A Good Head on My Shoulders

Kowl’s head is coming along well. I have now finished the foam-sculpting part of the project, and have moved on to covering it and adding the features. I’ve kind of explained how I made the head, though I know I could’ve done a much better job. A friend of mine (hey Liz!) has asked about resources and links for tutorials and advice regarding the making of character heads. She must be psychic…that’s what I was planning on talking about in this post anyway! I apologize in advance – some of these pictures are duplicates from an earlier post. 

One of the major references I used for the head.

As with any costume, the first step with making a character head is planning and research. If you’re trying to recreate the head of a character from a show/movie/comic/etc., then the first step is to gather as many visual references as possible. I suggest putting together a nice file on your computer, making sure to get shots of the proposed head from different angles and perspectives. At the very least, you should have a shot of the front, the side, and the back to work from. I also like to make a rough sketch of my own of the head. I’ve found this makes the proportions of the head and facial features more memorable. I’ll also usually try sketching a couple of different ways of constructing the head, working bones-out — I’ll sketch how I figure I’ll create the base of the head (the part of the construction that will closely cocoon my own noggin), and then add the different layers that I think will go on top of that. 

Next, consider the needs of the costume in order to determine what type of materials you will need. I’ve made heads out of all sorts of stuff – cardboard, fiberglass, styrofoam, upholstery foam, plaster gauze, etc. There are so many wonderful things out there that can be utilized for costume and prop creation. One of the things I’ve seen used in the construction of several character heads is plastic canvas. It’s lightweight, cheap, fairly easy to manipulate…all excellent aspects for costume-making supplies.  I suggest taking a stroll through your neighborhood fabric store, hardware store, and thrift shop. You never know where you’ll discover great building material. 

Think about the very specific needs of your costume. Is this something that you’re only going to be wearing for about 30 minutes at a time, in a well-lit area, with attendants to help you? Are you going to be using it on a stage with weird lighting? Will you be walking around in a parade or a convention, where you might come across people who like to hit costume-head-wearing individuals? All of these factor into the practical build of your character head. The logistics behind where, when and for how long you’ll be wearing your costume head will all impact the materials you’ll want to use and how you might want to think about going about building the thing. 

In regards to the Kowl head, I know it’s something I’m going to be wearing for at least 7 hours. In all honesty, I’ll most likely be wearing the Kowl costume for close to 15 hours. Not all of that time will be spent inside the head. I’ll need to take it off to eat, go to the bathroom, get a little fresh air. The way I’ve planned the head I should be able to talk in it just fine. The design should allow for movement of the lower jaw, so it’ll look like Kowl is actually talking. So far, Kowl’s head is remarkably comfy. There are a few places here and there that need to be covered with additional foam or other padding. These are the places where some of the “bones” of the head meet. 

Unlike the Potter Puppet Pals head that I made, the majority of the weight of Kowl’s head rests on my actual head. With Harry, most of the weight rested on my shoulders. This caused a few problems, as the press of the weight on my shoulders aggravated the muscles in my shoulders (lots of tension, after wearing that head for hours) and would cause my arms to go numb from time to time. For an idea of what this felt like, try carrying a small child around on your shoulders for a few hours. Eventually you’ll have the same problems. Another issue I had with Harry’s head came from the overall balance. Because it didn’t sit snugly on my head (there was at least 6 inches between the top of my head and the inside of the top of Harry’s head) I had much less control over the movement of it. I couldn’t move my head too fast, or lean forward or backward too far. If I did, Harry’s head would topple off my head and bounce on the ground. Luckily, the wire hangers and cardboard I had used to build the head were able to hold together. I think the quilt batting and fiberfill I used in the rest of Harry’s construction helped to absorb some of the shock. 

The biggest issue I had with Harry’s head, though, was visibility. I had great difficulty seeing when I was wearing the head. Although I had used a gauzey material to cover the head, and cut away the batting in front of my eyes, it was still next-to-impossible to see outside of myself. When I had to move around, I usually wound up lifting the head a little and glancing out of the opening at the bottom of the head. 

These were all issues that I considered when planning Kowl’s head. I wanted to make sure the proportions of the head were accurate to the character while making sure it was small enough to give me better control over the movements. I also wanted to make the “footprint” of the head was as small as possible – meaning it needed to be able to fit easily in the car for trips to conventions. The size of the PPP heads meant some creative packing when we went to Polaris and Dragon*Con. 

As I mentioned, I used wire to build the bones of Kowl’s head. Most of the time, the wire I use for construction is scavenged from the collection of wire hangers my family has collected over the years. This time I only used two hangers. The rest of the wire I used came from a spool of thick floral wire I bought at A.C. Moore. It’s covered with stuff that kind of looks a bit like raffia. You’ll need a good pair of wire cutters if you use the thick floral wire. I’ve yet to be able to cut through wire hangers. Those I just bend into the size and shape I need and fold the excess back on itself. 

The top of the wire cage fits my head nicely!

