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Putting "Galumph" into the Creature: Articulating Movement with Hoops.

The Challenge: To produce monsters, creatures, and other fantasy costumes that move freely and are lightweight, breathable, and tough. The creatures of She Kills Monsters and Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid posed such a challenge.

In She Kills Monsters, the Dungeons & Dragons monsters and creatures were played by actors performing multiple roles, with fast changes, so the costumes could not depend on elaborate makeup and hair. The monsters had to jump, collide, fall down, dance, and fight with weapons against avatars. I did not want humanoid figures in cat suits and hats but instead wanted to emulate the lumbering action figures of both board and online games. Regardless of franchise, fantasy monsters have: 1) hulking, muscular shoulders, 2) a forward head, 3) long, knuckle-dragging arms, 4) huge hands, 5) a low-hanging belly, and 6) relatively short legs.

The Monster Solution: The solution was inspired by a vintage hoop skirt--concentric hoops suspended on tapes that sway, move in a wave, compress or collapse when sitting, collide and bounce back, and allow significant airflow. By employing a variety of hoop materials, I was able to achieve builtup figures with independent articulation of shoulders, torso, belly, arms and legs--true "galumph" in the gait. Stabilized on a fitted vest, the structure was secure but airy enough to avoid an overstuffed, suffocating-actor look (Bugbear, at left).

Monster Body

The body was mounted on a sturdy vest of black stretch twill, fitted to the actor, and ending just under the breast. The front closure was a separating parka zipper. Strips of 1" black twill tape hung from the vest, attached just below the shoulder in front and to the shoulder blades in back. On these were suspended seven or eight hoops of 14mm hooping steel in graduated diameters. I used steel hoop connectors, as I discovered overlapping and duct-taping the steel put the hoop out of balance. I found it useful to make casings of sturdy fleece to cover the hoops to give some bulk and also provide a good tough fabric to sew to the twill tape. The hoops were positioned and stitched on the twill tape and tweaked in fitting before strips of fur were hand-stitched on top of the fleece casing.

Positioning the hoops on the tapes molded the understructure to 1) protrude at the belly, 2) slant down toward the front to make the belly hang low, and 3) suggest a waist in back. The hoops were about 2.5 inches apart in front but closer in back near the bottom. The hoops created a body that hung well below the actor's hips to shorten the legs. The pectorals of furcovered foam snapped onto the vest over the zipper.

Monster Shoulders, Arms and Hands

To build up the hulking shoulders, 3-4 inch wedges of pool noodles, secured in loops of stretch twill, were attached to shoulder and back-shoulder areas of the vest. To delineate the musculature of the shoulders, I looped freestanding ribs of Featherlite plastic boning over the pool noodles and attached at the ends to the vest. Eventually the whole shoulder assembly would be covered with long-pile fur. Massive bulk on the shoulders naturally pushed the head slightly forward, but also intensified the illusion of leading with the chin.

Covered Featherlite hoops mounted on Glissenette sleeves enlarged the girth of the biceps and raised the top of the armhole to the built-up the shoulder, giving the illusion of a lengthened upper arm. To extend the forearm and enlarge the hands, I searched eBay for Hulk Fists, specifically the 2002 foam version with the crash sound effects (we removed the batteries). To give the illusion of lowering the elbow and extending the forearm, I added an extension of rigid foam to the top edge of the Hulk Fist and covered the whole fist with a leather greave. Foam weapons were attached to the Fist by slicing under the fingers to insert and glue the handle of the weapon. The Hulk Fist comes with a rod inside the cavity for the actor's hand to grip, which also gave the actor complete control over the weapon for the battles. If a monster needed to appear without a weapon, an identical but weaponless Fist could be switched instantly.

Improving Movement

The hoops would collapse or compress when the actor sat down or bent the arms. There was no restriction of movement if the hoops were substantially larger than the actor's measurements. I found the best character movement occurred if the hoop casing was attached to the twill tape only at the top edge of the hoop. That gave the bottom edge of the hoop more play, more independent action--hence, more "galumph." The whole thing would move like a lamp shade if the hoop casings were attached to the tape at both top and bottom edges of the hoop.

The monster look was completed with furry leggings, monster slippers from Target, and a separate furry headpiece, crafted with characteristic ears or bony eyes.

Ursula: Hoops as a Platform

For The Little Mermaid, I designed an understructure of graduated steel hoops--a short, flat hoop skirt--to provide a secure but undulating base for Ursula's tentacles. To support the weight of the tentacles of Spandexcovered, reticulated foam, I used a double layer of 10mm hooping steel inside each twill casing. The hoops were mounted on twill tapes suspended from a sturdy waistband. Positioning the hoops on the twill tape and flat front panel controlled the shape of the hoop understructure. Although the weight of the tentacles made it necessary to stabilize the hoops with tape at both top and bottom edges, there was still plenty of movement. An underskirt of Glissenette seaweed strips camouflaged the actor's legs. Combined with articulated tentacles, the structure allowed Ursula to undulate and seemingly float over the set, tentacles moving independently.


These hoop under-structures produced well-balanced, breathable, and surprisingly light costumes, with the weight supported either by shoulders or hips. The actors quickly discovered that the costumes responded to any type of movement or gesture. In particular, hip or shoulder movement and jumping created rhythmic (and arrhythmic) slinky-waves that added to character and humor.

By Gail Argetsinger

The College at Brockport, State University of New York
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Author:Argetsinger, Gail
Publication:TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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