Introduction: Rocket Backpack Costume

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3...2...1... blast off!

Take off like never before this Halloween in your very own flying rocket backpack costume!

You might have seen this costume blowing up the Internet last year. It was inspired by a costume from a Japanese game/variety show, as shown in the animated GIF here. I thought the costume idea was so great that I decided to try and make my own.

For my costume I wanted more, so I included separately controlled lights, moving parts, and added all kinds of details to my rocket pack. My costume also has a speaker system which plays a countdown and rocket blast off sound.

The rocket backpack forms a cavity which fits your hips and torso, allowing your real legs to act as the flame plume from the rocket exhaust. Prosthetic legs were made from PVC pipe wrapped in newspaper for mass. The legs were hinged at the knee, and could be lifted with with fishing line connected to my hands.

Here's a short video I made showing my rocket backpack costume in action with some of the details:

Ready to see how I put it all together? Let's make!

Step 1: Rocket Backpack - Contruction

Knowing that the rocket body had to be large enough to accommodate my hips and torso, I sketched out a few concepts of how my rocket would be constructed and how large to make it. I wanted my rocket backpack to be something more than just a silver cylinder for my body; I designed my rocket backpack after fighter jets and added a sleek design, and loads of details to interact with.

After a few sketches I had a rough idea of my design.

Rocket design including: high-vis paint areas, moving fans, operable lights, texture, and sound

The rocket structure is made with a cardboard cylindrical concrete forming tube (Sonotube), I used a 12" dia
meter tube. They usually sell 12' sections of tubing at a time. I measured the distance from my hips to the nape of my neck, and cut 2 sections of tube the same length.

The inside of the tubes has a non-stick coating, this will need to be taken into consideration when gluing the tube sections together, or any elements inside the tube.

After 2 tube sections were cut, a lengthwise cut was made on each tube. One end of the tube was curled inwards at an angle to form a tapered end. Having removed the non-stick coating from the overlapping curled tube, glue was applied along the overlap and held in place with adhesive tape until set. To ensure a good bond I left the tubes to site overnight.

The two tapered tubes were then glued together. To ensure they tubes stay attached thin gauge was passed between the tubes and cinched tight. More glue was applied and the tubes were left to dry overnight.

Don't worry about any scuffs, mars, dents or scratches on the tube, it adds to the character of the rocket when it's painted.

Step 2: Rocket Backpack - Opening + Fins

torso opening:
Now that the tubes have the right shape and are attached together as one solid piece, a large opening can be made in the rocket to allow my torso to pass through. I roughly sketched an opening a little larger than the width of my body, making sure to offset the opening a few inches from the bottom.

separation to allow entry:
I separated the tubes under the torso opening, this will allow you to pass your body into the rocket when putting the costume on.

rocket fins:
I used scrap cardboard tube to make fins for the rocket. I sketched out some fin designs on the scap cardboard, then used a sharp knife to shape the fins. I made two fins each side of the rocket, and a central fin to fill in the bottom of the rocket where the two tubes meet. The fins were glued to the rocket body and left to dry.

Step 3: Rocket Backpack - Paint

When the rocket structure is complete, the exterior was lightly sanded. Two coats of grey primer were applied, followed by a few coats of metallic silver paint.

There's a lot of paint on the rocket pack, so work outside an an area with no wind, and make sure to protect your work area. Start with a very light application of the primer. Let primer dry for about 20 minutes, then apply another coat. Your entire rocket should now be covered.

Apply 2 coats of metallic silver spray to the primed rocket pack. Allow to dry and apply another coat. Ensure uniform coverage when spraying, and make sure to get into all the nooks and overlaps.

Since I made up some elements on the way, openings for some details were added after painting. Edges revealed from post-painting openings were painted with a metallic indelible marker (as shown in Step 6 pictures).

Step 4: Rocket Backpack Straps

The rocket backpack needed to be wearable, with the entire weight supported on the shoulders. I made a harness from the straps of an old kid's backpack (sorry Thomas the Tank Engine).

The approximate strap locations were roughly marked on the rocket body. Then, small horizontal slits were cut above the torso opening on the rocket the same width and thickness of the backpack strap, and the top end of the backpack strap was passed through the lit. To secure the strap I wound the end around the tubing from a cheap office pen, then sewed the strap around the tubing. Since the tubing is larger than the slit opening the strap does not pass through and is secured.

Once the top straps were installed, mmall vertical slits were cut to the side of the torso opening on the rocket for the bottom straps. The bottom of the strap was fed through the opening and secured using the same pen tubing method used for the top of the strap.

Step 5: Rocket Backpack - Louvers

As part of my design, I liked the idea of an internal combustion engine, with an louvered air intake like fighter planes.

I made my intake louvers from tongue depressors that I got at the Dollar Store. I trimmed the ends to match the width of the rocket top, then tapered the edges to match the sloping profile of the taper rocket. Since I had made the curl in the cardboard to make the rocket taper, each side was not identical; in turn, each tongue depressor had to be individually measured and cut. Each tongue depressor was cut slightly larger than the opening so they could be friction it while the glue dries.

