the-mascot-project

Let’s Make a Mascot, part 4: The Long Project Tutorial Part

Welcome back!  Just a warning, this is a SUPER LONG post, because it breaks down every little thing I did to make my mascot suit, in hopes that this will be useful for anyone else who wants a tutorial.  Feel free to skim and wait til the end of this month for the big event pictures of the finished product!

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Sorry for the wait, had to finish writing these last two installments and do a bunch of party work, before I could get back to blogging.  It’s been a long while since I first started this mascot project!

So in the last post we talked about what goes into a mascot, literally.  Foam, more foam, a fabric covering, even more foam, bike helmets and glue.

Putting it all together takes a LOT longer than people are prepared for on their first build…even me, who has fifteen years of experience in doing projects that ended up taking a lot longer than I thought they would!  For some reason, I still never see it coming. :)

So here’s a big breakdown of what I did:

I started by cutting out the annoyance of drafting a pattern for the skin of the character and just buying a zentai suit.  Rubie’s costumes now carries their own line and has many colors available, including different shades of green suitable for the different turtles (as any TMNT fan knows, they’re NOT all the same color green.  Often times, Leo has true green skin, Raph bright green, Mikey trending towards dark grass green and Donnie skews wide from the group palette, into almost a straight olive. Nerd lesson achieved!) 

Point is, if you need a humanoid mascot with smooth skin, just buy a zentai suit and modify it.  It’s spandex and can stretch to go over just about any muscle padding or body shape you fit it for, as long as you get it in the right size.

Luckily mine came with a separate hood piece, which I used to skin the head of the suit.  Sorry I didn’t grab pics of the head when I was making it, but I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be doing a post!  At any rate, it’s a multisport helmet from Target (20$), with a foam nose and mouth piece constructed over a metal cloth structure that’s bolted to the helmet. The metal cloth you can get in rolls at Home Depot or Lowe’s, usually in gardening supplies. Ask where the chicken wire is.  Metal cloth is very cheap, around 12 bucks for a good-sized roll. Be sure to get GOOD wire cutters and wear gloves, as working with it will scrape your hands up something fierce. I shaped into a rounded muzzle kind of shape, screwed it straight into the sports helmet with a power drill and some short screws, then covered it in foam that I sewed directly onto the metal cloth.

I didn’t cover the whole head in padded foam, because it was big enough already with the helmet and the air vents in the helmet will breathe better with just spandex covering them, making me a lot cooler inside the head when I wear it. 

I pulled the hood over the head and sewed it down in spots, under the chin, to keep it nice and taut, then hand-stitched a smile into the front, sewing it into the fabric to make an indentation. I then I took a very big plastic easter egg and cut it apart to make two eyes, which I painted white, then stretched white spandex over them to make them a more solid white. I cut out two circles of craft foam and painted the pupil parts on, gluing them to the eyeballs. A little leftover trimming of the green zentai fabric for eyelids and they were done!

I then used scraps of thick foam to build a shape around the eyes, for a more 3D mask effect. I sprayed the foam with FoamFast 77, an industry-standard foam glue adhesive, and stretched red fabric over them.  When dry, I glued the whole shebang to the head and added two long tails of red fabric for the ends of the mask, knotted at the back.

See that little circle? That’s the one spot where the zentai green spandex fabric was removed and a bit of matching green netting fabric put in as a screen.  This is the only place where I can see out of the head. It’s about 2 inches wide by one inch long.

The whole thing goes tightly over my head and the bike helmet strap secures it on.  There’s extra fabric for a “neck” to keep it looking nice and joined up to the rest of the body.

Next I made the giant shell for my back.  I was a little stumped about this, but then got the idea to buy 2″ high-density foam from JoAnn’s and cut it into a rough circle.  I then took slices out all around, then sewed those sliced parts together, so that the foam created a slightly domed shape.  The trick is you have to hand-sew the slices together on one side, then AGAIN on the other side, because the foam is so thick.  When that was done, I sewed a strip of foam around the edges and snipped it at intervals, creating little square ridges around two-thirds of the bottom of the shell. Here’s a sketch.

This ridge around the bottom edges is to hide my butt, which WILL have a separate outer suit over it, but that’s still no reason to have a ninja turtle with a super rockin’ lady bottom, which is what I have. ;)

After that, I got a big packet of craft foam sheets (from Michael’s, about 20 bucks) and I cut out paper patterns for the shell plating shape.  I tried to make it different from the ones used in the movies or TV shows, but still recognizable as a turtle shell.  I cut out one set of the plates, then trimmed the original paper patterns slightly smaller. Then I used that to cut a second, smaller set of plates. I kept doing that, shrinking the pattern after every set, until I had a bunch of plates all in gradually smaller sizes.  With some hot glue, I stacked them all on top of each other and glued them to the foam dome shape.  Then I filled in the cracks between the plates with hot glue.  I gave the whole shell a LOT of thick coats of Mod Podge, like 10 at least, to make it super hard and durable and to smooth joints between the plates.  You can get Mod Podge at any craft store.

