My wife Katie and I, along with two other couples (Crystal and Eric Eller, and Mike and Leslie Deery), were hanging out on our patio one weekend when we came up with the idea of planning a group costume for Halloween. Eric quickly made a suggestion, and before we even had a chance to really think it through, we were jumping online and buying blue-striped Lycra bodysuits online.
We had decided to be a tribe of Avatar warriors from the James Cameron movie of the same name!! I quickly called “dibs” on the main character, Jake Sully.
Crafting an AVATAR wig, mask, and loincloth.
I crafted the “wig-helmet” mostly using corrugated cardboard, black paint, blue foam sheets, black yarn, and hot glue. The “queue” from the movie was replicated as a long braid of yarn with the “neural tendrils” made from fringed, pink felt that I glued on.
Next I started working on my Jake Sully mask. I started with a thin, plastic Mardi Gras mask and cut the eye holes a bit bigger. I used hot glue to imbed two pieces of a clear, yellow, plastic sheet over the two eye holes to give me the same eye color as the Na’vi warriors in the movie. Next I used Paris-craft (the gauze and plaster material that hospitals often use for broken arms and such) to build up the eyebrow ridges and the nose. I painted it with blue acrylic and applied the gold “V”-shaped war paint Jake donned.
I also made a fairly plain loincloth (which I would significantly upgrade later).
Crafting AVATAR stilts, spear, loincloth, dagger, & headband.
After the first two times I wore my costume, I wanted to figure out a way to “raise our game”. I finally decided that the best way to do that was to make some kind of stilts that would make me much taller than the “humans” around me, just as the Avatar tribesmen were taller in the movie.
One of my goals in building the stilts was to create very authentic looking feet. My design solution was to fasten together two basketball sneakers per stilt with vertical wooden supports. The top sneaker was for me to strap in, & the bottom sneaker was to be decorated as a big, blue Avatar foot. I cut an oval-shaped piece of plywood to be screwed to the top of the vertical supports. I fashioned toes out of Paris-craft that I attached to the lower basketball shoes. Toenails were cut from thin, plastic lids off of cottage cheese containers, and were fastened with hot glue.
To decorate the top of my stilts, and to hide the top basketball sneaker, I cut long strips of brown fabric and glued them hanging down from the oval top. Also, the quills of dozens of large feathers, including some painted maroon and some painted a glossy bronze, were each glued into a square bead. Those beads were then glued around the top of the stilt and wrapped with a thin, brown, ribbon of fabric (with glue) to secure the beads more firmly.
The next project was to upgrade my spear from the flimsy, plastic-handled, cardboard-tipped version to something more substantial. First I needed a solid material for the shaft. I selected a four foot piece of hardwood lumber I had salvaged from a broken bed we used to have. I ran the piece through my table saw several times, first to rip it (cut it lengthwise) into two long separate pieces. Then I cut those each down to square cross-sections. Ripping each of those two pieces four times more, I created a very precise octagonal cross-section. The head of the spear was made of eleven layers of hard plastic cut (from clear plastic storage bins) with a razor blade and a metal straightedge. Nine of the eleven were connected with contact cement and spray painted a glossy bronze color. The two other (triangular) pieces were spray painted brown and attached. Each side of the spearhead was finished with a brown medallion.
I drilled hundreds of tiny holes in the wooden part of the shaft so that I would be able to pound bronze colored upholstery tacks on a precise line up four of the sides.
The next costume item to be revamped was my loincloth. The entire loincloth design was to be much heavier construction with more elaborate adornment. I wrapped a long strip of rubber baseboard material with brown fabric, affixed a large Velcro closure, and added the loincloth panels front and back. I decorated it with fringed edges, buttons, beads, and layered leather accents. I attached pockets to the outside and the inside of the front loin-cloth panel. On the right hip I fastened a leather hilt for the “dagger” to be constructed next.
I knew that anything that even looked a knife, even if made out of plastic, would not be allowed in most establishments. So, instead I bought a giant, black comb that fit nicely in the hilt. I fashioned the “dagger” handle out of a block of hard foam using a band saw. I created a deep groove to slip in the lower one-third of the comb, & hot-glued it into place. The handle was wrapped with brown pleather, red (fabric) ribbon, brown cord and beads. I also added some of the same upholstery tacks that used on the spear’s handle.
