Intro: The Drowned Diver Costume (Halloween 2016)
Heya! Thanks for taking a look at my 2016 Halloween costume process... I hope it helps breaks things down a bit into how I achieved the end result, and hopefully, inspires you or sparks something you can use in a future creative project!
If it's not blatantly obvious from the title description and the pics, my goal for this costume was to look like a drowned deep sea diver that had been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for decades, that had come back to waking life... covered in sea life and debris, corroding and eroding away, and my helmet full of water. I achieved most of what I set out to accomplish visually (though certainly with some trial and error), and hopefully my process can help yours if you try to achieve something similar. :)
Just a note of warning, that a lot of this was built from random parts I either had sitting around in my art stash, or random things I happened to find at the thrift store. There's no grocery list of items that you can go out and buy, and follow along step-by-step (except for spray paint, etc.), but that's part of the fun in a way, to make it yours ;) I have no idea how much this cost (more than I probably want to add up, given the amount and randomness of the items I purchased) but hey, Halloween-related creativeness is worth every penny :)
Anyway, boils and ghouls, let's dive right in (see what I did there....)
Step 1: Concepting & Sketches
I've had this idea rattling around my head for a few years, and almost got around to producing it last Halloween but ran out of time to properly tackle it. So while the general idea was pretty baked, I always always always think it's important to sketch out my ideas, as a general roadmap to the components that are needed, and to make sure i stay on track with my original purpose while working away... and it's always fun to compare the initial sketches with the final product!
Step 2: The Helmet
As you can see by the photos, I ended up using a large plastic Halloween witch cauldron I picked up at the thrift store as the base form of the helmet. Originally I had intended on using a slightly smaller and thinner plastic globe form, but I was worried that it might end up being a bit too flimsy for all of the holes and stuff I was going to be adding to it. In retrospect, I'm glad I went this route, as the cauldron was just the right amount of lightweight, but still having a lot of stability due to the hard plastic.
Flipping the cauldron upside down, provided the perfect form I required, so I went about cutting the view holes I needed. I had settled on using discs of craft styrofoam as the 'ridges' of the portal, since they would give me the opportunity to work in the petri dishes into them as the 'glass' and allow me to add all the other detail elements (wire, screws, etc) into them with no drilling.
I traced the outside of the foam onto the areas of the cauldron I wanted for the two large view holes (front and top), then cut those out of the cauldron, starting by drilling a hole to start and then using scissors and/or an xacto to cut the entire circle out. Because I intended on the plastic petri dishes to serve as the 'glass' in the viewholes, I made sure to line up the dish onto the styrofoam, so that I could cut out the viewhole 'ridge' to the right size. I originally used a serrated knife, but later actually purchased a styrofoam cutter for the front viewhole -- both worked, but the cutter was a bit cleaner of a cut. With the styrofoam cut, I worked it into the large hole that was cut in the cauldron. I pushed some screws into the styrofoam to achieve the bolt look (note: these screws are purely cosmetic). I made sure the petri dish would fit in the styrofoam, but did not permanently attach it (i did this much later to give myself more areas to reach into the helmet to do work).
I then found a whole bunch of parts that I ended up grabbing from the thrift store/hardware store, like PVC pipes and various hoses etc, and traced holes for them into the cauldron shape, and (in the case of the PVC) cut them down with a hacksaw to the right size, and in all cases, installed them into the various holes I had cut where they were needed.
Step 3: The Breastplate
I found a hinged wood 'thing' (I actually have no idea what it's original intention was - a magazine holder? I dunno) at the thriftstore, that I figured might be useful. I was right! I realized if i put it over my head in just the right way, it had the right general structure as the breastplate I envisioned in the front and the back (well with imagination haha), and it gave me some stability that I needed to connect pretty tightly around my shoulders, to hopefully and eventually support the weight and awkwardness of the helmet itself.
I purchased a large styrofoam wreath form that was bit larger in diameter than the rim of the helmet cauldron lip so that I could eventually connect the two pieces. I had to figure out how to get the angle right in securing the styrofoam ring onto the breastplate form so it was secure but also at the correct angle. Some of this was experimenting, and drilling holes into the wood and using random parts I had sitting around, but eventually I did get it securely connected at the right angle using some bookshelf connectors ... there's probably a way less cobbled together way of doing this, but it worked for me, your mileage may vary ;)
Once the styrofoam ring was attached, For pure cosmetic purposes, i added some random drawer handle (?) things I purchased as a bag lot of like 30 at the thrift store, directly into the styrofoam ring to look like bolts.
Structurally, I needed a way to figure out how to cover the area from the bottom of the wood breastplate form, and the top of the styrofoam ring, so I used some paper to work out some template forms that would work, then traced those forms onto a sheet of craft foam, cut them out, and glued them on, and got the right structure I needed!
