A Detailed, Visual Guide to Creating a 7 foot Monster Prop as Part of Your Halloween Haunt
Written by Halloween Alliance and Screaming Scarecrow Studios
Anyone in love with Halloween knows that a must-have member in the home haunter’s repertoire is at least one good and scary monster to greet the Trick Or Treators (TOTs). Short and squat or tall and overbearing, these creatures of the night are often the spotlight decor of your Halloween haunt or party. With a well put together prop, the TOTs and your guests will have fun getting a good scare, and your monster’s thumbs (if they have them) will be itching to use their scythes or any other dark instruments of terror they may have!
So when we at Halloween Alliance were invited by a local home haunter to come out and try our hand at some of the methods they use to create their creatures of the night – how could we resist!
Imagining Your Monster
The first step in creating any creature is imagination, and the lurking lunatics at Screaming Scarecrow Studios have found that nothing jump-starts the imagination like an awesome Halloween mask. Always start with the mask and think of what monster you can create it for.
Once you’ve found that perfect mask let your imagination run with it – “Who can this monster be?” – “What should the rest of him look like?” – “What will be frightening about him?” Give the creature a name too, and perhaps even a back story, as it goes a long way in helping the creative juices flow!
We found a large grumpy looking orc mask and we immediately imagined him as a tall, imposing figure, dressed in skins and wielding an axe. We named him Orlyck (pronounced OrLick) because of his habit of licking his fat sausage fingers after a wicked meal of small village children! There, see, imagining a little bio is easy! Now with these images in mind it’s time to get to work.
If you’ve never built a monster Halloween prop before you’ll be happy to know that there are really only a few basic parts to them:
- The Base, which speaks for itself
- The Armature, which is the support skeleton
- The Body Structure, which is connected to the frame giving body form, usually wire
- The Coverings, which is what ever is used to dress/cover the monster, what people see, and of course
- The Final Touches & Accessories, which are the obvious things such as mask, hands, weapons, jewelry, paints etc.
1. The Base
To begin, the prop will need to be anchored to a base. We used a piece of scrap plywood. Scraps are the home haunter’s best friend! Next we screwed into the plywood a pair of T pipe joints to represent the feet. Be sure to set them as wide apart as you want the creature’s stance to be.
Into these “feet” the pipes for the legs will go, but before we get to that, a few more words on the base. The base is not only what the rest of the monster gets attached to but it is what will keep the monster from tipping over and possibly hurting you or someone else. As always, use common sense and practice safety first! Make your base large enough so that your creation is stable – test your creature for tipsiness as you go.
If the monster will be inside on a flat surface it should be quite stable, however for weight we still like to place one or two small cement patio stones or bricks on the base in between the feet. You can always disguise these with some leaves or a swath of burlap sack later.
If the monster will be outside, wind will be a factor. At 7 plus feet tall we don’t want this guy falling over on anyone! Be sure to put it on a flat surface and either use the brick method with lots of weight or drill holes in the base and then pound L-shaped stakes into the ground through these holes. We do not use any kind of stakes that remain sticking up out of the ground as someone could easily trip and fall on these.
2. The Armature (Support Skeleton)
Although there are many different ways to construct these kinds of props – we decided to use regular black ABS plumbing pipe for the armature (support skeleton). It’s easy to work with, relatively cheap and there are a variety of joints that lets us build almost anything we want. We’ve found that for larger monsters the inch and half black ABS plumbing pipe is sturdier than using the smaller white 1 inch PVC pipe. But the best thing about building the framework with pipe is that a monster prop can be easily broken down and placed into storage simply by removing a few screws and taking apart some of the joints.
As we said before, we want our Orlyck to be huge and imposing, looking down with a grimace at all the TOTs on Halloween night! So we’ll need to build a frame that’ll be 7 feet tall. Yes, Orlyck’s a big orc! All that goblin and village protein as a youngster!
Monstrous Proportions – Keeping a Humanoid Shape
Another important tip when building these guys is to get the proportion correct. Half the scariness factor is when the monster looks humanoid – to test, quickly look at your prop out of the corner of your eye and see if the figure looks believable. You know you’re on the right track when you see him, unexpected, out of the corner of your eye and jump a bit in spite of yourself!