Next I set about fashioning a headband like the one Jake wore in the culminating battle with the “Sky People”. I started with two lengths of brown, woven pleather, one thick and one thin. The wider strip (with a Velcro closure in the back) made the main part of the headband, and the thinner strip was used to make an arch in the front. The arch was wrapped with brown cord. I made “animal claws” out of fired ceramic material glazed white, and attached them to the headband with hot glue and a skinny, brown ribbon for additional bonding strength.
Crafting AVATAR breastplate, bow, and necklaces.
Next I designed and crafted a breastplate, a traditional feature of Native American “warrior-wear”. The “Indians” fashioned these breastplates out of what materials nature could provide: wood and leather. I ventured out into some local woods (owned by the State Highway Administration) with large pruning shears. I harvested many straight branches of uniform diameter, as well as a few “Y-shaped” pieces (one of which I envisioned comprising the center of the sculpture). I peeled off all of the bark with a pair of heavy duty “potato peelers”. Then I let the sticks dry for a few days before I sanded them smooth and completely bark-free. I stained some of them light brown, some of them a darker brown, some of them red, and some of them I left unstained (off-white).
In the assembly of the breastplate I used a heavy, brown fabric for the backing. The sticks were hot glued down, and the two brown, leather strips provided extra stability once they were affixed with more upholstery tacks (again, I needed to drill a tiny hole for each tack). The other decorations included strings of beads, a bronze-colored necklace of leaf-shapes, and a luminous red ellipse.
I bedazzled an archery bow I bought & I decorated it to resemble the ceremonial, yet functional, bow that Princess Neytiri used. The blue “feather shapes” on the bow were tricky to build. I cut the feathers from blue foam sheets & glued them to curved supports made from a very long “U” shaped handle from an Easter basket.
My costume’s finishing touch consisted of obtaining sufficient necklaces to be just short of ridiculous. Some of the necklaces I strung myself using beads from the crafts store. Many other wooden, tribal-looking strands of costume jewelry were to be found at the local GoodWill store (asked for a bulk discount for multiple pieces).
AVATAR Warrior becomes celebrity w/countless Paparazzi.
Halloween night, 2013: Finally all of our prep-work was done and we were ready to morph into 6 Na’vi warriors of the Omaticaya clan from the James Cameron movie, “Avatar”. We drove into Baltimore to Power Plant Live. Walking towards the central, outdoor stage and dance floor area, a slew of patrons who were also headed for the entrance line descended upon us like a swarm of locusts. We literally couldn’t walk five yards without new people begging (and I do actually mean begging) for all six members of our tribe to pose for a picture with them. Even if we were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie we couldn’t have possibly have attracted more attention.
After finally getting to through the long line at the main entrance, and after haggling with security to be allowed to bring in our (plastic and cardboard) spears, we headed for the outdoor stage area. We danced in front of the stage to a great DJ. People continued to keep coming up to us asking for pictures, from which my wife was quickly starting to tire. She said that being famous must get old after a while. Our friend Mike felt exactly the opposite way. Mike’s one of the greatest guys you’d ever meet, but not usually so fearless around the ladies. But he was in rare form that night. He couldn’t get enough of his “fans” and he kept arranging one picture after the other.
While we were dancing I had a handful of young ladies (around five feet tall) who kept playfully ducking through my legs, back and forth. One particularly short woman spent most of the song “Pour Some Sugar on Me” actually dancing beneath me, spinning around one leg and then the other.
There was actually only one other person we saw that evening that was costumed as a Na’vi, and she was dressed as Neytiri. She came out onto the dance floor and started talking to us. She, however, was not wearing a Lycra suit. She was painted blue from head to toe, was wearing a scant loincloth, and her torso was only accessorized by beads and feathers. Once she started dancing with our group, even more partygoers descended upon us to request pictures, or just snapped away capturing “action photos”.
AVATAR Warrior @ Super Megafest & Times Square.
