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How to build a creature cosplay/mascot/fursuit head with Varaform

Updated: Jan 27, 2021


I was contacted by CosplaySupplies, they wanted to sponsor me building a head with a material called Varaform and make a tutorial of the process. They supplied the Varaform and I had freedom to choose anything I'd like to build and I'll show you every step of how I'm building it. I chose to make a Female Worgen from the world of warcraft, but these same steps could be used to make just about any furred animal head. Let’s make some monsters!

What is Varaform?

“Varaform is a lightweight thermoplastic mesh. It has been used in the medical community as an alternative to plaster bandages for casts, and it's been used for stage costuming for years to create large, lightweight costume pieces, especially under-structures for mascots and monsters.”

“Varaform activates at 160 deg F (71 deg C) and can be activated with warm water or a heat gun. It is self adhesive, can be reheated endlessly, and incredibly lightweight: Varaform light is about 1/2 the weight of Black Worbla.” -according to www.cosplaysupplies.com

Start planning your build:

As with every build I like to start with a concept sculpt. For a female worgen, I wanted to give her a more fierce werewolf look with some feminine features. I tried to stay true to the feeling of warcraft rather than copy them from the game (especially since they look chihuahua like in the game.) After gathering some inspiration from around the internet and drawing a few sketches, I mocked up the face in small scale in clay. I sculpted it on top of a ¼ scale bust that I cast out of resin, but you can do it at any scale you’d like. I like to do this to help as a firm visual roadmap as well as have a fast way to test different shapes I could use. Here is my final clay concept sketch:

Building the Buck:

First thing to do for the build is to make a buck. This will be the shape that we will use to form the Varaform to give it the shape we want. A buck can be made out of a few different materials, like wood or air dry clay, but I decided to go with Styrofoam. You can find this in big sheets at home improvement stores and can be used in a variety of cosplay projects so it’s something many of you could already have on hand. I figured from my 1/4 scale clay sculpt and from measuring my own head that the base needed to be 8 inches wide, 11 inches long and 10 inches tall. I cut out four pieces of foam with at least 1 inch extra in each dimension to glue together. Then I used good old PVA glue and an old card to spread it around evenly, I glue each piece together. I weighted it down and let it sit for 24 hours before carving on it.

The next step was carving. I highly recommend using a hot wire cutter for this step if you have one. I managed to do it with my snap off blades and a rasp, but it was slow work. With patience I was able to push through. When carving something like this, it helps to make some paper templates and start with the silhouettes, then slowly whittling away until you get the shapes you want. Always keep your concept work and templates close by to make sure you’re shapes are symmetrical and looks like how you originally planned! It’s okay to step back from your carving for a hour, a day, or a couple days to then come back to it with fresh eyes so you can be sure you’re happy with your buck.

I was carving, I did notice that the inside wan't all the way dry, but if wasn't too aggressive in carving it didn’t slip. And I had taken away more material on the outside the inside was able to dry faster. Layers that had a thin even coat of glue stayed together the best.

Forming the Varaform base:

I was finally happy with the buck I had carved for my worgen, so it was then time to form the Varaform. It is a very sticky material when heated, so I knew I needed some way to release it from the buck after it had cooled. I decided to use aluminum foil because it’s good at holding its shape and won’t be affected by heat.

Learning how to form this stuff was tricky! I actually formed it twice while trying to get over my learning curve. Don't be afraid to just start over when learning a new material, it's much less frustrating even though you feel like you're wasting money. Plan for some degree of failure when you're budgeting out a cosplay that uses a new material.

Varaform is very sticky when it is heated up and can get all over your hands if you’re not careful. The easy solutions is to keep a cup of water nearby that you can dip your fingers into. If you keep your hands moist it will not stick to your skin.

The best way I found to heat up the Varaform is with a heat gun on top of a silicon baking mat. The mat lets me heat it up completely while not worrying about it sticking. It also helps to have a dedicated craft cookie sheet. The one I use was ruined in the dishwasher, so it’s not the prettiest thing, but does a great job while I’m heating thermoplastics.

I found that working with smaller pieces worked best for me. It was mostly due to the fact that I couldn't use the heatgun much while it was on the form - the Styrofoam melted if I held it on it too long. If I were to do this process again, I would make my buck out of a water based clay that I can let dry and firm up before putting the varaform on. Adam savage used a taxidermy form to form the Varaform base of his Bear build: <a href="https://youtu.be/0cQ91lO4pH0?t=4m53s">link text</a>

It's a good option, if you have the extra cash for a taxidermy form.

I did make the styrofoam work, I was able to form the Varaform without causing too much heat damage to the styrofoam buck. I ended up doing two large pieces on each half, split down the middle. It was difficult to handle large pieces of this material. I would recommend working with Varaform in small chunks, not much bigger than 5x5 inches, working each piece into position before getting the next one. I would overlap it by at least an inch and really smash it together for best results.

I didn’t start adding another layer until later in my build, but I recommend you add it here at this stage. When I wanted to add a piece to the Varaform that had been placed and cooled on the buck, I heated up the piece to be added all the way (so it was completely flexible) then when I heated the Varaform up that was on the styrofoam, I barely kissed it with the heat until it became a little shiney. Then when I added the next form I made sure to smash it very well.

You can also do this when you have the Varaform shape off of the styrofoam buck too just remember it is very important to work slowly. If you heat up the varaform completely, it will relax and try to lay flat again. It's really hard to try and hold it in the right position with your hands. So completely heat up the piece you want to add, then barely heat up the Varaform structure you want to add it to. It'll become a little shiney. (Again be careful as it heats up really fast) Then carefully place and smash the varaform together with your hands on both sides.

A note about scraps: I found the really small scraps to be useless, but anything above 3-4 square inches came in handy. Some scrap pieces cool all crumpled and folded, but when you heat it completely, the mesh relaxes and becomes flat again.

I removed my Varaform from the styrofoam form and cut eye and mouth holes

*I didn't add the 2nd layer of reinforcing at this stage, but I wish that I had. I was worried about added too much weight or blocking the ventilation holes, which was silly of me. It was still incredibly light and there are plenty of holes for ventilation after adding a second layer, Learn from my mistake and add it before this stage.

Making the Varaform base comfy to wear:

Now that we have the basic shape of a worgen face, we need to make it wearable and comfy (no one likes to wear uncomfortable costumes) I started with a large pad for my forehead, I simply took some upholstery foam and glued spandex around (raw foam on your skin is uncomfortable, but spandex or fleece feels nice) I just used hot glue to glue things in, but be aware that Hot glue will make your varaform relax and lose shape if it is on the h, especially if set at high temp. It helps to have something you can press from the other side with, like the silicone baking mat. Hot glue goes through the holes of the varaform and will burn you, so be extra careful as you glue things in.

I added a small piece of EVA foam as a chin stop. Then I took some 2mm fun foam and glued it over the edge and over the EVA chin stop to make that area comfy. I also glued fun 2mm fun foam all around the edge, it gives the edge strength and finishes it so the varaform won't poke or scratch me.

Next up I took some 2 in elastic and sewed it in a T configuration. and simply hot glued it to the Varaform. In my experience if you just leave enough surface area to glue a big area of the elastic, it'll hold strong enough (This depend on the final weight of the head, but for this build it will be more than sufficient)