pieces and cutting off all the dimensional parts, leaving flat pieces of cardboard. As it turns out, because I trimmed everything down, the pieces were actually closer to the right size to fit around my waist. I then used the mounting tape to (temporarily) join the pieces together to form the skirt. I left a section of the skirt as a separate piece to make it easier to don the skirt. At this time, I was still having an issue with stiffness of skirt, so I revised the design yet again to include a hula hoop attached underneath to keep the skirt straight all the way around. I used 1/2" pipe strap and more Velcro to hold the hoop in place. In the end, it worked nicely. I then papier mache'd the whole thing top to bottom, and painted it to match the helmet.

Step 11: The Shoes: What a Hoot!

By this time, I had worked enough with the claycrete and the papier mache that I felt very confident I could make the huge basketball shoes quite easily. So, I started with an old pair of deck shoes, and traced out a large oval shape, again guesstimating the size of the soles. When I was satisfied with the shape, I traced that shape onto another piece of cardboard (mirrored) and cut that out as well. I used a card stock quality cardboard to make a framework on each of the shoes, then built up around that framework with masking tape until the basic shape of the shoe is achieved. I then used claycrete and papier mache to flesh out the shoes' forms. To paint the shoes, I opted to use almond as a first coat to cover the newsprint, then a couple of coats of white. Out came the Sharpie again, and I drew the thin black lines along the instep of the shoes. I used some old red sign vinyl to make strips to line the bottom edge all the way around, and I cut some red circles for sides near the heels. And as you can see the result below, not a bad rendition of Marvin's footwear!

Step 12: The Body of the Costume

One of the final decisions I had to make was what I should use for the body of the costume. I pored over eBay and costume websites to try to make a choice that would either make or break this costume. I looked at zentai/morphsuits, long johns and in the end I went with a good, old-fashioned union suit (of all things!). I thought the morphsuits were too revealing, and besides the union suit would be nice 'n warm if Halloween turned out to be cold. In fact, it was a bit nippy on the Big Night, so I had made the right choice. You can buy a union suit for about $22 at Tractor Supply, which is the best price on or offline I could find. When I made my first full dress rehearsal with this costume, I first donned the union suit, then the shoes, then the skirt. I had used more sticky back Velcro on four edges between the small section of skirt and the large one to close the skirt around my waist. I then put the helmet on my head, tucking the black suede into the collar of the union suit. The last thing I put on was a cheap pair of white gloves I bought off eBay for $5. To complete the costume, I had a good sized water pistol I got from the Dollar store marked down to a dollar, painted inside and out top to bottom with grey primer.

Step 13: A Few Final Notes

This was a most exciting and frustrating project, and I am very glad I documented the procedure and my experience doing it. The costume was a big hit on the Big Night, and I believe our 2011 Halloween was a great success in no small part due to our preparations with decorations and costuming. I must add just a couple of things to note if you, dear reader, attempt to make this costume. On Halloween night, I wore the helmet with the margarine tub's top edge digging into my forehead. Big mistake. Be sure to put some kind of cushion in between, or you will have a Klingon forehead for a couple of days. Also, because the shoes were made of papier mache, the edges of the opening for the foot had a tendency to fray. I would suggest you use something like that liquid plastic you dip the handles of your tools into as a final coat. At least that way they won't try break or fray. Back to the helmet for a moment. You may want to add some vent holes in the back near the top so body heat can escape, as well as carbon dioxide. Also, you might want to find a way to make access for a drinking straw, so you can sip your favorite beverage while you wear the costume. Oh and be aware of the skirt's width making negotiating doorways and narrow spaces difficult. Otherwise, it was a great pleasure showing off this fantastic piece of cartoon history to a new generation of kids little and big alike!

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5 Discussions


4 years ago

Planning on making this for c2e2 ( I HAVE 2 WEEKS) how long did it take you? :)


8 years ago on Introduction

I LOVE it!!

That costume is wonderful. How much of a pain was working with fiberglass cloth?

All in all, it seems to have come out together great!

Master of Make-Do
Master of Make-Do

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

The fiberglass cloth wasn't so bad, although some strands would come off the edges a cut piece and stick to anything. I was using latex gloves, and had gotten a bit of the resin on them and the bits would stick anywhere there was resin. I don't know how much different it would be if you worked with the mat instead. There are some videos on YouTube about working with fiberglass you might find useful. All in all, I was impressed with the ease of use, and I plan on making things with fiberglass again.