Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fully Built: Mr. Potato Head

mr potato head toy story

The construction of my Emporer Zurg costume was a collaborative effort. Without the help of my girlfriend, Ciara, I would not have gotten very far past the head and torso. Fabrics are just not my strong point. They are not any point on my skills radar, really. In return for Ciara's invaluable input to my Zurg costume, I helped her construct her Halloween 2010 costume. We decided to share a Pixar theme in our costumes, ultimately choosing Zurg's film compatriot Mr. Potato Head.

Pictorial evidence was not a feature of this particular construction; mostly because the early stages was more of a "cut now, ask questions later" approach than something particularly well planned. We were not sure that our approach was the correct one. Essentially, we were winging it.

The body, being the core and the biggest part of the costume, was the most arduous. We had looked at other Potato Head costumes and studied their methodologies. We came very close to building the body using fabric (felt) and stuffing it to give it shape. However, we ultimately decided to try a more tried and trusted method: wire and papier mache.

It is quite hard to describe the construction of the body itself; we created the foundation out of circular pieces of wire, joined together by strips of wire placed vertically between them. The circles were tapered to become progressively smaller from Ciara's waist up to her neck, ultimately giving us a cone shape (if you look at the photos of the finished piece below, you can almost see the outline of the frame protruding to give you a better idea). Once we were satisfied that the wire frame was solid, we covered it with masking tape to prime it for papier mache layers. After completing the papier mache, we cut out arm holes and painted the body.

For his features, Ciara had the great idea of making different facial expressions and having them detachable and easily interchangeable. Time constraints ultimately put paid to this, but the original idea of how to make them detachable remained: by using velcro to stick them on. The features which were ultimately created were: eyes, eyebrows, ears, nose, moustache, and mouth.

The eyes were created from a balloon. Once fully blown up, we applied a couple of layers of papier mache and popped the balloon from the inside. We then cut the balloon cast in half, giving us two bowl shapes - one for either eye. We stuffed the inside of each with newspaper, created a masking tape base, and applied one further layer of papier mache to blend it all together. The nose was constructed in the same way, with the addition of nostrils crafted once again from newspaper stuffing (held together by masking tape).

The eyebrows, ears, moustache and mouth were cardboard based. The ears were made from a piece of cardboard cut into a circular shape, with shredded newspaper providing the cartilage detail. The same tactic was applied to the eyebrows and moustache, giving the flat cardboard cut out more of a tangible, 3D consistency. For the mouth, we cut a crescent moon shape from cardboard, and this time the shredded newspapers became the lips. Once the features had papier mache applied to them, they were painted and a piece of velcro was attached to each. The exceptions here were the ears, which had lollipop sticks taped to them and went through a hole cut in the body.

The hat was a tricky affair. Mr. Potato Head has a bowler hat, but we needed something bigger in order to cover Ciara's head and allow her to see through it. We therefore decided to turn the bowler hat into a top hat. This was created from cardboard; the rim from a strong cardboard box, and the body of the hat from cereal boxes (we needed something more flexible that could be easily shaped). Once the hat was shaped around Ciara's head, we cut a letterbox slit in the front for her to see out of.

There are two limitations in creating the costume that we couldn't quite negotiate. The first is the positioning of the arms; because Ciara's head was coming out of the top of the costume, we had to cut the arm holes quite high. Thus, Mr. Potato Head's arms are higher up (parallel to the eyes, in front of the ears) than they should be. Thankfully, when looking at the finished costume as its occupied by Ciara, it was a very minor limitation that only the smallest of minorities would have noticed. For the arms, it is important to have a white top with full length sleeves, and white gloves over the costume occupant's hands.

The other limitation is the feet of Mr. Potato Head. The character doesn't have legs, so getting around this is quite a difficult feat. He simply has shoes emerging from his body. While there was no getting around the inconvience of having legs, Ciara made his trademark blue shoes out of cardboard (see the photos, below). 

It was a good night all in all - Mr. Potato Head received great fanfare, as one of the world's most famous toys made all the more iconic by his presence and portrayal in the Toy Story films. Not to mention, the costume itself was great and Ciara deserved all the credit she got.                                                

mr potato head homemade costume

mr potato head homemade costume

mr potato head homemade costume

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