Friday, July 25, 2014

Evolution of The Dragon Slayer

Photo by Bryan Crump

I've been making costumes and props for about a decade now. I'm not the best at it, but I enjoy the process of the build and showing them off at comic book conventions. With San Diego Comic Con being held this weekend (which I'm NOT at, darn it), I'm jealous of all the great costumers that are showing their wares. They are all over the news today! So in honor of the weekend, I wanted to share my last costume build with you...because I think the build is just as interesting as the costume itself.

 I'll think about a costume for several months before beginning to cut/paint/sew anything, and this costume was no different.  Oddly though, I'd been uninspired for several months but in Jan. 2014 I dreamed about being a local convention, All-Con, where I was going to show a Dragon Slayer costume with a six-foot tall decapitated dragon head in tow. I woke that next morning, drove to a local foam store, Allied Foam, and bought a ten-foot roll of closed cell foam to make the dragon head, then to Jo Ann Fabrics for all my costume's fabric needs. I had been inspired in a dream and was finally motivated! After a couple false starts (I'll detail that in the photo captions), I finished the costume in time to compete in the costume contest at Sooner Con 2014.

Like I said, I enjoy showing the costumes, and prepping for a contest helps me to make sure that my pieces are as good as they can be--given my limited abilities. That said, I'd won Best of Show at Sooner Con three times previously (2007, 2010, 2012) so I had to put up a costume that at least didn't betray those previous wins.

How did I do at the contest? Details below. I don't want to ruin it for you!

The following pics are a short record of the building process. I'll try to keep the descriptions as short as possible, so my apologies if the text gets lengthy.

I made this paper "test dragon" to see if my ideas would pan
out in a three-dimensional, real-life mode. 
Relying heavily on my paper dragon, I began to cut out
pieces of foam on a scaled-up size. First the neck and under-
jaw, then the upper jaw. I used hot-melt glue to attach all
the foam pieces
Then I added the upper/side of the face, then the forehead.
The nice depression near the nostrils was a happy accident!
Here you can see the head without the neck. By the next
photo, I'd added some segmented neck pieces.

This was a major mistake. I used a vinyl drawer liner that had a
snake-skin pattern on it. I thought it would look scale-like, so I
first tried to use it to make horns, but the vinyl wasn't stiff enough to
stand up, and then the glue I used did not ever cure and the
vinyl just peeled off. So I set this monster aside and did nothing
with it for 4 months!
While waiting for inspiration about how to repair the
snake-skin dilemma, I read about artists that use elephant eyes
as a pattern for their dragon pics, so I down loaded this photo
and began to work on Mr. Dragon's eyes.

For the base of the eye, I used large serving spoons. I cut off
the handles, painted the backs with glossy car-model paint...

...and glued them on! I think they work, even if they look too
"alive." By that, I mean that the dragon looks awake and
not recently decapitated.

You can also see how I decided to use the elephant photo to add
details to the dragon. I did this two ways: one, was to
use the vinyl to layer around the spoons to create an eyelid look.
The second was by using a rotary tool to cut the foam into scales,
almost in an alligator skin pattern. I would learn to regret cutting into it
once I stated to airbrush. Before painting, I had to seal the foam so that
it would take paint. If not, the foam would just soak up the paint
and look really sloppy. I used three cans of Plasti Dip to do this,
but I should have used six. There ended up being too many
porous-looking seams. My bad.

My base layer of paint was just a few tubes of acrylic
paint from Hobby Lobby that I layed down with a
regular brush.

Flipping the dragon over, I used regular spary
paint to coat the neck.

I bought a new airbrush of this project, an Iwata Eclipse.
I'd used a Paasche before and hated it, but the Iwata was
a dream. Here I added some sloppy "scales" on the neck.
It wasn't meant to be the main part of the dragon head, just
a hidden detail that would give the impression of scales.

As you can see, the airbrush added a lot of depth to the scales,
a detail that would have looked better by itself, in my opinion, without
needing to carve into the foam. I am eager to try another project with
foam and see if the airbrushing will look good on its own.

Some more airbrushing, some fake teeth (plastic grizzly bear
teeth and claws bought from a Boy Scout supply site) and
I'm almost done.

Since this would be a recently decapitated dragon, I felt it needed
some exposed viscera. Here we have a cross section of the
vertebrae, neck muscles, and some tubing used as veins and
nerves. After, I realized I'd forgotten to add an esophagus. Dang it!

At the same time I started the dragon head, I
cut out this profile for my Dragon Slayer ax. I envisioned
a very large blade embedded into a heavy, caveman-like

Once I painted the ax blade, I glued thick pieces of foam to
each side of the wooden frame. I didn't want it all made
out of wood--too heavy! Here the foam is compressed and rather
flat. It had to smash it to glue it on, but after removing the
weights, it sprang back beautifully.

I sealed the foam with Plasti Dip, then painted and detailed
with the airbrush. It ended up a little cartoony, but no one
was really looking at the club.

After four months of dragon head building, I needed to start on
 the actual costume Three days before the con, I began with the
"hard" parts...the armor. I make my armor out of sheets of
styrene. I cut it to shape, heat it in my kitchen's oven,
then form it over pipes. These are embellishments for
my wrist guards/gauntlets. I used a thinner pipe,
about 2.5 inches in diameter, and that was too thin. They
fit waaaay too tightly on my arms.

Here are the rest of the "hard" armor pieces. Shoulder
pauldrons, leg vambraces, arm gauntlets. Some
hammered style paint and airbrushing would finish them off. I used
a five gallon bucket to form the pauldrons, 4 inch pipe for the leg
vambraces, and again, 2.5 inch pipe for the gauntlets.

I used styrene to make the battle helmet. No heat
forming, just cut, bend and rivet. 

