Welcome to this special Halloween ACrafty Interview with Justin Newton, costume maker extraordinare!
When and why did you start making Halloween costumes? JN: It was 2005. A group of my co-workers decided to have a Halloween costume party. I bought a Chewbacca costume on line and started tinkering to make it better. First, I made cuts in the mask to allow better movement, added hair, got it tailored to give a form fit, and installed clown shoes into the feet to make then seem real and not floppy. It was a real gradual thing. Since I bought it a month before the party, I had too much time on my hands so I added just one more thing, and one more, and one more. I was shocked when I sold it on Ebay for more than I had put into it. That was the start, but after that it was because my son really liked Star Wars and it was something to do for him and then with him. Loved that time in the garage.
[Justin working on his first Vader helmet]
What are all of the costumes that you have made? Do you have a favorite? JN: Chewbacca, Darth Vader, a Jawa, Boba Fett, Jango Fett, a Lord of the Rings Nazgul (Ringwraith), and Jason Vorhees (Friday the 13th – Jason vs. Freddy version). My favorite was definitely Boba Fett for a few reasons. First, the number of hours and different techniques that had to be used to create was mind numbing, so I learned a lot. Second, it was so much fun trying to make something look battle worn, old, and abused. Lastly, every costume is a two year process. The first year, you create and learn. Once you wear it, you learn what doesn’t hold up to a night of wear, what parts don’t move smoothly, and what gets damaged. In the second year I alter all the parts that failed, make the movement better, and improve the durability. But also, you have learned from the first time you did it, so I go back and repaint, reform, and replace many parts to make a more authentic look. The difference between the version 1 and version 2 Boba Fett was tremendous and I was really satisfied with the monumental evolution.
What do you consider the best, most accurate detail from any of your costumes? JN: Tough question because one of the movie makers from LucasFilm involved in the new Star Wars movies bought the Boba Fett from me for $4500 for his studio. He said it was superior to the original (which he had seen many times) in its authenticity. He said the original looks good on screen but up close could look a little fake. I used a lot of metal parts. He said mine looked dead accurate to the version as seen on screen but with the added benefit of looking and feeling realistic when standing right next to it. So all that being said, I took a few liberties with the paint and effects to make it realistic up close which make it not exactly like the original prop. Considering this, I will rule out the Boba Fett and say the Vader was probably the most accurate, but with the Nazgul a close second. Even the blink sequence of the chest light on the Vader was timed to match the sequence in the movie.
[Details from the Boba Fett costume]
Have your costumes won any awards or received any distinctions? JN: Both the Vader and the Boba Fett were certified by the 501st. This is the group that certifies Star Wars costumes to be used in official movie functions, charity events, etc., and verifies they are authentic reproductions of LucasFilm. I got to play Darth Vader at the premiere of one of the new Star Wars films.
There was a HUGE kids costume contest in Greenville. They had categories for scariest, most heroic, and (I think) princess. I enrolled Carson in the scariest because I though that was the closest thing to a Jawa. He didn’t win. Then at the end of the contest, the chairman announced that they had taken part of the prize package from all the other kids and decided to create a special category for best in show as a result of one kids costume – Carson. Pretty sweet, when your costume changes the rules. So he got the best prize overall, which didn’t even exist until they saw him.I over heard one parent say “that’s not even fair, how much money did they spend on that costume.” I spent less than $100 to make it and a lot of time. I had so many parents come up to me and want to know where to get one or if I could make one for them. You can imagine how his Jango Fett was received. Every other kid in the contest was like NO WAY!
[Details from the big Nazgul costume, and Justin helping to suit up his mini-Nazgul]
What are all of the skills (or crafts) you have practiced to make your costumes? JN: Several skills, but by far the biggest one is painting. The variety of techniques to recreate the Boba Fett was a challenge. Also, coming up with new inventive ways to create the mechanical joints and connections to allow movement of the costume while remaining durable. Also, to a lesser extent electronics and fabrics distressing.