Here is the shell, drying in between coats of Mod Podge.  You can see I used mostly white foam for the plates, then switched to blue on the last set.  No special reason, just ran out of white. I also put little plates in orange foam on some of the ridges.

When it was time to paint, I used a very big brush to lay down some straight brown acrylic paint in three coats.  Then I used an airbrush to do some lighter details and contouring.  You don’t need an expensive airbrush for this kind of work…I had an expensive Paasche one from many years ago, but when I got it out to use, it was too old and worn and the hose was cracked.  So I got this little bitty Testers one from Michael’s for 20 bucks (similar to the one below) AND it came with a can of propellant!  But you may need to buy a second can to do the whole costume.

When using this kit, I mixed up custom airbrush paint by putting in 1/3 of a jar of acrylic paint color, and filling the rest of the bottle with isopropyl alcohol, which you can find in the first aid section of any drug store, because it’s a cleaning rubbing alcohol.  Remember to get ISOPROPYL, not hydrogen peroxide.  It’s about 4 bucks for a big bottle.  Shake it up good with some acrylic and you’re ready to paint.

Since this is a cheap airbrush, I did spend a little time fiddling with it and cleaning it frequently, as well as getting the mixing balance of paint and alcohol right, but it worked great for this project and was a really good price for the results.  Here is the finished paint job:

After the shell was dry, I gave it two more coats of Mod Podge to protect the paint job, then flipped it over to Mod Podge and paint the inside rim, and use some of the wire cloth from Home Depot to create a backing.  I shaped it until it fit flat into the shell, then wedged it in and glued it in place.  This is what I will attach the rest of the shell piece to and what will keep it on my back, sort of like a backpack.  Here is the metal insert before it was wedged in.

Now that the back shell, or carapace for you turtle-nerds, was done, I switched over to the front shell piece, or plastron.

This was tough. I decided NOT to sew it directly to the skin bodysuit, because it would pull at it when worn and make wrinkles, and I wanted a smooth skin appearance.  So I got a ½-inch deep piece of high density foam and cut it to the size I wanted, then covered it with a beige flat fabric I had lying around (actually some kind of thick drapery lining fabric, I think.)  I glued it down on the back, as taut as it would go.  Since this foam is thinner, I was able to wedge it through my sewing machine and sew some channels into it, to make the little divided pieces appearance.  I used a ruler and a pencil to draw out where I wanted the channels, and then simply sewed a straight line over each one, with brown thread. 

The plastron was just a blegh color of beige at that point and the channels barely visible, so I took out the little airbrush, loaded it with medium brown paint and sprayed it into and around the sewn channels, creating visual depth.  I also did little spots and shading around all the edges. It came out really nice!  Needs a bit of ironing in this pic, though.

When it was done, I got a pink sleeveless leotard, left over from a shipment from We Love Colors, and dyed it a rich brown in some RIT dye, in a big pot on my stove.  When it was rinsed out and dried, I cut down the neckline until it was super low, right where I wanted the top of the plastron to sit on the front of me.  I also cut off one arm strap, leaving it looking like an asymmetrical bathing suit. I hand-stitched the plastron to the front of the suit.

After that, I carefully hand-sewed the back sides of the suit to either side of the inside of the carapace.  This has to be done carefully, to make sure you can get in and out of the suit through the top, but also to hide the insides of the shell and make sure the shell stays put on your back.  I made two side panels, like smaller versions of the plastron, and sewed them to the sides of the bodysuit, WHILE it was on a mannequin stand (to make sure it had enough stretch to look correct).  Basically, the whole thing becomes a sort of backpack sandwich that you climb into through the top. :) But you need that one remaining strap of the leotard, or the whole thing can wiggle off you and move around too much.

To give the backpack even more stability and keep it staying put, I attached a strip of pleather for a belt around the back of the shell, gluing it down.  I also put a top shoulder strap diagonally up the shell, and glued it over that one remaining strap of the leotard, hiding it under the belt strap. I attached the diagonal strap to the belt, which I finished with a concealed little plastic buckle that snaps into place in the front.  I know only Leo and Donnie have this extra shoulder strap, to hold their weapons, but I had to add it here in order to keep the whole shell piece stable and on me, while providing the least amount of fiddling and fastest dress time convenience.  

I also added some little holsters on the belt for a pair of ninja sai I got at Party City.  They were regular black plastic with goofy kanji character paint details on them, but I removed the paint easily with nail polish remover and wrapped the handles in extra red mask fabric strips.

That’s all for this post, as it’s getting REALLY long!  So tune in this week for the second half of this big long tutorial, and I’ll show you how I made the giant hands and feet, arms, knee and foot wraps, muscle suit underneath AND the final airbrush paint job for the whole body. PHEW!  See you then!

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thinking about it, making conker the mascot of project spark is perfect because its some kind of level editor thing right? so its fine if the levels are cutesy animal mascot stuff like diddy kong racing and also fine if the levels are just giant dicks everywhere like bad fur day