Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four also known as "The Thing"

Source: Marvel comic books

Basic preparation - make a liner!

Since this will be a foam costume, start with the cooling vest over the basic form. If you don't plan for the increased bulk at this stage, you will never get inside the costume with critical cooling aids. The vest I chose for this project is my 8 pound phase-change vest from Texas CoolVest. If I use one of my lighter weight vests, I should still have no problems getting into the costume. (At least that's the theory...)

I found early on that if you don't line a foam costume, it is near impossible to get into and out of because the foam creates a very good non-skid surface. Using spandex stretch-knit fabric inside and out works best, because it can stretch both directions to the weave of the fabric. The fabric on the inside also makes an anchor when stitching through the foam. Thick foam can anchor most stitching, but at stress points around the arm and leg joints, thread will tear right through the foam (unless it breaks first.)

The second point I want to stress in this type of costume is the type of thread to use. For machine stitching the liner, general purpose thread is okay, but nylon upholstery thread is better. When I can match the color, I will use 100% nylon upholstery thread for all of my hand stitching in the foam "quilting" steps.


Once the liner is completed I start building up layers of foam to create my desired shape and muscle structure. The color of the foam does not usually matter, since it will be covered with fabric. In addition, I usually will have a thin layer of beige 1/2" foam sheet as the final layer, and this helps equalize any color shading, especially with lighter-color fabric.

Since The Thing is supposed to have a craggy rock-like skin, I figure that it is not going to be completely uniform in coloring or texture. This type of detail is not apparent in any of the descriptions or comic books, but then they're comic books.

For the close-fitting mask, I start with a balloon inflated to slightly-larger than life. To create voids for my nose and chin, I insert chunks of stiff packing foam under the spandex liner. Then I start by gluing a thin coating of foam over the liner. Thicker foam is then glued and built up to define the shape. On the first head I glued 1/2" foam shapes to the head before covering with orange spandex. The first head lacks the well defined brow ridge and I can barely get it on over my head, even with two expansion seams cut into the back of the head.

The quilting pulls and compresses the form and makes it MUCH smaller. I ended up making three different heads before I got one that had the form I wanted, and that I could get over my own. The pictures here are of that first head, but I used the same process on all three, increasing the size of the balloon with each try. On the early trials, I split the mask up the back and stitched in additional wedges of fabric to maintain the shape.

Attempt #2

Sharply defined eye brows and mouth; good start.

For the eyes, I am using expanded aluminum mesh from a frying pan spatter shield (K-Mart, $3.) A small piece of the mesh is cut with shears or heavy duty scissors, then gently rounded in a dapping block. The small domes are sprayed with white paint and the iris and pupils hand-painted using enamel model paint. The domes are trimmed and hot-glued to some spandex fabric that can be stitched and glued into place in the mask. The eyes are positioned, based on my eye spacing before assembly. On this head, I also tried adding a "cap on  the top of the head to round it out above the eyebrows more, but I was still not happy with the shape and features.

Third time is a charm? Close enough, this was only supposed to be a hall costume... (click for a closer view)