Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Grim Reaper Costume or "George"

Several months ago I got the idea to make a Grim Reaper costume for Halloween. I didn’t want to do one on stilts like I saw all over the web, I wanted to make one with proportionate body parts. The idea blossomed and then quickly snowballed into a huge ten foot costume that I’m afraid will get me or someone else killed. My goal is to frighten but after getting the first reaction we got, I’m a little concerned people might freak out.

Like this:

Here is how I did it:

The Concept
 First, I drew what I imagined it would look like and how I would do it.

Next, I looked around on pinterest and google to see what other people had done. I wasn't quite happy with what I found. I saw a few who had put on stilts and dressed up as a reaper but that just looks like a guy on stilts. To me, a Reaper should be emotionless. I can't help but think of a line from the pixar movie Monsters inc. "It's all about presence!"
A ten foot Reaper isn't going to have a head and shoulders the size of an average sized man. It's going to be much bigger and broader. I based the scale on the skull my good friend Brian found for me at a thrift store. I did a few calculations to determine how big it needed to be to make it look proportionate to the size of the head which is about nine and a half feet tall. I started building the basic inner backpack frame that would act as the skeletal structure for the reaper. I used half inch pvc pipe from the hardware store because it's cheap and light. I grabbed my buddy who bought the skull for me (who is about my same height) and had him strap on my hiking backpack and measured from the ground up. Then started building the frame once I had those measurements. I used four to five ten foot lengths of one half inch pvc pipe. Two contractor packs of T connectors (~20) Two contractor packs of forty five degree elbows, a dozen end caps and my sawzall.

The Frame
This is the lower part of the frame that fits into the backpack.

A quick shot of the backpack along with the basic frame.

I tried finding an online calculator to help scale the demensions up but found nothing but dead links and web pages. So I did the math myself. Skip this part if you don't like math or aren't worried about scale.
I measured  my own body parts, shoulders both width and depth. chest, waist, head, arms upper, lower and hand. I used a conversion app to take all those measurements and converted them into the metric system. Which is far superior for actual practical use because it scales things in groups of one hundred which allows for easier scaling up by way of percentage.

Example: I am 5 foot 9 inches tall or 179cm.
The height of the reaper is about 9 foot 6 inches tall or  233cm.
Divide my height by what I wanted and got a scaling number which happened to be 1.68.
So I multiplied all my own dimensions by 1.68 and got the numbers I used.
Which is what I would look like as a giant.

The Arms
The arms are made in three parts: upper, lower and wrist/hand.

At each joint drilled two holes in a cap strung a 1/32" cable in a tight circle which joined the two ends together. The pool noodles were cut at about the appropriate lengths to simulate muscle or the shape of the arm. I attached the pool noodles by tying a string in a circle through both the pipe and noodle. The strings made the cap very tight so I used mallet to get the caps on securely.

I did roughly the same thing for the shoulder.

This is what it looks like when worn. Note that the frame for the body goes up over my head and that his waist level lines up with my eye level.

 The main body was a bit tricky. I would highly recommend using gloves for this part unless you have very calloused hands like I do. I basically molded bent shaped and bent the metal until it was close enough to the shape I wanted.  I used metal wiring and twisted them like the twisty ties you get on bread to hold every bend and contour in its shape. Then I covered the sharp edges with duct tape.

 These pics were added after I finished the costume. They show how I used duct tape to cover the sharp parts to keep them from poking my head.

 This pic is to show how I used PVC tubing to extend and to move Georges arms around. I painted the PVC matte black so it wouldn't be visible.

The Robe
 For the next step I used professional help; My Mother in-law. She is the most inspiring and amazing woman I know. My Mother in-law is currently battling stage three breast cancer and despite this, decided to help me sew the robe for my costume. She is the most giving person and does everything for everyone.

The first fitting picture kind of shows how the arms work.

The second fitting with the arms and start of the hood.

 The Hands
While she was working on the robe. I began work on the hands, which took nearly as much effort as the frame did. My wife found a link on pinterest to a blog where the guy does an amazing job describing the details involved in making the hands.  It started with a 4" section of a 3/4" pvc base, bic pens, latex mold-able paint, cotton balls and metal hangers, which were difficult to find. I ended up purchasing a bunch from a dry cleaner. I scaled the hands up using the dimmensions from my own hands, measuring each knuckle and scaling those measurements up by my magic number of 1.68.

The midsection is where I see from. I chose a light fabric I can see through that appears like a belt for George. There is a hole in the robe under the sash, so I can see out but no one can see in.

The finished product!

A quick video that shows some of his motion:

These pictures were from Halloween night; trick or treating with the kids, posing with other really cool costumes and finally at the costume contest that night, where George took first place!

This one is of a good neighbor Dale Price who always puts on the best Halloween party in the County! His decorations are so vast they spill over into and fill his neighbors yard and part of the park across the street. They include an inflatable decoration maze filled with elaborate decorations, a graveyard that puts the real one to shame for scariness, two real hurst's, several animatronic mannequins including a real predator. And the biggest decoration is a three story inflatable Godzilla. Dale never disappoints!

 A headless horseman on a real horse!

My Neighbors, He is Snow White and his female co-workers were the seven dwarfs!


Beeltejuice!  Beeltejuice!  Beelteju... Oh you get the idea!

 And last but not least, my six foot six inch tall friend who I have to admit, was part of Georges inspiration. I wanted to have a costume he looked up to.

I am currently working on gathering materials to make the articulating hands that Mike suggested below in the comments section.