What is it like making a professional mascot costume?
It’s really fun and rewarding to see your character come to life at the end of the process, just like any other piece of art you create. It’s like one big group project with your team of fellow artists, unlike a forced school group project. We’re all creative and quirky people who bounce ideas off one another, and we all love coming to work together.
However, we do have deadlines, inspections on our work, and Corporate always making sure our finished product is what they envisioned. Every piece of the costume is closely inspected in person by a supervisor, and if anything seems just a little off, we’d have to start over. We had a pretty great team and rarely had any “re-do’s”, but it would usually happen on the first time we started a new pattern, and after that, we’d learn from our mistakes.
How do you put on a mascot costume?
Every company has their own procedure, but from what I’ve seen, this is a general process that I’ve gathered from:
1) Your first basic layer. This consists of a lightweight cotton shirt and shorts, hairnets for long hair, hoods to prevent “human” skin showing while looking downward, and ankle socks to prevent harsh rubbing from foot straps.
2) Padding. This includes either hard foam pieces, such as bellies, tails, molded foam feet, etc. Some characters may opt out padding for plastic hoops (think hula-hoops but smaller), which then are tied inside by fabric straps. Hoops may only be used for characters that have thick, shaggy fur. Hoops are usually found in bellies and thighs.
3) Outer layer. This is the layer that is the face of the character. Some mascot suits bypass padding altogether and are just one or two big pieces made of foam or fiberglass (offering less mobility). Accessories such as clothing are also put on.
What is it like to wear and walk a mascot costume?
Visibility is limited, and the bigger the mascot, the less mobile they are. Your vision is either through the character’s eyes, throat, mouth, or nose. Characters usually have to walk with their feet moving more at a North East and NorthWest-like direction than just straight forward. From what I’ve seen, furries generally have smaller foam feet than compared to cartoony mascot feet, so I would assume a fursuit has a more natural movement than mascot walking.
How hot does it get in a mascot costume?
It can get up to 120 degrees, according to one of my coworkers. It’s not uncommon to find those who are most committed to their job to wear winter coats even in the summer time, so that they may condition their bodies to the warmth of their costume. We do take hydration seriously, and performers are given tons of breaks, electrolyte packets, and shady areas to take photos while interacting with guests.
What kind of head bases do you use?
We work almost exclusively in fiberglass head bases. We have two types of fiberglass: lightweight and heavyweight.
Heavyweight is sturdier and less prone to breakage, but it’s heavier on a performer’s neck and shoulders. Lightweight is the exact opposite. Since our performer’s health comes first, we now only use lightweight fiberglass, though extra caution must be taken to avoid any cracks/scuffs. A simple drop on a concrete floor, hard table, or wall-to-face collision can crack the fiberglass. If a head isn’t in active use, a heavy fabric is wrapped securely around it to protect it if it needed to be transported.
What’s the difference between fiberglass and foam heads?
Fiberglass can be sanitized much easier (usually steamed or wiped with diluted rubbing alcohol), you can usually wear glasses inside them, and you can replace facial features such as noses, teeth, whiskers, etc. much easier in case they’re damaged (usually attached with screws). Hardware is placed far away from the face so that in the event it may come loose, it won’t injure the performer. Hardware should not be used on foam heads.
What is the best way to attach fur/fabric to my headbase?
Hot glue. No joke. We use it all the time. If anyone says it’s unprofessional, they’re wrong. Hot glue is the best type of glue for heads, as it doesn’t give off toxic odors, and if a head needs fur/fabric replacement, just whip out a hair dryer and scrap and viola, a fresh head base! We’ll sew big fabric pieces together and use an awl to pluck out the fur, but to attach it to the base itself, we grab our hot glue guns. Just be sure that you cut your faux fur correctly: Cut on the mesh, not the fur strands. Brush back your fur and use a sharp, small fabric scissors to get the best results. If it’s a super shaggy fur, we’ll just hot glue all the pieces together instead of sewing the big pieces.
How do I make my fursuit more plush-looking?
Use at least two layers of fleece underneath your fursuit to get a more plushie look. You can also try quilted batting, though I’ve never tried it before. Just be aware that doing this will increase the inner temperature of your suit, so I recommend a cooling chest, mesh vents, and a battery operated fan.
What do you recommend for padding?
We usually use a thick foam that is more similar to EVA foam than squishy upholstery foam, and then use fabric straps to place around the torso, shoulder, or waist (depending on the character). We use foam sheets and build “hollow” instead of carving one big old chunk of foam, since we want the body to breath better. You can use plastic hoops to reinforce your thin layer of foam to give it shape (kinda like a skeleton). To attach fabric straps to a foam padding, if using a more rigid foam like EVA, you can use an upholstery needle with thick thread and use a lighter to warm up the needle, and pierce the foam. This works pretty well and holds up quite nicely. I don’t have much experience with the squishy upholstery foam, but from what I’ve learned, it’s not too much different than what most furries know.
How much is a fiberglass head?
You’ll be spending at least $1,000 on it, maybe less or more depending on the character, but for just a cartoony-head, that’s about the average price range (though this is just an estimate). As much as I enjoy using fiberglass, I don’t know if I’d recommend it for a fursuit unless you’re ready to spend major bucks on it.
How are mascot feet?
Most are hard, molded-foam feet bases that have fabric attached to them. Most of the feet fabric covers can come off for washing, but some are permanently attached to the bodysuit. You can wear your shoes in them, and you have fabric straps attached to your shoes and ankles.
What do people in this industry think about furries?
Personally, from what I’ve talked to with others who are builders, we find furries to be the most appreciating of what we do. Furries understand all the effort it takes to go into fursuit making, and take care of them extremely well. I haven’t really interacted with any furries I disliked, so all I know from the furry fandom is pretty much from them alone. Some makers don’t know enough about furries or could care less about them, but it’s nothing negative; more so, it’s just a hobby they don’t understand.
How do I get into the industry? What are the qualifications?
There really isn’t a list of what qualifies you or not for mascot building, but what I can tell you, your best bet is to have a strong portfolio of what you’ve done sewing-wise. Take pictures of every fursuit you build, as well as any other sewing project. Being a mascot performer is also a huge plus but not always required. A lot of talented mascot builder were or are currently still performing. Get involved in your school mascot program (high school or college), and if your job has a mascot and asks for someone to be that character, go for it! Look for charity events or other places around town that could use a mascot. Even if it’s just for a few hours, it builds up your resume. I have an AFA in technical theatre with a concentration in costume design, but honestly, if you have a good portfolio, that’s your ticket into this industry. Also, don’t feel like you have to move to Orlando or Southern California to get a gig. You’d be surprised to find what you may have locally.
Thanks guys, stay pawsome!