General process documentation

The "Glowing Skull" approach to building wearable costume heads.



This process document is heavily adapted from this Tumblr post.

Items you will need

If you’re following how I attach skulls to my head:


General process

  1. Find a base 3d model on Thingiverse.
  2. Import the model into Blender, alongside a model of a human head and a hardhat. It may take multiple tries to get the correct size of end product. To make this easier, I recommend finding a 3d model of a construction helmet and a human head, and putting them into your model. Measure how big your head is, create a ruler shape in the model that you can say, “This should be 15.5 inches long.” Using Blender’s native units support is helpful.
  3. Make sure that the Blender model’s unit is in your preferred unit of measurement: inches or centimeters.
  4. Cut the model in half from front to back, then create a Mirror modifier. Don’t apply the modifier; just let it offer a rendering of the mirrored half so you can see what it looks like as you manipulate the modeling half.
  5. Distort the model as necessary to accommodate human eye placement. Eyes don’t have to match eyes; you could look out of an open mouth. If you’re going to plan for periscopes,
  6. Distort the model as necessary to accommodate the bottom ring of the hard hat. The hard hat’s outer ring attaches the mask skull to your skull.
  7. Continue distortion until you’re happy with the model. LoopTools may help make your polygons regular, if that is desired.
  8. Use this script to export a SVG of your 3d model, flattened down to papercraft shapes.
  9. Print the PDF.
  10. Cut out the shapes.
  11. Assemble the shapes. Don’t bother gluing the tabs of the papercraft work; use masking tape instead. You don’t have to wait for glue to dry. Don’t use medical tape; its sawtooth edges are impossible to hide.
  12. You may discover that the model is the wrong size for your head. Adjust the print size and try again.
  13. Fill the weird gaps in the model where your tape ran awry with more tap, or caulk, or wood putty.
  14. Structural reinforcement
  15. Finish decorating the skull.

General advice

Does your paint emit fumes? It probably does. Find a way to do that outside, or find a way to ventilate the area where it’ll be drying. If your bathroom has an exhaust fan, you can put newspaper on your bathroom floor, paint the mask outside, and then bring the skull into the bathroom to dry. This is particularly useful if it’s too cold outside for the paint to cure properly. Look at the paint can; look at the thermometer. If the air is not at least 10 degress Fahrenheit above the paint’s minimum temperature, you’re going to have a verrrrry slow drying. Screen porches are handy things to have.

If your mask has more than one piece, figure out how to attach it to your head. For the lower jaw of a triceratops, I pinned the jawbone to a zentai, which wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done. For the lower jaw of a much-better-planned deinonychus, I built a hinge from eyehooks. And then I put a rod on the jaw so that I could puppet the jaw. For this year’s Maratus spp. head, I’m thinking some sort of Lego assembly will probably work best. Or copious quantities of elastic.

Polymer clay and air-dry clay are pretty much the same. What’s your tolerance for fumes? That determines your tolerance for polymer clay, which must be baked. For air-dry clay, I molded the teeth around toothpicks. To attach the teeth to the model, I piked holes into the skull, filled the hole with hot glue, and then shoved the toothpick in until the tooth hit the bone.

For stretching gauze or tights or spandex across gaps, use pins to hold the fabric in place, but use Gorilla Glue to fix nylon in place, not hot glue or super glue. Spandex holds up under hot glue, but make sure that the hot glue is being bonded to a roughened surface on the skull side of the connection.

Do not use superglue on anything that is going to be near your eyes within 12 hours of the superglue application. Superglue offgasses straight chlorine gas, which stings exactly like pool water. Except more painfully.

Make something reusable. I’ve worn my 2015 Lewis skull to … at least 5 venues that I can remember. The triceratops I wore twice before retiring it to a wall mount. The deinonychus I’ve worn at least 4 times. The maratus I’ve worn to at least two parties.

Finally, do something that you’ll have fun doing. Here’s my thoughts on one con’s worth of cosplay.

Miscellaneous other tutorials: