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How DO you make those Animal Costumes? (Fursuits)
Lots of design questions. Materials, visibility, large tails, sewing choices.. 
7th-Jun-2012 07:19 pm
I've been wanting to make myself at least ONE suit sometime. I always contemplate it, and doodle a bit, and I never move forward out of fear of failure. I'm sure this is something that eats at a lot of new suit builders, but problem is I have no interest in the standard furry designs.. and it's go big or go home. If I can't make something I actually want to pour the hours in to and wear myself, it's not worth it to me. I don't doubt I could pull together a nice looking canine head, but I'm a fan of reptiles, and... let's just say I'm incredibly picky about accuracy even in caricature.

I really want to suck it up and do my first project now that I have a solid "fursona." Just a partial, sleeves, feet, and a head. Sounds simple right? Except it would be a partial of an African Fire Skink.

Anyone care to help me figure this puzzle out? I've started designing and I have a good idea of what I want. I will probably have to go prop free. I could never make the hat, but I might be able to make glasses, I dunno. Anyway! Several questions and concepts beneath the cut!


Please pardon the dust here, as its been a long while since I drew with a standard tablet (I usually use a tablet PC) so my shaky hand is showing really, really badly. Skink's head is not really human. She has a much flatter cranium, different spacing to the eyes, and a far different neck. There would be a lot of foam padding to create the right shapes in the neck alone. I'm actually tempted to make the throat a cavity to put a fan in, but that is a design stage that is long off at this point.

Foam padding and shaping is something I understand well, so no worries there. However, I don't know what kind of foam I should use. Would piecing together thin upholstery foam be preferable, or would a carving block be better? Where do you even GET a carving block of foam?! I've looked many times and never found one.

So far I am planning on a static expression, just because a moving jaw miiight be too much trouble for my first time around. What do you think? Would something this shape be easy to give a moving jaw? I do want to keep the cheerful expression.

I'm curious as to how I should do the eyes. She has mostly black eyes, save for the thin ring of iris. She has very, VERY small brows. You can barely tell there is any brow there. Its really only defined by the sink of her eyes in the drawings, unlike the old 3D heads. I don't know if follow you eyes would be appropriate for this head shape, but I don't want mesh eyes that will make her look wall eyed! If you have any suggestions on how to handle this, I am all ears.

There is one more issue with the head.

AAAAH WHAT DO WHAT DO I NEED TO BE ABLE TO SEE - oh yeah! Also I wear glasses. I am unable to go without them, I have a very strong prescription, so I need to make sure I have room between my face and the inside of the mask to wear my glasses while wearing the head.

Arms and Feet:
I did not bother making a concept sketch for the feet just yet, as my drawing ability really is not with me today and they are what I have pretty much the most figured out. The tail and the arm, however, present some big problems. I'm tempted to just make the arms long gloves, or just to the elbows, because that part of her arm is almost solid black. The upper arm there are several color changes, especially on the shoulder where sewing would need to be the most precise. I live in Texas, though, so being able to wear short sleeves would be great. I also like the idea of having a "seamless" appearance without much worry.

Her tail is very thick and long, and I don't want it to have an awkward pinch top. Its not as simple as a how a mammalian tail connects, since for reptiles the spine is something everything comes off of rather than the top line. I'd want to give it some amount of support, maybe a pool noodleish type faux spine, so that it would be flexible but not dragging. It could get a lot closer to the ground than I drew it, though. Her tail has a lot of complex coloration to it, with changing spots and colors on a dark background. I wouldn't mind putting up with an awkward attachment beneath the butt to keep the appearance I want, though I have to be careful - I'm a big girl, so my thighs touch.

One of my biggest hang-ups right now is what material to use. I really, really do not want to use faux fur. She isn't fuzzy by any means and even short piles would look too fuzzy. She is a skink, not a hairy dragon troll. Let's take a look at the concepts I have thus far.

Fleece has always looked really nice to me when it's well sewn on a toony suit! However I don't know if it would be wise for me to tackle such a complicated pattern on my first go at this. maybe on one of my characters with less round markings, and fewer of them, but not Skink. I could likely easily find fleece that already has a black-with-white-polka-dots pattern for the neck and tail, at least. There's also painting white fleece, but most fleece paint jobs I've seen look excessively matted or dirty rather than nice.

Minky is an option comparable to fleece which is considerably more expensive and while it is technically a really low-pile fur it seems matte much like fleece, but is softer to the touch. Painting the surface of minky would make it crusty and unappealing, so sewing in the markings would be the only option.

Spandex, cotton or a comparable material with a smooth, workable surface (that isn't vinyl, pleather or a cheap faux leather blegh) have been a consideration for two different materials.
   -Puff Paint has been a consideration of mine to do gentle scale textures and then paint over all of it. It would be one of the cheapest, easiest methods to obtain the look I want.
   -Liquid platinum cure silicone could let me get even more hands on with the sculpting process. With many hours of work this could have amazing results.. but it would be VERY EXPENSIVE to coat the entire suit even though it's a partial, and budget is unfortunately a limit I must observe.

