Three Wolves

Silvermane(left), Sawtooth(right) and DarkFang(crouched)
at a Colorado howl.

How We Create Werewolves

This web page just touches on how we make our werewolves, and is not intended to be a comprehensive how-to guide. This page is also image-heavy and may take a while to load.

It doesn't matter if one of our werewolves is performing on camera, at a convention or in a haunted house - it's very important to us that our werewolves stand up to close scrutiny and still look real. Unlike creatures like vampires - which require only a good set of fangs and minimal makeup - a werewolf requires extensive work to pass this realism test. While not all of our werewolf characters involve this much effort, all those that will interact closely with the public are played by a single actor (or actress) in a custom-fitted costume or "fursuit." Usually, the actor has built the fursuit himself or herself, under our direction and advice. Starting from scratch, the process takes six weeks or more, and the materials cost can be several thousand dollars.

First, we begin with a lifecast of the actor's full head and shoulders. We then sculpt the werewolf's head on top of the lifecast, beginning with building up a rough shape and ending with the very detailed final sculpture (to the left is Silvermane's sculpture). This final sculpture even includes fine skin texture and pores. Because of the fine detail we like to use Roma Plastalina to sculpt in. It's a bit harder than water-based clay so holds fine detail better, and because Roma is oil-based we don't have to worry about the sculpture drying out and cracking. Notice that we don't put the teeth in the head at this point.

Then a set of two molds - first the outer, then an inner, core mold - are made from the sculpture. These molds are used to make a foam latex skin that will be the "skin" of the werewolf's head. The core mold is needed as the finished skin will be made in the space between the two molds; the face skin must fit the underskull properly. Foam latex is used for greater flexibility, but it limits the skin's usable lifetime to one or two years.

This picture shows one of Silvermane's face skins on it's core mold. Often, several skins must be made before one comes out that is good enough to use. Foam latex is still more of an art than a science, especially in larger pieces. Lately, we've been experimenting with a thin slush-cast latex skin backed with foam latex - it's a lot more durable with only a slight loss in flexibility. Silvermane was the first test of this technique and his face has held up for nine years now. The thin slush-cast layer can also be given the base color of the face.

That was back in 2003; in 2010 Silvermane's old head is still holding up, though it has needed repainting and refurring. We're also experimenting with silicones in place of the latex, and use plastic resin for the underskull.

The next step is making the underskull for the head. It's made out of fiberglass and serves to hold the shape of the skin and the teeth (sculpted and molded separately, and made from dental acrylic). It also lets the jaw move realistically, and allows for other motions, such as a snarl. The skullcap fits over the actor's head. Newer heads are using a cap made from lighter foam instead.

In this picture the foam skin has been painted and fitted onto the underskull. Because the skin stretches so much, special paints must be used that will stick to the latex and neither crack nor rub off. While pre-made paints are available from SFX suppliers, we prefer to make ours from scratch, starting with surgical adheasives and various pigments. A base coat is sponged on to prep the raw latex skin and to give a good base for further painting, then all markings and shadings are added by airbrush.

In Silvermane's case, the ears are attached separately and solidly tied into the underskull. A supporting cage of foam is built for the head shape - with much open space for ventilation. Fur is then applied to the back and sides of the head, with individual hairs set by hand to blend the face into the fur. Other creatures we've made have fully furred faces.

Notice the spinal ridge - the fur hides most of this detail, but anyone who touches the back of Silvermane's head will feel it.

These are the sculptures for Silvermane's fore paws (hands). They were originally sculpted in roma over lifecasts of hands just as the head was. Claws were inserted into the sculpture to be sure how the finished paws would look.

Now the molds are being made from the sculptures after the claws have been removed. We do tend to re-use the molds for hindpaws and forepaws as fit is not as critical. Unlike the head, the paws are slush cast with latex. The molds are filled with casting latex (pure latex would shrink with time) and allowed to sit for a few minutes, then the latex is poured back out. This layer is allowed to partially dry, then the process is repeated as many times as need to build up the thickness we want. The forepaws are cast thinner so they are very flexible. The hindpaws are cast thick so they don't wear out as fast.

To keep from having bubbles in the paws we paint a layer of latex into the molds before we assemble them, and tilt and tap the molds while they are filled to force air bubbles up and out.