Another day I went to a comic book/pop culture convention called Boston Super Megafest at the Framingham Sheraton Hotel. Unfortunately the convention’s costume contest was on Saturday, and I couldn’t get there until the day after. My pit stop was still plenty memorable, however, as I attracted even more attention than ever before.
As I would enter the different rooms, towering over the other attendees, both visitors and merchants would stop what they were doing to watch me. I posed for over a hundred pictures. The host of a comic book website asked to interview me on camera, and John Amos (shown on previous page) asked me to video me in an audition for a short section of a script he had in development.
After walking around for a while I entered one of the main rooms in which there were over a dozen very attractive women autographing photos of themselves for fans. There were Playboy models, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition models, movie stars, and some of the “Divas” from TNA’s Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Specifically, the wrestling trio named “The Beautiful People” were in attendance.
What made that whole situation really interesting was that nearly all of these attractive ladies sprung up out of their seats, hustled out from behind their autographing tables, and came over to “pretty please” ask me to take a picture with them.
I talked to plenty of people who had also been at the convention the previous day and they asked me with perplexed faces why I had not been part of the Saturday costume contest. Many claimed I would have won easily. One of those people went on to say that I would “make a killing in Times Square”. I had no idea what he meant, so he explained all about the costumed characters who gathered there daily to take pictures with the tourists. Usually these dressed-up people would receive a tip from those who requested pictures (I later read that there existed considerable controversy surrounding these characters getting paid to pose for pictures).
In a snap decision I decided that it would likely prove memorable to appear in Times Square with my stilts and costume. I wound my through Connecticut towards Manhattan and Times Square. There were many other dressed characters (Winnie the Pooh, Elmo, the Grinch, etc.) spread out all over, but group after group came over to request pictures with me. People would try to hand me cash afterwards, and I just kept on saying, “No thanks, really! When you get home just give that money to charity.” The other costumed characters, who for the most part couldn’t take their eyes off me anyway, appeared to be less than thrilled as they watched me declining the gratuities I was offered. Clearly my refusals were not good for their business.
At one point I was waiting to cross the street and there was a police officer standing there next to me. He said, “Hey buddy! You know what? I have patrolled this spot four or five days a week for the last three years, and your costume is the best I have ever seen.” I will remember that as one of the best and most sincere compliments my costumed-self ever received.
AVATAR Warrior in costume contest @ Baltimore Comic-Con.
Another time, at the 2014 Baltimore Comic-Con, the costume contest created a long line for interested costumed characters. As each of the over two hundred fifty participants reached the front of the line and was called up on stage, the announcer asked him or her for their name and the name of their costume-character. Then each contestant was asked if they had anything else to add. I didn’t actually hear anyone who had something interesting to say at that point.
I, on the other hand, had completed some research about cosplay. I had memorized the rally speech Jake Sully used to prepare his Na’vi tribe, the Omaticaya, for battle with the technologically superior humans.
Employing the loudest, deepest, most booming voice I could muster, I belted out:
“The Sky People have sent us a message… That they can take whatever they want. That no one can stop them. Well we will send them a message. You ride out as fast as the wind can carry you… You tell the other clans to come. Tell them Toruk Makto calls to them! You fly now, with me! My brothers! Sisters! And we will show the Sky People… That they cannot take whatever they want! And that this… this is our land!”
When I was finished, the crowd, which had been intensely and silently focused at me on the stage, burst in to raucous applause. They hollered and cheered and roared for about thirty seconds. The audience response far exceeded what other contestants received, as far as I saw.
Many people came up to ask for a photo-op after the contest. Some would come up to me and say something like, “Wow! You look amazing! You’re really tall.” Then some of those people would actually continue on to ask, “Are you wearing stilts?!?” I would say,”Nooo! No. No stilts. I’m actually seven-six. I play basketball for the (Washington) Wizards. I’m Drew Gooden (whose name I had pulled off of the Wizard’s team website). I introduce myself with this pseudonym a few times and people who actually recognized the name appeared to be duly impressed. Some would say, “Wow! And so today you’re just hanging out with us regular people! Very cool!”
Here’s an even more detailed narrative of how the costume was made and what it has been through: Download the Complete Avatar Costume Story PDF here