Monday 2 November 2009

Giant Spider Costume

Each Hallowe'en, I get the urge to do something more interesting than just giving out candy and taking our kids around the block - wouldn't it be neat to have some scary street theatre going on? Imagine a ghastly wagon drawn by a team of drooling quasimodos in straight jackets, clanging an iron bell, wailing in agony and despair!

I wasn't quite that ambitious this year, but the spirit of Hallowe'en did move me to make a giant spider costume!

The main thing I wanted was the sense of independently moving legs. Not dangling legs, but legs that actually walk. I wondered if I built ski-like structures attached to my feet, I could use my legs to control four of the spider legs, and my arms to control the remaining four.

After testing a prototype using two paint-roller handles I had at home, I was very encouraged. I went to Home Depot and bought myself sixteen 48" of them (which cleaned out Home Depot!). Paint-roller handles are thin metal tubes, coated with a laminate that takes paint nicely. Tou can saw and drill through them easily, but they're strong, and most importantly they're light enough that they don't stress the home-made hinges I was relying on.

I then bought a second-hand set of hockey shoulder pads - a set with nice, large plastic shoulders I could screw into.

Actually, making the holes in the hockey pads was the most dangerous part! The synthetic fabric inside the shoulder pads can wind around the drill bit once you punch through the hard exterior. SNAP! Off to to the hardware store again to replace the drill bit.

The front and back legs were attached using hinges, to keep them in a vertical plane. The main problem with bent-knee designs is keeping the knees from falling sideways - which works okay for the "pile of spaghetti" costume, but not so well for a functioning spider.

The middle pair of legs on each side would be controlled by my arms, so I made universal hinges out of a loop of clothesline wire. Clothesline wire is fantastic, but definitely wear gloves. I duct-taped an old pair of sneakers to the bottom skis, and made a few wobbly laps around the basement.

The clothesline wire came in handy in several other places - creating the connection between the skis and the front/back leg pairs, and as flexible connectors for the handles to control the side-leg pairs.

To decorate the legs, I bought two thicknesses of pipe-insulating foam, and duct taped the heck out of it, then spray painted it in a mottled pattern.

Everyone was surprised that the spider wasn't going to be black, but I wanted as much contrast between the spider's legs and my own body as possible.

The head/body and abdomen were made out of inexpensive chicken wire, wrapped in plaster cloth. Chicken wire is a bitch to work with, especially if your shears are rusty, but it bonds to itself nicely and lets you make great volumes.

I'd planned to do three coats, but I settled for two in most places, with special reinforcement around the neck and other weight-bearing areas.

As soon as I got the eyes on the head, my six year-old refused to be in the same room as it. Since I was going to be lurching after her all night on Hallowe'en, I figured she ought to give it a cute name to help her not be afraid of it. She suggested, 'Bloodie'.

Walking around the house with my mask on, it became apparent that there wasn't nearly enough air flow. The neck seal was nice and tight, and the mask has a tendency to fill up with warm exhaled air. After getting a bit dizzy, I realized I could manage it by deliberately blowing out of the mouth-hole, which would cause fresh air to come in around the edges.

The pedipalps are are dollar-store plastic gourds!

As late as Saturday afternoon, I had yet to try all three pieces together. I could just about get the legs on by myself, but I needed help for the other pieces. As the clocked ticked down to trick-or-treating time, my construction got more and more improvised.

The abdomen was held on by a garrotte-like loop of clothesline wire, which I kept off my neck by passing it through a luggage strap that I fastened around my chest.

The head was then fastened on using a combination of clothesline and bungee cords. One problem was that the abdomen hung down limply like a backpack, instead of sticking straight out - we tried some last-minute engineering but we couldn't make it work in the twilight, so I went out droopy!

As I was sealed in, I got a brief spell of claustrophobia. The abdomen pushed the head far forward, so all I could see was a patch of ground directly in front of me - only a foot or so past my forelegs.

I would need a spider-herder! Fortunately I had a couple of volunteers, my wife (who seems to have escaped the evening without being in a photo) and my sister-in-law, Julain:

Looking at this photo now, I realize her make-up job was way more hideous than my spider! She looks like she's possessed by the ghost of Quentin Crisp. *shiver*

I laugh when I see this photo, the caption ought to be, "Middle-aged weirdo dresses up to hiss at your children." I guess the effect was much better in person because Hallowe'en night itself was a blast.

People kept stopping us to take photos of us, or have their friends take one of them with us, and a couple of cars were nearly rear-ended.

That made up for the fact that walking around like this is like trying to manage two sets of ski equipment at the same time while working out in a sensory deprivation tank. Just crossing the road was an act of faith in my handlers. I could see my legs light up in the car headlights, but very little else!

I tripped several times on the sidewalk, but fortunately the only fall was during the test run in the afternoon. (Avoid grass. And curbs.)

Fortunately I could hear the shrieks and laughs of the other passers by, which was a lot of fun. All in all a great success!