For the past several years, Tina and I have been creating elaborate Halloween costumes with either a retro or vintage vending machine theme. It was usually based around a large cardboard box and had to have electric lights. He has been a juke box, a fortune teller, and, most famously, a pinball machine. Now that our son has grown explosively thanks to adolescence and is just a shade under 6-feet tall, cramming him into shipping cartons is no longer in the cards. We decided to make his imposing height work for us and go with something a bit more sinister than what we’ve done in the past.
I started to kick around costume ideas when I noticed the cardboard packing materials used to ship industrial-sized toner cartridges.
They are a composite paper/cardboard material molded into a shape engineered to protect the contents from the less-than-delicate handling by commercial carriers. I looked at these interesting shapes and wondered if we could squeeze out another robot costume just as we had in 2008. This time it could be something built on a grander scale, but what? I put them on my forearms and I thought about hockey pads or the robots in Real Steel. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be science fiction. The wheels in my head were starting to turn.
What if Star Wars was made in 1965 with absolutely no budget? What would it have looked like if craven producers had picked it up; rushed the production and dumped it into the kiddie matinee market to turn a quick buck?
Of course! They would have raided army surplus stores and cannibalized the props from other movies. What if I thought like an art director working on a film 50 years ago trying to imagine Star Wars on no budget! I would redesign Darth Vader on the cheap! I ordered the mask.
Problems started when the mask arrived. It looked terrific, but I could scarcely get it over my head, and I’m bald! It’s supposed to be a tight fit sealing the good air in and the bad air out, but I was never going to get this over my son’s massive melon, and it is hardly what any one would describe as comfortable.
I was considering searching all of the military surplus stores I could find online for extra-large gas masks when Tina came up with a better solution at the local drug store. Hanging from the rack was a gorgeous metallic half-skull mask, and it was half off! Tina bought it and the whole concept evolved past my earlier Star Wars notions.
Things started to fall into place once we found our character’s face. Parts were found. Lights were ordered. Sketches were made to sort of get the sense of where it was going. We got down to the business of really getting this thing done.
The segmented armor was cut from discarded mailing cartons; tied together with metallic pipe cleaners and painstakingly covered with wrinkled aluminum foil. The puckered foil was brushed with black acrylic paint to give it a weathered or antique look. Our Atomic Warrior had been around the galactic block more than once.
The gauntlets and the armor were accented with electroluminescent wire which is battery powered, flexible and glows beautifully.
The Atomic Warrior’s flaming sword was a colored tube of poly-carbonate. It was used to encase a fluorescent tube in a long defunct darkroom. Sticking a small but particularly bright LED flashlight in the end turned it into an instant, low-rent light saber. Color tissue taped to the blade made it a flaming sword and somewhat less like Star Wars.
I had the idea that the Atomic Warrior was sort of a space faring vagabond, and I wanted him to have a ragged cloak. Once again Tina came to the rescue finding a burlap coffee sack at AC Moore. Why do they carry used coffee sacks? I have no idea, but it turned into the perfect cape for our science fiction character.
The finishing touch was our character’s demonic glowing eyes. I ordered a small LED kit powered by a watch battery that was easy to conceal within the mask. It was tough to see out of the mask, but it looked terrific. Atomic Warrior was ready to go!
We suited our son up; waited for dark so the lights would have the most impact and went out into the night. It was a big hit!