On the back part of this, I found an amazon box, which I cut the flaps to size and super glued onto the back as the form to structure the eventual 'air tank'.
Step 4: The Helmet & Breastplate, Combined
Connecting the Two:
Once the breastplate structure was more or less completed, I needed to figure out a way to attach the helmet to the breastplate. My original intention was that I could install something so that I could easily (with wing nuts) screw off the helmet that attached the two so that I could remove the helmet and keep the breastplate on when wearing the costume. BUT it was getting kind of unwieldy, so I decided I'd just lose that functional element and combine the two permanently.
I got some hardware at the hardware store -- bolts, and washers, and nuts, etc -- and marked out where I wanted them to attach on the styrofoam wreath ring, and drilling a hole in the lip of the cauldron in the right spots. I had originally intended wing nuts for ease of getting on and off, but the spacing ended up tight, so i just used regular nuts. The fit was tight, was was great, as I was worried that when I later added lighting inside, that it would show through the gap between the cauldron lip and the styrofoam ring, but it was a pretty seamless fit!
Priming & Other Details:
Once combined, I was able to start adding some other air tank elements where hoses where connecting appropriately, etc. The next biggest thing at this stage was I needed to paint! Before painting could commence, I needed to add a primer to the styrofoam bits so that they took the paint, and didn't just soak it up. I used MagicKote on the styrofoam and added a few coats to ensure coverage.
Painting Part 1:
This was done in multiple stages to build up the colors/texture. My inspiration was for the helmet to look completely oxidized and corroded, as though I had been in the bottom of the sea for ages. I started with a flat copper color that I covered everything with. Then I added a hammered bronze on top of that, making sure to not cover everything, leaving some areas where the copper showed through a bit. While the hammered bronze was still wet, I used a bit of craft foliage, to sponge and dab at the paint, which had the effect of leaving some of the foliage on the paint to dry, which was perfect because it gave the effect of lichen or something growing on the helmet.
I cut some copper wire from a random plate hanger (?) thing i had sitting around, bent it to the appropriate shapes, and used it as the wire guards for the two side view holes, attaching them with hot glue.
Painting Part 2:
After the side viewhole wire guards where installed, I went back and spray painted a bright metallic gold, on only the view hole ridge areas, and the ridge of the breastplate to make sure that they looked different and stood out visually. You can see I actually used my paper templates to mask in some areas (i.e.: the foam so I didn't brighten that piece at this stage). Once those areas where brightened back up, I went over the whole thing with spattered dark green, and then finally used a light sea glass paint that I spattered all over to achieve the look of corrosion. Basically instead of using the spray paint in a clean spray fashion, I held my finger just barely on the trigger so it spattered and dripped out. I again used the foliage to sponge and dab where needed, to achieve more of a lichen/barnacly look.
I actually don't have a lot of process shots of this, just the end result. Partly because it was tight quarters at this stage hot gluing inside of the helmet. but i originally had intended that to make the water in the front view hole show up well, i needed some lighting inside my helmet. I purchased a string of some battery 'fairy lights', that had the right random sequence of fade in and out, that achieved a watery look, hid the battery pack inside the box that formed the base of the 'air tank' area, and hot glued the string in the inside of the helmet in the front so as to light my face.
Step 5: The Diving Suit & Accessories
This part was mostly aesthetic and cosmetic. I ordered a Khaki Work Jumpsuit on Amazon, cut off the 'Dickies' label on the breast pocket, then proceeded to mess the whole thing up so it looked old, worn, and that I had been at the bottom of the sea for a bit :) I achieved this with first rubbing the suit with a bunch of coffee grounds, then spray painting the suit with a combination of dull, earthy colors, in addition to keeping in mind I had two areas (my right arm, and my left knee) I wanted to be bloody. I then ripped up the right arm after making it bloody so that it looked even more messed up.
I also had ordered some cloth rope from amazon, but it was far to clean looking for me to use as-is, so I did the same thing in regards to spray painting, etc. to dirty it up. I had cut the rope into two lengths, one that was intended for a tourniquet effect on my left knee, which I wanted to be soaked 'bloody' which is why one is just old looking and one looks gory ;)
After it was all dried, I added some plastic sea creatures (crabs) that I had bought at a party supply store, a few great realistic looking fake starfish that I had purchased from a gentleman that does marine taxidermy, some fake coral wire, some fake moss, and some fish netting I dropped and hacked apart to bring it all together. I didn't take a lot of photos of the process of this here as it was last minute, but mostly it was laying out the suit flat on the floor and super gluing a bunch of stuff on as aesthetically looked right. If you do this, be sure to stick some cardboard inside the suit when it is flat, so the super glue doesn't seep through to the back side of the suit.
