Sunday, November 23, 2014

Keepin' it Real - Making Adjustments to the Mushu Head Armature

I started the armature for the Mushu headpiece a few days ago, and then I stared at it for a few days.  I stared at it and thought, "It's too bulky."  At first I thought I would cover it in Great Stuff (spray foam) and smooth it out, making a coating all around.  But the friend who did the bulk of the spraying on The Little Mermaid set pieces for me advised against trying to manipulate Great Stuff before dries.  I realized that with the armature so large already, it would leave me little room for carving.  If I spray it and decide, "this edge needs to be taken down," but I can't because it's the edge of the screening, that would be a big problem.

So today I went to Walmart and bought some carpet thread and some yarn darning needles (big, fat, long needles), and I did a little slenderizing of Mushu's head.  I cut his nose straight down the center, overlapped and sewed it.  I cut the side of the face and overlapped and sewed them, bringing the whole thing down and making it narrower from left to right as well.  I was happy with the results.  I think it leaves me more room for a thicker layer of foam.  I might still do some fiddling, but it's a lot closer to the result I was looking for.

Today my dad gave me back the clear plastic Christmas ornaments I had asked him to cute in half for me.  They came out exactly how I wanted them (good old Dad! - instead of putting them in a vice and using a Dremel to cut them, he put the Dremel in the vice and moved the ornaments to cut them - great idea!).  I also picked up some black and some white tissue paper at Walmart as well as slippers for the actor's feet and a PERFECT red velour sweatsuit.

I painted the inside of each half of the clear ornament with Mod Podge and stuck first black tissue (for the pupils) and white tissue paper (for the whites of his eyes).  

My next challenge will be covering the armature with spray foam while avoiding enough of the eye space so that I can put lights inside the headpiece to get his eyes to light up.  Maybe this is overkill, but I they can always not use them.  I just thought it would look cool.  Like this:

Just a little glow.

I also attached his horns, which seem to poke out the back of his head in a very low direction and his ears, which look kind of like donkey ears.  There's a notch in one of them, which I added also.  Hope I don't lose the location of it when I cover it with spray foam.  

Here's a side view of how he looks now:

I still have to form a bottom jaw which will attach to each side of this, leaving a hole for the actor's face in his mouth.  I stopped cause I'm a bit stymied.  I need to think about how to best accomplish that.  Do I spray it separately and attach it later?  Should it be hinged, or stationary?  Maintaining a hole in the middle for the face of the actor makes it so much more difficult! 

  More in a couple of days!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mushu Dragon Head - taking shape!

beginning stage of Mushu dragon costume headpiece

I can't procrastinate any longer.   I started the head, and I'm worried.  After taking this picture, I'm not sure if it's going to look as sleek as I wanted it to, but it's really hard to tell at this stage.  Here's how I got to this stage…

I cut a strip of screening about 9 inches wide, and about 30 something inches long.  Thirtysomething is not very precise, but I tried to leave enough of a flap on the bottom for the flap to reach down the actor's back.  I folded it back on itself so that it forms the upper half of the jaw.  My thought was at the actor's head would sit comfortably in that semicircular piece of screening that you see toward the middle of this photo.  I glued that semicircular piece to the back (trying hard not to burn myself with the hot glue in the process). 

At this point I remembered the one thing I hate about wire fencing/screening of any sort.  It stabs the hell out of your fingers!  I then edged each cut end with duct tape.  It was helpful on that first day, but today is two days later, and the tape is no longer stuck on both sides of the wire.  

I cut a piece of pool noodle and glued it between the layers so they don't sag together when I add more layers.  Pool noodles = bad idea - they melt like CRAZY with the hot glue.  Maybe a cool glue gun would work, but I saw some melting even when I thought the glue had cooled.  Next time I'll just used rolled cones of screening, even though that presents its own problems…

I attached another strip of screening across the top of the "head" from one side of the jaw to the other.  Then I cut into it in several places and overlapped the flaps to "round" out the part that will be the back of the head, and the part that will be the front of the face. 

I remembered how much glue drips through the screening and thought, "Hey, I'll try a stapler for some of these jobs!" My first good idea of the night.  I used the stapler to attach a fatter part to the end of the upper jaw.  I also cut out some oval eye shapes and will attach those next time.  