Helmet with some silver paint, airbrushed highlights, and
lots of blood splatter! Can't decapitate a dragon without buckets
of blood! I should have taken photos of the "bloodying" process.
It was so much fun! Just a large cup of paint, all the pieces
hanging from string, and a paint brush. Took an hour
to properly bloody everything.

Two days before the con, I started on the soft pieces.
The cape, the overcoat, the skirt/apron were all made new.
I repurposed the pants, belt, boots and under-tunic (that no one
could see with all the armor and such). This is pre-blood, by the way.

For the contest, I made a HUGE sack to drag the
dragon, keeping him hidden until the last minute,
when I tore it open and heaved it over my head.
Just like my dream, the crowd went nuts! 

Well, after all that, I ended up winning Best of Show, again. That's four time! The prize was a $1200 Bernina sewing machine--not too shabby. Big thanks to Bernina of OKC for donating the prize and sponsoring the contest. 

Not quite sure what my next project will be, but I had a blast with this one. If you have any questions about how I did anything here, drop me a line. I'm more than happy to share all of my "secrets".

Saturday, July 5, 2014

To Beard or Not To Beard

July 4, 2014--The last day of the Spring Beard

About seven years ago at age 34, I grew out my beard for the first time. It was on vacation in Hawaii, and it was awesome! Not the actual beard, but the act involved in letting go of the daily routine of shaving--so freeing!

I had been curious about what I'd look like with a beard (answer--like a handsome devil!) but I didn't want to try to grow one while at home for fear that it would appear awkward, or that I'd look unkempt; I'm kind of a clean cut guy. So vacation was a great place to experiment with my hidden-in-plain-sight hair. The end result was nice, but alas, after returning home, I shaved it off. 

Fast forward to February 2014 and I decided that my Hawaii Beard looked really cool and it reminded me of a fun time with my wife and parents (who were all in Kona with me), so I stopped shaving again. This time, there was no vacation to use to fill in the awkward/unkempt period--not that I cared.

You'd have thought I'd shown up for life wearing a straight-jacket. "What is that?" or "Why are you growing a beard?" or "You stopped shaving!" were spoken to me at every turn, people that were my friends and acquaintances. (Strangers don't seem to care, probably because they just assume I've always had facial hair) People came short of throwing chairs through windows, but I was really surprised how much my facial grooming habits effected others in my life. Sometimes people thought I must have had a good reason for growing it out, like I had a role in a play or something. It was like they needed to have a reason to accept why a grown man would stop scraping the hair off his face with a sharpened piece of metal.

Women were the worst offenders. Many that didn't normally take the time to speak to me would boldly approach and question, "Why didn't you shave today?" Sometimes I would explain, but I finally just got around to the thing that bugged me the most about their question, which was this--why do you feel like you can approach me without really having a close, prior relationship and question me about my grooming habits? Mind you, I shower, brush my teeth, and wear deodorant, so I'm rather well groomed, so it isn't like I was stinky, had bad breath AND had a beard. So I finally started answering their rude assumptions by saying something like, "I am so glad that you feel close enough to me that we can talk about personal things!" followed up with, "Did you shave today?" Let me tell you, the replies that I heard back to that were priceless! One said, "Oh, I never shave." Another gasped--actually gasped--at my "rude" reply.

So here are some of my insights as to the weird questions other people asked me--out loud--in objection to seeing my beard.

"Doesn't it itch?"--At first, yes. One night early on I woke up and almost sleep-shaved (is that a thing?) because it itched so much. In fact, I did shave it all off in March, but started growing it again in April. The second attempt in April was totally itch free! Amazing!

 "It must take as long to trim that as it would to just shave every morning?"--Not even close! A good, careful, close shave takes about 8 minutes, but a quick pass with a razor over my cheeks and lower neck takes about 1 minute. A couple snips with a small pair of scissors around the lips takes another minute or two, and boom--I'm out the door after only three. Five minutes saved!

"Why would you want a beard?"--I always have a beard, but usually it is very, very short, under the skin even. The whiskers are always there; whether or not you can see them is dependent on me cutting them down every day. Also, sometimes, I get really tired of the follow-up to shaving. Guys, you know what I'm talking about. You shave, but then you have to double-check for those stubborn whiskers that lay down flat and won't cooperate with the razor. So you have to get tweezers and pluck them out. Then there are the ingrown whiskers that require minor surgery to find and remove. Guess what? Beard equals no ingrown whiskers!

The questions go on, but I believe that you get my point. Rude questions seem to be normal when a guy grows out a beard and my point is STOP IT! Pregnant women hate it when strangers (or possibly even friends) put their hands on their swollen bellies, and I hate it when people cross over the threshold of etiquette and offer me advice/criticism about my facial hair.

What does one do when staring across a table or hallway at a friend with newly grown chin hair? I'll offer up what I consider to be the only acceptable option. It is very similar to what you would say about someone's outfit, new hairdo, tattoo, baby, car, house, tooth grillz, etc.

"I like your beard."--Even if it isn't true, it's the easiest way to recognize the add-on and move along to more interesting topics.

And that's it.

I think I look handsome with a beard (not sure if it is true or not) and strangers seem to treat me just a little bit nicer when I am wearing one, but I shaved mine off yesterday. It was hot, the hair was irritating my lips again, and I was hosting a pool party and thought it would be fun to gradually trim it off until all that was left was a John Waters mustache. (Side note: I believe that most men will trim their beards in the following progression--Full Beard to Van Dyke to Fu Manchu to Cop 'Stache [also know as Porn 'Stache] and then to either one of two options--either the Charlie Chaplin or the John Waters/Perv 'Stache to Baby Face. Comments on this phenomenon are welcome below). Turns out, it was great fun.