Years ago, I saw the film Pan’s Labyrinth for the first time. Haunted and inspired by the ageless, withered, beautiful faun on the screen, I developed the desire to create my own glassy-eyed, cloven-hooved forest spirit. Dozens and dozens of the designs in my head gave themselves to my sketchbooks. Months, a year, close to two years passed as I refined and simplified the creature in my head into a project feasible for a budget artist. Naturally, as I was crafting the costume, the design morphed into something completely different than what I originally intended… and I’m so happy it did!
The final product became this monstrosity, a creature known as the wendigo. Originating from the lore of the Algonquian peoples, this grisly beast comes into existence when a human feeds on the flesh of its own kind. After succumbing to the forbidden act of cannibalism, the human’s body takes on a horrific form and is cursed to wander the forests in an eternal state of hunger. No amount of flesh can satiate it, and very few of its victims can escape.
The spectrum of artistic liberty on this monster stretches quite far, ranging from simple Smeagol-like creatures with rows of sharp teeth, to gargantuan, yeti-like monstrosities with antlers taller than the trees. Wendigos are most often depicted as emaciated, decomposing, elk-like humanoids. This is the route I chose as I began to fabricate my beast.
During the hours of research I put into this this project, I happened across an article that mentioned an interesting factoid: many Native American tribes see albino animals as sacred, and to kill one is to curse yourself with rotten luck for life. Excited by this information, I finalized my wendigo’s design to be albino in order to tie in a delicious bit of misfortune to the already unsettling costume. Coming across this cannibalistic, sacred wendigo in a dark forest leaves you with only two choices:
Kill it and get cursed, or curse at it and get killed.
My habit of budget artistry has allowed me to develop unique and creative–and, I admit, often unorthodox–methods of building complex costumes. The finished wendigo has over 250 hours of crafting and is held together by almost every material under the sun. Fortunately, most of the materials used can be found at your local craft or hardware store. Most of what I gathered was found at Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, and Home Depot.
ANTLERS:Cardboard
Copper Wire
Spray Foam
Paper Mache Clay
Hot Glue
Mod Podge
Acrylic Paints
Matte Lacquer
The base is cardboard, bent into shape using copper wire. I used expanding spray foam over the cardboard, let it dry overnight, and then shaved the foam down into a basic antler form using a utility knife. I spread a couple of layers of homemade paper mache clay over the spray foam for strength and sturdiness. (Paper mache clay recipe: Shredded toilet paper (damp), wood glue, joint compound, and flour. If the final mixture looks like what you would put on a tuna salad sandwich, you’re doing it right.) After sanding the dry clay down as needed, I created the ridges and other detail work using hot glue. I applied several layers of toilet paper and Mod Podge afterwards for strengthening, painted it all with acrylic paints, and sealed it with matte spray lacquer.
MASK:
Upholstery Foam
Copper Wire
Sports Helmet
Duct Tape
Blank Craft Mask
Joint Compound
Toilet Paper
Hot Glue
PVC Pipe and Glue
Nuts/Bolts
Acrylic Paints
Matte Lacquer
The face of the wendigo was carved out of upholstery foam and hot-glued onto a basic white opera mask. I purchased a sports helmet at a thrift store as a foundation to mount the antlers onto and attached the mask, bridging them together by hot-gluing more upholstery foam. The nose, jaw, and teeth of the wendigo were created using air-dry clay on a copper wire base, which was inserted into the foam. (The clay cracked and shrank as it dried, which was frustrating at first, but it ended up working in my favor for the decomposed skull look). I covered everything in many, many layers of joint compound, toilet paper, and Mod Podge to adhere it all together and give the foam base a hard, skullish shell. The mask was then painted with acrylics and sealed with matte spray lacquer.
The mask came out–surprise!–much too heavy to wear. After many months of floundering in discouragement, I finally MacGyvered a substructure of PVC pipe that rests on my shoulders to screw the helmet to, which took the weight off my neck and kept my head secure. Realism took a little bit of a hit due to the static head, but safety first, kids!
I see out of the nose/mouth area. The eyes are transparent glass marbles purchased from Hobby Lobby and are illuminated from behind with battery-operated Christmas lights. I taped the battery pack to the very front of the PVC shoulder mount (just under my sternum), in an easily accessible, but well-hidden, spot under the poncho of fur.
DIGI-LEG STILTS:
Wood
Pair of Shoes
Flat Metal Bars
PVC Pipe
Nuts/Bolts/Screws/Washers
Wood Glue
Bungee Cords
Velcro
Building digitigrade stilts was an enormous project in itself, and required a lot of power tools and a few tips from the sculpture professor at college. They turned out more comfortable than they look (due to me re-doing multiple parts multiple times until it was perfect), but the build is quite complex. Imagine 13-inch platform high heels made of wood.
