Film Challenge – Lead Time

Another short film created under ludicrous conditions by the Tortoisebutler crew. This time I contributed props (including the robot’s bite-down charging plug) and the heads up display that shows us the world from our diminutive robot’s point of view.

The biggest part of the build, though, was the creation of the beast itself: to transform our fantastically physical actor Jinny into a threatening, alien creature that would spring from the darkness and attack our hapless protagonist.

“Let’s do a simple film challenge this year” they said, “Let’s make something simple, light on the FX”… so we wrote a script with a monster. Oh, and we needed to build it in a few hours, using only what we’d brought with us.

Magda’s fantastic body (and head!) stocking gave us a perfect starting point for the transformation, dehumanising Jinny and forming n overlay to attach things to our poor actor.

Given the pale colour of the body stocking, we sketched a sinewy, insectile, carapaced creature that would almost glow in the dark. It needed to be a clear threat, so we armed it with six scything claws, a weird pointy mandible, and spines on head, elbows, and anywhere else that felt like a good idea.

Most of this was accomplished with thermoplastic pierced through the bodystocking or attached to it with double-sided sticky tape. Thermoplastic is my go-to material for creating structural elements on the fly. With some hot water it’s sculptable, it’s springy enough to be safe and tough enough to stand up to rough treatment.

Once our beast was assembled it looked a bit blank, without much secondary movement for our super slo-mo camera. Materials Magda came up trumps again though, with some fantastic long-haired fabric I’ve not seen the like of before. Hooking it through the stocking around the spines gave us a really disturbing ‘hairy insect’ effect and great flowing motion.

The finishing touch was to mix fistfuls of black and red acrylic paints with hair gel, and plaster the hair up into a stiff mane. Strategically applied paint dirtied up our monster even more, and encrusted the claws with ‘gore’ from the struggles of past victims. The pale theme made it stand out starkly, especially when light glowed through the thermoplastic weapons.

Jinny endured so much being our human mannequin in a freezing hall, but I love the hideous and unusual monstrosity we created.

Magda shared a couple of awesome picture sets from the filming here and here, and you can read another crew member’s blog post here.

Photo Credit – TortoiseButler

Deep sea mermaid – version 2

This is an upgrade of my deep sea mermaid costume which I put together for a victoriana-inspired costumed club night a few years ago.
This version takes the original concept, but instead of the boiling hot corset, floor-length fishtail skirt with petticoat, and knee-high New Rock boots combo, I put together a matching outfit that was a bit more comfortable and cool.
I also went for a scarier tone, combining the anglerfish style glowing lure with thin thermoplastic teeth and boldly creepy face-paint – more suitable for a dark and noisy environment, and way more fun to wear. This is definitely a costume I’ll continue to develop, as my prop-making skills evolve. I will probably remake the glowing jellyfish umbrella some time too, because that was beyond awesome and I really miss it.

Embroidered star jacket

Inspired by some beautiful white-on-dark embroideries, I unpicked the lining of a very flattering and comfortable black single-button fabric jacket, to turn it into a wearable star field. I mapped out a star field from Orion near the horizon on the tails, to the pole star on the nape of the neck.

The stars are represented by french knots in a shiny polyester embroidery thread, with size and

approximating the magnitude of each one. The constellations are joined up by a simple running stitch in normal navy blue thread.

I’ve been wearing the jacket a lot since I made it, and it’s always made me smile and got great compliments – when it disintegrates I’ll have to embroider a new one!

Costume Antlers Pictorial

I decided I fancied wearing a pair of antlers at a recent event. Here are a few pictures of the process from a foam pool noodle to a wearable set of prongs. I regret painting them gold (mostly an accident!), and if I remake them I’ll take the opportunity to make them more realistically thin, but they’re still eminently wearable.


I have to change the filtering on my secondary email account – I didn’t realise that I got featured on Instructables!

My tutorial (here it is over on Instructables) got featured in the Play category, earning me a 3 month Pro membership!

Brollies and vikings and dragons, Oh My…

I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd – light entertainers! I’m helping out a little with props for their party in the woods at the weekend, with a viking theme!

I’ve aided with some figureheads for ‘viking longtents’, will be cranking out some banners later, and have been working today on a dragon costume. My housemates were chucking out some old skate helmets, so I’ve taken the hard foam core, added some umbrella-ribs and wire, stuck it all together with gallons of hot glue, then bridged the frame panels of craft foam to flesh it out. I added on a lightweight plastic tablecloth for the body, and I’ve just papier mâché’d over it, using a mixture of water, pva and acrylic paints to add a bit of a tint. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s dry!