[Construction details from the Vader costume]
[Details from the Nazgul costume]
Has making costumes affected your character? Do you really enjoy making your costumes or are you more focused on the end result? JN: I don’t think it has affected my character, but I really enjoy getting into character to make an experience others will remember. I watch the scenes from the movies to get the mannerisms, body movements, and speech meter. I want people to forget it’s a costume and think it’s actually the character from the movie. So I really get into it. I went to three or four Star Wars events, and it was awesome to give that experience to the kids there. Also, I remember last year for my first version Jason Vorhees a person was telling their friend that the costume was creeping them out. The friend replied, “I’m not so sure it’s a costume.” I just love it when people have that fun. So in short, I do enjoy the challenge of making the costume, but I do it for the end result of the memory you can give to people. By far the best part.
Can you share some stories of reactions you’ve received to your costumes? JN: Outside of what I shared in some of the other questions, lots of smiles from kids, autographs and stuff like that. But I can remember, putting on the Vader costume one day and standing by the interstate hitchhiking with a sign that said “Clone War Vet – Please help” and another that said “Will Terrorize for Ride.” The looks from the traveling public were hysterical. Every car slowed down for about a hundred feet after they passed, just a freeway full of brake lights, and I can only imagine people were thinking “Did I just see that?” Usually people just want to touch the costumes to see if they’re real.
The Nazgul was cool because I did a LOT of research. Just like the movie I used 55 yards of various textures and custom dyed fabrics to create the look. I had the scabbard custom made and then I weathered and painted it to get the underworld effect. The armor was all hand made using medieval techniques with hammer and anvil. Everything about it was legit. When I wore that out in Salem, Oregon, people would literally stop their car in the middle of a busy main street, get out and take a picture. Also, at Halloween some children cried and others would not come to my side of the street. I used a prosthetic hollow head and under skeleton to make myself 7 feet tall and deformed. The Nazgul and Jason were fun because you also get reactions from some adults that are wary about getting too close.
What’s the silliest question you’ve ever received about your costumes? JN: “Is that real?” Although I had a (drunk) guy approach me in my Vader suit and say “I can kick your ass Darth Vader.” Then he pushed me in the chest and said he “wasn’t scared of me.” I turned off the voice synthesizer and said, “Dude, you do know that I am just a guy in a costume, there is no Darth Vader.” That seemed to assuage the drunkard. Another classic question, “where did you buy that?” Or, “does that jet pack really work?”
[Construction and details of the Boba Fett costume]
What costume are you working on now? Beyond that, what are you looking to create in the future? JN: Right now, I am just finishing version 2 of Jason Vorhees and my wife will be Mrs. Krueger. Since my son is getting older and out of Halloween, I suspect I may slow down or stop altogether. If I do make another costume, I’ve thought of a Bram Stoker type vampire, the Dark Knight, and Frankenstein (but not the green flat headed version).
[Details of the Jason Vorhees costume]
Many thanks to my good friend Justin for participating in this ACrafty Interview! Justin is a project manager for a large international engineering and construction firm. We worked together in the same department in Charlotte, North Carolina during my previous career at the same firm. I was at the party when he debuted his Chewbacca costume, and have been in awe of his costume making skills ever since. In fact, I’m considering challenging him to make a Vorlon encounter suit from the sci-fi show Babylon 5…
It’s been a great treat to share this look at his work, especially on this Halloween! If you have any questions for Justin, please send them to me and I’ll be happy to pass them on to him.
Would you like to be a part of the ACrafty interview series? Just contact me! You might also be interested in reading some more ACrafty Interviews with multi-crafter Diane from CraftyPod, needlepointer Haruhi Okubo of Cresus-Parpi, tatter and chainmailler Jeff Hamilton, potter Nancy Germond, basketweaver Tina Puckett, cross stitcher Meredith Cait, and the two part interview with textile artist Arlee Barr.