Halloween has come and gone but the who, what, when, where, and why keep on coming. My inbox has been full of questions regarding fabrication and the ways in which my costumes/themes are carried out (to read more about Nightwing click here). Although I can’t dive into every facet of the season, I can definitely explain my process, give some tips/tools of the trade, and talk about my creative partners. Bringing Nightwing and the Titans to life wouldn’t have happened without Ari Diaz. This isn’t our first Halloween outing together, but it’s certainly our most elaborate yet.
A Friendship-Halloween Story
I met Ari in 2016, when she applied to be my intern. Very quickly I noticed that we shared an abundance of similarities. She enjoyed Disney, Harry Potter, superheroes, all of my typical fields of interest. Pair that with the fact that she was a graphical mega talent – it took me no time at all to conclude that we’d definitely get along, and she was the woman for the job (see some of Ari’s professional work here). The final step of any interview process in Brendan-land is to vigorously stalk the candidate’s social media, just to make sure they are kind, well-rounded, and not a psychopath. It wasn’t but three clicks into stalking Ari’s profile pictures where I saw…myself.
There I was with Ari, dressed in my Halloween costume from 2014 (I was Genie from Aladdin, she was the White Queen from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland). Although I didn’t expect it, it made sense. She too had been a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. I remember talking to her years ago, very briefly. Seeing us side by side in this photo was a surreal moment but one that laid some major bricks for a friendship to come.
As a team, we were a powerhouse at work. After hours, we’d talk about our mutual love for Halloween and ideas we had for a group costume. Ari lived in a house with about 15 other interns. With the House Mom and the addition of our beloved Director of Operations, we pulled off an awesome Disney Villains theme. Ari was a Fibers major at SCAD, so she can sew like it was nobody’s business. Every last person who needed help with their costume, Ari assisted in a flash (including mine, because I’m incompetent). It was one of the most memorable Halloweens I had in a long time. I never knew anyone who liked to go all out like me. She was and still is a one-of-a-kind creative. Her internship eventually came to a close, and she went on to new career adventures, but I always hoped we’d be able to celebrate together again someday.
Flash-forward to 2019, we both live in NY. In a silent agreement we knew that whatever we’d create for Halloween this year would be a team effort. What exactly our theme would be, was an entirely bigger problem to solve.
When it’s time to sit down and dive into the ideation process of what I’ll be or in this case what we’ll be – there are always a few top contenders. Due to time, cost and overall plausibility, the field gets narrowed down quickly. Three themes stood out and deciding between them wasn’t easy. The only real guiding principle in place was that we wanted to embody characters that lent themselves to the NYC skyline. The setting is an easy way to enhance the visual storyline of the project.
The Top Three Ideas
Rounding out third place for ideas was Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) & Vision (Paul Bettany). After the success of Avengers Endgame, this couple seemed like an obvious choice. They both wield incredibly cool, visual powers and we could create fairly accurate representations of their costumes. The issue came down to time. Vision is incredibly intricate. He has armor, he’s bald, he has facial appliances, and lots of body paint; could I pull it off? I believe in my abilities. But in our timeframe? Very unlikely. Ari’s Wanda would have been smooth sailing, but I didn’t have enough of a running start to generate a quality translation, so it was a hard pass all around.
The runner up idea almost happened. It was close. In 1992, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns inspired a brand new, dark take on some of the most famous Batman foes of all-time. Penguin (Danny Devito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). New York has a lot of Gothic architecture and run-down crevices if you know where to look. These characters could have fit in perfectly in New York’s… less than aesthetically pleasing settings. The Penguin’s body suit and prosthetics would have been difficult to pull off, but I’ve dealt with worse. However, Catwoman wasn’t just a challenge; it was a mental and physical demand. Her suit is skin-tight, made of a shiny, unbreathable material and full of individual stitches. In a lot of ways, asking Ari to be Selina Kyle was like asking me to take on Vision (just kidding, Vision is harder).
Nightwing and Starfire hit all the bullet points. This pair fit our city setting, they’re not too expensive to make for two post-college 20-somethings, and we already kind of resembled these characters. One of my primary selling points was that – you don’t see these costumes every day. They’re a little more nuanced and that’s a fun undertaking. My battle-ready combat gear, her alien regalia and glowing hair, we could have a really interesting final product on our hands.
