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5 Ways to Use the Learning Lab to Up Your Halloween Game

Resin was used by cosplay extrordinaires Nerdforge to encase lights in the blades of these stunning daggers.

If you are anything like me, you have a hard time sticking to the run-of-the-mill Halloween costumes and decorations that are on offer at Value Village and Walmart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to dress up and scare the neighbours no matter whether it is a Barbie Princess costume that every young girl in the world is wearing or a one-of-a-kind reproduction of the Joker that you spend weeks making. But there is just something about dressing up that brings out the creative side in me and makes me want to soop it up with highly realistic details or historically accurate craftsmanship.

Whether you are into hard-core historical reproduction or just looking to pack a punch in your next sexy devil costume, the Learning Lab at the Ville can help satisfy that design itch. Here are some suggestions.

1. Use Circuitry to Light Up the Night.

With the advent of DIY circuitry and electronics, costuming has reached a new level. Replicating your favourite superheroes and mythical creatures is significantly aided by sewable lights and screens. These nearly limitless options for costuming come to us by way of single-board microcontrollers and customizable computer systems through companies like Arduino, Adafruit, and many others (just do a search, they’re not hard to find).

Christmas lights can be repurposed for all sorts of haunting or ethereal applications.

Consider using the Learning Lab’s circuitry centre to build that Iron Man costume you’ve always wanted to build. Or, bring a string of Christmas lights to life underneath a gauzy tunic for an ethereal reproduction of a fairy with this tutorial. Mostly, these are pretty low-tech but super-fun accessories, but if you want to up your game, you could add a wee bit of coding to get your lights to do extra-special things based on your movements. Robots and future-inspired characters benefit a lot from movement-activated lights. And of course, accessories are ALWAYS better with responsive lighting, like these resin daggers from Nerdforge or this amazing cosplay Grim Marrow gun reproduction by Kamui Cosplay.

Kamui Cosplay built this extraordinary gun from the game Outriders. Its intricate crystalwork lights up when the trigger is pulled!
2. Build Extra-Amazing Accessories Out of Wood.

Often, costumes stay at the foam or paper-maché level because not all of us possess a woodshop to make lifelike accessories. But the Learning Lab’s woodshop has pretty much everything you are likely to need to make accurate reproductions of a wide range of objects that can then be treated in numerous ways.

For example, a scrap piece of 2x4 or plywood can be turned into a sword blade using a draw knife and then attached to a carved hilt and handguard (see this amazing video demonstration). Or consider building some limb augmentation, like this incredibly scary outfit, to create a striking silhouette that confuses the eye on a dark night. Orbs made out of epoxy and turned on a lathe are pretty impressive additions to any wizard’s outfit:

The Learning Lab's woodshop is ideal for building anything that requires high stability, durability, and/or solidness, as long as weight is not going to get in the way. Making a faux electric guitar would be a better option in many costume situations than carrying around a real guitar, although wood might not be the best option for building armour, body shells, or headgear larger than a crown.

3. Make Armour with Chain Mail
Armour linked by chain links create a spectacularly lifelike effect.

Now here is a costuming art that is likely to become your new obsession. Chain mail is best known among costumers for its ability to realistically reproduce the armour worn throughout the history of knights and soldiers of the Western world. It has gone on to be embraced by Conan spin-off costumers, goth crafters, steampunks, haute fashion designers, and people with a love of far-out jewellery. Add to its popularity the exciting possibilities of modern materials like scales, beads, and metal plates and it’s going to be a costuming hit no matter what you do with it.

A combination of scales and chain can create limitless forms and effects.

Sure, you can buy rings already made, but where’s the fun in that?! Make links by wrapping silver or nickel wire around a dowel (the bigger the dowel, the bigger the links) and then use a keyhole saw or a hack saw to cut through them parallel to the dowel. After you have cut through, you should be able to slide the dowel out, leaving you with a whole bunch of rings ready for bending into a closed circle. Use needle-nose pliers to bend the rings open and then closed again. Check out this tutorial for more details.

4. Silk-Screened Fabric for More Realistic Costumes
This fabric was block-printed in the manner that would convince even the most hard-core historical re-enactor.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the right look for what you’re going for. The animal prints available from your local fabric store often look like they are meant to convey “trophy wife” rather than “wild animal.” And anyone who is a serious historical costumer will regularly bemoan the lack of historically accurate prints. And of course, glow-in-the-dark prints are never more appropriate than at Halloween, but there is a serious lack of cool glowing designs out there.

If it’s a glow-in-the-dark, zebra stripe, or block-printed look you require, consider designing and silk-screening the effect onto some fabric. You can do this after you sew your garment, so you can achieve a truly wrap-around effect (which might be called for in the case of stripes). You could also silkscreen your costume with all kinds of funky, funny, or cool affects that maybe have nothing to do with realism, like this Tron costume.

5. Print Large-Format Designs for Minecraft Costumes

There are a range of Minecraft costume ideas out there, but none are quite so easy (while still snazzy) as designing your own Minecraft character to fit your unique dimensions. The secret is to first construct boxes for your body, head, and arms, and then print a poster-sized version of your character to fit the boxes, after which you can glue the printed pieces to the boxes with spray adhesive or rubber cement. This requires the ability to design the pieces using an image manipulation software like Photoshop, which is available at any media lab (consider using the excellent UNB Media Lab). Once you have your pieces designed and fit onto a PDF or JPEG document around 40” wide, you are ready to print them off.

A Minecraft zombie head turns out to be pretty easy to make with an oversized printer.

The beauty of doing this is that it is fast and great for the less craftsy-oriented among us. The main component, designing the pieces, can be exciting and fun, and if you are not comfortable with the design part, you can just yank an image from the internet and resize it. Keep in mind that this technique would also work well for other blocky characters (why not Lego Batman?) or scaled replicas of famous buildings (ever gone to a party as the Empire State Building?).

The Learning Lab has lots of resources to help make your best Halloween costume yet that I didn’t even mention. You can use the sewing machines to whip your costume into shape and the 3-D printer to design accessories. You could build all kinds of head gear using any combination of foam, 3-D printing, woodworking, fabric, paper maché, or polymer clay. And of course, it's always amazing to have the space to really spread out. Let you imagination be your guide this Halloween!

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