Inspired by the story The Shadow Over Innsmouth by HP Lovecraft, this mask transforms me into a citizen of Massachussets who is displaying genetic abnormalities due to a hybridization with an ancient race of "Deep Ones". The story, about a creepy New England town with a terrible secret, is pretty vague with the details, mostly describing the hybrids as 'fish-frog men'. I started with the basic idea presented in the story and then let just kind of let myself go, drawing from my own imagination as well as popular artistic representations of Lovecraft's most famous creation, Cthulhu. Technically, this character is a servant of Dagon.
The materials I used to construct this mask:
One shipping box
One foil-embossed poster for the movie Ultraviolet
A few issues of The Onion
Several cups of flour
A few yards of crushed velvet
Two four-inch party balloons. Mine had pictures of superheroes on them.
Some sheer fabric
A sewing machine and associated doo-dads like needles and stuff
Miscellaneous scraps of cardboard
Step 1: Invent a Monster Out of Nothing
I came up with a premise beforehand, but this monster was essentially developed from the materials as I worked. I knew that it needed to be fishlike, and I envisioned it with a long snout hanging down my chest. Having recently acquired an old sewing machine, I was looking forward to making tentacles, so I intended to make it look like I was just vomitting tentacles out of a huge fishmouth. So I knew it should have a huge mouth.
I started by roughing out a basic shape with an Ultraviolet movie poster and a Diamond Comics shipping box.
The poster was folded into a tube into which I was able to fit my head. I cut large openings for the eye-holes. If my head could successfully fit into this section, then I was free to build anything else I wanted around it!
Taking large hunks of the shipping box, I built up the general shape of the mask around the head area and taped the pieces into place. I filled in the empty spaces with newspaper.
Step 2: Find Your Face
When I make a mask, I do my sculpting with wadded newspaper and masking tape. It's a resilient medium and you can create just about anything by building up these materials. Here, I built most of the shapes into the cardboard skeletal structure, using paper to create the lips and the softer details around the eyes, nostrils, and the business on the top of the head. I used cardboard to make webbing for the spires on his crown, the gills, and the random flaps on his cheeks. The whole mess is covered with tape for a more-or-less uniform surface.
Step 3: How to Skin a Fish-Man
This is where i wish i had started sooner. Usually, I spend about two months on my costume, but in 2012 I didn't even start until the end of September. Without the luxury of those extra weeks, there wasn't time to make a thick, sturdy hide for this guy. It was a rush job.
The process, as always, is really simple. Tear up strips of newspaper. Whisk together some flour and water to make a paste. Use this paste to glue strips of newspaper to the surface of the mask and when they dry, it forms a hard shell.
Anticipating the need to attach the tentacles later on, I also strung a piece of wire across each end, several inches inside the openings for the mouth and the top of the head. They were pulled through to the outside, where i wrapped the wires wround a washer to hold them in place. They were also affixed with hot glue, then the paper mache skin was extended over them.
A couple of things to remember:
The first time you start to apply paper mache, cover the entire work piece with at least one layer. Complete coverage makes for a much better surface, with no weird edges. Once you have covered the whole thing, it's easy to work on smaller sections at a time and join them by working more strips of paper over the skin, but if you try to just apply a partial layer over the masking tape surface, your edges will dry and curl up.
Be patient. It will take several coats, probably over several days, depending on the size of your project (mine may be abnormally large), so take the time to concentrate on each section. Feel for weak spots, take the time to use small pieces and shape out the more elaborate sections. A hairdryer is handy to hasten the drying time on the area you're working, so you can check to see whether you have fixed any problems.
Step 4: Prepping for the Paint Job
With such a thin skin, I didn't have the option of creating a really smooth surface. The benefit of many coats of paper mache is that you have a lot of material to sand through; the thicker the skin, the smoother the finish you can create. Here I could only go so deep without compromising the structural integrity of the skin. I vowed to let it be rough, and use the paint job to either disguise or enhance it, depending.
Once I had barely sanded the mask, I primed it with a coat of Killz, and put a layer of black spraypaint on the inside.
Step 5: Lovecraft Means Tentacles
These were time consuming, but pretty simple to make. I got three oceanic colors of crushed stretch velvet. The filler tentacles were just straight tubes, stuffed with polyester fiberfill and cinched at the ends for a puckered look. I made them very long so that the tentacles could be looped over the wire inside the mask; basically, this meant that every one tentacle I sewed became two tentacles when they were displayed.cxur
I made several straight tentacles first, because they were fast and easy, and I was still learning to use the sewing machine. Then I decided to try something a little fancier.
I took a large rectangle of velvet and folded it into a square. Using a marker, I drew a curly tentacle and stitched it up. When I stuffed it and hung it from the mask, I was so pleased with the effect that I ended up making more than I had originally intended!
Step 6: Where's Walleye?
I looked into a lot of possibilities for the eyeballs, but time and poverty inspired me to take the lo-fi approach there, as well.
I inflated a couple of small party balloons. I wrapped them with a layer of sheer fabric, and brushed it on with a thick coat of acrylic varnish, then hung them to dry. I repeated the process with two more layers of fabric. The result was a somewhat flimsy, but firm, semi-transluscent bulbous shape.
I cut the eyes to fit the openings, then carved pupils in them and covered the holes with black tulle.
Step 7: Paint Job of the Deep
Always mix up a large batch of any main colors you'll be using! I whipped up a jar of a blue color I liked, and used that as the primary mixer for all the highlights and lowlights that came later.
The main trick here was to let the uneven skin surface guide the paintwork. After a solid basecoat, the blue is tinted with various amounts of black or white to add contour and texture to the different areas of the mask, making the sculpted brows and nostrils and gills really pop. With a rough surface like this mask has, you can brush colors on lightly without packing them into all the nooks and crannies, resulting in a multi-tone look that is both weird, and somewhat more realistic. Another technique is to lay the color on thickly, then use a damp cloth or sponge to gently wipe off the top layer, leaving the new color only in the nooks and crannies! I use acrylic paints which are easy to wipe away, so you can indulge in some experimentation and trial-and-error.
I also tried to confuse the border between the blue and black parts of the mask by dragging the colors together, and highlighting them just like the contours. I wanted the black "spike" areas to look as though they were growing up through the skin!
My secret weapon for this paint job was a tube of "interference green" paint. When applied, it's translucent, almost clear but with a slight opalescent quality. However, when light strikes from a different angle, it reflects back metallic green. This type of paint is available at any art supply store, and most manufacturers make it in an array of colors.
I used the interference green to paint a scale pattern in strategic areas of the mask. This greatly enhances the "fishy" quality, particularly when viewed in person. Since the scales are an overlay, it also binds together the various tones in the paint job. The shimmer of the scales across the skin really makes it look like a single organism.
A thin layer of the interference green was used to highlight the gill area, though honestly it's barely visible unless you look for it.
I also mixed the interference green into the black paint and used it on the lips and spikes. Since those areas don't have the scales, I felt that the green would help to bind it all together. And of course, I also used it to paint irises on the eyes.
The final touch was a thick coating of high-gloss varnish. I took absolutely no care with this, because I actually wanted it to drip and run all over the place. The goal was not merely to protect the mask, but to give it the impression of constantly being wet! I applied several coats quite liberally, and the end result was pretty sweet.
Step 8: Become the Monster
And that pretty much covers the Servant of Dagon mask! Stay tuned for a full Instructable (and elaborate backstory) for the rest of this costume!
Step 9: Suit Up!
It was always my intention to present this hideous monster as humanoid. A true resident of the town who was, at least until recently, a proper person. I imagined him as a decent, rather dull bloke, perhaps a member of the town council, the sort of fellow who could give you a boring tour of Innsmouth chock full of historical factoids. Naturally, he needed a suit.
For a few weeks I haunted the nearby thrift shops until I stumbled across this pale blue suit, which fit well enough but wasn't so nice that I would feel bad about ruining it. And it only cost fifteen bucks.
The first thing I did was to soak the cuffs and the jacket hem in a red mahogany wood stain, which I allowed to bleed and dry out for several days. The end game was to make the suit look silty and mildewy, as though I may have recently worn it underwater.
Next step was to take the clear acrylic varnish I'd used on the mask and drip it all over the collar and lapels and down the back. I wanted to give the impression that my damp, amphibeous skin was constantly seeping moisture onto the suit!
Finally, with a selection of green and rust-colored paint, I added color to the cuffs to make it look like there was some kind of algae growing on my clothes!
Step 10: Tentacle Garters
By hand, I made two garters out of black straps and elastic, to which I affixed some more tentacles. For the leg tentacles, I inserted lengths of wire hanger so I could mold them into shapes.
For a similar arm effect, I simply took an old wool sweater that Rob had accidentally shrunk. I cut the cuffs off the sweater and stitched tentacles to them, so I could wear the cuffs at my elbows beneath the jacket, and let the tentacles dangle out of the sleeves.
At the same time, I made a pair of gloves from the velvet. They were very simply constructed; I traced my hand on a piece of cardboard and used it as a pattern, sewed two pieces of velvet together and inverted them. Not fancy, but they get the job done.
Step 11: Seal of Approval
Somehow, this is the piece that brings the whole character together for me. The perfect emblem of the life he once led.
I spent some time online searching for a vintage patch - a new England location, a town seal, something - that could be repurposed. But I found nothing that I really liked. In the end, I once again opted to make the best of the materials I already had on hand.
There was black felt left over from the lining of my Great Pumpkin mask. And some goldenrod felt that had been a lining in some article of thrift store clothing I had purchased to cut up for the Great Pumpkin cloak.
I cut the black felt into a shield shape, and the goldenrod into a smaller shield, and layered them. Then I just came up with a basic idea for a town insignia - a promontory with a lighthouse on the sea, and huge tentacles rising up out of the water. I hand embroidered the insignia, with the words PORT OF INNSMOUTH at the top, and CHAMBER OF COMMERCE at the bottom.
Despite the anticipated disappointment of nobody knowing "what I'm supposed to be", which was largely fulfilled, it was all worthwhile because of one young woman who ran back across the street to photograph my costume. As she prepared to take the picture, she noticed the patch and leaned in to read it. "Innsmouth?!" she said. "God bless you, sir!" She made sure to get a closeup of the embroidery befo she left.
I can only assume that the "God" to whom she referred was Dagon.
Finalist in the
Halloween Epic Costumes Contest