My family has recently finished watching Avatar: The Last Air Bender and I have been wanting to make a cool prop from the show. In the series, there is a character called The Blue Spirit and he has this really cool mask that we’re going to make out of foam.
The process of turning flat EVA foam into amazing forms is called foam-smithing. A good friend Bill Duran has a book dedicated to the art of foamsmithing and I highly recommend it if this is something you’re interest in. Another resource that I have used is Evil Ted Smith who has a library of templates and tutorial videos related to making costume pieces out of foam mats.
To be able to create a rounded mask out of a flat anti-fatigue floor mat, you need to cut curved sections form the center of mat. By creating these leaf-like shapes, you can bend them together at the cut faces. Once glued, the flat material will develop a gentle curve. The more exaggerated the curved cuts, the more pronounced the dome effect will be. Use caution when trying to curve flat material like foam, because you can develop creased areas. If this happens, like it did on my first attempt, consider making more curved relief cuts. This cuts down on the amount of material each cut is trying to fold. You may find that your curved surface is more convex.
To make the curved mask, I used a lifecast of my head that Bill Doran made for me. I imagine that many of you don’t have a friend with a prop shop that can make a 1:1 replica of your own head. No worries, you can purchase a foam head that is an average human shape from a craft store for pretty cheap. I used the fake head as the mannequin and to get a size estimate for the rest of the Blue Spirit mask. Now that I had a rough rounded shape, I began to draw on the facial features.
To replicate the Blue Spirit mask as best I could, I found some reference images online. I began to freehand draw some of the raised facial features directly onto the newly curved mask. This helped me get the proper spacing and proportions for things like the eyes, the brow, the large mustache, and the mouth. Once I was happy with the overall placement, I took some measurements of the features. Using some paper, I drew the measurements and began to draw half of each feature. I only drew half because I can fold the paper in half and trace that shape for the other half. It is quite difficult to accurately draw a symmetrical shape freehand.
Once I drew out the features, I pinned them to another flat sheet of foam and traced the shapes onto the foam. Cutting out the features from the foam is pretty straight forward, unless you wanted to add some detail. Foam is cool because you can make different looking shapes simply by cutting the foam with the knife positioned in different ways. For this mask, I chose to make 90-degree cuts, but you can easily add a taper to the pieces by tilting the knife as you cut.
To cut EVA foam, I use an extendable box cutter and make continuous, smooth cuts. When my blade begins to bind, I use a small blade sharpener and it slices through with ease. To score the foam, you simple make very shallow cuts and use a heat gun to shrink the foam, creating some really cool gaps to make things like teeth and battle damage. This is another trick I picked up from Bill. I’ll link to the items I used in the product listing.
Now that the mask had the right curve and I have the facial features cut out, it is time to assemble the mask. You have to consider the order of operations at this point. You could use Barge contact cement and glue all of the pieces together now and paint later. Or your could paint the individual elements and then glue them. the Blue Spirit’s mask is a Samurai-inspired design with blue and white features. I chose to glue most of the pieces together, paint them a single color, and then go back and hand paint the white elements. In hindsight, I wish I would have sealed each piece with Plastidip, painted them separately, and then glued them together. The coloration would have been more consistent and it probably would have saved time.
Either way, the mask looked awesome! All it needed was the cloth headband the Blue Spirit had in the show. I had some left over black fabric and cut some 2-inch strips. Using the same Barge cement that I had been previously used, I attached the fabric strips to the inside of the Blue Spirit mask. In the show, the character tied the mask behind his head, but if you wanted to add elastic to your foam mask, it would be done in the same way.
I Love Working With Foam!
I am always excited about the results when making costume pieces out of foam. Foam is pretty forgiving and it isn’t very expensive. Most large cosplay pieces are made out of anti-fatigue floor mats that you can get at most hardware stores. Foam armor, masks, weapons, and costumes are lightweight and look really cool. You can make a costumes for Halloween, school presentations, cosplay events all out of floor mats and some contact cement. Again, check out Bill Doran, Evil Ted Smith, and Jackie Craft for some amazing projects and foam templates!
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Finishes & adhesives I like: