Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fully built: Statler and Waldorf

I can scarcely believe it's been nearly 12 months since donning the grumpy heads of The Muppets' Statler and Waldorf. The duo represented the hardest costume build to date, resulting in a corresponding delay in writing an account of the process. Invariably we're asked how long the costumes take to build, typically followed up with a wide-eyed reaction to the answer, but for us the most enjoyable aspect of Halloween is the journey rather than the destination. This year was particularly memorable as the process was framed by some rather big life events. On consecutive Fridays leading up to Halloween, we had to put down the tools and don some robes for graduation ceremonies, PhD for me and a combination of Postgraduate diploma and Masters for her. 

A further corollary of the difficulty of the build is a lack of progress pictures of the build, at least relative to that of previous years. With that in mind, please excuse some major leaps in visible progress in the narrative that follows. Or, in the spirit of the costumes on show, feel free to heckle in the comments.


It started, as it nearly always does, with a cut of wire. In this case, we began with the neck hole of the head:

After studiously going over the reference images, and mentally erasing his features, we determined that Statler's head was egg-shaped. We proceeded thus:

Looking back on photographs after the fact, it never ceases to amaze me how flimsy the constructs appear at this stage. We continued to toughen it up and mould the shape:

As is customary the past few years, we followed up the wiring phase with soft cardboard upon which we would apply the papier mache:

It was then time for the first layer of papier mache:

With the first layer was applied, it was time to start drawing features to determine the scale at which they should be built, and where we would cut out his mouth:

We had decided that it would be easier to give his head a uniform shape and then cut out the mouth hole, rather than try to build it in from the beginning. When we were happy with the sketched features, we somewhat nervously put him under the knife:

It was then a case of tidying up the rough, post-cut edges with masking tape as a primer for the next layer of papier mache, when the shape would return to uniformity. This included adding Statler's upper 'lip' which we placed behind the mouth hole. 

One of the trickiest features of Statler was his mouth. We felt that we had to do his lower jaw as a separate piece, and attach it separately. The lower part of his mouth became affectionately known as butt-face:

Not only was it difficult to get the shape right, but we had a hell of a time trying to attach it to the upper part of the head. Our first effort ended up being dumped, because we made it so wide that even when attached, it would have been anatomically impossible for to close the mouth. While we did not have any designs on making an opening/closing mouth feature, it just looked wrong. 

The delicate attaching of butt-face to the upper part of the head will be covered further below. Before we could attach it, we had to face the tricky prospect of skinning the head. It was one of those now familiar situations whereby we had an idea in our heads that sounded straightforward on paper, but we were reticent about applying it to real life. It turns out we had every reason to be: it was by far the trickiest part of the whole costumes, and I bow to the seamstress skills of my better half for getting us over the line.

Once we had the upper part of the head loosely fleeced, we did some paper prototypes of the eyes, nose, ears, and eyebrows monobrow:

Aside from the monobrow, the features were all made from cardboard, with a layer of papier mache applied for strength. Here is a picture of the nose, to give an idea of the process:

The nose and ears were skinned using the same fleece we applied to the head, while the eyes were covered by white felt. They were then stitched into the head:

The monobrow was cut from paper to get the overall shape, and then cut out using the same material with which we would create the duo's receding hair (a faux fur):

It was then stitched into place above the eyes and nose:

Like the monobrow, the hair was stitched on. Here is a side profile of the head when the ears had been attached:

When butt-face had been fleeced separately, we had to tackle the issue of attaching the lower part of the mouth to the upper. To do this, we had to put corresponding puncture holes in each half, and feed cable ties through each. This was done before the upper part of the head was fully fleeced, as can be seen in this photo:

We fleeced around the cable ties, tucking everything into the mouth to get it as seamless and tidy as possible:

With butt-face connected to the head, Statler was finally ready to start heckling the job we'd done:


If Statler is an egg, then his grumpy compatriot is an upside-down egg. This time, instead of starting with the neck hole, the wire frame was drawn vertically from scalp to chin(s). Unfortunate clash of bed clothes and wire notwithstanding, this photo offers an idea of Waldorf's humble beginnings:

 We continued to work on the front side of the head rather than working on the full circumference:

We then set to work on the back of the head, arriving at the finished wire frame:

As with Statler, Waldorf's features were drawn on to get a sense of scale for crafting them:

While the features were being made, we got to work on the now-familiar step of cardboarding as a papier mache primer:

Waldorf has multiple chins, which necessitated a couple of appendages to his face. As the photo below indicates, we did this after the head was fleeced - it was deemed easier to stitch a fully made extra chin to the face than apply the fleece to a double-chinned face:

As mentioned at the top of the post, the difficulty of the build made us somewhat negligent with progress pictures. We actually gave Waldorf a three-layered chin, crafting a further (and more substantial) piece in addition to the layer in the picture above. Fully fleeced, and with all chins attached together, the mouth looked like this:

We made the features in much the same way they were crafted for Statler: cut from soft cardboard and papier mache. In the photo below the features are loosely placed to ensure that they were the correct scale; they would be individually fleeced before fully attached.

For the eyes, we covered the base layer in white felt, then made the pupil and iris from different coloured felt (using fabric glue to stick them all together. To give the effect of an eyelid we used the same fleece we were using for the skin. Given that it's a thicker material than the felt, the effect worked quite well:

Like the other features, it was stitched to the face:

To enhance the effect, we decided to create 'bags' for under Waldorf's eyes:

Waldorf's nose:

As with Statler, we used a faux fur-type fabric for Waldorf's hair. We used the same material to create his mustache:

With all features applied, he was complete:

Throughout the process we had been hoping to get the essentials done with enough time to spare to make the duo's iconic balcony. After a very productive marathon weekend of building, we felt that we could afford to direct some time into exploring the idea. The basic shape was made from a very large cardboard box:

There aren't many progress photos from this point on, but after this stage it was the relatively simple task of painting it red and adding the gold adornments on the front. We attached it to ourselves using braces, heavily taping each end to the front and back of the box respectively and strapping each pair over our shoulders. Because we had time, roughly an hour or two before the event started, we added pieces of felt to the edge of the balcony.

With the build completed (an hour or two prior to the event, as the standard has become) the challenge turned to transporting ourselves, and negotiating crowded pubs thereafter. The logistics were more manageable than the frankly ludicrous Kang and Kodos a year previously, although Statler and Waldorf presented the unique challenge of moving as one unit with the balcony. The only change I'd make, given the chance, is add some manner of black mesh (we've used stretched tights in the past) to cover the mouth of Statler, covering my face but allowing me to see out. Given that it was hard to see the finishing point at several points throughout the process, though, we were delighted with how the grumpy duo turned out.

The Muppets Statler and Waldorf costume

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