Category Archives: Costume

1930’s Movie Studio Camera & Director Boots

February 2012 – St. Valentines Day Massacre Costume Prop

My wife and I love going all out on costumes. So when our friends invited us to a St. Valentines Day Massacre party we knew we had to take it to an 11! She went as my hollywood producer, and I went as Howard Hawks, the director of Scarface (1932). I stopped shaving my mustache hair for a month to grow out a pencil thin directors ‘stash. A cap and coat from my grandpa’s closet added a lot to the costume. But to get that authentic classic hollywood look I knew I needed two things, director boots, and a camera!

I found a leather handbag in a thrift store for $5. I figured I could glean enough leather from it to make two boot covers. This would require more work but be more cost effective than buying actual knee-high leather boots. As awesome as that would be.

I removed all of the sitting and cut out a pattern using my own foot and a brown paper bag. Then I stenciled it onto each bag side. I barely had enough space to cut out the four pieces I needed. With no room for error I snipped out the patterns and using my newfound sewing skills I stitched up the front and the back of the boots.

Removing the stitching from the handbag
My brown paper bag template
Two boot outlines barely fit on one bag side

I feel the boot-covers worked out spectacularly! The edges of the bag left just enough material to sew two strips along the bottom to hold the cover over my shoes.

Boot on my foot, turned out great

Boflex Camera
From my time in film school I had actually handled one or two small 16mm film cameras and felt I could reproduce one in cardboard in a few days.  I quickly hashed out the basic box shape and the curved film magazine. Because I would be painting this creation I didn’t worry too much about how I taped and fastened the pieces together, the outer layer of black paint would be very forgiving.

The secret part of my camera was that it would be constructed around my Canon VIXIA HV30, this would allow me to film the party while staying in character! The lens would shoot out of the front opening and the left side had a panel I could open to access the viewfinder.

Rough cardboard work around camera
Side panel to access viewfinder
The right side flipped up on a tape hinge. This let the sides grip together when the housing was closed, holding it together with just friction.
The camera was coming together nicely, But I felt it needed some more detail on the front. I remembered that these old style cameras
Side closes but allows access to zoom control and record button
didn’t have zoom lenses but instead possessed a dial of three different focal length lenses. This dial turned to swap the lenses and change the zoom. A cardboard toilet paper tube became the medium and telephoto lens which would accompany my main wide angle lens the digital video camera would shoot through.
2- test fit on wide angle lens
I purchased some Rust-Oleum Black Hammered paint from Home Depot. This would give me that specked black metal look these cameras had. I painted the lens ring separately and then covered the entire camera body in black paint.
Now for the detail work. I used my old standby, metal plumbers tape. This was one of the first materials I used on my Robocop Costume. It applies just like aluminum foil but sticks exactly where you want it. A fancy strip alone the side and some silver trim around all of the lenses and the illusion was beginning to take hold.
My friend had an old 40’s army tripod which worked perfectly for my costume.
Sporting a turtleneck, my directors cap and leather knee-high boots I was a smash! I always love when I can combine my love of cardboard with my other creative skills.


Optimus Prime Costume

July 2007 – Transformers Film Midnight Showing

In July 0f 2007 the stars around Cybertron and Earth aligned and Transformers opened on the big screen. Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots defends the people of earth from the evil Decepticons.

In the middle of summer camp life is busy, and the only time to get away to the movies is Saturday night or a midnight showing. A band of us piled into my Ford Windstar and traveled the winding roads to the cinema.

I assembled my Optimus Prime costume in four hours one afternoon. A simple trip into town supplied blue and red butcher paper. I used some of my construction concepts from my Robocop Costume to fashion the knee and elbow joints.
My favorite part of the costume was the torso piece. I cut the front down the center and created a natural slot latch allowing the two halves to join together.

The best part of the night was when we joined the line at the theater. The management was so impressed with my costume that they bumped our group up to the front of the line! Another great costume, surrounded by great reactions.

Robocop Suit

March 2000 – Junior Year 80’s History Party

In the 1999/2000 school year my high school offered a combined History/English tag team class. When we were studying a particular portion of history we would be reading literature from the same period. During our studies on the 20’s our book was The Great Gatsby and to top it off we had a class party taking up half the school day. Everyone was dressed up as flappers and gangsters with my teacher coming as Charlie Chaplin herself!

When the spring semester rolled around it was announced a second half day party would take place in March, but this time the theme would be the 80s!  Now the 80s are one of my favorite decades, I like 80s music as it has a good beat, I like 80s cars such as the DeLorean, but I don’t like 80s clothes. Our class was given the choice of coming dressed in 8os style clothing or as a character from and 80’s film or television show.

I immediately began my plans for my Robocop costume. I watched the three films repeatedly and pulled screen shots off of internet fan sites. This would be my first foray into the realm of cardboard and the process was a long one. The entire suit took three months to construct and several trips to the hardware store and Walmart to scope out materials.

There were several criteria my suit would have to meet:

  1. Stand up to the wear and tear of a full day at school. (7 hours)
  2. Allow me to see out of the helmet.
  3. Allow free range of motion to participate in the mandatory 80’s dances we had learned.
  4. Allow me to get into the suit unaided
  5. Allow me to drive at least partially in the suit to school.

Since the suit would have to stand up to so much abuse and movement I ruled out foam as a base material, and aluminum or steal plates while realistic were too expensive and heavy. I settled on cardboard for the main structure, it would reveal itself to be pliable enough to shape into curves and angles for the torso. I at once loved the way I could manipulate cardboard and have since made it my chief construction material.
The torso is comprised of cardboard, covered with metal plumbers tape from Home Depot. This tape gives the shiny appearance of metal, but does not crinkle like aluminum foil, plus it bonds to cardboard with it’s own adhesive. The shoulders are knee pads covered in the same tape.
The helmet is a plastic baseball helmet with the brim removed and a band of cardboard surrounding my head. The visor and neck seal are made up of a plastic roofing material which I can see through similar to sunglasses.
The legs are made up of two sets of car windshield sun screens rolled around my thighs and calf’s and secured with velcro and attached to my belt.
The shoes were an old pair of tennis shoes. I fitted a small PVC pipe into a larger one attached to the calf piece to create a working piston similar to the movie suit. This would pump in and out as I walked (with my Robo walk).
The gloves are fingerless racing gloves over cloth gloves which provided the one unforeseen hitch to my design. The soda at the party was held in large tubs of ice and water, I could not reach into this tub without soaking my gloved hand. Fortunately my classmates came to the rescue and I remained hydrated. (which was difficult in such a hot suit).

I arrived at school in my tiny Ford Escort, dressed in my under suit and leg pieces. The shoes, arms, torso and helmet were too cumbersome and too dangerous to wear while driving. I quickly completed my transformation, secured my car and Robo-walked up through the front gates. I knew it would be a gauntlet of people from the parking lot to the small gym, but every step brought me past looks of amazement and awe. One classmate shouted out “Are you C-3PO?” I had no reply to this nonsense. C-3PO is gold, and Robocop is silver, you do the math.

When I had finally made it to the small gym my grand entrance was christened with more looks of astonishment and applause. I had kept my suit a secret from everyone at school yet everyone knew exactly who was beneath the cardboard and foil. I was congratulated by several classmates and friends on my amazing suit and asked the same three questions repeatedly:
Question 1: Can you see? ……………………………………….. Answer: Yes.
Question 2: Are you hot in there? …………………………… Answer: Yes, extremely.
Question 3: Where is your gun? ……………………………… Answer: In my leg.
Question 4 immediately after Question 3: Can I see it? … Answer: No.

The party was a success, my suit a triumph. While there was no costume contest that day I was told by my friends that I would have won it. I would go on to wear my Robocop suit periodically over the next several years. Around my college dorm to show off in 2003, in a campus safety sketch in 2004, and once for Halloween in 2005.

The suit now is retired, only the helmet remains on my shelf, but it sparked my fascination in building with cardboard. This project showed me how an imagination, combined with a plentiful and cheap building material can create a wondrous thing.