I created the top half of the “bone cap” for the head first, making sure I built it slightly larger than my head. Using small sections of 1/2″ upholstery foam – I used the green kind, since I was going to cover it with fabric anyway – I proceeded to cover the bones of the head. I originally started using high temp glue sticks. That’s a bad idea, for a number of reasons. One, it melts the foam a little more. Not a whole bunch, but a bit. The biggest reason I switched to low-temp, though, was because I kept burning my fingers horribly. When you apply the glue to the foam you need to pinch the two pieces together to make sure it forms a good seal. Foam, being the porous stuff it is, tends to let the hot glue seep through and burn your hands. And then it takes forever to cool, meaning you’re left standing there, holding things together with burnt fingers while the glue sets. Do yourself a favor and start off with the low-temp glue first. 

At the moment, Kowl looks more like a bug than a koala-owl.

After the bones were covered with the first layer of foam, I was able to start the actual sculpt. This is where you add in the details like brow ridges, noses, lips, etc. In the case of Kowl, I needed to build up the center of the top of his head and add the little ridge that would end right above the top half of the beak. I also needed to create some nice big brow ridges and shape the side of the head a bit more. I worked in small sections again, adding bits here and there and shaping the foam with a pair of scissors. Remember to refer to the reference pictures while doing this. And remember that some of the shape will change a bit when you cover the head with fabric or fur or whatever you’ll be using. 

I suggest trying on the head regularly while you’re building it. Obviously, wait for the hot glue 

back of head

 to dry. You don’t want to get hot glue on your face or head. However, you also don’t want to spend hours building the head only to find out it has somehow changed shape and no longer fits easily on your head. I realized, after I’d already built most of the head, that the thing was going to sit on my noggin a bit differently than I’d originally planned. I ended up having to add an extra piece on the back of the head to cover my neck. 

Here you can see the additional pieces I added to the brow ridges.

After I finished the foam sculpt level of the head it was time to start covering the thing with fabric. I’m using felt for the majority of the costume, rather than fake fur. It was easeir to match the color with the stuff I found in the store and, even though felt can get warm, it’s much more breathable than fake fur is. I know from experience. The smaller size of Kowl’s head means I won’t be able to fit a small battery-operated fan inside, as I could with Harry. That was the other reason for choosing felt over fake fur. Every little bit of breathability will help. 

Using hot glue, I started affixing the felt to the head. I had to cut slits in the sides of the 

I know those look like antennae, but they're not.

 felt as I laid it overtop the head, to fit the felt around the wires I’ve attached to hang the ears on later. Again, the key here is small sections. Don’t try to cover the whole head all in one fell swoop. Work on the head section by section. It’s easier to manipulate the fabric in smaller steps than all at once. I went ahead and covered the center of the foam with hot glue and smoothed the felt down overtop. Then I moved on to the eye ridges. As I glued the felt to the head, I’d occasionally come to places where I needed to cut out small sections of felt, so the fabric would lay flat. This is inevitable when you cover a rounded object with a flat piece of fabric. 

I put some more hot glue about 1/8″ from the edge of where these “seams” were going to meet. Then I used a hand needle and some varigated thread to stitch the edges together. I used a baseball stitch to join the edges, so named because, well, it resembles the stitches on a baseball. Upon reflection, I kind of wish I had just glued the edges down. I think the seams would have blended together better than they do at the moment. The current plan is to go back and sort of distress the seams, pulling the fibers of the felt up around the stitches, to hide where the edges come together. I’ll let you know how successfull that is. 

Next step...eyebrows!

The main part of the head has been covered now. I went out to the store briefly today and picked up material to do the eyebrows and eye rings, as well as cover Kowl’s beak. So far I’ve only got the top half of the beak cut out and glued together. The bottom half will be a bit trickier. I did get the material to cover the beak, though. I went ahead and pinned the eyes to the head, to see what they’d look like on the face. These are actually smaller than the eyes I had originally cut out and readied. The eyes are supposed to be pretty big, but the ones I’d cut out first were simply TOO big. These fit on the head much better and appear to be proportionate. I tried the head on carefully (had to avoid the pins) and was pleased to discover that I can see quite well through these eyes. This is the first large head I’ve made that I can see out of. I can see pretty well out of the Blink Angel mask but, again, that’s a mask. It’s not an entire head.

I might work on the details tomorrow, but that depends on how I feel. This will be the last post for the rest of the week, as I’m leaving for Ohio on Wednesday (I think) and won’t be back until Sunday.

I will, however, leave you with some resources for creating character heads. There are some wonderful tutorial videos out there on youtube and I recommend checking them out. The best resources for building large heads actually come from the fursuit community. Don’t snicker and judge, kids. There’s many levels to the fursuit community – not just what we’ve all seen on CSI and the like – and everyone’s entitled to a community they feel comfortable in. These folks have excellent construction techniques we can all learn from. I wish my stuff was half as good as the stuff I’ve seen out there. 

At any rate, here are some links you might want to check out before building your own character head. And, as always, remember to utilize your own sense of creativity when it comes to solving problems with a costume build. The solution you come up with might just revolutionize the process for others. 

How to make a Fursuit Head Base using foam 

The Costumer’s Manifesto 

How to create an affordable mascot head 

Making an animal mascot head (fursuit)

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One thought on “A Good Head on My Shoulders

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