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Thursday, October 30, 2008

3 Great DIY Halloween Costumes to Inspire Geeks Everywhere

Not content to trek down to the mall for a pre-made costume, these three builders devised and constructed their own elaborate outfits. Some are quick and cheap, like a rotating cardboard Gatling gun, or laborious and intricately detailed, like a life-sized replica Iron Man costume. We tracked down the creators and asked them how they pulled it off. Halloween lovers, start your screwdrivers!

Iron Man Full Body Suit

Iron Man Full Body Suit

Plenty of costume fanatics spare no expense creating their Halloween duds, but few enter the $20,000 stratosphere like Norweigan John Kristiansen, who hand-built his seriously realistic Iron Man costume.

Kristiansen and some friends, fellow costume enthusiasts who work under the name TMP, wanted to see whether they could build an Iron Man suit by the release of this summer's big-budget film version, which opened May 2 in the U.S. "Many people thought it would be impossible to do," he told PM. When he and his friends began working on the suit last fall, Kristiansen said, it was a gamble—they had to base their designs on a scant few promo posters and images from the Iron Man Playstation 3 video games. As Paramount released more and more pictures of the costume, Kristiansen and his team had to re-sculpt parts that they'd built on a guess. There was plenty of trial and error involved—he created three separate back pieces.

Two main materials constitute most of the Iron Man suit—fiberglass and ABS plastic. Both involve creating a mold of each part, but they are slightly different materials. Kristiansen said he used the fiberglass for areas where he wanted to get the best true-to-the-movie details and he needed the suit to support its own weight, like on the chest and upper legs. ABS, he said, can't be sculpted to such detail, but it is softer, so he used that for the hands and lower legs. For comic and sci-fi conventions, he has created a version of the suit that looks like it has sustained battle damage, which he achieved by using a torch and a Dremel tool to put bullet holes and scratch marks on his creation.

These materials make movement much more difficult, Kristiansen said. He can only tolerate being inside the suit for about two hours, but won't break character—he'll tell his partner that he's "down to 60 percent power" if the heat or fixed posture of the costume start to give him muscle spasms.

According to Kristiansen , the Iron Man moviemakers often use a rubber suit for better mobility and then touch it up afterward with CGI. "We cannot hide behind effects," he says. "When we meet a crowd, they have to get the feeling that this is not a man dressed up as Iron Man, this is Iron Man." So despite the discomfort, it was worth it for him to use strong materials to make the costume look perfect. Not only that, but Kristiansen in his costume is pretty intimidating—where Robert Downey Jr., who plays Iron Man in the film, is around 5'9" or 5'10", Kristiansen is more than 6ft tall and 200 pounds.

In the end, Kristiansen said he hopes to have two suits—one based on the film, and the other based on Iron Man's appearance in the Civil War comics. But the suit already has paid off in more ways than just the satisfaction of building it. Paramount hired Kristiansen to make appearances in costume promoting the release of the Iron Man DVD in Europe. Kristiansen said he hopes also to use his $20,000 suit to raise money for charity at fundraisers, and to talk to kids—you may not listen to your parents, he said, but if Iron Man tells you to wear a bike helmet, you're going to do it.

Gatling Gun Arm

Gatling Gun Arm

One day not too long ago, Erik Beck was just another coffee shop employee who hated his job and built crazy stuff in his off hours. And then, before he knew it, he was an underground Internet hero. Beck is the man behind Backyard FX, a weekly video series that Beck posts on YouTube under the name IndyMogul. He's been building homemade creations for the show for more than a year now, including a simulation of the face melt effect from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ash's chain-saw arm from the Evil Dead films. Two of his personal favorites are a replica lightsaber hilt—his pride and joy—and Hellboy's oversized gun, the Good Samaritan, which Beck said was a true labor of love. But our favorite Beck creation is one from an episode broadcast earlier this month—a Gatling gun prosthesis.

