Foam work

Head construction

While not complete yet, the head framework is far enough along to start working on general foam construction. Since there are numerous wires, cables, and movable sections (such as the neck and jaw hinges), the innards will need protection from any foam construction. The minimal copper tubing also does not provide much of a base for foam to be glued to, or around. Plastic needle point mesh is cut to cover half of the open top. Cable ties are used to anchor the mesh to the head's framework. The process is then repeated on the other half of the head.

Hot glue is used to attach strips of dense foam to the mesh. Once anchored, additional foam can be added using spray on contact cement. I found that the contact cement does not work as well on the mesh, apparently because of the reduced surface area. I also do not want to spray adhesive where is could coat or gum-up the internal mechanisms. (I came up with the idea of the plastic mesh when building my Tick costume several years ago. Heavy nylon cord was used to tie the mesh to the copper frame, then contact cement to attach and build up the foam.)

Initially, foam is hot glued to the mesh and tubing. Once a base is attached, more foam can be glued on top with contact cement. (Paper towels protect the eyes from over-spray of the cement. A sheet of foam was cut to fit, then slit around the edge to cover the lower jaw frame. Hot glue seals the seam and holds the foam to the tubing.

Plastic mesh is attached to the frame using small cable ties.

Side view of the mesh. Flexible tubing on the neck will allow cables and wires a clear path down to the rest of the costume.

Tooth construction

Building Chenobog two years ago, I made foam teeth. To make them appear smooth and white, I covered the foam with a thin coating of silicon-latex caulk. The foam provides the necessary shape and support, and the caulk provides a uniform, flexible, bright white coating.

I had an idea that using white silicon caulk, and making a large bead, then drawing it out, might create a smooth tapered cone that would work as a tooth. While good in theory, the weight of the caulk usually collapsed the cone once it got to any size. The pressure on the caulking gun also gave a very wobbly, uneven cone. Hanging the caulk upside down, did not work either, as the caulk dripped.

I could use epoxy to create very nice plastic teeth, using the same casting technique from the claws. In the interest of "safety", I prefer to keep these soft and flexible for anyone dumb enough to stick body parts into the dragon's mouth.

Once the basic foam construction on the head is done, the teeth can be hot glued to the jaw. A variety of shapes and sizes are made to be applied to the front or back of the jaw as necessary.

Foam teeth are hot glued to a piece of cardboard before covering with caulk.

Caulking is squirted onto a piece of cardboard or plastic. I use wood craft sticks (i.e. Popsickle sticks) to spread the caulk on the foam. I replace these as the caulk starts to dry and build up on the stick. To make the teeth even smoother, I am experimenting with coating the teeth with mold latex that has titanium oxide (whiting) mixed in. The latex tends to smooth out some of the smaller lines and grooves left in the caulk.

The Neck

To support foam covering on the neck, a series of thick foam disks were cut, roughly 12-13" across. These have a slit and hole cut to slip over the pipe, cables, and hoses that go up the neck. Contact cement was used to close the slit after it is positioned on the tube. Spacing was maintained between the foam disks with blocks of dense foam.

Starting close to the head, sections of 1/2" foam sheet were glued in place, connecting the disks. Starting with the second section, 1" foam is used to cover the neck, until the last section, where a piece of 2" foam was used. The joints between the thick and thin foam were rounded with a razor blade.

Foam disks are held in place with block of a firm, dense packing foam. Thin foam sheet then covers the sections and rounds out the neck for the fabric scales to be attached.

Scales will be added in the form of small pillows, so the foam sheets on the neck are only present for support, and to help anchor the scales as they are stitched into place.

Follow-up Notes: Because of all the difficulty moving in this costume during Marcon, I wanted to lower the center of gravity. To do this, I removed about 18 inches of Neck. Both of the lower two circles were removed. Because the tube for the neck moves from the rear to the center, I had to make a new section of pipe with a double-90 bend in it. Once the head was on the body, this was further shaped and bent to straighten the head on the neck. But another problem resulted: The soldering of connectors softened the copper tubing. A piece of "L"-shaped aluminum was screwed to the bottom tube, run through the neck sections and attached just below the jaw. This reinforced the neck so it would no longer bend out of shape when moving around in the costume.

Holes for the copper tube, cable bundle, CO2 hose, and PVC tubing are positioned in each disk to create a smooth curve in the neck.

Thicker foam sections are added over the segments to gradually increase the diameter of the neck closer to the body.

The sections of thick foam are rounded off with a razor blade. They will be further concealed when the fabric-covered scales are added.

Body Work

The roughed-out legs were glued to the body panels. The upper sides of the body still need to be enclosed, and the shape streamlined. At this point, the openings allow easy access to trim and shape the foam sheet. The two silver poles are legs from an old tripod, and help hold the frame in a position close to where it would be on my shoulders. At this point, I can see where I need to focus my attention, and if anything needs to be rethought. The overall shape is not very pleasing, as it does not flow smoothly from where the neck will attach. The upper portion of the body needs to be slimmed down, and the lower belly needs to be dropped, and the base of the tail enlarged to make a more serpentine appearance. By slitting and gluing the sheet, the shape can be rounded, and roughed in before starting the fabric work.

The belly has been trimmed back and rounded more. The rear end was built up at the junction between the body and the tail. More work still is needed to make a smooth curve from the belly down and under to the tail section. To emphasize muscles, multiple pieces of 1/2" foam are built up in the area. Once the general thickness and shaping is complete, a large piece of 1/2" foam is used to cover the area, smoothing all the curves and edges of the smaller pieces.

Sections of foam are used to run from the shoulders down to the back, and around the sides of the belly. The last section to be covered will be the belly, and this will be done with a series of panels that will support the scaled panels that will be added over top.

Covering the small pieces with a larger foam shape, smoothes out the edges, and makes them look more like muscles under the skin.

Muscles are simulated by building up layers from multiple pieces of thin foam, all running in the same direction. A large piece of thin foam glued over top will follow the contours, creating a pattern of smooth flowing lines, similar to bunched muscles under the skin.

The front legs start with a short length of cardboard tube, then glue foam was glued around the outside.

Foam blocks are added to make a large bulge. Small oval and teardrop shapes are built up then covered with larger pieces of 1/2" foam to smooth the lines..

To attach the lower arm section and front claws to the arm, a tube was added to extend up into the cardboard tube of the upper arm. The copper tube is held in place by gluing a core of firm foam around the tubing, creating a snug fit when pushed up into the cardboard tube. Layers of thin foam were added for muscle definition over the foam core. The individual finger joints are cut from small blocks of firm foam and glued around the tubes. The foam was trimmed away from the springs and cables so the joint can move freely. On the right hand, each finger joint has a separate cable, ending in a thimble at the elbow joint. An opening in the side of the costume will allow access to the hand grip and thimbles to control the right claws. Small sections of thin foam were glued across the opening between the wrist and finger joints. The foam will compress easily as the claw is pulled back, and the foam adds support to the fabric that will cover the joints.

On the left arm, all of the claws were cabled together, then attached to a heavy 1/8" cable, ending in a single thimble. The thimble was given a coat of liquid rubber to distinguish it from the wing cable inside the costume. The single left arm cable extends up the arm tube and enters the upper portion of the costume. It will be attached to the same support as the wing control cable.

Follow-up Notes: The extra distance made these claws very difficult to move. A slight cut into the inside elbow allowed me access to the copper guide tube. Some creative cutting and flexing to snap the tubing, redirected the cable sideways. A shorter length of sheath was used, running through the arm "wing". A short section of 1" copper tubing, a bicycle grip and break handle now allow much easier control.

Prepping the right arm with firm foam. Three thimbles connect cables to each of the upper claws. The two lower claws are fixed.

Finger joints are constructed from small blocks of firm foam.

Layers of foam sheet help define the muscles, and cover the wrist joints.

The arm is held in place by friction between the foam and the tube in the upper arm.

A single cable pulls all three claws on the left arm.

Firm foam is used to encase the tubing, but openings are cut where the cable has to pass.

Layers of thin foam sheet create muscle definition and secure the lower arm to the upper section.

[Back to Valhalla] [Dragon Index]

Web site images and content is Copyright 2000 Chris Kramer unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved