Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Sorry I waited forever to do this, gang, but now that I've finishing taking it out again for MegaCon, let me show you how John and I fashioned our mind-bending illusion cosplay of a Jawa kidnapping BB-8!

First, a refresher on what it looks like:

...and how it moves:

The real joy of this cosplay is that most folks can't figure out where I am in the costume. I can hear everything perfectly in there, so listening to all the theories - the most common being I'm an actual robot - is my favorite part.

Now let me show you how it works.

The easiest - and funniest - way to do this is to pop open the Velcro seam between the robe and bag, then look at the rig from the side:

Here's another look, without me in it:
The wooden post is where my body and legs go, and the PVC arm holding up the Jawa is around my waist. My head is almost entirely inside BB's body, with just my eyes peeking out over the edge.

Now let me walk you through the building of the rig, so you can use this setup for your own cosplays!

First, get yourself a hiking backpack with an aluminum frame and waist strap:

I found this used one on Ebay for $30.

Discard everything except the metal frame and straps.

Next it helps to construct a rudimentary stand/mannequin. John put ours together using 2X4s, making sure the T-bar at the top was exactly my shoulder height:

We cut the neck of the Styofoam head so it would be my height as well. (Turns out I have no neck. Who knew?)

Here's one of my very first test fits:

 You can see why getting the height exactly right was so crucial. The edge of the dome rests right at the bridge of my nose! (We later removed some of that front edge and replaced it with soft foam, so I'd have padding there.)

Here's another test fit some time later, with both heads on:
(If you're curious how we made BB-8, I have a whole tutorial covering his build here.)

Even though this cosplay was my idea, I needed constant convincing along the way that the illusion was going to work. Looking at these process shots, I just couldn't see it. Lucky for us, though, John never doubted. (And refused to let me quit.)

Here's the first pass at the rig skeleton - the top ring will change later:

The PVC framework that supports the Jawa is attached to the back of the aluminum frame. It wraps around my waist, and ends in a double pivot point for the Jawa neck, so I can both nod and shake her head.

Jawa robes are made of Monk's cloth, a very heavy, very specific weave that can be quite expensive. So when John stumbled across a bolt of it in a discount store for $2/yard several years back, he bought the lot. Only trouble was, it was white.

So here we are dying it:

It took two rounds to get the color dark enough. We mixed a rusty brown dye with a true brown to get the right shade.

 I first bought some Jawa eye LEDs off Amazon, but they were the wrong color and burning hot, so we trashed those and John wired our own instead:

Moral Of The Story: if you want something done right... get John to do it.

To make the head, we carved out recesses for the LEDs in a female Styrofoam head (since those are smaller):
(The battery pack and switch got it's own recess in the back of the head.)

 Then I covered the face and neck in black fur, and used plastic toy capsules (the kind from the vending machines at the super market) to cover the eyes. I sanded the insides of the capsules to diffuse the light.

I love my Jawa face. Isn't it adorable?

Here's the rig with the finished top ring - you can see John changed that completely:

That's also not Monk's Cloth yet - it's cheap brown flannel John used for a template to get the pattern right.

We later used pipe insulation to pad the top ring, since BB-8's body sits on top of it but isn't attached. The padding is slightly sticky, so that - plus gravity - keep the dome from shifting around.

With the Jawa's robe tucked up you can see she has no body - just head, shoulders, and arms.

Here's the part that sells the whole illusion: this canvas bag:

The bag is made from an old painters' drop cloth. (Fun fact: we used to be painters.) It has chicken wire sandwiched inside to give it body and fullness around the midsection.

See how the bottom of the bag is still slightly crumpled? That's because there's no wire there; we need that area to flex when I walk. We did add some foam there, though, to help round it out.

The Jawa robe is Velcroed down the entire length of the bag, then all the way underneath. The slight angle makes it look like the robe is just dragging behind her, when my feet are actually way back where that wooden post is.
A post shared by Jen Yates (@epbot) on

I do my best to kick my feet out when I walk, so it seems like my feet are further forward than they really are - but you can see my feet catch and drag the sides of the robes sometimes. I'm hoping to improve that before Dragon Con this August.

I control the Jawa head via a PVC rod that juts out from the back of the neck and into the canvas bag.
(The rod isn't on in that photo, but you can see the space where it WILL go.) 

The Jawa hood helps cover the bag seam:

Plus the netting helps further hide the Velcro seam between bag and robe.

Now let's talk about some of the finishing details.

I made a wire framework for the Jawa hands, so the fingers would be poseable:

All of the long black gloves I found online were shiny stretch satin, so I turned to ebay again, and scored these fabulous vintage gloves for just $7:

The great thing about vintage gloves is most of them are tiny, so these are perfect for little Jawa hands. (I buy a lot of vintage gloves for me, in fact - and these fit. So I may be borrowing them from Twevo in the future. :D)

We used pool noodles over the PVC pipe to pad out the Jawa's shoulders and arms, and the gloves are pressure-fit right over the pool noodles.

I made the bandolier out of scrap vinyl I've been saving from an old ottoman:

Here's the free template I used to turn that strip into 5 bandolier pouches:
Then I strung them together on an old belt covered in more vinyl.

Next: Shoes!

I bought a comfy pair of $10 slip-ons from Walmart, then glued strips of leftover Monk's Cloth all over them. Then I had to paint the white soles of the shoes, because you could see flashes of white when I kicked out my feet to walk.

Now one of the most vital details to any cosplay: AIR FLOW.

If you're covered head-to-toe in a costume, you're going to overheat fast - not to mention have a hard time breathing. To combat this, I have two battery-operated fans inside the Jawa rig. The first is one of these hanging around my neck, and the second is built in to the very bottom of the canvas bag:

 This faces the floor when I'm wearing it, so it's only visible if I kick the bag up while walking. (But we still painted it, just in case.)

Here's how it looks from inside the bag:
John secured it using a scrap piece of EVA foam and duct tape.

This bottom fan helps bring in outside air, while the smaller one around my neck helps circulate it around my face, which is a real life-saver. 

The final touch was getting the Jawa's arm structure right and arranging the fish net around the bag.

Whew! OK, I *think* that's everything, but feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Hope you guys enjoyed seeing our Jawa come together! And please, use this technique on your own builds. I want to see what you guys come up with!


  1. I'm constantly impressed, amazed and awed by the skills you and John have. I bow down!

    - Jamie

    1. Bahaha, I haven't pulled my face up off the floor since the first day I started reading this blog since...sometime in 2010 or 11...maybe? I love it!

  2. Even seeing the construction of it... yep, nope, IT STILL IS SO MIND-BENDING AND MIND-BENDINGLY AWESOME! Thanks for making these shinies so I can look at them! :D

  3. wow! you guys ROCK!

  4. I had figured some of this out from the pics/videos but much of it I had not. This really is amazingly brilliant. You two astonish me with each new cosplay!

  5. How did you fasten the frame to the backpack? I'm planning on using something similar in an upcoming costume (if I can find a decently priced backpack in Canada). Did you screw the PVC right to the backpack?

    1. Keep an eye out at garage sales maybe? My parents own at least two of those old framed backpacks. Well, one is a backpack frame to hold a child on your back, sort of like a precursor to the baby carriers of today. One of those might work for a cosplay too. Good luck!

    2. Check out garage sales! My sister and I do garage sales pretty much every weekend, and I can't tell you how many backpacks like that I see.

    3. I made a camel costume once with two backpack frames for the two guys inside. They're aluminum and can be drilled quite easily. We put an aluminum frame between them (tent poles) and a school chair with seatbelts. After we covered the whole thing with padding and cloth it looked cool. The head was a camel puppet. The whole thing was for a wise man to make his entrance on the camel with the other two wise dudes trailing behind. The best part is that the guys I used inside were six feet tall, which put that wise man a good nine feet in the air (hence, the seat belt). When they got to the front of the church they knelt in unison, the kid unbuckled before sliding off, and everyone laughed.

    4. Yep, John screwed the PVC pipe frame right into the aluminum frame, which worked great.

  6. Thank you for posting this! I have tried so hard to figure out how you fit inside there and to see all of your steps it really makes sense! I'm not surprised that you have so many fans of your latest cosplay!!!

  7. Never ever doubt that the two of you are completely amazing. Because you are.

    (And this is one of those cases where finding out how the magic works makes it even BETTER.)

    I'm so glad that you have a place to show off your fabulous creations and I'm always grateful to have the opportunity to see them.

  8. really really super amazing!

  9. I can barely look at this costume without panicking... Did you feel safer in there, or was there a lot of claustrophobia to overcome?

    Either way, it's amazing!

    -Heather A (too lazy to sign in)

    1. I feel quite safe/cozy in my restrictive costumes; they provide a built-in bubble - almost a sensory deprivation chamber - and I really like not being seen. I was actually so tired and overwhelmed on Friday I was looking *forward* to getting into the rig, just so I could switch off and rest a bit.

  10. As always, I am amazed at your creativity! Kudos to John for not letting you guys give up. :) Can't wait to see it in person at D*C!!

  11. This is amazing! I would not be surprised if Adam Savage wanted to meet you some day!

    1. Adam is a personal hero of mine - I want to be him when I grow - and happily we have met! He was (is?) a Cake Wrecks fan, and so invited me to one of his shows two years ago, then we got to say hi afterward. I'm still too shy to send him my cosplay builds, of course, so I hope someday he sees this latest one and approves. :)

  12. I can understand how you like being in the restrictive costumes. You don't have all of the noise and visuals coming at you, but you can still see and hear what you want to see and hear. Plus you look so danged cute. Here's hoping the DragonCon people take notice.

  13. I'm endlessly amazed by yours and John's creativity and skill! It's so cool to see the process too.

  14. I love the addition of the two fans! That is awesome.

  15. Well, that was amazing - thank you for explaining the build, I am so impressed with how you guys came up with that and created the illusion - brilliant!!! It was like a visual rubik's cube! And I agree - you mentioned earlier you might add some body fluff to give kids something to hug - the pool noodles were brilliant for the arms and shoulders, but maybe an inflatable pillow for the body to save on the weight? Can't wait to see pictures from MegaCon and DCon with you working the crowd!

  16. Fantastic - Jen & John!!! I don't know why you didn't enter the costume contests - you would have won - hands down!!! Also, I agree - Adam Savage HAS to see this - he'll have you on his web show! Maybe you can subcontract to make complicated costumes for movies? You guys are amazing!!! (I used too many !'s , but this costume just calls for them! ;) )

  17. Thanks for sharing all the nitty gritty details. I have no idea how you conceive these ideas, much less bring them to bear fruit!

  18. THIS IS AMAZING. I may have told my boyfriend I want us to be like you and John ... I am probably never gonna do a cosplay this amazing (because I'm lazy and don't have many cosplay opportunities), but I still love reading your posts on how to make things. I'm constantly amazed. (OH, and I did just do the Holtzmann Screw U-necklace with your tutorial. It turned out amazing :D)


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