The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of a Fun Size Kit-Kat.
October 6, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

My son wants to be the Death Star for Halloween. Awesome. I can do this. But I’m stuck as to how to make a sphere. Help!

I can make the trench, the laser, the emperor’s throne room, the Y-Wing smearing itself against the surface and all the other crap. I can rig up some lights and glow sticks. That much I can do. But how do I make the basic frame and sphere? It has to be light enough for a seven year old to wear; it should be durable and not catch fire if he should stray too close to a candle. His head will come out the top and his arms will need to stick out the sides. I figure maybe two-feet around, though that might be a bit big for his arms.

So far all I can think to do is to get a large beach ball (probably difficult this time of year) and stiffen it with paper mache, or fasten a bunch of hula-hoops together and cover it with fabric. Both ideas sound really lame to me and I can see them turning out badly. Perhaps I'm overthinking it, but I take pride in my costumes. There must be a better way. You guys are smart, you’ll figure it out.

If you do a Google image search for “Death Star Costume” you’ll see exactly what I don’t want.

Help me, Metafilter. You’re my only hope.
posted by bondcliff to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How about do papier mache around one of those big exercise balls? Once you paint it and put lights and stuff on it, it would look way more awesome than the Google result. (Don't know about the flame retardant part, though.)
posted by LolaGeek at 7:37 AM on October 6, 2009

Two ideas come to mind:

* I was a giant Hershey's Kiss for halloween one year, and made the frame out of a hula hoop and a lot of chicken wire. That was lightweight, but a bit pointy, which may dissuade you (an awesome costume becomes less awesome when it inadvertently stabs your kid).

* I know they make store-bought costumes of the M&M "red" and "Yellow" guys, which are sort of foam-rubber and vaguely round, so your kid can poke head out of the top and arms out of the sides. Maybe get one of those, shove a pillow down the front and back (to change it from a lenticular shape to a spheroid one), and paint it gray?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on October 6, 2009

You could use aluminum tubing, or even copper plumbing pipe (easy to bend/cut/connect) to build a buckyball, then stretch fabric over it.

Or, buy a few 4x8 sheets of thick (4-inch) styrofoam or florists' foam, glue them into a big sandwiched-solid cube, and carve, carve, carve.
posted by rokusan at 7:38 AM on October 6, 2009

I did some google fu and found this link on how to make a planet costume. It does not sound like an easy task. Good luck.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:39 AM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Yoga ball as base for a paper mache frame, then stiffen with epoxy resin or some other plasticker, is what I'd do. If you do the paper mache right, it doesn't have to really look like a home ec project. Rob Cockerham has been able to do this with a baloon from a party store that was even bigger than the dimenstions you're looking for. Bonus: paint it with blackboard paint.
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could get some styrofoam (styrafoam...they all look wrong) blocks and glue them together, then carve into a sphere. I made lots of styrofoam things in high school - you can glue it together with wood glue.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think hoops with fabric over will be round enough, and maybe too fragile for a seven year old running around, having fun etc. But you could use this as the mould for the papier mache, and then remove the poles from the inside.

Alternatively, I'm sure the party shop near where I used to live in the UK sold extra-large size spherical balloons - is there anywhere near you that stocks something similar? They are bigger than a beach ball and often filled with helium or carried on big sticks as promotional marketing things. You could papier-mache over it...
posted by Skaramoosh at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2009

on preview: listen to jessamyn!
posted by Skaramoosh at 7:41 AM on October 6, 2009

Here's the M&M costume concept I was talking about (adult size on that link, but I've seen them in kid's sizes).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Maybe a Chinese paper lantern? They have the wires, etc as a base
posted by stormpooper at 7:46 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: My only concern with paper mache is that it'll turn out lumpy. That'll work for a planet but the Death Star is made of metal (I'm sure Wookipedia would tell me exactly what kind of metal...) and from a distance the surface is smooth. My son probably won't care, but I will. I wouldn't be a geek if this didn't matter to me.

(I'm the guy who made him a completely accurate Apollo-era space suite when he was four.)
posted by bondcliff at 7:47 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think paper-mache is the way to go; anything else is maybe going to be too heavy or bulky. You're probably on the right track with the beach ball as a armature, but you may have better luck using a large latex balloon. Once you layer the paper-mache onto the balloon – and you can put quite a lot before its too heavy for a 7 yr old – you can cut arm/leg/head holes and reinforce the inside with strips of corrugated cardboard.

