How To Build A Dalek
Last Halloween, my friend Stephanie revealed an incredible costume she had been working on all year: a dalek. At first, I thought ‘How is that even possible? How will you wear it?” I underestimated the creativity, crafty skills and motivation Stephanie had behind this undertaking. It was unfortunate that New York was slammed by a huge snow storm Halloween weekend which cancelled all local parties, including the big one Stephanie had planned to show the dalek off at, and hopefully win a costume contest at. I couldn’t let this incredible costume go back into the basement without sharing it with all my fellow Doctor Who fans, so I set upon compiling all the information I could from Stephanie on how she pulled this off. Hopefully some of you will feel inspired by this to create your own awesome Halloween costumes this year!
Stephanie: I started in February of 2011. I am not sure what exactly got me into the idea, but when I found out Dalek’s stand about 5 feet tall (and that is my height), I figured it would be an excellent idea. Then when I found the very detailed plans online, I was sold.
S: I don’t think I had an idea, but I definitely did not think it would take the amount of time (and money) that it did. I knew it was good to start early, and I’m glad I did, because I ended up finishing very close to Halloween.
S: It definitely was. I was trying to find components that would work but be cheap and light and would make the final product mobile/portable.
S: I didn’t make many changes, except ones to make it able for me to go inside. Accidentally, it ended up taller than expected, but that turns out to be good because now people who are not petite like me can go inside it as well.
L: What was the biggest challenge in the project and how did you work past it?
S: The biggest challenge was making the dome for the head. I could not find any bowls that were the right size (huge), so I decided I would use paper mache over a large beach ball. However, I also could not find a beach ball that was the right size, despite ordering some online that turned out to be incorrectly described. I finally had to use wire mesh and shape my own dome and then cover it with paper mache.
L: I know thanks to a big snow storm you were unable to show the dalek at Halloween parties. Did you get to actually take it out for display to the public? Have you made any plans to display it since halloween?
S: I have not yet had a chance to bring it out to the public yet. I do plan on attending one or two cons this year, though, to show it off. And hopefully this coming Halloween. Unfortunately I need a large venue to effectively display it, and that can be hard to find. (It does not fit through a conventional doorway, except in pieces, so that also creates a challenge. I have to put it together in one room and stay there the whole time.)
Now for the technical details:
The plans Stephanie used were found here. That site offers plans for several different styles of daleks. Stephanie chose to build the ‘New Series Dalek’, which premiered in 2005. I’m assuming she picked that model because, being fans of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, her boyfriend Dave would be happy to wear the appropriate Doctor costume.
For technical notes from Stephanie and her bio, read past the break.
In Stephanie’s words:
I used wood to cut out the top and bottom of the base and foam-core board to create the sides of the base. I divided the base in half, a front and a back half, so that it could easily be moved. I used latches to connect the two pieces so that they could come apart for transport. I cut holes in the bottom of the base for the wheels and attached the wheels on the underside of the top of the base, so that the wheels were recessed inside. I used a rotating wheel in front and two fixed wheels behind. If I did it again, I might use all rotating wheels–it is hard to maneuver.
Using the measurements in the plans, I cut out the pieces of the skirt from foam-core board, used hot glue and tape to connect the pieces of the skirt and divided the skirt in half, laterally, so that there was a right and left side. This was so the costume could be moved and transported easily. The pieces come together with velcro and the skirt attaches to the base with velcro. Some panels I did not attach to the top and bottom but instead attached to themselves and then a hinge, so that I could use this as a door to get in and out.
I painted the skirt with regular paint and not spray paint because I found the spray paint ran too easily; I also painted it after assembly but it might have been easier if I painted them before assembly.
I sawed 4″ diameter styrofoam balls in half and spray painted them and then glued them to the skirt. The chemicals in the spray paint eroded away some of the styrofoam, horribly in some balls. Perhaps a different type of spray paint might have worked better.
I used foam core to create a skeleton of the shoulders and then covered it with paper mache. I shaped the arm holes out of foam core and used a 1″ long, 3″ diameter PVC pipe to hold a styrofoam ball in place behind the front cover of the arms, and drilled a hole in the styrofoam ball for the arms. This way the arms can be pulled in and out of the ball, and the ball serves as a ball joint to move them around.
I used strips of foam core for the slats along the shoulders. I painted small googly-eyes so that they looked like rivets and glued them on.
I used a paint roller attached to a dowel for the gun and used a black plunger for the other arm. I attached thin wire inside the arm boxes in the shoulders that I could wrap several times around the stem of the arms while inside the costume in order for the arms to stay stationary in the horizontal position on their own.
I used foam core for the circles and wooden dowels as the vertical parts to create the neck. I used 1/2″ hardware cloth (black) around the neck. I then put window screen behind it, but it was still too see-through. So I added another layer–this time of A/C filter foam–inside the neck. I have not used the costume in extremely low light, but in regular light I can see fine out of the costume and people cannot see me very well. The window screen part is not necessary. Note: the foam tends to catch your hair when you are inside.
After several attempts to find a large ball of the right diameter, I gave up. I used strips of hardware cloth to create a dome of the right dimensions and then covered it in paper mache. I used foam core for the shaping of the box for the eye stalk.
I used flickering tea lights for the ears, with a hole cut on either side for the light (that I can turn on inside the costume) and clear plastic cups for the ears.
The eye stalk:
I used the top of a wide water bottle, inserted into a deeper semi-hemi-spherical container for the end of the eye stalk and used a hollow rod as the stalk itself. I used a book light (with the wire extended) for the light; switch for the light is inside the costume. I used some blue clear plastic to cover the light a bit and diffuse it and used clear plastic cut into circles for the discs along the eye stalk. I connected the end of the hollow rod to a pivot point and then extended a wood dowel downward so that I could control the up and down motion of the eye stalk. As a way to have the stalk stay in place horizontally on its own, I cut a piece of foam core to jam under the stalk where it comes into the costume. I can remove it to make the stalk movable again.
Stephanie LaRose went to college at Brown University and majored in Geology. She currently works as a geologist and GIS specialist at an environmental consulting firm in Poughkeepsie, NY. On the side, she is a professional photographer, specializing in landscapes and nature photography (www.stephanielarosephotograph
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