How to Make Realistic Costume Wings

Written by shiromi nassreen
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How to Make Realistic Costume Wings
Avariel GenCon 2006 (Photo Courtesy The Avariel Site)

Building a realistic set of wings for a costume requires a lot of patience. Before even testing out materials, you will need to design, research and redesign the wings and build a mock-up so that you can be sure that the wings are working correctly. It's easy to want to go straight to the wing building, but the proper amount of research and testing can ensure you have a wing that won't fall apart.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Sketch pad
  • Animal anatomy research material
  • Paper
  • Paper clips
  • Tape
  • String
  • Materials for skeleton (such as PVC pipe)
  • Material for covering wings

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  1. 1

    Define your idea. Spend some time planning your overall costume, not just the wings. How do you want the costume to look? Decide how the wings will fit into the rest of the costume. Also start considering what kind of wings you want. Do you want bird wings, or something else? How big do you want the wings to be? Begin sketching out ideas for how you want your costume and wings to look.

  2. 2

    Research your wing design. This will depend on the kind of wings you wish to create. If you are creating bird's wings, look at the anatomy of a bird wing. How do the wings move and fold? A bird's wings have three segments. While your costume wings don't have to exactly mimic Mother Nature, it should appear to do so to create the most realistic effect. Study the layout of a bird's feathers. Where are the downy, soft feathers located? How are the feathers arranged?

  3. 3

    Design your wings. Sketch out your wing design, keeping in mind the anatomy of the wing and the relationship between the size of the wing and the animal the wing belongs to. You will also need to start looking at ways that your wings will attach. A harness is the most common way to attach wings. Look at your costume, and consider ways that you can build a harness into the costume but still look realistic. Also consider where you might place hinges to create the appearance of a three-hinged wing.

  4. 4

    Test your idea with a mock wing. Before you build your full scale wings, it's better to test it out by building a model wing. You can make a very basic wing using office supplies such as paper, paper clips, string and tape. The idea is to design a model wing that appears to move just like a real wing.

  5. 5

    Try out different materials. Now that you have the basic design of the wing, you need to find the right materials to build the wing. At this point, it is better to try out small amounts of different materials. You will need to take into consideration how heavy the materials are. Some materials such as wood may be too heavy to wear all day. Instead, consider PVC (heated with a hair dryer to make bendable) or aluminium piping. You will also want to try out hinges to connect the piping together. In addition to experimenting, you will also want to really see which materials are sturdiest. After all the time and effort put into building the wings, you don't want them to break.

  6. 6

    Build the wings and harness. After all the research and materials testing you can finally start working on making the wings. First build the skeleton of the wings and make sure that everything is functioning as intended. Is the system you used to move the wings working correctly? If there are any changes you wish to make, make them now. Then, work on building the harness system, although you won't be able to fully test the harness until the wings are complete. Finally, cover your wings. This will depend on the kind of wings you are making. If you are making bird's wings, you will need a stretchable fabric to cover the wings before attaching the feathers. Once the wings are finished, attach the harness.

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