If you’re not creating or drawing a mock-up of your creature, you’ll have to remember proportions as you go along. Use some pre-measurements for the size of the legs, torso and width of the chest. A good rule used by artists is that an “ideal” human body is almost eight head lengths high (including the head). That’s one reason to start with the mask and plan from there. An ideal human figure follows the following head lengths:
- top of head to neck
- neck to mid-chest
- mid-chest to navel
- navel to groin
- groin to just above the knee
- just above to just below the knee
- just below the knee to near the ankle
- 7 ¾ head ankle to bottom of foot
Though your prop is some sort of creature, he or she will look too comical if the proportions are not right. After building a couple monsters, you can bend the rules a bit without making your monster look “off.”
Another idea is to use yourself for measurements, and scale up – if the mask is larger than your head, your monster may be seven feet high – like the one we are building. That means the monster’s hips will be at your midsection.
Cutting the ABS Pipe For the Body
There’s no art to cutting the piping. We use a hacksaw and follow all safety precautions. Always use safety glasses and gloves and file down anything sharp, as after Halloween you may take the prop down, so some of these edges may be exposed. The measurements do not have to be super exact, because they will be fit into the pipe joints, which are somewhat adjustable, so there is some room for error. Also, once the clothing and other gear is placed over the armature & body form they will cover any imperfections. And heck, it is a monster, so a bit of unevenness may give it a bit more character as well!
Working from the base up, cut lengths of pipe for the legs and insert into the “feet” on the base. Then connect T joints and cut a piece to connect the hips. This acts as a brace for support. Continue by cutting and fitting pieces till you get up to the shoulders.
Here’s where you need to remember proportions. Depending on how broad you want the shoulders, cut accordingly. Be sure to cut your shoulder piece in two pieces, as you will need to attach a joint in the middle for the neck. That way we have something to drape the mask over.
Neck and Shoulders
For the neck, measure the inside of the mask to the inside peak, and leave a few inches for the actual neck, unless you don’t want the monster to have one! In our case, since Orlyck will be looking down, we’ll simply tilt the joint forward a bit, so the mask will be at an angle and looking down.
Next, and possibly the most challenging, is getting the shoulders and arm proportions and poses right. Remember, we want Orlyck with his broad shoulders to be threatening and about ready to fight, so both arms will be at his waist, with one reaching for the axe tucked into his belt. To accomplish this we will use many different angle connectors and short pieces of pipe. The pipe connectors, called elbows, come in various angle degrees but the most common are 90, 45 & 22.5 degrees. Use whatever combination of these elbows with varying lengths of pipe to get the proportions and pose you want.
To better support the monster, now that the armature frame is near complete, we’ll want to reinforce it by place small screws in some of the pipe joints, especially near the arm joints.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Always use common sense and follow all safety rules & instructions when using any kind of tool, but especially power tools. The surface of ABS pipe is round and hard so it takes some practice to safely drill in screws. It is a good idea to wear a work glove on the hand that is holding the screw. First, practice on a few spare parts. Firmly & steadily, begin slowly drilling the screw. Have patience, because the harder you press at first the more likely it will have a tendency to push outwards and slip on the rounded surface, so it’s quite common for a screw to slip and potentially injure your hand.
Once the screw starts to dig into the pipe, it will begin winding itself in – that’s what screws do after all! At this point, you can relax your grip and let the screw and your drill do the work. Pre-drilling a tiny pilot hole first with a tiny drill bit is the easiest thing to do.
Tip: Do not fasten the arm’s elbow and shoulder joints until trying on the clothing, in order to get an idea of how the entire pose will look with the shirt or torso fabric in place. This can save the needless work of unscrewing and re-screwing the joints after making adjustments.
At this point Orlyck, is all bones with no actual body form but not to worry, that is the very next part of making any monster prop.
3. The Body Structure
Now that the frame is complete, with screws in many of the pipe joints as reinforcement, it’s time to give Orlyck some actual form. You can place the clothing directly over the armature frame but you’d notice that it doesn’t hang as well as it could. This is great for a thin, grim reaper figure, but we want a fat, bulky orc!
Material For the Structure of Our Monster
There are many different types of material to choose from, the most common being chicken wire. However, because our not-so-friendly giant is going to be outdoors and is also a large structure we’re going to use a combination of chicken wire and stucco wire.