The notion is to fix a powerful torch under the lower jaw, then chase people around the woods – if you’re illuminated, you’re scorched out of the game! I might have to counterweight the back of the helm to keep it stable, but for now, enjoy some dragon building pics :D

The Knight of the Ingress

As our New Year’s Eve party spilled over into the new year, I entertained myself (and hopefully others!) by encasing a friend in cardboard armour and helm. Constructed with cardboard, staples, split-pins, bicycle innertubes and double-sided sticky foam. The shoulder-pads rotate a little on the split pins, and the torso plates are mounted on innertube to let them give. It’s all improvised, so in no particular style. My favourite new technique: cutting a fringe into an edge (straight or curved), then spacing out each tab and stapling it to a rim – this spreading gives an interesting flared edge. I got really interesting shapes by combining it with flat or bent base sheets, straight or curved mountings, and flat or curved rims. Versatile! A fun and cheering exercise for the fingers and brain.

Ram’s horns – construction

A commission for a pair of my Ram’s Horns was the perfect excuse for me to document their construction process.

This time around, to save me some labour, the lovely SamLR used the python library ‘dfx writer’ to generate 50-odd circles ranging from 7mm to 32mm in radius, in steps of +.5mm radius. Each one is numbered, and has two holes in for the wires to go in. The circles for one horn fit on two sheets of A4. A little spray glue later, and we had a few fun hours cutting little circles out of cardboard with scissors and stabbing through the holes with the spikes of a pair of dividers.

We then threaded the circles onto folded wires, separated by two cardboard spacers in each gap. Another time I’d like to make ’em all on a laser cutter – that would approximately halve the construction time.

Once the cone is constructed, I bent the wire in opposite directions to form the horns’ spirals.

Plaster of paris fabric strips are really easy to use – cut to size, dip in water, slide it between through two fingers to squeeze off the excess water, then drape over the form, overlapping and building the surface. By placing the fabric strips diagonally – what you’d call ‘on the bias’ when cutting fabric – the fabric distorts to suit the form. I pushed the fabric between the circles to shape the distinctive ridges.

Once the plaster was dry, the texture of the fabric was still very visible. I mixed up a loose slurry of plaster and water – far runnier than you’d expect – and laboriously re-surfaced the horns, touching up the shaping where necessary. As I worked the plaster in my tub gradually got thicker, and I was able to use globs of it to improve the shape of the ends of the horns, covering up the stubby ends.

I painted the plaster horns with acrylic paints – yellowey undercoat and dark brown on the outside. A little tricky to paint without lifting the plaster surface, but otherwise not too bad. Then it was mounting – a plastic hairband from Claire’s Accessories, trimming the wire to suit and planting it back into the body of the horns.

Ta-dah! On their way to one hopefully happy customer.

Quick and easy costume animal ears

It’s the last minute, and you need a costume, fast! This method lets you make a pair of comfy animal ears with a realistic shape in about half an hour. It’s pretty flexible – whether short dainty cat ears or giant swaying bunny ears, they’ll come together in a jiffy! Mine are pretty bright, but switch out the fabrics with fun fur and vinyl for a more realistic look. Tools and Materials


  • Wide, strong plastic hairband (to be nice and stable on your head)
  • 8 Cable or Zip ties (these provide the structure)
  • Fabric scraps


  • Hot glue gun (and glue sticks)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Strong snips (I used metal snips, but you could also use wire-cutters or really strong scissors)

Design your ears & build the structure

Decide where on your hairband you want your ears to be – standing straight up, or wide spread to the side. Mark the middle of the hairband, and add the cable ties symmetrically.  I’ve only shown making one ear here, but it’s a good idea to make both at once, so they match. The innermost cable tie should stand up at the front, and the others at the back to add depth to the shape of your ears.  Place the last one a little further apart from the others. Shaping

Where you gather your ears will determine their size – use a rubber band to gather them together. Twist the innermost tie to lay flat on top of the other ones – this will help make a little pocket at the front. Push and pull the individual ties to settle the shape of your ear.  When you’re happy with it, add hot glue to the cable ties below the rubber band. When it’s set, trim the ends off, and add more glue to reinforce the join. Add outer fabric

Take an oversized bit of your outer fabric, and glue it to the back of the ear.  Start with the base, then the tip, then either edge, making sure it’s securely anchored.  If you’re using hot glue, try and make sure it stays neat and tidy, so it doesn’t leave hard splodges to alter the shape of your ear. Once it’s fixed to the outside, trim the fabric down to leave a nice wide hem around the structure, then glue that down.  Trim the fabric around the base of the ears. Lining

Nearly there…  Cut your lining fabric slightly larger than your ear, then glue to the two innermost struts first.  Once it’s firmly in place, trim it more precisely to fit, and glue it around the edges. You’re done!