Beck tells PM that he got the idea from the recent Japanese movie The Machine Girl, in which the main character, Ami, has a Gatling gun for an arm. But the gun only fired bullets and didn't spin, Beck said, and spinning is half the fun of the Gatling gun. So he decided his version would rotate: "I thought come on, how hard would that be?" Harder than he thought. All Beck needed was $35 to buy (or scavenge) his supplies—cardboard tubes, a cordless screwdriver, a piece of foamcore, a film canister cap, L-brackets, plastic tubes, a plastic bucket, a couple pieces of wood and a skateboard wheel. The cordless drill provides the power, turning the skateboard wheel, which turns the barrel. Beck attached the film canister lid to the wheel, and then attached six 16-in. cardboard shipping tubes to the canister lid. With more plastic and cardboard he finished the shell around the barrel. However, cardboard parts don't last. "It looked cool," Beck said, "but by the end of the shoot, it was broken." Beck repaired the defective part, an office chair wheel that he'd glued to the drill bit, with a whole lot of tape. You can watch the whole episode here.

Ideally, Beck said, he would've built his prop out of something more durable, like aluminum. But he builds all his projects in a day or two, and on a shoestring budget. Beck said that Backyard FX projects average about $40 dollars to make, and he didn't think he'd exceeded $100 on any of them. While that's frustrating, and he said he wishes he had more money and time to build, Backyard FX's budget constraints mean the show's viewers can reproduce his projects without going to the poor house. For Beck, despite all the hours spent cursing a project and wishing it was done, the love of building is what it's all about—that's why he's up at 3 a.m. using a Dremel tool to build a lightsaber.

Mega Man

Mega Man Mega Blaster

Many of us have spent far too many hours playing the various incarnations of the Mega Man franchise, running around imaginary worlds as the little blue man with a laser cannon for an arm—the Mega Blaster. Kevin Craine, a Cisco Web designer from the Atlanta area, turned his Mega Man love into an awesome Halloween costume for his 3-year-old son. It has a family theme, too: Craine is going as Captain N from the old cartoon show Captain N: The Game Master, and his other son will be Kid Icarus. Craine said he had previously considered dressing himself and the boys as Super Mario Brothers characters, he said, "But I didn't want to make a Bowser." So he sponsored a contest on his Web forum—whoever gave him the best costume theme would win a Super Nintendo. The winner was Mega Man.

Craine built the whole costume, including helmet and boots, but the best part is a model Mega Blaster that fully lights up. To build it, he told PM, he started with tupperware pitcher because it was sturdy but light enough that his son could hold it up. After cutting the bottom out of the tupperware and creating an inside handle where his son could hold (a pen with the ink removed), he individually cut the shapes he wanted from tupperware bowls to serve as the base and tip of the blaster. Then came the ingredients that made the blaster more than an ordinary prop—six yellow and one red LEDs wired inside the arm, powered by a battery pack. The yellow lights are attached near a small window in the side to represent the power level. "The red one's where the Ôpew-pew-pew' comes out," Craine said, simulating the firing noise. Finally, he cut dark blue fabric that he bought at a Goodwill and sewed the cover together, completing the blaster.

Craine told PM he didn't know much about low-voltage electronics before starting—he had to research some plans in order to wire the LEDs correctly. The rest of the costume was a little easier. He built a Mega Man helmet out of a child's bike helmet, using pieces of Frisbee and foam to accentuate it. "I just hot-glued it all together," he said. The helmet and the Mega Buster each took Craine between 15 and 20 hours to build, he said, with the rest of the costume only a few hours more. "It was about a week of work," he said, but now that he's done it once, he could do it again in much less time.

Does this mean Craine's son has become a huge Mega Man fan? Sort of. Craine said he showed his son the old versions of the games, and they play the new Wii version together. But leave it to a 3-year-old to keep his priorities straight: For him, Craine said, "the costume is a means to get candy."