I have a friend (Jeff Paley) who is a stilt walker and performer. One night at a board game meetup I was discussing the sort of things I like to build. And he approached me about building a quad-stilt costume. We met a few times to work out some possible concepts. Then I ended up showing him a drawing of my idea for an ancient stone spirit that had come to life. He loved it. We decided it needed to light up as well as having various articulation and have a massive look. Yet also be light enough to pilot for a reasonable amount of time. We had a tight budget, so I had to find cheap materials and start building fast.
I tested a few materials, but settled on spray insulation foam over a twisted bailing wire frame with wide masking tape stretched between the wire sections. Big lesson #1: Spray insulation foam will stick to skin for DAYS. I discovered this after thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal to just go for it and make some adjustments without gloves to some just-sprayed sections. Boy was that a bad idea! After a bottle of nail polish remover, soap, dish soap, a shower, and scrubbing with an abrasive exfoliating stone, I still didn’t have much of it off. After a few days, it finally gave up!
The back portion is mounted on an modified old hiking backpack frame (from thrift store). And there are various bits of heavy-duty velcro that allow the pieces to be modular and be removed easily. (For example, the leg sections are fully removable from the foot stilts.)
The face is covered in a layer of 2-part wood repair epoxy to give it a hard shell. But I had to find a cheaper alternative for the body. So I did a bit of research. And then used joint compound mixed with latex house paint. It created a nice light durable coating over the foam. Also, it provided a medium-tone gray base to sponge the highlights over with white acrylic paint. Another excellent method I discovered was using an old electric turkey-carving knife to carve the foam after the initial sprayed forms. This tool made the process move much more quickly and intuitively.
The last major component was hot melt adhesive for the eyes, as it diffuses the LED light beautifully. I chopped up a bunch of small pieces and melted them in a greased bowl with a heat gun, so that the eyes would have a concave crystalline structure that refracts light.
Ancient Stone Spirit Quad Stilt Costume Reactions
People were absolutely blown away and captivated. Jeff couldn’t move more than a couple of feet before he’d be completely surround by people wanting photos and to get a closer look. There was a fascinatingly wide range of reactions, including: “That is terrifying,” “What is that from? It’s genius!,” “Holy crap! That is awesome!,” and “That’s some convention-level stuff right there!” … We were quite happy with the epic responses.
From concept to finished pieces, this stilt costume took about 6 weeks to build in my home workshop in Longmont, CO. The arm stilts are made from extended crutches with wide PVC pipe used as upper-arm rings.
Also, the suit has two wireless remotes for the lights (body-head lights and separate ones for the carved shoulder panel sigils). And I will probably perform with Jeff on occasion as a druid handler that controls the mood of the spirit via lighting (incantations).