Making The Costume
I generally don’t show a lot of costume-based process work. Mainly because I’ve always assumed that it wasn’t interesting to others, but it is kind of fun to see the steps from beginning to end. Here’s a small glimpse into how my suit of armor was constructed. It’s made up of 28 individual pieces that all intricately slide together to create Nightwing’s look. Initially, I wanted to build the suit out of Worbla, a thermoplastic that becomes malleable with heat. The panels I created looked so generic and flat (probably due to being inexperienced with the material). They definitely lacked the 3-D effect I was aiming for. It was time to recalibrate.
After shifting gears, I decided foam may be the route to go. In order to build a foam suit that would fit, I’d need some kind of mannequin. Creating a mannequin of yourself is actually fairly easy. Put on a t-shirt you never desire to see again. Duct tape around yourself over and over, until you use an entire roll. This will be your cast shape to build off of. Cut yourself out of the contraption (I recommend a friend to help with this) and repair the slit with more tape. Now stuff your makeshift cast with newspaper and you have a surface ready for fabrication.
Foam is intricate. Every angle must be precise or it won’t match up and interconnect properly. I made three mocks before I figured out how to create something sturdy and realistic looking. It’s a learning process. The only Worbla elements that made it to the costume were small accent components and the bird emblem that spans my chest.
Professionally-made Nightwing escima sticks, $60.00. PVC pipe, black tape, and dollar paints, $16.00. I’m not saying you can always ball on a budget, but this time, I did. While I was assembling those bad boys Ari was hard at work sewing her costume. Together we took over an entire conference space in my building. Other tenants were less than happy, but that’s OK.
Adding someone to the middle of a project usually (always) makes me very nervous but in the case of Sage Lucero, I made an exception. When she voiced her interest in being Raven it made so much sense. Sage is a woman trapped in an emo-bygone Era and Raven is merely her spirit animal. Very quickly her costume started taking form and resulted in a series of super cool photos, which you can find on her social media (at the bottom of the article). By day, this super heroine is an insanely talented copywriter, check out her work here.
Morning of the Titans Shoot
We had to wake up ungodly early on the day of the shoot because it was going to rain by 1 PM. Really great planning on our part. Superb. So this is us at 6 AM, embracing our harsh reality. Worth it, though (that’s what I tell myself).
“Nightwing” By Ashley Comer
Ashley Comer is an NYC designer/photographer who primarily focuses on creating work around politics, sexuality, and the human condition – but when my project came along she happily agreed to help (and I am still so thankful). Ash is a true friend and talent, putting her craft first – even withstanding the pouring rain to make sure I got my shots. Check more examples of her incredible work here.
“Titans” By Calvin Harris
Coming in clutch when our other photographer backed out at the last moment, Calvin Harris traveled over five hours to shoot us. His keen eye for detail was born from his love for travel photography, which definitely translated into our final product. We are super grateful and appreciative of his efforts. This project would be so different without him.
Titans Digital Art by Deven Fulton
Deven Fulton is a Dallas-based creative with an outstanding eye for visual problem-solving. His impressive roster of talents range from creating custom websites, to digital art, and video editing. I knew he and he only would be the ideal candidate to add visual effects to our team of heroes. To see more of Deven’s brillaint body of work, click here.
Bonus: Favorite Outtake
The Titans are no match for “Scooter Boy”. One small child enjoyed interacting with us as he rode his scooter through 8-12 halfway decent shots. Here he is expressing his victory in making my life harder. You win this round, tiny menace.
Follow the Team Behind the Titans on Instagram
Ari Diaz: @arianna_with_two_ns
Ashley Comer: @ashley.comer
Brendan McWhirk: @brendanmcwhirk
Calvin Harris: @where_is_calvin_harris
Deven Fulton: @dfulton
Sage Lucero: @sageandrage
Thanks so much for reading. To see more of my Halloween costumes click here or search #BrendanDoesHalloween on Instagram.
Leave a comment below and suggest what my Halloween theme for 2020 should be!