Thursday, November 2, 2017

Costume Horns: First attempt trial and error.

The other week I got a message from my sister asking if I could make a pair of horns for my nieces' Halloween costume.She gave me some adorable sample art drawn by my niece herself.

<lilly's drawing>

After some discussion, we came to clarify the horns to texture(sample we settled on is here) I agreed to make the horns. Now, I have never made horns before. The completed costume pieces I've made have almost entirely been armor or weapons.

However I remembered a viral video from forever ago about a man who made Papier-mâché dragon trophies. After a vigorous single google search I found the video I remember and the man's (Dan Reeder's) website. If you haven't seen this video before I really recommend watching it. His video shows the process which he uses to create his dragon trophies and it's amazing, check out his website here,

After watching this video I came up with a gameplan.

  1. Drill holes in a child sized headband, and fit long nails through the holes. These nails act as the mounting surface for the underlying structure of the horns.
  2. Use aluminum foil to shape the horns. I chose aluminum foil as it's cheap, and you can shape it into something fairly sturdy. This was inspired from Dan's work, even though he uses a different material than aluminum foil.
  3. Smooth wrap the horns in foil. The idea is that after applying the Papier-mâché I will be able to remove the inside aluminum foil to cut weight.
  4. Papier-mâché, 2-3 layers of news paper on the horns. I'd be bringing back a mixture of Papier-mâché I used in the past. 1 part water to 1 part Elmers glue. With short strips of newspaper. 
  5. Sand down sharp edges.
  6. Contact cement wrap horns in a thin layer of EVA foam. 
  7. Add texture to EVA foam.
  8. Gesso the horns, and paint. 
  9. Remove from nails, remove stuffing, tight fit a piece of Styrofoam into the base of the horns, hot glue the nail and re-affix the horns. 
So I began making the horns. Shaping the horns to be identical could probably be done, but I got them close enough, it's not like nature is perfect either right? 

After finishing step 5 I started to think about the next few steps.  I've made horns on a helmet before, Loki, and I fitting the foam was a nightmare, now I was about to fit the foam to a solid structure, while trying to avoid the creation of seems? Nah, there had to be an easier way. So I returned to the idea of Papier-mâché. I found a material called Claycrete. It's a fibrous mixture including, what I'm guessing is Plaster of Paris. When Claycrete drys it's crazy hard and durable. Claycrete makes a great structural material, but it's not sandable. For this I decided to use Paper Clay. Paper Clay is an air dry clay with incredibly fine ground paper filler. This paper filler solves one of the biggest problems with regular air dry clay, that is how brittle they normally are. So I amended my game plan.

6. Apply a thin layer of Claycrete. 
7. Apply a 3ish mm thick layer of paper clay.
8. Detail the paper clay.
9. Gesso, Paint.
10. Remove stuffing?

At this point I'm also considering not removing the stuffing, the newspaper and aluminum foil are pretty attached to each other, and i'm uncertain as to how well the horns + Styrofoam will work.

The instructions on the Claycrete are pretty clear, and pretty wrong.  They call for 1/8 - 1/4 cup of water for every oz of the Claycrete, but this was no where near enough water. The Claycrete is so absorbent that 1/4 cup of water for an oz leaves the mixture still basically dry. So I ended up using the garden hose and adding water to the stuff, then adding more mixture to the overly moist soup until it was a thick and playable paste. This paste was still probably a little too wet, as it took 4 days to dry instead of 12 hours. 

If I were to do this again, I would skip the newspaper and glue Papier-mâché, and just use the Claycrete. When it dries, it dries super light and impressively hard. You can see that I didn't get the tips of the horns, this is because I still want them to come to a point (rounded, these horns are Disney Land bound) and the Claycrete over the newspaper was going to be too thick. 

Next I used a plastic rod to roll thin sheets of paper clay and set them over the top of the Claycrete. 

The paper clay didn't want to play nice. It does not adhere to the Claycrete that well, I had to smudge the clay into the rough texture of the Claycrete do get it to grip even in the slightest. On the first horn I tried applying as much in a single large sheet, this was a bad idea. I spent a significant portion of time removing pockets of air, and pinching excess clay. On the second horn I applied the clay in smaller, credit card sized sheets.

Getting a uniform curvature was really tough though and I eventually just moved on. If I were to be making this to be cast, or for actual money, I may spend a lot longer trying to make the curvature as uniform as possible. I remember there being a woodworkers tool, with a bunch of sliding nails, you can use this tool to set a curvature. If I had one of these tools, this is where it would be of use. Instead, I applied very small chunks of very moist clay until it was good enough. Then I gave it a good sultry rub down constantly wetting my hands with water before setting it out to dry. (Drying took about 24 hours) HERE

For the details, such as the ribbing, I used a triangular wood file. Once the growth rings were on, I gave it a smooth sand with some progressively fine grit sand paper..

It took a lot of sanding to get the horns smooth, but once sanded down the paper clay felt like smooth plastic. After this dried I moved onto painting. For this I used a white gesso base, then used an Ivory for the whites, a Vanilla for the off whites. Using the smoothest cloth I could find I wiped away the vanilla paint while it was still wet to give it the inconsistent coloring of actual horns. 

I decided in the end not to remove the stuffing, primarily due to the newspaper glue. In the future having skipped that step I would definitely remove the stuffing. The horns were permanently attached to the headband using some 20 minute epoxy I found lying around, contact cement wasn't holding with the flexibility of the headband. 

All in all, the cost of the project is actually pretty low.
Claycrete - $6
Paper Clay - $10
Newspaper - Free, thanks grandma
Glue - $1
Headband - $1
Aluminum Foil - $1
Gesso - $4
Acrylic Paints - ~$3

So for under $20 in materials you can make some really dank looking horns. As far as time cost, The shaping probably took an hour, the newspaper and glue took another hour, Claycrete took half and hour after I got a decent consistency. Applying the paper clay took about half an hour, detailing took a few hours, and painting took a couple hours as well. A quick search of Etsy shows horns selling for ~$10-$60, these are mostly resin casts and a couple Styrofoam carvings. Unpainted and often small. These casts are of course still high quality, and are at a totally great price. The closest set of horns to the ones I maid for my niece are ~$135 Impala style horns. 

These took a fair amount of work, roughly 20 hours probably, I am more than willing to make these horns as a custom request, would probably be $75 in the end. 

Visit my Etsy, I hope to have some new stuff such as templates/patterns up soon!