Any help, suggestions, experience, tutorials, advice or what have you that you might have to share, please PLEASE do! I am a research nut and I don't like the idea of charging in blindly even if your first fursuit build is invariably a "just do it" project! Anything you arm me with will help this go a lot better. If I do well here, I have other suits I'd love to make, all of the reptilian variety, and good, accurate reptile suits is something the fursuiting world is sorely lacking... Maybe in my efforts to learn, others will too, and we can help make that change.

8th-Jun-2012 12:42 am (UTC)
Hm. While I have yet to do any scaly critters, one material I've adored for any sort of "skin" is antron fleece. I dyed white antron and used it upon this mask here:


It's a one sided material, also known as muppet skin or muppet fleece. It's fabulous stuff. Any seams sewn into it disappear. Literally.It takes to regular airbrush paint (Wicked colors by Createx is fabulous). Another thing to aid with vision. There's a mascot company that did a very cleaver trick:

Both eyes are full mesh, but there's a very sneaky vision screen in between the eyes as well

Huge picture here: http://jthreee.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/dsc09772.jpg
That one definitely shows the vision screen. Why not do something like that?
8th-Jun-2012 03:48 am (UTC)
Antron fleece seems to be a lot more immediately pilled than arctic fleece. I would go for arctic if I couldn't find antron in the right colors, dying is something I don't trust just yet, I have little fabric experience. I do like that it hides the seams better without doing a super fancy stitch, but the fact it needs to be shaved and isn't as available might defeat that...

I'd totally do the vision screen if I could hide it as well, but I have no idea what material that is. Any idea how I can find out? Most vision screens I see used in amateur costumes are unsightly.
8th-Jun-2012 12:51 am (UTC)
Forgive me if this isn't very helpful, I'm currently working on my first fursuit, so I don't have a massive amount of experience. However, I have made a number of plushies and I have worked a fair amount with both minky and fleece.

Fleece: You should most certainly be able to find black and white polka-dot fleece. You could sew together the markings, but the seams would show. If you were interested in something a little less realistic looking you could always try embroidering the markings on. (It would take a long time and a lot of effort, though) That would probably look nice. (It does on plushies at any rate. xD)

Minky: I love minky fabric. Minky hides the seams a little better than fleece, and would make your suit all soft without looking too fuzzy. It's more expensive than fleece, but less than faux-fur. Also, you should be able to get black and white polka-dot minky. I know I've seen it before. If you haven't been minkydelight.com is my favorite place to find minky. I agree with you that sewing markings would be the best. Again, time consuming, but I think it would look good.

I've probably just reiterated a lot of stuff you already know, but I hope I may have given you a thought or two!

And now, I will leave the rest to people who actually know what they are doing.
8th-Jun-2012 03:54 am (UTC)
I've seen the minky, and I've considered buying it from time to time to make a skink plush with, but I just do not have the skill to make plush at the moment. If I cut my teeth on making a fursuit head, which is a lot larger and thus easier to work with, I might be able to make a nice sculpted plush model to make a ductape pattern from and have the head "sculpted" but I digress

I wouldn't do embroidery, as when under stress threads can pull and fray. I'm intimidated by fleece because of the sheer amount of sewing involved and how careful one needs to be with all of the pieces involved for separate colors, but so far it sounds like it would make the cleanest finish.
8th-Jun-2012 01:06 am (UTC)
Not sure if these will work or not, and I'm sorry they're so poorly drawn, I just woke up ^^; The second one is possible buckram/something else you can see through locations, if you're set on that scale. This caught my interest 'cause I'm an go-hard-or-go-home person, too, and I find that my family don't get it xD So I get the not starting simple. Fleece is definitely an option, however there is materials at some stores that are almost like pleather I suppose. Many are textured and I haven't used them for a suit, but if you can find the correct colours, I think they'd be an option.
My advice would be to figure out the head first and just focus on that, since that is looking like it will be the hardest thing to do.
I think with the angle of the jaw, it would be easy to do a moveable jaw and a lot better for air flow.
I really love the design and I hope my pics helped (if the insert worked, if not they're the most recently updated ones in my scrapbook)
Once i'm a little more awake I'll come back and think this through a little more, it's a gorgeous design.
Good luck!
8th-Jun-2012 03:52 am (UTC)
I really don't like the idea of pleather or anything like it and I won't use it. Its gross looking and not at all comparable to how actual lizards and snakes feel, even though most people wanting to use pleather for a scaly costume would be doing it based on that misguided notion.

Air flow is something I had not considered! While I handle heat very well, fresh air is important to me, and I don't want to have my glasses fogging up.