Stucco wire is heavier than chicken wire, usually with a 2-inch grid pattern. Because it is heavier material it is harder to work with, but overall it will give Orlyck more strength and stability than chicken wire. The chicken wire is very bendable so it’ll be used more for shaping smaller details than the main structure.
Be aware too that stucco wire is more expensive than chicken wire. If you are going to be a hard-core prop maker, we suggest befriending someone in the construction industry, so you can get leftover materials from a job site! As well, always be on the lookout for sales and remainders at home-building stores.
CAUTION: Be extremely careful if working with stucco wire because it can become razor sharp when you cut it with pliers! Always wear eye protection & heavy protective gloves and thicker protective clothing because it can cut & gouge you anywhere if you are not taking safety precautions and concentrating on the job. Too many times have I gouged my fingers on this stuff. (Yes, I realize I’m not wearing gloves in one of these pictures. Trust me, I’m a – umm – professional.)
Also when cutting wire with pliers little pieces do sometime fly off so the safety glasses are a must wear item.
One of the neat things about working with stucco wire is that it is naturally a grid of 2 inch squares, so when making measurements you just need to count off the squares.
The Monster’s Torso – Fat and Bulky
Using our imagination, we visualize how we want Orlck’s torso. We want him to be big, bulky and fat, so we measure the breadth of the monster, which is twenty inches across. Factoring in for curvature of the belly, we’re going to cut 16 squares of stucco wire, which makes 32 inches across. Our roll of stucco wire is 54 inches high, so this will give us enough length to create the shoulders, chest and belly. Better to have too much than too little. This gives us a piece 32 inches wide by 54 inches long. Because stucco wire comes in a roll it is a bit curved so we’ll flatten it a bit by simply placing it on the ground and stomping on it.
Next we’ll cut out for the neck area and form the rounded shoulders. To do this, on the 32-inch width-side, count to the middle, the eighth wire (sixteen inches). We then cut six down. Roll these two sections down to make the shoulders, and simply hang the wire body over the frame’s skeleton shoulders.
Since we want room in the shoulders to create the neck, hang the wire a couples inches above the shoulder pipe – visualize the pipe as the bone. Bone is surrounded by a couple inches of muscle tissue.
Get in My Belly!
Next we’ll make some more cuts and bends to this wire grid in order to form the chest muscles and the big belly. We want to angle the wire out to make the belly, so visualize where you want the paunch to begin. Remember that we still have to make the chest as well, so the body will be slightly higher in the end, as we will push up the wire to form the pecks. We chose an area half way between the shoulder pipes and hip pipes, knowing that the end result will be higher than the middle – the same as on a large human.
With the pliers we cut five wires in (ten inches) on either side, leaving the sharp loose wires on the bottom of the chest (these will be tucked in later). This will separate the paunch from the chest. Orlyck’s paunch will end at his hips, which are about eight wires down (sixteen inches). Start cutting at the top of the eighth wire and cut six in on each side, so the entire paunch has no loose wires. We cut six wires in instead of five because we will bend in the rest of the mesh. Six makes the curve more dramatic looking, while five creates a softer curve. Thinking back to a human body, a paunch is a quote-shape – a gentle rising bulge, followed by an abrupt curve inward to the waist.
Do You Like My Pecks?
Finally, Orlyck needs pecks. He’s a strong brute of a warrior after all. We remove the entire wire body from the ABS pipe frame and bend the mesh from torso to shoulders. It was a bit difficult, but pushing inward at the top and bottom where the belly starts creates a satisfactory bulge.
After hanging the mesh torso back up, viola, we can start to see the shape!
Attaching the Body to the Armature
To attach the torso frame to the pipe, we will use the bare wires. On the neck area, we take one of these sharp wires and use our pliers to create a loop that looks like a pigtail. Next we insert a small screw through the loop and carefully drill it into the ABS pipe. Here is where we have to be extremely careful of slipping because the snipped stucco wire can easily cut or cause puncture wounds, even through gloves.
We then continue to secure the wire body form to the ABS pipe frame using these “pigtails” from the neck down to either side of the top part of the punch.
The bottom part of the paunch will have the loose wires. Adjust and angle the paunch as you see fit, then tie and loop all the wires into the top part to safely mould this part of the body. At this stage, if you find the paunch to be too large, cut part of the trailing mesh away. Wrap the bottom portion around the pipe, create pigtails, and screw on both sides.
The torso wire body structure is now secured to the frame.