Paper-mache should last an evening, and with some reinforcement your son should make it through the night without any pesky rebels tearing the sphere off his shoulders. Some grey fabric cones hot glued inside the holes will allow for more mobility (bigger holes without making it look like swiss cheese) though they might not last the night without some care. I'd also look into some kind of waterproofing spray; its not going to do much if it starts raining, but its unbecoming of a Death Star to turn to mush at the sight of precipitation.

All this seems very doable to me...but I'd maybe also see if there are any second-most wanted costume ideas just in case.
posted by jacobbarssbailey at 7:49 AM on October 6, 2009

Try finding a local store that sells pinatas. They may already have a giant round pinata which you can modify.
posted by Gungho at 8:05 AM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: The yoga ball armature is actually going to result in smoother paper mache than a balloon would because it has more surface strength. If you are willing to spend the time to continue to mold it during the lengthy drying process (and it sounds like you are...) then you should be able to smooth out major trouble spots if they appear.

The surface of the Death Star also has enough detail that I think a completely smooth ball would read too flat at close range...when you are painting it, outlining any raised edges should give more of a 3D effect. Perhaps the holes for his head and extremities should not be cut exactly in the middle, but more so that the largest part of the sphere is out in front of him, like a big ole' belly...he might have more mobility that way.

Do this, you can.
posted by squasha at 8:18 AM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

My husband did a life size Jack In the Box ead with my son several years ago (a teenager). They used a large balloon/ball and papier-mâché. Filled the inside with a spray-foam to make it fit his head. It took a lot of smoothing and filliing to make it reasonably smooth. It was definitely not lumpy.

We dressed him a business suit and watched from outside when he went into one the the Jack in the Box restaurants. The reaction of the workers was great. And he got a free shake out of it, too.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:19 AM on October 6, 2009

Also, that pinata idea from Gungho is a great idea.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:20 AM on October 6, 2009

I seem to remember from previous threads that some costumers/modelers will layer foam sheets on top of one another, and carve out their desired shape with some sort of heating element. Depending on how intense you want to make this project you could try something along those lines, but it would be a challenge to carve out a proper sphere.

My bet is that there is some sort of resin-like finish you can apply to the papier mache to make it smooth. This link seems to offer some solutions
posted by Think_Long at 8:29 AM on October 6, 2009

Anecdotal story - When I was a kid, my neighbor dressed up as a big pumpkin and his costume was cloth filled with foam or cotton batting or something. He couldn't make it up people's stairs because the costume hit the steps before his feet. As he couldn't get to the stairs he couldn't get tot he door and so no candy.
posted by bDiddy at 8:43 AM on October 6, 2009

You could make a geodesic sphere (two domes) out of cardboard and just spraypaint it silver/grey or use silve/grey duct tape. That will definitely satisfy the nerd in you (you get to be Buckminster Fuller!) (advantage: relatively simple, high nerd factor)


Make a foam sphere costume (advantage: low-weight).


Make it professional like these guys did with the boulder from Indiana Jones (scroll down the page). (disadvantages: heavy, crazy difficult).
posted by misha at 8:45 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Adding on to my own question, going with another idea I had: Where can I buy large, somewhat hemispherical plastic bowls? I could use two of them to make the sphere.

It's sounding more and more like paper mache and the yoga ball (if only we'd kept the birth ball...) is the way to go, but I'm still open to other, easier and less messy ideas.
posted by bondcliff at 8:56 AM on October 6, 2009

!!! foam sphere costume is NSFW!!

But excellent
posted by SLC Mom at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2009

Looking at the Wiki pic, and thinking bowls: the only thing I've seen near that size is the woks that fit a commercial stove. I'd do papier mache. It's strong without the epoxy as long as you do a few layers. I'd hang it and let a fan blow on it as it's going to need some drying time.
posted by x46 at 10:21 AM on October 6, 2009

We always used giant beach balls covered in paper mache. If you go that route, start now. Add a layer in the morning and another at night. You'll need at least 10 layers.
posted by djb at 10:42 AM on October 6, 2009

!!! foam sphere costume is NSFW!!

