Monday, June 6, 2011

Fully Built: Alien


After the success that 2007 brought it did not take long to decide what costume I would be donning in 2008; indeed the seeds were planted in my head while putting the finishing touches to Predator. It seemed logical (with a trace of obscenity) to succeed a Predator costume with its long-time, cross-franchise foe: the Xenomorph.

The Head

The head, perhaps surprisingly, was the least headache-inducing aspect of the costume (I was ready to denounce Halloween during the torso construction, but more on that later). It started off, much like Predator did, with me fooling around with wire in an attempt to build a draft frame; which would be built upon and ultimately become the finished article.

Taking inspiration from others' Xenomorph costumes I found online, I used a bicycle helmet as the foundation for the wire frame. I needed a model head to build it on; after an unsuccessful attempt to acquire a mannequin I settled for using my Predator collector's edition box set. It wasn't quite tall enough on its own, so it was tentatively stacked on a pile of Stephen King novels as I started to work:

Alien Costume Head

There's not much that can be said instructively with regards to shaping the wire; just get the best reference image you can of the Alien head, and work on replicating it. This didn't go completely swimmingly - I had to deconstruct a number of small sub-sections, most notably the back of the head, and redo them. After a couple of weeks' work, I arrived at the below, which I hope will serve as a decent reference for what the frame should look like:

Alien Head Wire Frame
Alien Head Wire Frame
A closer look at the front of the skull

As with the Predator head, I needed a primer for the papier mache so I turned to the old reliable: masking tape. Once I had a single layer of tape over the wire, I was able to take the helmet off the books and stand it on its own. Following this, I could start applying the papier mache:

Alien Head Papier Mache

Alien Head Papier Mache

When the paste dried, I did a coat of black paint:

Alien Head Papier Mache painted

Notice how I cut out a section of the head (more visible below). This was where I was to see out of the head; due to the downward curve of the skull, there was no way I would be able to see out of the mouth. I knew, therefore, that I would have to see out of the top of its head. At this point I was unsure as to how I was going to do the 'dome' of the Alien head, but I knew it would ultimately disguise this gaping hole.

Alien Head Papier Mache

The next obstacle I had to face was adding depth to the skull. I had the basic shape down and I was pretty content with it. But take a look at the 'real' Xenomorph head and you can see that it's littered with spiraled, almost tubular designs. For this I plumped for a somewhat expensive solution: shower hosing:

shower hose art

To add some variety I supplemented the shower hosing with thinner tubing, which I further decorated with a spiral pattern of wiring.

With the hard part over, I simply had to do another coat of black paint, this time including the hosing and tubing in the brush strokes:

The next two aspects were constructed somewhat concurrently; the inner mouth and the teeth.

The inner mouth was a fun aspect to the construction. The steps I took were:

  • Rolled up several A4 pages like you would a poster;
  • Covered it with masking tape the hold the cylindrical shape;
  • Built a small wire frame at one end, representing the mouth itself;
  • Covered the wire with masking tape and moulding the shape of the mouth;
  • Added decorative strips of wire to the body of the mouth;
  • Painted the mouth black;
  • Cut out small teeth from rubber tubing and glued them on.
  • Built a rail on which the inner mouth would rest within the mouth.
The corresponding pictures:

alien inner mouth

alien inner mouth

alien inner mouth

alien inner mouth

alien inner mouth

alien inner mouth

For the teeth (of the Alien head, not the inner mouth teeth in the picture above), I first had to make gums; primarily because the mouth was quite an uneven surface. I also wanted to embed the teeth into a mould so they would be more secure in the mouth.

I created the gums from Polyfilla and moulded the shape, including indents the size and shape of the teeth themselves. The teeth were made from wood; I bought cylindrical wooden beams to cut the shapes out of. 
alien costume head
Polyfilla-moulded gums
alien costume head
alien costume head
Wooden teeth embedded in the gums

Satisfied that the teeth fitted the gum mould, I took them out and painted them silver. When the polyfilla hardened I painted it black so it would blend in with the rest of the mouth. With the paint dry on both features, I glued the teeth into the indents made in the gums. I then had to repeat this process for the top row of teeth, eventually arriving at:

alien costume head

Before inserting the inner mouth, I wanted to sort out the dome that I referred to earlier. Again, looking at a reference image for the Xenomorph head you can see that the dome is transparent. This was essential not only for accuracy, but for my visibility through the hole in the head. I needed something that would 1) Hide the gaping hole, making it blend in with the rest of the skull and 2) allow me to see through the material. Thankfully it didn't take me long to think of the solution: transparent acetate sheets. I took three or four A4 acetates and cut them to shape, then glued a thin strip along the sides (this bit was tricky; glue ruins the acetate so I had to take extreme care to only glue the strip that would be face down on the skull) and stuck them on.

