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8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Ever wanted to build an outdoor monster prop but got stuck on how to make it look like a monster, be portable... or make it weather proof? Yeah, well me too :p But, really... really wanted to make a Demon Horse for the graveyard this year. It's amazing how desperation makes ideas pop into your head.

How about the foam tombstones we all make. They are tough, lightweight and handle the weather great. Why can't you follow the same procedures? Turns out, you can somewhat. This tutorial will show how it was done.

A condensed video version of this tutorial. It'll be a good primer:

Let's get started:

Materials Needed:
2", 1 1/2", 1", 1/2" thick foam sheets (variety helps here)
1" and 1/2" PVC pipe
1" wood screws
1 5/8" wood screws
Rope light (LED)
Boatloads of PVC connectors in all kinds of configurations (see below)
Duct tape (of course - what project doesn't use this?)
Hanger wire (thick gauge so it'll hold shape)
Hardware cloth
Zip ties
Gorilla glue
Foamboard glue
Instant glue
Paintable white caulk
Silicone caulk
Elmer's wood filler
Latex Drylok paint
Latex gloves
Popsicle sticks
Paper towels
Template Plastic
Heavy Duty Template Plastic
Plastic wrap
Bendable plastic mirror
Exterior flat latex paint
Paint (misc. colors)
Clear gloss paint

Tools Needed:
Jig Saw
PVC Cutter
1/8 drill bit
12' ruler
Heat gun
Bending PVC jig (nails pounded into a 2x4)
Stanley SureForm Shaver
Bits of old rasp blades
Drywall cutter
Serrated steak knife
Hobby knife
Sculpture spoon pick
Sanding pad
Wire cutters
Needle nose pliers
Kitchen shears or tin snips
Paint scraper
Work gloves
2" paint brush
Caulk gun
Paint Sprayer

Get Baseline and Inspiration Pictures: Pictures, artwork... even better: a Google Sketch-up model. Any, all or some of these will help keep the design focused and on track. Collect inspirations on what the monster will look like. Also collect measurements like the length of a leg, size of the head and girth of the chest, etc. Of course there's no website out there with measurements of monsters but there are measurements of animals. Find a good equivalent animal of the monster and base the build measurements off that.

Google Sketch-up (Picture 1): Google Sketch-up models are great because the base model can be manipulated to what's needed. Saves a lot of time. Found a rearing horse model for the Demon Horse: http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/details?mid=bd880918b6c669cf5d4e52dd52abcb3d&prevstart=0

Move and Measure (Picture 2): Here the model was moved around to get a sense of how it would look like in the groundbreaker design. Also a person was added to see the scale better. Sketch-up also offers different views including 'X-ray' which is what's seen in the picture. It's a clear view so the ruler tool can easily be used to measure any distance needed: distance between the ears, length of the neck, length of a leg and so forth. Was invaluable in building the Demon Horse.

Small Sculpture (Not Pictured): Try to have a small similar sculpture or make a small scale mock-up. It's good to use while shaping the monster because you can see and feel the shape of muscles and curves. Had a small horse sculpture that was used for the Demon Horse.

Prepare the Operating Room: A large variety of PVC connectors will help give flexibility in designing the skeletal frame for the monster. There's a couple of new connectors made by Spider Hill Prop Works: http://www.spiderhillpropworks.com/store/index.php?route=product/category&path=35 you should check out. The mounting base allows to easily attach the PVC to a wood platform (great start) and the Spider Joints allows to bend a joint around until just the right angle.

Plywood and 2x4 Base (Picture 1): Cut out a piece of plywood large enough to hold the beast. Span the bottom of it with 2x4's to make it stronger. Be sure to place the 2x4's under where the mounting bases will be so long screws can be used. Consider putting two more 2x4's at the far edges of the board to add stability for extra tall beasts. The horse wobbled a bit to much for my liking. The other advantage to using 2x4's is that they allow air to circulate when it's out in graveyard and not kill the grass (so quickly).

Mounting Bases (Picture 2): Line up the mounting bases and mark where the holes are.