I unfortunately do not see your pictures, and I don't know how to get to your scrapbook (or what that is haha) so a direct link would be much appreciated!
8th-Jun-2012 05:37 am (UTC)
http://pics.livejournal.com/arcticious/pic/0001br6p/g48 not sure if that will work xD http://pics.livejournal.com/arcticious/pic/0001c1ah/g48 Understandable about the pleather.
Best of luck!
8th-Jun-2012 01:45 am (UTC)
Totally do-able. But, you might need to sacrifice some of the shape to make it work. Partial fursuits really need to have a smaller head to function well with clothing (or else you look like a bobble head).

For glasses: http://i.imgur.com/NogFI.jpg
They make these character masks, around $10 in the toy section. The rubber goggles inside are designed to go around glasses and put support pressure around your eyes, not on the bridge of your nose. I haven't tried it yet, but this would work keenly to allow plenty of space for glasses in a fursuit head. Especially in a resin based fursuit head. Fine one and try it on in the store, you'll see what I mean.

If you're a sculptor, I recommend starting with a basic foam base, and sculpting additively until you get the shape you want. You can plan for hours and hours and your final sculpt will never be exactly like your design (usually way better!). Working additively you can add and adjust easily without wasting money and foam by sculpting down from a large block.

As far as materials, faux fur is incredibly forgiving. I would recommend a 1/2" or shorter faux fur. It will be bright, crisp, and even on a lizard can look very smooth. A nice shine, etc. I can understand wanting to avoid using fur (because it's a lizard after all!) but, Pleathers are hot and hard to work with, fleece is still fuzzy, and any latex/paint/spray to make a coating adds weight and doesn't allow any air flow.
8th-Jun-2012 02:26 am (UTC)
I am really not worried about the head in proportion to my body. I'm going to be bringing it in very close, as close as I can, and on top of that I'm a big girl. I'm heavier, yeah, but I'm also thick with wide shoulders and hips - I'm just plain larger than most people. Big heads wouldn't look as big on me, and I'm going to be planning ahead on size issues.

I am absolutely not going to include pleather in my fabric consideration. It's ugly, wrinkly even when tightly sewn, hot, shiny, and over all blegh.. I also will not consider short pile furs other than minky and I am very firm in that decision. Fire skinks are most definitely not smooth shiny lizards, nor are they leathery.

Fleece is still fuzzy, but it is nowhere near as fuzzy as actual faux fur, and it is also very bright and crisp. I love the look of it on toon suits. It's one of my favorite looks. Weight also does not bother me, nor does airflow. I'm used to carrying lots of weight for extended periods and I'm the type who's comfortable in winter clothes on 105+ days in the direct sunlight.

Depending on the size of the goggles that might be a very good lead! I will have to head to the hardware store and look for something like them. I'm not keen on using a children's mask since they tend to be cheaply manufactured, but I'd forgotten about welding and safety goggles that often must account for the same glasses issue.

As for changing the head's shape to make it work.. if I have to change its appearance much at all, if even a bit, I'll just wait for another project idea. I'm not sacrificing the head shape I want to make some generic trashy "lizard" with forward focused eyes. That's one of the biggest pet peeves for me ever lol.

Edited at 2012-06-08 02:28 am (UTC)
8th-Jun-2012 09:02 am (UTC)
just chiming in to say; don't worry at all about having to accommodate glasses into your head, that's honestly the easiest part of this whole process. You won't have to do anything special! What Rio does is, has me put on the (foam) sculpted head, then when I pull it off, let it pull off my glasses with it-- then we mark where the glasses are stuck with a sharpie, and cut out the foam there to allow a nice bit of wiggle-room for glasses.

With fabric choices... minky is more long-lasting and resilient, but it also doesn't have much of a stretch, so patterning with it is HELL and involves a lot of sewing and darts (and it's so thin, it easily wrinkles/bunches). With fleece, you're basically just stretching it over the shape and gluing it down (sewing in markings/more extreme curves) which makes it a buttload simpler, but it won't age as nicely and even anti-pill fleece and get a weird texture (thanks to GREASY PEOPLE SKIN). But for your first head, maybe fleece is a good idea? You can always cover it with minky later.
These markings would look amazing sewn but omg, that would be hell, that would be HELLER THAN HELL, so perhaps look into airbrushing? maybe even figure out a stencil for the circles so they could be clean and evenly spaced, as in the design.

alsooo for the glasses-- some makers just cut foamies into the shape of glasses and use that, it's a simple, toony way to do it that photographs just fine but won't last forever (but hey, isn't hard or expensive to replace when they get bent/worn). At the moment my partner is using wonderflex (a heat-sensitive plastic that is easily molded) headed over a wire armature to make large prop glasses, as a more durable option to consider, though requires MUCH more patience to get it 'just right'.

AND, I would recommend upholstery foam just because it has a lot more forgiveness to it; some people use the harder, dense, crunchy foam, but it makes it more scary to have to pack up your suit for the fear of it potentially snapping or denting. Upholstery foam, even if warped/distorted, will pop right back into place if you set it out for a day. One of my heads had 30lbs of luggage stored on top of it, and tho it was flat as hell for a few days it sprung right back up and looks fine, hahaha
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