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

Updated: Jan 27


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.