The cut tongue depressors were fitted inside the top of the rocket body and glued in place with wood glue. Allow glue to set overnight. Apply more glue to any loose louvers and allow to dry again before painting.

Step 6: Rocket Backpack - Stencils + Paint

Continuing the theme of a fighter jet, I decided to give the top of the rocket a high-visibility paint treatment.

On my computer I typed out the wording I wanted in capitals with a stencil font, then found an arrow icon and enlarged it, aligning both onto the same sheet and then printing it. The words and arrow were cut apart and each was glued to card stock (I used cereal boxes and scrap cardboard). With a sharp hobby knife the printouts were cut into stencils.

The rocket top was masked off with newspaper and masking tape, leaving enough room to accomodate your printed stencils (about 3". Using a fine-grit sandpaper, the exposed top of the rocket body was lightly sanded. Then, 2 coats of matte white spray paint was applied to the exposed rocket top. When the matte white has completely dried, the DANGER and AIR INTAKE stencils were placed and sprayed with one coat of matte black spray paint.

To finish off the top of the air intake I cut a rhombus shape from scrap cardboard and held it in place while spraying with red spray paint.

While the top of the rocket was drying, I applied the arrow stencil to the bottom of the rocket in a few places. For more authenticity I sprayed the bottom edge of the rocket body and fins to look like exhaust carbon buildup.

Step 7: Rocket Backpack Electronics - Top Warning Lights

I love the look of conical-shaped rotating lamp lights. I've seen small ones for sale online, but I decided to make my own.

The Dollar Store had these orange shot glasses for Halloween, so I sanded them down to a dull finish, which also removed the spider decal and left a nice matte finish. I polished the inside and outside after sanding with a scouring pad which dulled the finish.

I harvested a flashing LED array from a Dollar Store Halloween light. The circuit had a long lead to the switch, which was added to be operable from the outside of the costume. The harvested LED array was soldered to a button-cell battery pack and hot glued into place. Depending on your cardboard tube, you may have to remove the interior anti-stick coating before gluing.

All exposed edges from new openings created were painted with silver metallic indelible ink.

The shot glass was then inserted and hot-glued to the rocket from the inside of the housing . A small opening was made for the switch to be operable from the outside; this was also hot-glued from the inside of the rocket housing.

Step 8: Rocket Backpack Electronics - Bottom Power Lights

I remember some jet packs in comics had this great retro style, I wanted to evoke that feeling with circular light openings that let you know when the rocket was engaged.

I found flashing light batons at the Dollar Store. These battery operated lights were easily disassembled and the parts harvested to work with my project. The handle was left in tact, and the LED lead was positioned on the rocket body and the LED light placement was traced to the rocket. Using a 1/2" bit, holes were drilled in the rocket corresponding to the LEDs, with a smaller opening to feed the LED array though. The edges of the drilled openings were painted with metallic marker.

The light diffuser in the light wand was salvaged and inserted inside the rocket over the newly drilled openings.  The LED array was fed through the small opening and the handle was positioned and hot-glued in place. The LED lights were positioned over the circular openings and hot-glued in place.

Step 9: Rocket Backpack Electronics - Turbocharger Fans

Another element of the design I wanted were moving parts. Using the old computer fans from an earlier project, I incorporated them into the design. These fans worked double duty; looking great, and keeping me cool inside the costume.

I traced a circular shape about the same diameter as the fan onto a scrap piece of paper and then cut out the shape, this was then transferred to the rocket body. Using a sharp knife, circular openings were cut into the rocket with the exposed openings getting a quick layer of metallic marker to blend the edge.

The fans were wired up to a switch and then hot-glued in place.

Step 10: Rocket Backpack - Embellishments + Details

Continuing the theme of the rocket, I added more embellishments to give the piece depth and character. I wanted a more homebrew design to my rocket, which is why the scuff and tears in the cardboard were not a big deal - after painting and all the details added, the rips and dents look like part of the design.

Some details I used were:
  • Painting/distressing plastic electronic housing - great detail + weird shapes
  • Plastic screw caps - looks like button rivets
  • Braided plumbing hose - goes perfect with a rocket pack, looks important
  • Plastic plumbing hose - has a nice flanged end
  • Zip ties - adds depth and shadow in some areas, covers seams
  • Silver metallic indelible ink - used in select locations to cover any exposed cardboard and keep a uniform silver colour.

Step 11: Audio Effects

Speaker system:
I wanted my rocket to make real sound effects, something that would really sell the idea that I am blasting off.

I harvested the small speaker amp from my fanny pack boombox project and reused it here. These speaker amps are about $5 and were bought from my local hardware store. The gutted speaker amp was mounted to a scrap slat of wood and glued to the inside of the rocket body. The speaker was faced towards the top opening of the rocket to allow sound to escape, and the audio jack output was pointed down towards the rocket exhaust for the long audio jack lead to connect to the music player.