Once pulled from the molds, the forepaws and hindpaws must be trimmed of flashing; that's the latex that settled into the line between the two halves of the molds. After a little touch-up work these mold lines are almost invisible. Now the paws are given a base coat of paint like the face skin, then detailed with an airbrush. We color the latex so when the paint does wear off it's not as obvious, as with hard use the outer layer of latex and paint does wear away. To the left are Silvermane's painted fore paws. One paw has the claws inserted back in.

The sculpting and molding process is followed in more detail with the hind paws, on their own page.

We've fitted some werewolves with arm and leg extensions; these let the actor run around on all fours naturally. Unfortunately, it is still quite physically demanding and unsuited for hours of continuous strenuous activity in a haunted house.

Claws are hand sculpted and a silcone mold made of them - the silicone is flexible, unlike the plaster molds. We then cast hard resin claws and fit them into the sockets made for them in the original sculptures. The claws are tinted when cast to fit that particular werewolf's coloration, again so if they should chip or break (unlikely) the damage is not as obvious.

Now work proceeds to the fursuit itself. First, a one-piece cotton/lycra diveskin is put on a form that's been built up to match the actor. Strapping is layered over the suit to help it hold it's shape when the weight of fur (and all that sweat when performing!) is added. Then, the muscles and body form are built up as needed out of foam and attached to the diveskin. Recently we've been using open-cell foam to improve how the suit breathes.

Here's DarkFang's muscle suit for an example.

Now fur is added to the suit, using different colors and lengths as needed for the broad markings. Then we trim the fur and detailed markings are airbrushed in. Sometimes, the fur is kept as a separate second suit, worn over the muscle suit, if the werewolf is going to be used for film work. Having two separate suits looks more realistic, but means a lot of maintenance time to keep it repaired. FYI, we use National Fiber Technologies fur for our suits. It's totally artificial but looks and feels much like real animal fur.

Here's DarkFang with his fur. You can see how the foam buildup under the fur affects the way his body looks. You can also see why this type of costume is called a "fursuit."

To become the werewolf, the actor puts on an undersuit (usually also made of cotton/lycra) to both make it easier to move in the suit and to help keep the suit clean. Over that goes a cold vest - a vest with compartments full of a gel that can be frozen, to help keep the actor cool (Quite a few mascots use these, too). Some of us like to wear more protective padding as well - shin guards, elbow/knee pads, or even motocross or hockey pads. It's something that each performer chooses, depending on what we'll be doing while "in the fur." (Of course, these body suits have to be built with the extra equipment in mind!) The extra gear makes it hotter, but if you're doing staged fights or stunts it's well worth it to keep from getting hurt.

Makeup is applied around the eyes to make it easier to blend in later. The fursuit is put on next, followed by the paws, and finally the head is added and tightened down so it snugly fits the face. The makeup around the eyes is blended into the eyes of the head, and the werewolf is ready to prowl


Of course there's still more to it - you have to be ready to move like a werewolf. Most of us don't talk, so you have to show by the way you move around just what sort of werewolf you are.

There's also quite a bit of upkeep on a werewolf - you'll find little twigs and leaves caught in your fur from running about in the woods. If it's been raining you're soaked and muddy, if it's hot you're sweaty and dusty. And after a busy night you'll be covered in gore up to your elbows. So, you rinse off your pelt before hanging it up to dry in front of a fan, and tomorrow before you put it on again you brush it out and mend all the little rips and tears that happen.

It's all worth it, though :)

- Ysengrin Blackpaw

I (Ysengrin) would like to take a moment to reflect on Lance Pope's life and costuming efforts. He made & wore Ralph and Vincent (both werewolves) before I met him, and he greatly influenced the way I was making werewolves (including Silvermane). For many years I worked with him at Wolf Studios, and I had a paw in all the full-body werewolves that went out under the Wolf Studios name and many of the masks. I was also responsible to creating and maintaining the Wolf Studios web site and the original "How We Make Werewolves" page.

DarkFang and I decided, out of respect, not to use the pictures I took of Lance's work to illustrate this page. There will be a memorial page made for Lance, and I will detail his work on that page.

©2003 Running Wolf Productions