Pretty straightforward here, I simply bought a fabric black belt at the thrift store, stuck a huge eye screw in it, then took some wood blocks and first super glued three of them on in the orientation I wanted, then put a screw, washer and bolt through the wood block and the fabric belt to secure them a bit more soundly to the belt. In retrospect I would have liked to have painted these metallic, but I ran out of time :)
Even more straightforward, I bought some big (actually a bit oversized for me, but it worked) boots that had the look of deepsea diving footwear from (again) the thrift store. They had a logo sewn on them, so I just used an xacto to cut out the seam so it wasn't branded. Again, in retrospect, I would've liked to have 'dirtied' these up a bit, and add the weights that occur on these kind of boots, but again, I ran out of time.
Step 6: The Harpoon
I had wanted a prop harpoon, but didn't really make it a priority since it was going to be fully dependent on me finding the right things, until I lucked into actually finding the right parts :) I discovered an old wood flagpole (?) base at the thrift store, that had a hollow metallic area up top with a screw and chain that were already worn and old looking. All I needed was a blade of some sort, and I dug around the thrift store tool section and found an equally worn tool of some sort, that i could fit into the hollow area at the top of the flagpole. I drilled a hole into the base of the tool, so i could screw it into the flagpole screw/chain area, added some padding inside of the hollow part, so it was tight, and voila! a harpoon.
Step 7: The Front Water-Filled Viewhole
This was originally going to be the biggest 'twist' to pulling off this costume, but as I got into the making of the actual helmet and how crazy that was getting, I sort of took an approach that 'if the water part works, awesome, if it doesn't it'll still look good'. That being said, I tried a few approaches, some that worked, some that worked better, and then eventually did get there. ;)
My original thought, as mentioned before in the helmet section, was that I could use a petri dish and capture water inside of it, seal it, and when it was part of the helmet, have it appear that I and my helmet was full of water. I purchased a pack of 10 plastic petri dishes from amazon (i was ok with having more than i needed for breaking, messing up, and experimenting purposes), and did some research on how to seal a petri dish to be water tight. I seemed to be seeing that Parafilm would do the trick, so experimented with that: my first experiment was filling the petri dish with water, and wrapping it with a strip of Parafilm all around the edges (second and third photos attached). This seemed to hold the water ok, but it did (even in a messy way) show a lot of the Parafilm around the edges which i didn't like. I set the petri dish out in the kitchen for a few days to see if it would hold the water over a bit of time, but unfortunately it did leak... either because of the stretchiness of the parafilm being stretched a bit too thin in parts, but mostly because there was a small gap around the two sides of the petridish coming together (it was night a tight fit, but a very loose one) that was causing the parafilm to do a lot of extra work to plug up the gap, AND seal in the water.
I eventually decided that my best line of attack was to mitigate the gap created by the two sides of the petri dish coming together loosely, and after some searching and thought, I settled on some water sealant putty from the hardware store, and decided to experiment with that instead of the Parafilm. This did the trick! I originally had only intended to have the petri dish full of water, but decided I wanted to try to put some seaweed and coral in there to help along the illusion (this was achieved with some aquarium plastic plants). I cut to size the plants I wanted and inserted into the petri dish, and began building up the putty into the gap and the edges. I did this until I got most of the way around the petri dish, with a space at the top, where I used a plastic squeeze bottle to squeeze in the water where the gap hadn't yet been filled with the putty. This looked great, and I sealed up the entire edge. After it dried, i was happy that it, though i had kind of hoped that the seaweed would move more, but alas. However, what i didn't like was that I had built up the putty a bit too thickly around all of the edges, and it wasn't as clean going into the view hole space that I had already figured out. I read that you could sand off the dried putty, so attempted with a dremel to sand down the edges... this worked fine, but i got too carried away and actually sanded too closely to the petri dish plastic on one of the edges, and broke the petri dish. As a result i got to start over with a new one... which in the end was better anyway, as I made a much cleaner, tighter seal with the putty, and it fit into the viewhole perfectly.
Step 8: Helmet Details, Air Tank Details, & Other Final Touches
Most of this stuff at this stage was aesthetic: adding a bunch of random parts all over, connecting various random vacuum tubes, plastic containers, fake gauges and nozzles, spray painting and adding fake corral, sea life, etc.
Step 9: The Makeup
I didn't go super crazy with my makeup, since it was more or less going to be obscured by the helmet, but i did want to look like I too had been at the bottom of the sea. I wet my hair down a bit, used some spirit gum, and some great fake starfish and barnacles (all with flat bottoms to allow for easier adherence to my skin) from a gentleman who sells aquatic taxidermy items, some moss, made my skin even more pale with some white base and the suggestion of blue veins, and it turned out pretty well!
Step 10: The Drowned Diver!
The final product! And a fun spooky video I put together to show some of the moving bits (and incidentally showcases my partner in crime who was a siren!) I hope you enjoyed reading through the process, and glean some insights if you try something similar. :)