This project started out as an idea for a Halloween costume, but after thinking back to the ice-levels of that classic 90’s game, I realized that if it’s designed properly it could be a great way to look cool and stay warm on the slopes.
Just like with the Elfie Hat, this project will be wearable, so to help me get a better idea of how best to design and build it, I make a quick list of a few aspects.
The first step is to sort out the materials and attachments that will allow me to realize all the features while keeping it practical. Making it look like Crash is a matter of colors and geometry. Cloth is an obvious choice of material, but what kind? I know I want it warm and it will help if the cloth is very easy to sew (nothing too stretchy or silky). Mostly because I had an easy time finding the right colors, I go with polar fleece, a type of syntheticpile fabric, with a nice fuzzy texture and a sort of ribbed-weave that gives it just enough stretch.
I was excited to see the fleece was one-sided, meaning that the wrong side (side you don’t want showing) looks like smooth fabric, instead of being fleece the whole way through. A lot of the polar fleece in fabric stores is double sided, meaning that the fluffy loops (nap) that are woven into the grid of vertical and horizontal fibers (warp and weft) which make up the texture, end up constituting most of the fabric’s substance.
So the orange and white fabric I’ve found has several advantages to start with. First off, being polyester means it will resist water from snow, sweat or breath. Then, having a more woven back means it will resist wind better, and because the back is smooth, I can sew in a liner that will help give it more structure. Comfy, wind/water resistant, sewable, structural and color-accurate. Perfect.
Creating a more spherical geometry out of a 2D material, like cloth, takes a little thinking. I do a few iterations of paper patterns before I get the coif right. The liner is basically just a reversed, slightly smaller copy of the outside, sewn together then inverted (fuzzy-sides out). This makes it like a pillow without stuffing, and it’s pretty shifty, so to stitch both sides together I attache the ears and hair using white thread that wont show on the inside, after putting the outside and lining together.
The ears and mouth/nose present some interesting challenges. Because they have very specific geometry, I know they will need a lot of support. They also need to be lightweight and easy to sew on.
I also know I need the mouth to work as a kind of “breathing chamber.” Putting a scarf or banana over one’s face helps to keep the wind off, and works fine while you’re moving, but will eventually get wet with exhalation and feels like you’re being suffocated when standing still. It also muffles speech. One time I modified a gas funnel to fit over my nose and mouth so I could run in the cold. It had two one-way valves to draw warm air in from inside my shirt and expel cold air and condensed breath out the front. It worked pretty well, but it was impossible to speak through and not that practical.
I know I want something that’s a combination of those two ideas; a partially covered cage that blocks wind but is off the face and open enough not to collect stale moist breath.
I solve the geometry problem and the breathing chamber problem with one material: pink plastic mesh canvas.
This is the stuff that they teach you in craft classes as a kid to sew yarn into and make bookmarks or little baskets. It’s like the loose-weave canvas used for rug hooking, but because it’s plastic, it’s flexible but still rigid enough be used for 3D constructions. I make a sort of half-circle base and used yarn to attach the large triangles for the ears. This will give them the structure and solidly attached base they will need to keep their shape.
The same idea is used for the nose. The mouth is made of the piece that sits against the face (covered with fleece) and the cage that holds the teeth. The mouth cage is attached to the bottom of the nose and everything gets covered with pre-sewn fleece.
I glue some felt teeth onto the plastic mesh and it’s bright, solid and pink enough to look like gums. This is perfect because the thin felt and uncovered mesh allow enough air to pass in and out that it functions as a great wind barrier, but leaves your talking and breathing unrestricted.
I throw on some buttons just below the ears to attach the nose/mouth. I try to use a button on the bottom as well, but after getting the loop twisted and the hat stuck on my head a few times, I opt for a much easier-to-use clip.
The mask is great on the slopes. I constantly get comments about it and it really is warm and comfy.
The only issue I’ve had with it was on a particularly cold day. The cage does a great job of keeping fresh air in and out without your face feeling exposed to wind or wet from breath… but the felt collects some of that exhalation and can apparently freeze into a bandicoot drool-cicle.
Let’s not forget though, that this mask was originally meant to be a Halloween costume! I love Halloween parties and I love costumes, but it’s hard to enjoy both. Even my best costumes are sometimes so bulky or delicate that I’m not able to move about and mingle.
I wanted this costume to be fun, recognizable and nostalgic, but also easy to wear around a party. The key was that the hat worked well enough to pass for the character, even without the nose and mouth. The mask and other props were fun, and definitely completed the costume, but setting them aside, I don’t feel like I’m “out of costume.”
So let’s talk about the mask. In fact, let’s make another table.
Knowing how important weight will be, I start with a large chunk of Styrofoam use a flame-heated coat hanger to cut the mask. I’ve always wanted to build a Styroslicer like Grant Thompson makes on his YouTube channel, King of Random, but I’ve never found the time or spare cash for all the components. Short of that, almost anything metal can be heated on an electric stove or a blowtorch and used on styrofoam to make a clean cut (or melt).
I cut some indentations for my nose and cheeks, along with holes for the eyes. The whole mask is covered with cheap, wood-grain, vinyl shelf-liner.
The eyes include some LED lights from the dollar store, fit into the styrofoam. These lights are perfect because they are battery operated and can be turned on by clicking the clear top down. They add a bit to the weight, but they fit snugly into the foam and are backed against my forehead, so clicking them on by pushing from the other side is easy. Small slits between the LEDs and the nose allow me to see through the mask.
I make the eyebrows, nose and mouth by wire-cutting other chunks of styrofoam. It’s really easy to end up with an uneven plane doing this and, at best, the texture of the syrofoam cells is still visible. I solve this problem a few ways. The eyebrows and nose I spend a lot of time melting to the right shape, then actually dip in latex acrylic paint. Several layers covers the texture, then they are painted the correct color. The mouth pieces I cover with a lighter version of the wood vinyl. The under-eye angles I just make out out of Crayola modeling Foam.
The eyes present a particular challenge though: they need to look smooth, yellow and opaque in normal light, but must also be translucent enough to let the light from the LEDs shine through. I cut a crunchy, floral-styrofoam ball in half to make the dome shape of the eyes. This is a lighter crunchier foam. It let’s light through better and is easier to cut and shape than packaging styrofoam. The problem is that I can’t paint them, or not enough light will get through. Instead I stretch half of a yellow party balloon very tightly over each half-sphere. This hides the porous texture of the foam, looks opaque, yet still lets through light.
The mouth is covered by a thin cardboard with teeth drawn on, so it limits my voice as little as possible. An elastic band is plenty to keep the mask on. Finishing touches include feathers and some decorative floral stems cut into a soul patch.
A few other props are just so simple to make that I can’t exclude them. I grab some foam apples from the dollar store and paint them with acrylic to look like Wumpa Fruit. I happen to have a small square box with a lid, so I hot glue tongue depressors onto it and paint it to match the main obstacles in the game.
Crash turned out to be one of the most fun, versatile costumes I’ve made to date.