When this was done, I inserted the inner mouth (gluing the mini-rail to the inside of the big mouth). I was nearly there.

alien costume head

You might notice that this guy has a bad dribbling problem. I wanted to create that signature drool that the Xenomorphs drip. For this, I took inspiration from an amazing Alien costume I'd found on the web by Sacha Feiner (see his work here). I emailed Sacha to find out how he made the drool, and he helpfully instructed me to use a hot glue gun. Following this lead, I took the hardened glue output and glued each strand of 'drool' to the mouth.

Was this the completed head? Well, not quite. I was insistent on having a fully functional inner mouth; i.e. it would shoot in and out of the main mouth. I succeeded in my ambition by attaching an unwanted clutch cable to the end of the inner mouth, which would run down the neck/throat of the head; all the way down the sleeve of my right arm. From there I would subtly hold the end of the cable and push it with my left hand, which travelled up into the head, pushing the inner mouth forwards through the teeth. Regrettably I do not have a video or pictures of it working, but it was the cherry on top of the costume.

The Torso

As I mentioned earlier, this was far from fun. I'm glad I didn't start with the body, because the level of frustration I was met with would nearly have been enough to put me off doing the rest of it.

I started off by getting a plain black top. Crucially this had to be fairly tight-fitting because it is supposed to represent skin. From there I took insulation tubing (the same material that had served me so well in building Predator a year previously) and cut out the details of the body (like the Alien's ribs) and stitched them onto the black top. The trickiest part of this was attaching the four spinal features that protrude outwards (which I now realise are damn hard to describe; check out the concept art on this wikia if you don't know what I mean). It wasn't enough to stitch these; they needed a light wire frame.

alien costume body

What you can also see in the picture is the spine. This was also quite tough because at the end of the spine comes the Alien's tail. I also used insulation tubing for this, using a toy dinosaur ribcage to give the end of the tail some much needed detail. As you can see in the photo below, I also cut out decorative spikes from insulation tube and glued them onto the spine:

alien costume tail

After stitching the base of the tail to the spine on the back of the top, I also needed some way to make it stand upright. To achieve this, I put a single stitch which ran from the tip of the tail to the collar of the black top. Here is a picture of the body in its full finished glory; save for the stitching of the ribs to the front of the body, which I would need to do on the day of Halloween. That's right, I would have to stitch myself into the costume on the morning of Halloween and walk around in the body for the day.

alien costume body

The Hands

This section is mercifully short; I simply got a pair of black gloves, and took the legs of a big toy spider to use as extended fingers (taped on with black electrical tape).

alien costume hands

The Feet

This was actually the very first part of the costume I started. In May 2008 I was doing my final degree exams, and one evening decided I needed to take a break from studying and blow off some steam. What better way to do that than start your Halloween costume? Taking a plank of wood I cut out two soles:

alien costume feet

alien costume feet

These lay dormant for some months and became the last feature of the costume that I built. I took a pair of old shoes and screwed them to the soles. The shoes only covered a fraction of the soles, which was the intention; I needed room to decorate and make them look more like bare Alien feet. The first step in doing this was cutting out the shapes of toes in the soles. Having done this, followed by screwing the shoes onto the soles, I cut out shapes of cylindrical insulation tube and began sticking them onto the feet:

alien costume feet

I continued this process for the entirety of each foot; cutting out shapes of tube to make them look like tendon. I attached them using electrical tape. I probably could have done this in a more tidy way, but time was beginning to become a factor. The final task was to paint the toes silver, and I was done.

alien costume feet
I'm positively kicking myself for the quality of these photos

That pretty much wraps up the details of the build. There are one or two other miscellaneous bits and pieces; I decided to use sound effects like I did for the Predator costume. The speakers (again using the portable speakers for my Sony Eriksson) were mounted inside the mouth. However, this became under-utilised because I couldn't find decent sound effects; besides, the Xenomorph doesn't have sound bites as memorable as those iconic clicks of the Predator.

As I mentioned in my very first entry on this blog, this was a team costume. Thankfully I'm not alone in revering the magic of Halloween to the extent that I will start my costume five months in advance; I had a friend go to the same lengths to create an awesome Power Loader costume. We entertained onlookers (as well as amusing ourselves) by fighting outside of various pubs, recreating the final scene of Aliens. With the sheer ridiculousness of this we scooped first prize in the competition hosted by the club where we parked ourselves for the night. With some help, Predator's greatest foe had helped me defend the prize I'd won a year previously.

Some footage of the night:

Images (with thanks to Eoin Carey)

Alien Xenomorph Homemade Costume

Powerloader Homemade Costume
 Alien vs. Powerloader

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