Screw into Place (Picture 3): Pre-drill with an 1/8 drill bit and attach with 1 5/8" wood screws.

Build the Framing: Start to build the PVC structure beginning with 1" PVC once the Mounting Bases are installed. For smaller sections use the 1" to 1/2" connectors to transition to 1/2" PVC and connectors.

I won't lie, this whole process is mind boggling but stick to the model measurements and trust them. Be sure to make the skeletal structure smaller than what the monster will be. You need to be able to shape the foam as much as possible without cutting/grating into the PVC pipe. If not, frustration will occur followed by grumbling and drinking.


8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Tricky Bends: A heat gun is great for doing angles not achieved with the Spider Joints. Heat the pipe until soft and bend into shape. Make a jig to help: pound some large nails sticking out of a section of 2x4. Use these as braces to help bend, hold and cool the PVC.

Set into Place: Cement or screw into place most of the connectors once the structure is completed. This will strengthen it into one solid unit. Use self-tapping screws or pre-drill and use 1" wood screws like was done here. Do not screw into place sections that must be removable so you can fit the beast up basement stairs (heheh) like the head and wings on this Demon Horse.

Install Rope Lighting: Snake rope lighting where light is needed and zip tie in place. Be sure to take a reference picture to remind where the light rope is after being skinned with foam. Try using LED lighting. Here incandescent lighting was used and it's a bit concerning with the heat it generates being encased in foam.

First Layer of Foam: Skin the PVC framing with pink or blue foam. Use Gorilla Glue to be sure that the foam will stick onto the PVC.

Build up Layers: Continue to add more layers of foam paying attention to the shaping of the monster. The more thinking here will need less work later when shaping it back down. Use foam glue to attach these layers together. I'd like to say I've found a great foam glue but can't. Had used Loctite Foamboard glue but if there is no air, it never dries. What happens is that while shaping, you run into wet glue which gunks up the shaping rasp. It's still workable but aggravating. There must be better glues out there so please comment if you know any.

Use rope to hold in place while it dries.

Thin Areas: Use a center layer of foam cut out for the PVC and sandwich it together on each side with more foam for thinner sections like legs and arms.

Pattern Paper (Picture 1): It can be difficult to estimate the size and shape of the next layer of foam. Take paperboard (this was a paperboard insert from picture frame), hold it up to the monster and trace out the shape needed.

Cut Out (Picture 2): Cut the pattern out to use as a template for the foam. When done, duct tape the paper back together and it can be reused.

Starting to take shape.

Muscle Layers: The last layer of foam will be where rippling muscles should be.


8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Draw Carving Lines (Picture 1): Draw out lines on the monster to identify where carving is to begin.

Carve Away (Picture 2): Use the full cache of carving tools to begin to carve away those areas. This is a slow process but helps when you turn up the Rob Zombie tunes at full ear-splitting max...:p Oh. I mean it helps when you focus on one area of the monster at a time. Work on a right leg, then a left leg so they are symmetrical. Work on a right neck, then a left neck. Work on the left head and then the right head. So on and so on. DRINK!

Note about those carving tools: You'll be switching between different tools constantly. Here's some favorites:

Stanley SureForm Shaver: The go-to. It fits perfectly in the hand and allows quick shaping of the foam. Angle it on the side and it's great for carving out lines and shaping away to make smooth rounded edges.

Pieces of the Shaver: Eventually the shaver will need a fresh rasp blade. Don't throw the old one away. Instead, break in half and it's perfect for holding at the end of fingertips. Now you can get into tight corners and really dig in. Quick removal of larger sections of the foam can be stripped/flaked off if you use the flat side. It kind of pops off.

Drywall Saw: Great for cutting off very large sections

Serrated Steak Knife: Used for quick short cuts of pieces of foam that will be glued into place like teeth, pieces of mane.

Open Mouth: Some monsters look scarier with their teeth showing. Cut where the mouth would be and glue back in place open using embedded wires. Embedded popsicle sticks near the front helps to temporarily hold the jaw in place while the glue dries. The sticks can be cut off later with a Dremel.

