Halloween 2005: Revenge of the Sith!

Yes, here we are in Oak Lawn again as a couple of nerds.  This was another awesome Halloween.

Below is the story behind the costumes that got us to this point.

For the third year in a row we went down to the wire with getting our costumes finished, but that is always part of the adventure, I guess.

The plan gradually evolved over the last month beginning with the vague notion that we would do something Star Wars since, well, 1) I'm a nerd, 2) it's my year to pick, and 3) Revenge of the Sith rocked.  Of course, I had no idea what character to do, so the early idea was that I would be a generic Jedi character and Dani would be R2-D2.  Believe it or not, we (read: she) actually had some good ideas for making a real R2 costume that wouldn't require dressing up in a trashcan.  More about that some other year.

Eventually I started thinking along the lines of the Emperor.  I mean, he's such a cool character in the last movie, that I kept coming back to him.  Yoda was the natural counterpoint, of course, so Dani started thinking about what to do with that costume while I looked for the Emperor's red royal robes from the third act of the film (which was my favorite costume even though that's not the one he wears during the actual fight scenes with Yoda).

In the meantime, I really wanted to get all the details down, so I started thinking about how to make a latex mask to match the Emperor's deformed features.  I started looking around at make-up effects websites for tutorials, and finally headed over to a nearby costume and fx place.  They showed us several products, one of which was a putty that you could apply directly and shape.  We bought some, but unfortunately, it was really gummy and not very practical for going out and running the streets, although I could see applications for more controlled settings as when making a film, for example.  We tried another formulation as well, but didn't find either very helpful.  Dani had the idea of making prosthetics out of Sculpy, a clay that can be hardened when baked.  She shaped it into test patches and baked a few pieces lightly, but it became too rigid too quickly and was thus impossible to form-fit to my face after the fact, so that option was out as well.

Make-up test #1

Here's the make-up test back on Oct 10 with the sticky stuff.  I'm watching tv while Dani experiments on me.

There's some on my forehead and a bit more around my cheekbone.

I guess this would work if I was going to be a Klingon.  We weren't trying to be 100% realistic yet, just looking for proof of concept, so to speak.

Make-up test #2

And here's the super-Sculpy test, side-by-side with the other stuff.  Note: This is unbaked-Sculpy.

I figured the whole thing would be covered in white make-up anyway, so the color didn't necessarily have to match at this point.

We put those make-up ideas aside for a while since Dani had to begin focusing on the costumes.  We started shopping around for fabrics and patterns for both she and I, and we gradually collected the proper material, including some fabric paint for the embossing (if that's the right word) for the front of my cowl (or whatever that thing is called).  Sadly, we had hardly made any progress on this the whole time leading up to Halloween Saturday.

In conjunction with Dani working on the costumes, I was trying to fashion working (well ,sort of) lightsabers out of hardware parts.  There's a cottage industry of fan-made lightsaber "props" on the internet and at sci-fi conventions, etc.  There is even a professionally made series from Master Replicas that, in addition to lighting up, also produce sound effects that correspond to (and are triggered by) movement and striking other objects.  Of course, these were more than $100 each, and we needed two, so I didn't seriously consider them for very long.

Instead, I looked at designs and plans fans had posted on the internet and scoured the plumbing aisles at hardware stores to make a passable version of the lightsaber hit.  Ultimately, I bought a working hilt from someone through eBay just so I could see how one was assembled (and from what).  However, this one didn't have a "blade," so I was going to have to make both blades from scratch.

I ordered two 20' lengths of el-wire (aka electroluminescent wire) from elwirecheap.com.  One set was green, the other red.  I still needed something to house it though, so I ordered polypropelene tubes from McMasters (a materials retailer who has just about everything).  Unfortunately, my order got screwed up, so it didn't arrive until the Thursday before Halloween (and we were planning to go out on Saturday).

The plan was to wind the el-wire around a smaller tube over and over like an old style telephone cord along the entire length and then insert it in the larger clear polypropelene tube.  However, it turned out that there wasn't enough room to do that, so I ended up having to repeatedly double the el-wire over and thread it through the tubes by pulling it with a really long shoelace (two of them tied together, actually).

Halloween day (well, Saturday), we were going down to the wire (no pun intended).  I still needed to work on the hilts, so that afternoon, Dani and I were running around and hitting Lowes for parts.  As luck would have it, I found a PVC plumbing connector that fit the blade really snugly.  I still had no idea what all to do to keep it jammed into the hilt, but I figured I would work something out under pressure.  I also bought a pack of O-rings that were roughly the diameter to squeeze around the lightsaber hilt.  I had seen others use them for decoration in adorning the hilt, so I thought they would be a nice touch as well.

As it turned out, the O-rings were the perfect piece I needed.  They fit neatly around the back end of the plumbing fixture, so I was able to get that piece (which was holding the blade) right up to the edge of the hilt.  I planned to just jam-fit it inside using the rubber from the rings to buffer it, but I realized I had some circular brackets that would clamp it in place.  These also happened to be purchased purely for an aesthetic end, but they worked perfectly here.

Also while at Lowes, I picked up a can of spray window glass frosting.  I applied this lightly to the blade tubes so make them opaque enough to make the individual strands of el-wire appear to blend together into a single blade of light.  I alternated my applications of each of the coats with trips to Wal-mart and the mall at one point to get solder for the el-wire.  The original design for the circuit was to handle a single 9 Volt, but that wasn't very bright at all.  So I soldered two more 9 V connectors to mine and another one onto Dani's (her hilt was shorter, so it couldn't fit the additional battery). 

