Feats (and feet) of the Dragon

Work on this year’s Toothless costume challenge has begun, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at my work area. There are no swaths of cloth, no bottles of fabric paint, no half-finished, shiny dragon eyes sitting about on my tiny work table. No, the work has begun with a much more mundane task…


This is not actually mundane for me. I love research. I suppose that’s natural, considering I studied history for my undergrad. And costume research can be infinitely more fun and rewarding, because…well, it’s costuming!

This area of research is a little more challenging than previous ones, at least for me. Toothless marks my first foray into the world of quad suits. Yes, technically, I’ve pondered the Landstriders from The Dark Crystal (still on my list, by the way), but the nature of those costumes are a little simpler, in terms of construction for one simple reason – they were made for human puppeteers to operate. They were created, taking into account human physiology and the demands of the landstrider movement were built around how a human being on stilts – both on the legs and arms – is able to move around (and, I should point out, lest you’ve forgotten, I haven’t yet made those suits yet, either). The physiology and physicality of Toothless, on the other hand, was largely based on cat muscle and bone structure, and the movements are thus more suited to something that is designed to walk on all fours. I am not, and the switch from bipedal to quadrapedal movement is likely to give me more than a few sleepless nights and the occasional evening where nothing but loud crashes and an unending string of barely intelligible curses streams out of my work space.

Of course, when you’re getting into something like this, it’s good to look at what everyone else has done already. I find this good, because you can decide what will and what decidedly will not work for your project. There are some pretty good tutorials and examples of quad suits out there, but there does seem to be one glaring problem with following some of these suggestions: Toothless’s front leg movement. Most of the quad suits I have come across so far – mostly for large mammals such as wolves or bears – utilize a hinged front paw movement. This makes sense for wolf and bear movement, and even normal cat movement, but so far as I can tell, this is one area where Toothless’s movements differ from a cat. I see no discernable front paw joint at what one might call “wrist height.” From what I can tell, most of the manipulation for the front legs will occur at the elbow and shoulder, with maybe a little movement in the front claws simulating a wrist movement.

I think that, ultimately, this will make the design of the front legs easier – both in construction and manipulation. Disregarding a hinged front paw will mean I can make a much more solid piece, which will, hopefully, be more stable when walking around. Not to mention, it will be much less complicated to construct. ::crosses fingers::

One of the other main concerns for me is the concept of how I’m going to build the underlying musculatory system for the costume, and then cover it, in a way that will both look accurate and still be easy to get in and out of. I’ve already thought ahead to how I want to make the front legs – the fabric will come down past my own hands, over the front leg extensions, and I plan to secure it to the bottom of the front legs with velcro. This way, I can take off the front legs if I need to, while still being in the rest of the costume.

At present, I am looking at having the suit zip open and closed along my chest, so the zipper will be hidden – or at least not as noticeable – when I’m in the quadraped position.

There will, most likely, be a harness underneat the suit, providing stability for the tail (which will, if all things go as planned, be able to sweep back and forth naturally, instead of remaining straight), as well as a place for the wings to attach. I don’t think I’m going to attempt articulated wings just yet. However, if I make the harness and wings the way I have in mind, I will be able to add this detail later.

My plan is to do the legs – both the extensions and the shaped padding – first, before moving on to the tail and wings. Currently, the thing I’m least worried about is the head. By this point in time, I’ve made several costume heads, the most recent (and my current favorite) being Kowl. Toothless will present some challenges in regards to where the main sight lines will come from, but, as I’ve had more experience with costume heads than I have with quadraped musculatory systems, I’m leaving the familiar territory for last.

I’ve been going back and forth about how to build the front canes. I’ve seen people use hand canes or cut down crutches, but I don’t feel like going that route. I’ve started playing with some sketches, and plan to go swing by Home Depot on my way home from the gym tonight, to scout out shovel handles. Never forget the importance of the hardware store in costume building, people!


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