What are you talking about, it looks just fine as far as----oh. Yup. You right.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:52 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

About 10 years ago, I made some jack in the box heads for Halloween out of a flat sheet of 3/4" foam using a pattern that looked like a flat map of the world ()()()()() --similar to this PDF but without the paper tabs.

Then after a couple of nights of swearing, pinning, and gluing, I had a couple of foam heads. They were light, sturdy, and round. You would want to make sure to use a flame resistant foam, or treat it with a flame retardant.

For a death star, you could then cut holes for the head and arms (and probably an opening in the back to get it on and off), use foam glue to attach the greeblies, and use a foam-friendly paint to wash everything with an evil imperial gray color.

Good luck!

(My daughter is 9 months old, and we're dressing her up as R2D2 this year.)
posted by mattybonez at 11:15 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

10 or so cardboard or foamcor leaves scored and duct-taped together. Leave wings or tabs on them to tape to. I'd say make it in two halves and then tape them together on your kid. I don't know if 'leaves' is the right word I am looking for here, something shaped like these.

You'll probably want to build a small prototype to get the sizing and angles right.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:22 AM on October 6, 2009

It's worth bearing in mind that you can sand down paper mache. I'd make it as thick as possible, then smooth out all the rough bits with some fine sandpaper.
posted by hnnrs at 12:05 PM on October 6, 2009

Paper mache in the rain would, you know, be a problem.

Instead, how about a trash bag stuffed full of closed-cell foam? (Craft store, ahoy!) With a sifficiently large plastic bag, you could even pull the bottom up to the top and cut through a hole for his body so he wouldn't be wwrapped up inthe foam all night.

Or use segments of that tubular pipe insulation to form your sphere and then stretch lightweight plastic sheeting over it.

As jessamyn says, use flat black paint (spray if necessary) for the finish. (Rustoleum, perhaps? They have lots of cool metallic paints in spray cans.)

You could prick holes into the sphere and run a battery-powered LED lamp inside for the effect of "interior lights shinging out into space"!

The question of the giant diameter blocking access to stairs and porches is important. Could you do a smaller sphere, and then attach the X-Wings to his wrists or something? And does he know how to make the spaceship sound?!?!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on October 6, 2009

Just a personal anecdote regarding paper mache and yoga ball molds.

Long story short, a classmate of mine made spherical paper mache molds from a yoga ball, and sad to say, it was a huge, difficult, dirty endeavor.

The only way she could make the sphere was by starting with hemispherical halves, then attaching them together around the equator. She used burlap strips, but the 'skin' had to be pretty thick to withstand bumps and stuff. It ended up being super heavy.

So I would recommend that you just skip the paper mache, it would be way too messy and heavy. And there's no reason to make things more difficult as it is -- you can just cut holes into the yoga ball itself for him to fit into.

1) The yoga ball would be perfectly spherical.
2) It would be lightweight and flexible. No fear of cracks or breaking. No bulky, bumpy pillows (which might make the costume hot to wear).
3) You could draw/paint directly onto the surface and seal it with a water proof coat of something to protect the details.

The hole at the bottom would be big enough for him to fit into the costume, and would be accommodating enough so as not to restrict his gait when walking.
posted by hellomina at 6:52 PM on October 6, 2009

A pilates ball like this seems to be proportionally large enough for a child to look like a walking Death Star.
posted by hellomina at 6:57 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: hellomina, you basically summed up a lot of my concerns about paper mache. Heavy, messy, prone to breakage. I like the idea of using just the yoga ball, but it's only going to be spherical when it's inflated, and it won't be inflated what with all the holes I'll be cutting into it.

Is there some way to stiffen it while it's inflated so that it would hold its shape after I punctured it?
posted by bondcliff at 7:56 PM on October 6, 2009

Another tack: The death star of Return of the Jedi was only partially spheroid.
posted by GPF at 9:10 PM on October 6, 2009

The first Death Star would be ultra-cool enough, no need to go completely hardcore and attempt some version of the second one.

I was thinking it'd be neat to maybe attach a tap light underneath the laser dish area, and maybe put some green film in between to make it look like the laser beam is shooting out. This would either point straight ahead (sort of like your typical Iron Man costume), and the trench would have to be tilted accordingly... or the trench would be parallel to the ground, and the laser would point up at about 45 degrees.