I screwed a pair of cheap shoes (slip-on is best) to the wooden plank and cut the bottom support pieces out at an as-steep-as-feasible angle–fifty degrees, if memory serves. I cut a piece of six-inch diameter PVC tubing in half to use as the very top piece of the stilts, a brace piece that goes just under the knee for frontal support. Flat metal bars, about eighteen inches in length, were bolted to the PVC piece and extended the full length from the sides of my knees down to my ankles. I then engineered a pivot joint at the bottom of these metal rods, which aligned with my ankle, to allow for smooth, natural movements when walking and crouching. Then, bungee cords, which are absolutely essential. I attached the bungees in the back, crossing each pair of cords over my calves in an X pattern from the top PVC pieces down to the heel pieces of the wooden base. They provided just enough give and tension to keep the stilts secured to the bottom of my foot every time I would take a step. I stapled velco straps in high movement areas and adhered shoe grips to the very bottom of the wood for added reliability. In order to get the slimmest and most goatish look possible, I put a minimal amount of padding on the stilt base before furring it. The hooves were created using the same method as the antlers.
That’s the simplest breakdown of the stilts that I can give in words. For more detailed information, you can find a video and commentary of the initial build on my YouTube channel, InstilledPhear.
GLOVES:Dollar Store Gloves
Aluminum Foil
Masking Tape
Muslin
Acrylic Paints
The fingers were built onto a pair of cheap, generic winter gloves. I created the long shapes by crumpling aluminum foil to the desired length, covering the aluminum form in a layer of masking tape, and then hot-gluing muslin fabric over the top of it all to make it paintable. I made a pair of fingerless gloves out of the white fur by tracing my hand, making sure to add lots of extra seam allowance in order for the sewn gloves to be pulled over the long fingers. Once the fingerless gloves were in place over the spooky claws, I hot-glued everything together and painted them with acrylics.
FUR:Fur
Thread
Sew-on Velcro
Elastic
Layer one is a pair of capri-style pants. Layer two is a long-sleeved leotard with a strip of velcro in the front for ease of getting in and out. The fur hanging off of the mask was cut in a basic poncho shape and trimmed/glued as needed.
(I created a custom sewing pattern for the stilts by wearing one stilt and wrapping my leg up in saran wrap and masking tape and then cutting it off.) I put the costume on in the order of pants, leotard, stilts, mask, and then gloves.
Everything from there was an adventure in hot glue, velcro, acrylic paint, and some good old-fashioned hand-stitching!
I had the opportunity to work at a haunted forest in this costume during the weekends in October. The path was outdoors in a dense grove of trees, so the wendigo was definitely in his natural habitat. Since my costume is white, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sneak up on anybody from between the trees, so I stood with my back up against a wooden post to the side of the trail and stood absolutely still to look like a prop. People couldn’t proceed down the trail without walking past me, and most were incredibly cautious as they did so since they couldn’t tell if the beast was real or fake. When the moment was right, I would lunge toward them and turn on the illuminate the eyes at the same time–most people’s responses to the sudden movement were shrieks of terror, grabbing the person next to them, taking off running, and sometimes even falling flat to the ground. (And, with the REALLY good scares, all four of those things, not necessarily in that order). I even implemented an elk call into my costume, a little reed that you can wear against the roof of your mouth, which makes the unsettling elk shrieks when you do it correctly. Needless to say, stomping after people and screaming like a hellish hooved banshee got some absolutely amazing reactions. I even got a high-five or two from some fearless, monster-loving kids.
I went to work in this costume on Halloween day and livened up my boring office by wandering each floor, weaving in and out of the rows of desks and their occupants, and pausing at glass conference rooms to unsettle the people within. Even the very founder of the multi-million dollar business saw my costume–he raised his eyebrows in shock and emitted a nervous laugh. I had the honor of being photographed and videotaped by the company’s marketing team, and even made a good friend in the process. At the end of the day, I won the popular vote in the “Best Female Costume” category. My efforts to create a quality costume did not go unnoticed, and the positive feedback from both friends and strangers made the meticulous hours I put into this project all worth it.
For those curious to see more of my work, I go by the name InstilledPhear almost everywhere on the internet. Feel free to contact me through Facebook or YouTube if you have questions on specific aspects of this costume or any others I’ve made!
Best of luck on your next big project, and happy haunting, friends!
Spooky Homemade Costume - White Wendigo Forest Spirit

Coochie coo!

Spooky Homemade Costume - White Wendigo Forest Spirit

Ominous beasty.

Spooky Homemade Costume - White Wendigo Forest Spirit

Full body shot. Walking on uneven ground is by far the spookiest part of the costume.

Spooky Homemade Costume - White Wendigo Forest Spirit

“Draw me like one of your French wendigos.”