Sarcasm-hime‘s beautiful “Moondragon” costume won Best in Show recently at Costume-Con 31 in Denver. She has shared her tutorial with us detailing how she made the headdress and spine out of Worbla.
Hi, Sarcasm-hime here.
This is an illustrated description of how I made my headdress and spine; it was an experiment since I’d never worked with Worbla before, and I wasn’t disappointed!
I chose Worbla because I wanted to do a lot of cutouts, and its lack of an internal mesh (unlike Wonderflex) made it ideal.
Tools and materials used:
- hard insulation foam
- Wonderflex & Worbla
- heat gun
- utility knife
- hot-glue gun
- respirator mask
- mold release
- aluminum tape
- cellophane & organza
First I sketched out my horn shape and glued several layers of hard pink insulation foam together, then carved it to the right shape. You need a very sharp x-acto knife for this or the foam will shred. For finishing the surface, use sandpaper (outdoors, and wear a dust mask!).
Once I had the shape smooth and finished, I covered it in aluminum tape to protect it from the heat necessary to shape the Worbla. This step may not be necessary (I didn’t test it without the aluminum) but I didn’t want to take the chance. I tried aluminum foil at first, but it didn’t stay put.
Then I sprayed the form liberally with mold release, just in case the Worbla decided to stick.
Once the mold release had dried, I started covering the horn in Worbla. I knew I would be cutting a lot of holes and wanted them to be sturdy despite that, so I used two layers of Worbla. I used a paper pattern to get the general shape, and spliced in extra bits where necessary. Worbla can be stretched a bit when hot, so I was able to get a fairly smooth surface.
I completely covered the horn in one layer, then added the second layer. I did this to minimize any lumps where edges joined.
Here’s the horn covered in 2 layers of Worbla.
Once I had the surface finished, it was time to get the foam horn out. Since I was using the same mold for both horns (you don’t have to do this, I just chose to), I needed to get it out with a minimum of damage to the original sculpt. I used a regular utility knife to cut all along the bottom edge of the horn in order to free the foam inside. It took some yanking (because of the curve involved) but it did eventually come out intact.
I repeated the process for the second horn, and sealed up the cut using some hot-glue and patching from the back using scraps of Worbla. Now it was time for cutting the holes!
For this, I used a hot-knife. I had a hot-knife attachment on my woodburning tool, but you can also buy hot-knife tools or even hot-knife attachments on mini-irons.
I first drew the pattern out on the Worbla using a permanent marker. I wanted a sort of random, organic pattern so wasn’t too fussy about this part. The hot-knife made cutting through the 2 layers of Worbla fairly easy; it didn’t take as much brute strength as it otherwise would with an x-acto knife. The hot-knife slides through the Worbla fairly smoothly with a little pressure. However, because the hot-knife is actually burning some of the Worbla as it cuts, I strongly recommend doing this outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. I had to work indoors as it was too cold outside, so I bought a respirator mask designed for use with paint fumes.
Please note that I don’t mean just a dust mask, I mean a proper respirator mask of the type with filters on each side, designed to protect you against paint and other fumes.
The cutting process left the edges of my holes kind of rough, probably because I was working with 2 layers. So to smooth the edges once I’d finished cutting, I swapped out the point of my woodburning tool to a rounded point and used that to soften the edges, which I then smoothed with my fingers while they were still warm. I also tried using my mini-iron, and that also worked well for heating and smoothing the edges.
You want to do only spot-heating in this kind of situation, because the form is hollow and you don’t want to heat enough of it that the whole thing can deform. Here the smoothing process is half-finished:
Once my horns were cut out and smoothed, it was time to make the mask and attach them.
I had a mold of my forehead from a previous project (**for info on how to make one, see below), so I used that to shape the base mask out of Wonderflex. Either Worbla or Wonderflex would have worked fine, it didn’t really matter. I just needed something that would fit flush against my face.
Once I had the base mask, I positioned the horns, trimmed where necessary to make them sit correctly, and attached them to the base mask using Worbla scraps. I had to be a bit careful here to only heat the very bottom of the horns where they would be attaching, so as to keep the overall horn from deforming and slumping. I added some hot glue at the attachment points just for security.
At this point it didn’t really matter what the attachment part looked like, as it would be all covered with the main mask layer.
For the main mask, I made a paper pattern and transferred it to craft foam, making sure that the placement of the holes lined up with the eye-holes of the under-mask enough to allow me to see. Again, I wanted an asymmetric, organic pattern so drew out my holes and cut them out using a craft knife.
I then lay warm Worbla over the craft foam, cut a slice in the centre of each hole, and wrapped the Worbla over the foam to enclose the foam edges. Covering craft foam with Worbla is great for when you want a very smooth surface on your finished piece, such as for armour. I also used this technique to make my spine (see below).
I then used hot-glue to adhere a sheet of iridescent cellophane and iridescent organza to the back of the mask. This allowed for visibility but offered enough opacity to hide my eyes.
Here’s the outer mask, in the process of being attached to the horns and understructure:
And here’s the outer mask firmly attached. I’ve started embellishing by sculpting some details on the forehead and adding spikes on the side.
For the spikes, all those cut-out scraps of Worbla came in handy. One of the great things about Worbla is that the leftovers can be heated up, mashed together and reused. So my scraps got heated, mashed together, rolled out flat again and shaped by hand into the spiky protrusions on the side of the mask. I didn’t want them super smooth as I wanted an organic look, so I just shaped them with my fingers.
Once all the sculpting was done, it was time for paint. Here’s the base layer of black acrylic (over a layer of gesso, not shown):
I had to paint carefully by hand to avoid the cutouts on the face.
And here’s a layer of “Black Mica” paint which creates a cool texture, with added black glitter for extra sparkle:
I cut slits in the base Wonderflex mask directly under each horn to make flaps to which I could attach my LEDs. They shine upwards and illuminate the iridescent organza I stuffed up inside the horns.
Sturdy elastic is glued to the inside of the mask, and secures behind the neck with snaps.
The finished product:
For the spine, I made a cardboard template and cut out the pieces from craft foam. I cut out pieces of Worbla a bit bigger than the craft foam.
I then heated the Worbla using a heat gun and shaped it by hand over the foam, pressing the edges over the foam to cover it.
When making structural pieces like armour, people usually prefer to sandwich the foam between two layers of Worbla for stability. My spine wasn’t going to be under any stress, so I decided I didn’t need the extra layer and left the back of the foam uncovered.
Once the individual pieces were covered, I re-heated them and pinched them, shaping with fingers to get the right angle.
They were then painted and glued to a ribbon which attaches to my costume using Velcro.
And that’s it!
**Want to know how to make a cast of your head/face? Look up ‘life casting’, there are tons of tutorials.
You basically need alginate (a seaweed-based casting material used by dentists to take molds of your teeth) which will exactly replicate your features and is totally skin-safe, and then plaster bandages to put on top of the alginate as a rigid shell so the mold will keep its shape.
Once your alginate and plaster bandages have set, you remove the negative mold and immediately fill it with plaster of Paris or Ultracal. You must do it right away because the alginate doesn’t keep, it will dry out and shrink.
You then have an exact replica of your face/head, which you can then use to sculpt custom prosthetics and all sorts of stuff 😀
PLEASE NOTE this process is not something you can do yourself; you need a friend to apply the materials to your face, and you must be careful to leave breathing holes if you’re covering the nose/mouth. Your friend must also be ready to remove the casting materials if you start to freak out (some people do).