Whatever methods you use for the costume, I look forward to seeing the results.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:37 AM on October 7, 2009

Hmmm, I've bounced around on a friend's pilates ball -- the material seemed relatively rigid for something rubbery, I thought it would stay spherical even with a hole. I guess my assumptions were incorrect.

Maybe applied layers of laquer or something like a thick varnish might help it keeps it shape when dried....
posted by hellomina at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2009

Use a yoga ball, and make ribs from coathanger wire. Tape them to the inside of the ball. The plastic itself will hold the shape, but be floppy. Bonus, make areas of the ball with tape before painting. Illuminate the inside of the ball, and some light will come though.

Please post pix of the finished Death Star Child.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2009

I meant to say mask off areas of the ball before painting. doh.
posted by theora55 at 3:35 PM on October 8, 2009

I like mattybonez's solution. You would have to find a durable enough foam material, but it would be relatively easy to cover it with the appropriate surface texturing once you have solidified the ball.
posted by Think_Long at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2009

the material seemed relatively rigid for something rubbery

They're inflatable, they do not have any sort of actual rigidity without air pressure. That said, you could maybe paint one with a few dozen coats of enamel or some other really rigid paint and then take out the air and cut it into a few parts and have it work that way.

upside: smooooth.
downside: maybe won't work.
posted by jessamyn at 4:16 PM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: Well, I'm finished. Although in the end I ended up doing my own thing, I'd like to thank everyone for their input as pretty much every comment gave me much to think about.

I don't know if anyone ever reads follow-ups but I figured I'd put this here so it could be a resource for anyone else who might want to make a similar costume. Mods: If the self-links to my Flickr page aren't kosher, please feel free to delete them, or this whole comment.

I decided against paper mache because, frankly, it scared me. I'm not sure I've ever actually done it. I was concerned that after applying ten layers over the course of a week I'd deflate the ball and the whole thing would collapse.

I made a frame by wrapping 14 gauge wire around an exercise ball. I pre-curved the wire by stretching it across a column in my basement. I taped the wire in place, making latitude and longitude "lines" and leaving holes for the head, torso, and arms. The joints are "welded" with J.B. Weld, which is a cold welding compound that is awesome. After deflating the ball I was left with a nice round frame. I covered the frame with painters tape, which wasn't any smoother than paper mache but much easier to work with. After painting and detail I had a death star good enough for a seven year old to wear on a dark night. I wouldn't want to wear it to a Star Wars convention, but it's good enough.

The "docking bays" are just clear Lego 1x2s. Luckily, there's a Lego store near my house so I was able to buy a bunch of them without stealing any from my son. How awesome would it have been if there were Lego stores when I was seven? Wicked awesome, that's how awesome. They're lit up from the back with some el-cheapo headlamps from Home Depot.

The laser is made out of some Glow Stick bracelets hot-glued in place. I'll put fresh ones in before he goes trick-or-treating.

Oh yeah, It also plays music!

I hacked apart a Star Wars musical greeting card, soldered a button from a door bell to it and mounted it inside.

It's pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself. It's not as perfect as I'd have liked, being a geek and all, so I have to force myself to accept "good enough for a seven year old." My son loves it, which is all that matters. We can't wait for trick or treat!

Step-by step Flickr set is here.

Thanks again to everyone for the input. May the force be with you all.
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 PM on October 30, 2009 [52 favorites]

Awesome job! And next year, greebles.
posted by anildash at 8:36 PM on October 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Totally wow.
posted by The Potate at 9:02 PM on October 30, 2009

<Approves of this costume />
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:48 AM on October 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great job! JB Weld is better than liquid duct tape.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2009

Okay, I just clapped while watching the video. I clapped out loud, sitting at my desk, all by myself.
posted by heyho at 9:06 AM on November 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

Everything about this is just amazing, and the look on his face is just priceless. No one could have that much fun trapped in the death star, could they?!?

Bonus marks for glowsticks and glowy lego and sound effects. I'm just astounded. Freaking great!
posted by chronic sublime at 11:10 PM on November 2, 2009

posted by Vindaloo at 1:27 PM on November 3, 2009

That is so cool!
posted by sarcasticah at 4:18 PM on November 8, 2009

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