This was the first year I’ve been away from family for Christmas. I wasn’t able to get enough time off to make the trip worth the high cost of holiday-season flight tickets, so I settled for visiting remotely via Skype. I knew for a while that I would want to do this, so I started building a hat that would allow me to visit, cook breakfast and open gifts, all hands free.
Inspired by Dr. Suess, I do a few quick sketches to get an idea of proportionality.
I find it helps to list out features and practical requirements. Considering these will help define some specifications I want a project to have. Knowing that makes design and construction a little easier to get underway. This step is especially important for costuming, when you have to consider comfort, stability, heat dissipation, etc.
The aspect ratio Skype uses helps to determine about how far from my face the arm will need to hold the phone in order to include enough of the hat and my face in frame. I have more general guidelines about practicality, since I know I’m really only going to wear it on and off for one day.
Design and material choice are the main ways any project includes the desired features and functionality while still keeping its specs in a range that make it practical. In this case I know that the arm being extended and supporting the (not counterbalanced) weight of my phone, along with upgraded battery, will mean the hat needs more than just gravity to stay secured to my noggin. A chin strap would probably work, but aside from holding a Skype device, I want it to have a very Who-ish elf aesthetic, that I feel like a chin strap might subtract from. Instead I thrift shop until I find a baseball helmet with adjustable internal strap, a lot like a hard hat, which should stay tight and distribute any strain from the arm.
The bent-over cone that makes up the selfie arm will need to be as light as possible, but also very stable and well-attached to the helmet. Almost every option would require some sort of sturdy framework to hold the weight of the phone, so I know a wire-frame is a good place to start.
I cut off the bill with a Dremel and drill some holes around the helmet where it begins to curve. I use heavy duty coat hangers for the main structure. Weaving them together with the neighbor wires and criss-crossing them together adds extra stability.
Before I go any further with this part, I need to address the most important feature: the phone holder. Because this project is subject to my already-thin holiday budget, I head straight to the dollar store for a selfie stick. These are also what I used in my Attack on Titan costume (to hold the sheath boxes to the 3D gear in back).
I want my phone to be held in the vertical orientation, so it will take some modification, but there are a lot of components I’ll put to use.
The spring-loaded phone holder is set up to hold phones horizontally for a landscape shot. The adjustable neck along with your wrist can help hold it vertical, but I need the hat to hold the phone vertical without bending the neck. The arm screws into the small gold fitting you see here, so I just slide it out of the socket.
I like the idea of keeping the holder removable, and any other way of attaching the arm directly will only make it harder to repair if it breaks. It will be vital however, that the fitting is very sturdily connected to the holder, or the arm will inevitably rip the gold fitting off. I use a piece of strip wood that happens to snap perfectly into the back of the holder. Super glue is enough to hold this in place, but the gold fitting will be more difficult.
I find a cable holder that fits the gold piece perfectly and I heat the nail enough to burn/melt through both wood and plastic, giving it stability in one axis. That alone wont be enough, so I resort to Water Weld epoxy putty. A conical cocoon with inlaid toothpicks will be plenty strong once set.
The next feature will be the light. I use a small project LED run by a button battery and a tea candle base that will serve as a reflector dish.
I mount it with a small bolt through the candle tin and the hole where the gold fitting had been. I find a clip nut that will work as a spacer and make enough tension that it will stay pointed up or down.
The light made by the LED is a little too blue and direct though, so I cut a circle from some packing foam for diffusion.
I also cut a circle from some transparent orange folder dividers to offset the color. Just to clean it up I use a little paint, black tape and an apple juice lid.
Now, back to the structure of the hat. I cut the first segment of the selfie arm off because I didn’t need that much length. This still leaves enough to para scope and extend a little. I use a lot thinner wire (white) to make sure its stable without adding weight.
I also want to fill out the shape without adding the weight paper mache would add. I use a technique I call tape-er-mache. By crumpling newsprint and using packing tape, you can get a lot of the structure without the weight of condensing it with water and flour. I used this technique to fill out the Wile Coyote ski jump dummy.
Filling in the space between wires adds a lot of stability. I make sure to tape only to the top level of the selfie attachment so that it can still be extended.
I hot glue felt onto the structure to complete the Dr. Sues feel.
To get a good fluffy bobble on the end I wind a bunch of yarn around a magazine
Cut the ends
Tie around the middle
The last feature is the ears. I start with foam core cutouts
Adding a layer will help keep it structured when sculpting it later
Next I cover it with paper clay. I absolutely love this stuff. It is light as balsa wood and smoother than anything I know how to make at home. It gives great detail, takes almost any paint, and isn’t particularly brittle.
After that has dried, I match some latex acrylic to my skin tone as best I can for a base coat. I used a lot of light washes of watercolor over this for redness and dabbed browns for texture. Below is a before/after. You can see how it adds a lot of dimension
A little more foam core and felt work as a mount for the ears
Screwing on the camera holder, it all comes together
Thanks for reading! Keep checking in for more details on the projects referenced in this post.