Gus watches as I cut the clear tubing to length with the Dremel. 

Note my neighbor's vodka bottle to the left.  It was pilfered from the recycling bin.  I used that to test the frosting for the number of coats required and to be sure it wouldn't eat the plastic.

The tubing took quite a few coats to get it opaque enough to obscure the el-wire, but I had to put each application on thin enough that it didn't run or end up splotchy.

I alternated between running around looking for tools and parts around the house and going out shopping for more materials (more about that later) and coming out here to add still more coats every few minutes.

I blew up a picture of the Emperor's pattern on the computer, then printed it out in through Word in a series of increasingly larger sizes to match the ones on the front of his cowl.

Here's the vodka bottle again, close up this time.  It's resting on a piece of Yoda's robe material and a pattern for it or another piece of costuming.

Here Dani is making the skull cap and ears for her transformation into Yoda.

While Dani sewed, I was on the living room floor hastily assembling the lightsabers and the Emperor's force lightning.

For the latter, I taped a couple batteries to an inverter (the the small electrical circuit required to convert the DC current into AC in order to make the el-wire glow) and then soldered the 9 V connectors together with a switch.  Then I used that set-up to power a 3' length of el-wire that I attached pseudo-randomly to an unbent and forked coat hanger to resemble the lightning (See the 2nd to last picture on this page for the final version.).

Here's the final assembly of my saber. 

The hilt wasn't fancy, but it all held together really nicely and was impressive looking in the dark.

I didn't have time to add a better switch or to find a neater way to install it in the hilt, so I jammed everything in the circuit up in the tube and left the original switch at one end, then shoved a couple paper towels inside to hold it all in place.

This turned out to be a great solution since it kept the batteries from rattling around and possibly breaking my rush solder job (I connected three 9 volts together; it was originally designed to only use one).

Here's the final rush-paint job on the cowl.  Dani created stencils out of my print-outs.  These were supposed to be filled in completely, but they looked even better as simple outlines.

One of my last-minute trips was to Wal-mart for batteries (of course; we only used seven 9 volts between the two of us!) and some off-the-shelf make-up kits. 

I didn't know which color would best work for Yoda, so I picked up two shades for Dani. 

As much as I wanted to make a full latex get-up for the Emperor, there just wasn't the time to acquire the necessary skills, so I just used plain white for my face and red and purple for around my eyes.

As you can imagine, this was taking quite a bit of time and our procrastination was killing us at this point.  We ended up not leaving until 9:20pm, which was well past when I planned to get on the road ...but at least we looked in character by that point.  An hour earlier, I wouldn't have said our costumes were anywhere near ready at all.  Dani was only just putting her make-up on in the car as we left.

The original plan was to go to Liz's party (sorry, Liz) and then go to Rich's place.  We were going to bring over a tripod Rich wanted to borrow in order to photograph people as they arrived at his pre-Oak Lawn party.  Unfortunately, what with all the delays (including a nightmare parking situation once we got in the neighborhood), it took us forever to get down to Oak Lawn.  Rich and the gang were already leaving their place to head out to the street around the time we were pulling up, so we just ended up meeting them down there.

And here are the final results of all that work: Yoda...

...and my Emperor.

And with the lights off, it looks even cooler.

I have waited a long time for this moment, my little green friend.

Of course, there's always someone a little more into getting the perfect Halloween costume than we are.

The weather was kind of chilly, so the costumes worked out just great.  I didn't get as many great pictures this time as last year though.  In part, I guess there weren't as many good (read: revealing!) costumes as before, but part of the problem was that the batteries in my camera kept running out.  I have no idea what was up with that.  I can understand the first set being low since I was taking pictures on those already (including a good many from during the final preparations on the costumes), but then the next set that was supposedly fully charged decided to run out, then the next set only had three batteries, so they didn't work either.  I ended up running down the street to the gas station/convenience store (which was fresh out), then to the grocery store that was about 5 minutes from closing (it was 11:55 pm by this point).  I picked up an 8-pack and headed back down the street.  The nice thing about the lightsabers is that they doubled as signals of where we were almost from opposite ends of the block.  I had left Dani/Yoda in front a place in the middle of the street, so when I came back, we had our sabers turned on and were able to hold them high so we could find one another's position.

Around 1:30 am we had pretty much seen most of the people there were to see, so we headed out to Deep Ellum to check if there was much of a scene there.  And there wasn't.  It looked like any other night of the year with the same clubbing crowd and street people.  We didn't see any reason to stop (quite the opposite, in fact), so we headed home.

Actually, the plan was that we were going to hit a small tunnel (i.e., short in length, not height) to do some photos with all the special effects we had on hand since, after all, when the hell else were we ever going to get all dressed up in our costumes and make-up again?  We had the aforementioned tripod on hand as well, but we just plain forgot to stop off there.

I have no idea what all we'll be doing next year.  It's Dani's turn to pick, so it will likely be something I really, really don't want to do.  I vetoed a number of ideas last year until we eventually went down to a last minute grab for off-the-shelf ninja and geisha costumes.  If you have any ideas, I'll be sure to include them in the Halloween file for consideration next year (and beyond).

Copyright 2007 the Ale[x]orcist.