I think I'm going with the spray on Great Stuff, but I'll admit, I'm scared.  If it turns out badly, I'll have to start over since Great Stuff is incredibly sticky and messy.  I also think I may have to attach another piece of wire to the back flap - not sure it's long enough.  

The bottom jaw is going to be a separate piece, but will somehow attach to the top piece and fit comfortably around the actor's face.  Still working that out.  More at the end of the week. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dragon Head Dilemmas

supplies to make the armature for a Mushu costume head
This year I am making not one but two different dragon costumes.  One is a single-person dragon costume - the dragon in Mulan, who is called Mushu (voiced in the movie by Eddie Murphy).  The other dragon is, as far as I know, just called "Dragon" and she is the dragon in the Shrek movies.  I'm not complaining, I like this sort of challenge, but it's a little daunting.

Mushu is a tiny dragon - if you remember the movie, you might remember that Eddie Murphy says he is "travel sized for your convenience."  He's a fraction of the size of the main character, Mulan, and I picture him more like a slithery lizard with legs than a typical dragon.  I don't really care for Mushu costumes I've seen online - he seems too thick and cumbersome compared to the dragon you see in the movie.  My goal is to make a costume that's a bit more form fitting, but with recognizable scales, large but not goofy feet, and a head that has a dragon shape but does not look overlarge with a thin, lithe body.

"Dragon" is the dragon in Shrek.  She is a female dragon with a HUGE presence.  She has wings and flies in the movie.  After doing my online homework, I've seen this dragon created in multiple forms.  There is the single person, conventional costume, but that does not have a huge presence, there is the multi-person dragon-puppet on sticks that literally hovers in the air above the actors' heads (this is MY personal favorite, but admittedly, probably the most expensive and most technically challenging to make AND maneuver), and then there is the multi-person costumed dragon, in which multiple people wear parts of the costume, and together they create the whole dragon.   The Shrek director wants to go with this last option, and the nice thing about it is that it will give a small group of students a chance to be seen on stage, in costume, and have an important job to do.  For Dragon, we'll make a large headpiece that will be worn by the main Dragon actress, there will be Dragon wings, a Dragon tail, and maybe others - not sure about those - they would have dancing parts.

So my first challenge for each dragon is the head.  Mulan is the first play (by two months) so I'm making that head first.  Since it's a smaller presence on stage, I think I should also make the head smaller, which should be technically easier.  At first I thought I'd go with the Attach-it-to-a-baseball-type-hat idea, but I scratched that idea when I realized that due to the long snout/mouth, it will still be front-heavy enough to still be constantly tipping forward.  To counteract this problem, I'm going to make the back of the head long enough to stretch down the actor's back a bit and then strap around the arms on each side, or across the chest under the arms.  The body of the costume will have a crew neck and should cover this support piece on the head and keep it concealed.  This part is going to be double cast as well, and since the two actors chosen are very different in height, I won't have to make two completely different costumes to accommodate their different heights, maybe just two different pairs of pants (or maybe not, but more on that later).

The parts you see in the picture above are for the armature for the Mushu dragon head.  My plan is to form a rough shape with the aluminum screening (gluing the pieces together with the glue gun) and add rounded bulk with the pool noodles, which are fairly inexpensive - $2.00 each at Walmart).  The plastic Christmas balls are going to be cut in half for the eyeballs.  I was thinking of lighting them up on the inside with battery operated lights, but that will be my surprise if it works out - Shhhhh!!  Today it also occurred to me that this might be a good use for Great Stuff - that spray foam insulation, but since it's SOooooo messy, I'm going to see how good it looks without that stuff first.  

Off to work for me.  I can't procrastinate on this one, since other people are depending on me!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Sky

This afternoon at work, I overheard someone comment while looking out the window, "If that's not a November sky, I don't know what is…" and so, when I headed out to my car a short while later, I snapped this picture.

Yes, I'd say that's a November sky.  Isn't it beautiful?

Everyone talks about spring and summer days, but poets and painters... they must love November.  All that complicated light… the depth and subtlety…  How could you not appreciate it?

November is that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy reaches the house in Kansas, whips open the door, struggles to get inside and manages to close the door.  It's that moment when you realize that life is huge, more powerful than you will ever be and you'd better just hold on and enjoy the ride.

Take a moment and appreciate November.