Book review: Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques
Mary McClung's new book, Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques, is a must-have for costume production artists with an interest in mascot making, theme park walkarounds, and other large-scale creature costumes.
McClung starts out with a section on types of foam, as well as tools, adhesives, and other media for use with foam in production. This section alone will be a godsend if you have some knowledge of working with foam but only know common vocabulary terms like "couch foam" as opposed to descriptors used by vendors like "urethane foam." She includes a thorough section on safety, both in terms of work practices and protective equipment to use when using the adhesives and paints which work on foam. I always love to see a new reference book in our field with current safety information--for too long our industry has gotten by without adequate education in this area, and many of the old "classic" reference texts are from a bygone age in which one might, say, shoot pictures of someone demonstrating a technique with a cigarette burning in an ashtray near an open container of solvent or similar.
She goes on to discuss concepts of design with respect to these kind of character costumes (or other foam-based elements of realizing shapes/structures), and techniques for patterning and construction with foam as a medium. She covers a wide range of techniques and media for "skinning" the forms, too--not only some great stuff on fur and fleece, but also latex/cheesecloth and other surfacing ideas. McClung even talks about elements of finishing like the painting of fur to create a more sophisticated look, which are hard to find documented at all.
The last section of the book documents the process from start to finish on six different foam-based projects, from cute cartoon character heads to sleek superhero armor. It's great to see an artist's procedure from start to finish on such drastically different designs, using the same basic range of techniques.
Full disclosure: this review is written in response to a digital review copy provided to me by the publisher, Focal Press, so that i might decide whether to adopt the book as a text for my graduate level maskmaking class. While i remain undecided as to whether i will adopt the book as a required text, i will definitely consider it a recommended book and I intend to obtain a physical copy for my studio's library of reference books. Unfortunately though, the e-reader i had to use to access the text didn't give me any concept of the size or quality of the photos in a print version of the book or how the text would be laid out, so i suppose i'll ahve to wait til i get my hands on a physical copy to form an opinion on those aspects of the book. The info contained within makes it well worth the purchase regardless, even if the whole thing were printed in Comic Sans.
I received the review copy toward the end of spring semester (when i was in the midst of teaching Masks & Armor, the course for which i would potentially use it) and one of my students elected to try one of the processes described in that final section of examples. The book was helpful, clear, and full of good suggestions for how to modify techniques or further explore media. In fact, i'd say the book would be a great reference not just for those of us working the business of costume production but also for those whose hobbies encompass cosplay and other types of character costuming for fun.
Two large foam thumbs up!