Digital sound:
I browsed and found a few different 'space shuttle launch' sounds. I found "Space Shuttle Launch.mp3" and "Countdown » Simulation of NASA (rocket) launch.wav" and mashed these sounds clips together using Audacity, a free audio editor. I chopped the sound clip down to 20 seconds, perfect for showcasing the blast-off effect. I also added 3 seconds of silence at the beginning of the track to give me time to push play and get in position before the sounds started.

Next, I loaded the sound clip onto my portable music player. To keep things easy I made sure this was the only audio file on the music player. The media player was connected to the speaker with a 6' male-to-male audio jack and stored in the faux legs pocket for easy access.

Step 12: Legs - Skeleton

I decided to make my legs articulate, allowing me to lift them up and "fly" by using fishing wire. I used 1" PVC pipe and attachments.

I measured the distance from my hip to the floor as the overall length of PVC pipe I would need for each leg. I then measured from the floor to my knee and cut the PVC to length. My foot was also measured and PVC cut to length. The feet were attached using a PVC elbow and solvent adhesive.

To make the legs articulate, I drilled a small opening in the PVC where the knee was to be and used a binder clip to secure the two leg sections together.

Design note:
A design flaw I had with this was any torquing movement applied can possibly open this clip. To overcome this, the hinge was closed, then rotated to be inside one of the PVC tubes, the clip interface was then wrapped in duct tape to prevent the clip from rotating out of the pipe. (I tried soldering, and gluing with no luck).

To hold the legs against my torso I made a PVC bracket from a 45 degree angle piece, 2 "tee" connecting pieces, and scrap PVC sections to join it together. Everything was adhered together with solvent, except the "femur" to the hip bracket (this was left unglued to allow any movement from leg lifting without binding).

Step 13: Legs - Form + Control

Leg shape:
To flesh out the legs and give them some bulk and mass I wadded newspaper and used masking tape to affix it to the PVC frame. I left the knee joints exposed to allow for the articulation. Attention was given to the ankles as they would be visible when the legs were lifted.

The pants were fitted over the PVC skeleton, and bulk was added to the lap and rear of the skeleton. The newspaper was massaged and kneaded into place to give the legs a realistic look.

Leg control:
To lift the legs I used heavy duty clear fishing wire. To prevent the fishing wire from cutting into my hands when the legs are lifted I coiled some paracord to make rings and tied the fishing wire to them.

Fishing line was tied through the tibia knee drilled opening, then a small hole was punctured through the pant leg at the knee. The fishing line was cut to length and tied to the paracord rings for each finger.

When not in use the paracord rings with fishing wire can be stored in the faux legs' pocket, allowing your hands to be free while you socialize.

Mounting legs to torso:
The PVC bracket used to hold the legs is hollow and a length of paracord can be passed through it and attached around your torso like a belt, allowing the legs to be lifted. The bracket acts as a fulcrum and easily rotates on your bellow when the legs are lifted.

Step 14: Exhaust Flames

The only red pants I could find at the thrift store were these denim ladies capris. The red colour will help hide the legs when the "flames" move.

I made the exhaust flames from plastic frilly party necklaces, I found these necklaces in red, yellow and light pink - perfect for flames. I also found a red feather boa which I added in for some different texture. The necklaces were cut into 1' lengths and one end was sewn into the pants. Starting from the bottom and working up the pant legs, the necklace lengths were staggered and overlapped to create a flame plume. Attention should be paid to the bottom portion of the pants, where the flames cover the feet.

Step 15: Shirt

To complete the illusion that you are actually flying, a shirt will cover the interface where the faux legs meet your torso. I found a shirt that was a little large on me and cut an opening in the back that would allow me to pass by torso through.

I roughly measured out my torso width and transferred the dimension to the back of the shirt, then removed a piece of fabric. Err on the side of caution and cut less fabric, you can always enlarge the opening after if you need to.

Step 16: Bringing It All Together

With all the elements done, it's time to assemble the backpack rocket costume.

Start by putting on the flame pants, then tie the faux legs around your torso. Next, put on the shirt through the back opening and then put the backpack straps on and feed your torso through the rocket opening. Drape the shirt over the faux legs and you are all set!

Place your fingers in the paracord rings tied to the fishing wire, and whenever you lift your arms your legs will lift off the ground and make it look like you are flying. With the lights and sound effects, this costume delights all those who see it in action.

Even though the legs are articulated and don't take up much room when down, this is still a large costume. You're not going to fit through some doorways and you're sure to knock into people when moving around.

This project was a lot of fun and had a big payoff every time I lifted my arms to blast off, complete with sounds and lights. Below are some animated GIFs of the fireworks used during the photo shoot, the fireworks got a little out of control at one point, with sparks jumping dangerously close to my highly flammable costume.

Happy Halloween!
2013 Autodesk Halloween Contest

Grand Prize in the
2013 Autodesk Halloween Contest

Halloween Costume Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest

Make It Glow Contest

Participated in the
Make It Glow Contest