Chicken Wire to Create the Smaller Structures
Next we use the lighter chicken wire to flesh out things like knee bumps, boots and any other area of the body. Chicken wire is much easier and more flexible to work with, and is good for finer details.
Once we are satisfied with the final form, the last step is to check and make sure all sharp end-points of the stucco and chicken wire are securely folded in and safe. You absolutely do not want any hidden points sticking out, ready to gouge any unsuspecting trick or treater!
Once everything proves to be safe and secure, it’s time to cover Orlyck’s frame and wire form with fabric!
4. The Coverings
With most of the tough work behind us, we can now get on to the more rewarding and creative work of covering the structure! For this stage there really is no right or wrong way to do things, and one can really use their creativity to dress things up. One can use what is known as monster mud or paper-mache or all sorts of different kinds of fabric or of course, just plain clothes from the thrift store. We decide to go with thrift store clothes, and found a pair of extra large pants and sweater.
We place the pants on by lifting Orlyck out of his feet and sliding his pants up to his waist. We attach them to the wire frame using craft wire that comes in rolls at any dollar store or hard ware store. We actually have to split his pants open in the back to get them to fit over the huge paunch!
Next we slip the tunic over the neck joint and shoulders, adding and adjusting chicken wire stuffing as necessary to get the bulky, muscular look we desire.
A nice big buckled belt from the thrift store and some fuzzy boots cut from an old bath mat later, and Orlyck is decked out in his wild scavenger ensemble!
5. The Final Touches and Accessories
The final touches such as the mask itself, the hands and various accessories are what really make any creature of the night come to life. Most masks are made to be worn as a Halloween costume, so they usually only have empty eye sockets. Sometimes that is the look you may be going for but mostly we like to have eyes. If your mask doesn’t have eyes, is it time to buy expensive monster eyes? Heck, no! Buy some cheap ping-pong balls, paint the eyeballs or put round stickers on them, and then tape them to the inside of the mask. Done! Well, a couple notes to be aware of. First, the tape:
Latex and Tape
Certain tapes and glues can react with the latex and “eat” through it. So we like to test a piece of tape or glue on a small unnoticed area of the mask before doing any major gluing or taping. If the latex doesn’t get soft and gooey after a few hours then it will probably be ok. We found that red Tuck tape to be the best. This is an incredibly strong outdoor tape used in the construction industry to tape Tyvek insulation paper together. It’s also great for constructing monster props! Although it is a bit expensive it really works well. Speaking of latex reacting, we also try to keep any latex items away from oils & greases because these also tend to cause damage.
Monster Eyes Are Looking Down at You
Taping the eyes can be quite a frustrating experience. Sometimes we paint the ping pong balls first, then spend too much time trying to align the eyes just right. When sticking the tape inside the mask, the eyes will often move, giving us a cross-eyed monster. Dang! One way to avoid this is to carefully paint the eyes after they are securely taped in.
Monster Hands or Paws
Next come the hands of the creature, which are almost as important as the mask. There are many different choices for hands, ranging from store bought to home made. We found some awesome store-bought latex hands that perfectly matched Orlyck’s mask. However, because they are heavy, each shoulder and arm joint has to be securely fastened with two or more screws. These hands already had thin white pvc pipe inside them, so we carefully rolled up the latex and screwed them to the ABS arm pipe. (Check back with us in the future for more on monster hands in an upcoming article by SSS.)
Final Accessories and Details
So now with a head, two hands, bathroom mat boots – I mean, imposing fur boots! – and an axe in his belt, the final thing to do is add some subtle details. Our orc is a scavenger, so he needs tattered, dirty garb. For this we simply take scissors and slash holes and rips in his clothing, giving it a more distressed look. For the dirt and grit we simply lightly dust a bit here and there with black spray paint.
After a good couple hours, Orlyck is ready. Imposingly tall and menacing, he stares down balefully at the trick or treaters and house guests he hovers over!
We hope you enjoyed following us as we got a chance to create Orlyck the orc. Whether you are just starting out or a veteran, we hope you enjoy letting your own imagination take you on many exciting journey in the world of monster props! We would love to hear any of your comments or questions by posting them in the form below.
Special thanks to Screaming Scarecrow Studios for inviting us out and letting us help build Orlyck, and of course for sharing some of their tips and tricks with us!