Here There Be Dragons

Setting up the work space

Setting up the work space

I can thankfully say that this weekend has been a very productive. After fretting and agonizing over Toothless for months, I finally sat down and started working on the costume again. As you might remember, I had a bit of a snafu with the original legs I built, and I felt overwhelmed and out of sorts afterwards, meaning I wanted nothing to do with dragons for a little while.

We’re less than a month away from Dragon Con now, though, so I figured it was about time I set to work on creating an actual dragon. I’m still playing around a bit with how I’m going to do the body, tail and wings for Toothless, but I started working on one of the most important pieces today: the head.

Usually, I work on a small square table (and I mean small) in a cramped corner of my

Dual work space

Dual work space

basement. Today, I had the luxury of working in Robert’s work space, in the newly “refinished” garage. You might remember we had a wee little fire in the original garage workshop, back in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. The ceiling has since been rebuilt, the windows and garage doors replaced, and the walls and floor painted. Much of the garage is still in the process of being put back to order – there are boxes and shelves and various power tools in a bit of disarray – but Robert cleared one of the tables and set up some space for me to spread out. He had work to do on a new quad copter, in preparation for his sister’s wedding in Maine next month, so the two of us happily spent the entire day tooling about in the garage.

I started by pulling up the file of reference shots I had amassed during my earlier costume research, and sketched the head a couple of times. Now, since I had the pictures on my computer and can refer to them at any time, I didn’t really have to sketch them, but I’ve found that I tend to have a better understanding of the shapes I ultimately need to form, and how everything is going to come together if I do a little bit of fiddling about with pencil and paper first.

Sketches done, I set about straightening my pile of wire coat hangers, and laying out the other supplies I’d need nearby: heavy gauge floral wire, duct tape, wire cutters, pliers (needle nose and blunt nose). This time, since I was going to be cutting some of the thick coat hangers, instead of leaving them their original length, I made a little addition to my original tool list. I got to use bolt cutters today!

Notice the bolt cutters!

Notice the bolt cutters!

As usual, work on the head began with construction of a coat hanger and floral wire skeleton, joined together with my old friend, duct tape. I think I really need to take a video of this part of the process, so you can see exactly how I figure out this aspect of the head. You build the coat hangers up, level by level, creating stabilizing and supporting vertical “beams” with the floral wire. I generally start with four supporting vertical beams between each level, until I have the basic shape. Then, I go back and add extra supports where I can see they’ll be needed.

So much duct tape and wire!

So much duct tape and wire!

Toothless provided a little bit of a challenge, when creating the head, as the head needs to slope up and back more than, say, my Potter Puppet Pals or Wise Man head did. Even Kowl’s head was relatively close to human shape. Not so much with Toothless. I also knew that I was going to have to contend with the challenge of the “horns” that needed to extend from the back and sides. I happened to have a lighter weight coat hanger that worked quite well to form the supports for the horns.

The back of the wire structure, showing the horns.

The back of the wire structure, showing the horns.

By the end of Saturday, I had a completed wire skeleton for Toothless’ head. The next day, I went to JoAnn’s after church, to look for foam. I had already gone out a few months earlier and stocked up on my usual ½” foam, in addition to buying two small slabs of 4” foam, but I went looking for something a little thinner. I basically wanted ¼” inch green foam, but they don’t stock any. I finally decided on what was listed as “rug foam,” or something similar. It’s rather thin foam, with a flannel backing on one side. As I carried it around the shop, I tried to figure out what it reminded me of. Later that day, I finally realized – it feels like the material that makes up the inside of the roof of the minivan.

I think this is the worst foam job I've done. :(

I think this is the worst foam job I’ve done. 😦

Anyway, foam purchased, I headed back to Robert’s house, were my work space was still set up from Saturday. I plugged the glue gun in and set about cutting and fitting foam. Knowing how the material works now, I would have done things a LOT differently if I had to cover the head again. The thin foam is a lot less forgiving and manageable than the green foam is, and I don’t know that I’ll be using it for costume heads again, any time soon. I finally got the head covered with the gray foam, and set about cutting green foam for the shaping.shaping foam work front

Making sure the two sides of the head are symmetrical is proving to be one of the big challenges of this head. After I took a picture of the front of the head, I noticed that the eye on one side was going to be bigger than the other. Thankfully, I tend to save the little shavings and scraps that I cut off the big chunks of foam, so I was able to just add a few thin pieces to even things out.foam work side

After I took this picture, I ended up ripping off a section of foam, because the little ridge above Toothless’ nose went too high up the head. I like the placement a little better now, though I still need to play with the shaping a little more before I’m completely happy. I need to finish adding foam to the other side of the face, and smooth out some of the seams on the horns, and then it will be on to creating the felt “skin” for the head.

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