Smaller Foam Pieces (Picture 1): Add the smaller detail pieces like teeth, tongues, tentacles and hair once the basic structure of the monster is carved down. First shape a piece of foam to fit onto the part of the monster it will be glued onto. Then draw out, cut and shape the piece on the workbench. Two new tools are used here. A sculpture spoon pick and a sanding pad. Good for detail work.

Hanger Wire Support (Picture 2): Cut pieces of hanger wire and stick into the area where the monster and new piece will meet.

Glue in (Picture 3): Add glue and push the piece into place.

Carving and shaping done for body of the monster.

Hardware Cloth: The monster may need wings or something similar that must be thin but strong. Enter hardware cloth. An evil... err...I mean awesome material that can be bent (with a lot swearing and blood loss) into the shape you desire. Really, it's great stuff but is like wrestling an alligator to get into shape. A PVC frame, zip ties and needle nose pliers will help. Oh, and work gloves! The cut ends of hardware cloth are like needles and will poke at every chance they can get.

Cut the general shape needed using kitchen shears or tin snips. Roll one edge around the PVC pipe and zip tie in place. Start shaping the hardware cloth. Needle nose pliers are great to help pinch the cloth into a bend. The edges of hardware cloth bends inward but not outward. For outward bends, cut notches in the cloth to help open it up. There will be a gaps left but will be covered up in the later Cheeseclothing step. When able, attach the cloth to the opposite PVC frame.

Adding More Shape: Two things to help add shape:

Caulk: Can be used (built up in layers) to make a spine or ridge.
Foam Snow: Great stuff to fill in gaps. Put on some foamboard glue, press the snow on and let dry. May have to be done several times.

Fill Seams: Apply wood filler with a paint scraper to fill in seams and smooth with a gloved hand.


8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Cheeseclothing: Cheesecloth is Terra's cheat for fiberglassing :p It unifies and strengthens the surface of your monster without the hassle of fiberglassing.

Don some latex gloves and dip a large square of cheesecloth into Drylok and squeeze out excess. Open up the cloth and press onto the monster starting at the top. Use some extra Drylok at the top to help hold in place. Press smooth being careful to pull out the edges so a seam wouldn't be left behind. Paint on a nice layer of Drylok and move onto the next piece. Continue to do this until the monster is covered.

Tendons/Veins (Picture 1): Tendons and veins are a tiny accent but communicates rippling monster-like muscles. Stage thin long strips of cheesecloth on the monster where tendons/veins would be. Google muscle men pictures (fun for me) or horse pictures to help get a sense of where tendons/veins usually are.

Dip the strips into Drylok, squeeze out excess and press into place. Brush on some additional Drylok to help smooth the transition.

Holes (Picture 2): Use a Dremel to cut out any accent holes in the hardware cloth item (like wings) to add more of a monster vibe to them.

Cheesecloth Accents: Bits of cheesecloth dipped in the Drylok is good for hair-like items, torn or hanging skin. Stick in some wire for support if there isn't gravity to help.

Check for Holes: Do a final check for any pin holes prior to painting the base color. A good technique is to turn on the rope light and turn off the room lights. Check for any place where light is leaking out. Seal up with wood filler.

Paint Base Color: Use a paint sprayer to paint the base color if the monster is large and/or intricate like this one. It allows to get into the nooks and crannies easier than with a brush. Use flat exterior latex paint for this step.

Large Lit Areas: Cap large lit areas with flexible opaque sheets of plastic. This template plastic is great for that and can be found in the quilting section at Jo-Ann's: http://www.dritz.com/brands/showcase/details.php?ITEM_NUM=3133

Attach the plastic to the foam using caulk. Pin in place until dry. Stuff in wadded plastic wrap like pictured above if the light needs to be diffused more.

Use Instant Glue to glue an additional piece of plastic if the end needs to be capped (like a hoof). Then finish sealing it up with silicone so it's still invisible. Make the additional piece of plastic bigger than what's needed because it can be trimmed back after drying. After all this is dry, put on another layer of caulk where the edge of the plastic meets the monster. It can be textured to make it look more like skin. Additionally, smear some more silicone on the entire surface of the plastic to make it even more thick and opaque.


8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Cut Light Scars: Look at your reference picture of the rope lighting placement and mark out the light scars. Cut out with a drywall saw. Remove additional foam inward at an angle until good light is showing. This is the horse's eye.

Redirect Light: Had a problem with the eye placement and where the rope light was (didn't line up). A solution could be to use a piece of bendable plastic mirror (shown above) to reflect the light: http://www.joann.com/joann/catalog/productdetail.jsp?pageName=search&flag=true&PRODID=xprd77619

Make a Ridge & Paint (Picture 1): Carve a shallow outer ridge of the light scar using a hobby knife. This will create a 'shelf' for the opaque plastic to be set into without falling into the body of the monster. Paint with the color of the light. Let dry.

Cut out Plastic (Picture 2): Hold up a sheet of the Heavy Duty Template Plastic: http://www.dritz.com/brands/showcase/details.php?ITEM_NUM=3115 on the scar and trace out the shape. Cut out, test to fit and adjust using a hobby knife.

Silicone in Place (Picture 1): Place a thin bead of silicone on the 'shelf' and push the plastic in. Hold in place with toothpicks embedded into the foam if the plastic won't stay bent around a curve. Let dry.

Caulk, Smooth and Paint (Picture 2): Place a final barrier of caulk over the edges and finger smooth to blend in. Let dry then paint over with the monster's base color.

Paint Details (Picture 1): Paint with a brush some items like the tongue, horns and teeth.

Airbrush Details (Picture 1): Add muscle definition using an airbrush and thinned light colored paint. Use black for detail lines like ridges on horns. Use red to make tiny veins. A combo of red and yellow for flames. It's endless what can be done here. Let the imagination run wild (wine helps).

Glossing (Picture 2): The final step. Use clear gloss in the airbrush (or brush on) to add a wet, live look to some parts of the monster. Focus on the mouth and wings or any place that would look good shinning back.

Whew, done. DRINK!

Here's a video showing more of the completed horse:

Thanks for reading the tutorial. Hope it was helpful :)

312 Posts
I dont know which to be more jealous of....your amazing prop making ability or how clean and organized your workshop is!!

Wild Fandango
1,494 Posts
Hey it's that horrible horse from Denver International Airport that killed its creator! Run away!

I'm not sure if this tutorial is inspirational so much as making people "utterly intimidated by Terra's skills" :D

I would totally try this if I had room to keep it!

The Mrs. to a MysterE
2,324 Posts
OOo...ooooo ...my head hurts... this is so mind numbingly dazzling -- I -eeerk eek - ---feel the short circuiting of my...brai....ain.....waves.... EEEK! Exploding with amazement. Must put brain back in jar for now... (not to self - before reading ANY TERRA TUTORIALS - fortify grey matter in advance with lots of coffee and cookies!!)

Stunning Terra!

8,309 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
Wow! I'm so thrilled you all like it :D Thank you everyone.

Hey it's that horrible horse from Denver International Airport that killed its creator! Run away!

I'm not sure if this tutorial is inspirational so much as making people "utterly intimidated by Terra's skills" :D

I would totally try this if I had room to keep it!
Okay, that's amazing. I had to look it up to see if you were kidding. You aren't! It really did kill it's creator and has red demon eyes. This guy is so COOL!!!!


88 Posts
GREAT JOB Terra !!!! Truly amazing !

I`ve been needing a guy like this to pull my horse drawn hearse but haven`t been able to find a good tutorial ....... until NOW !!!! Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

If mine turns out half as good as yours I will be thrilled.

Thanks again and keep up the good work.

Funeral Crasher
7,430 Posts
Wow! Terra knocks another one out of the park!
Your horse turned out ultra-fantastic! Amazing! Colossal! Awe-inspiring!
I knew Terra must have been up to something BIG, since she's been so quiet lately! LOL
I love his lighted hoofs!
Where are you going to store him? In an airplane hanger?
I think he's going to give me night-MARES! (Get it??) :)
Great work (again)!
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