Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We Made A Life-Sized Thestral For Christmas, Because Of Course We Did

So possibly our biggest surprise at the Potter Party last weekend was Tiny Tim, the life-sized thestral in the back yard. Yes, thestral. You know, the undead skeleton horses that can only be seen after you witness someone dying? I mean, HOW FESTIVE DOES THAT SOUND.

via Pottermore

It's all Home Depot's fault, of course, since they were selling life-sized horse skeletons for Halloween. We weren't about to drop $200 for it, though, so we waited 'til November 1st, called every Home Depot in the greater Orlando area, and on try #17 finally found one for half off. Still pricey at a hundred bucks, of course, but John was positively GIDDY at the thought of making our own thestral.

So we did.

And since this WAS for a Christmas party, we added a wreath around his neck to make him more cheery:


After dark is when Tiny Tim gets his wow factor, though:

(Oops, forgot his wreath in this one.)


He's standing in a field of twinkle lights, and lit by a flickering purple-and-orange spotlight (more Halloween clearance), plus one small white spotlight on just his face. It's a real booger to photograph, of course, but these give you some idea.

Here's how it looks - and sounds! - when you step outside to see him:

I love that transition from upbeat jazz to the calm forest music we had on the deck. Combined with all the torches and fire pit it was simply magical. (The forest music is this Harry Potter Ambient Mix by Syneptic, and it's beyond lovely.)

Here's another short clip I took during the actual party, so you can see the fire pit lit:

I didn't get to see most of our friends' reaction to Tim (being host kept me inside the first few hours), but John tells me he was a hit. We built a path out to Tim's side so people could step out for pictures, and I was thrilled some folks did!

This entire build only took us 3 or 4 days, if you can believe it. We left it 'til the very last, since I considered a life-sized thestral to be SOMEWHAT unnecessary at a Christmas party, and wanted to get everything else done first.

The base skeleton already does most of the work for you, so this mod isn't nearly as hard as you might think. Here, let me walk you through the basic steps:

Step 1) Put the skeleton together:

Congratulations. You now have a horse skeleton in your dining room.

Step 2:) Use crumpled paper or pool noodles to build out the neck:

(If I were to do this again I'd only use paper; the two pool noodles kept sliding one way or the other.) 

Step 3) Wrap the neck and entire torso in masking tape:

The belly section is all hollow, so you'll have to stretch the tape from rib to rib, as well as across the pelvis area.

Step 4: Use more paper to build out the upper legs, then continue covering with tape:

Step 5) Apply a coat or two of paper mache to all your taped areas:

 Step 6) Apply a skim coat of ElastoPatch, a flexible kind of drywall compound you can get at any hardware store. John rubbed the mud on with his hands, and then I brushed it out with a soft paint brush:

Brushing it out is important: it smooths the mud and leaves an almost fur-like texture behind: 

(Optional: While you've got that ElastoPatch out, go ahead and fill all the screw holes on the skeleton. There are LOTS. Just be sure to leave the few on the inner legs you need to pop the legs off later for storage.)

Now all that's left for the body is painting:

... so let's work on the head.

Step 7: Replace the red eye LEDs with white ones, then glue ping-pong balls inside the eye sockets:

 They're a perfect fit!

 Step 8: Use epoxy clay to sculpt eyelids, beak, and horns. I used this stuff:

It was my first time trying it. The epoxy dough is SUPER fun to squish together, and it worked pretty well for me, but be aware it's incredibly soft and saggy. No problem for my eye sculpts, but the horns and beak took several layers, since I couldn't put all the dough on at once or it'd fall off, ha.

Anyway, here's a completed eyelid:

Testing the eye LED:

For the beak I had John Dremel off the lower teeth, then used more epoxy dough to build out the nose into a low point:

For the horns John put two long screws into the skull (where the ears used to be) to act as supports:

Again, it took me about 3 layers of epoxy dough to build out the horns to the length I wanted, since the dough wants to sag and droop. Here's the first layer, since I forgot to photograph it again 'til after painting:

Step 9: Use PVC pipe to make the bones of your wings:

If you heat PVC with a heat gun you can bend it. (There are fumes, so PLEASE do this outside.)

To attach the wings John inserted another PVC pipe *through* the horse's shoulder blades, which the wings slot into.

Step 10) Use tin foil to build two wings spikes, then cover with more epoxy dough: 

I wrapped the foil all the way around the PVC to give it more support. We also stuffed tin foil into the ends of the pipes to make more spikes, which we covered with epoxy dough. Finally, use more dough to cover all your PVC joint areas - just enough to round them out and make them less pipe-looking: 

 The final wing structure, sprayed black.

Step 11: Cover your wings in sheer fabric:

We found this awesome stuff at JoAnn's, then later realized it's just plain ol' Weed Block fabric. Ha! At least it's meant to go outside. 

Cover one side of your fabric in spray adhesive, lay it over your wing bones, then flip the whole thing over and repeat for the other side. Once they're all sandwiched together trim the edges.

 Step 12: Painting! First spray paint the entire horse black:

 Be sure to tape off the eyes and paint the eyelids in by hand.

Next use a medium gray craft paint to dry brush the entire body, paying special attention to the ribs and bony parts:

Then finish up with a clear coat of your choice to seal everything.

Here's some better light on the finished product:

Step 13: Discourage your spouse from taunting the thestral:


"Who's looking 'long in the face' now, bub? EH? EH??"

A festive fashion show, however, is acceptable:

I think it suits him.

Once we set the thestral up outside, we used a tiny bit of velcro to hold the edge of the wing fabric to his torso.

John also secured him to the ground with some wire around the feet, staked into the ground.

I'm sure this will be a FAQ, so before you ask: the legs, head, tail, and wings are all removable, so he WILL break down for storage. Even so, he's not small, so next year we'll be looking at some new storage solutions! o.0

So far Tiny Tim's weathered the hot (and then cold!) Florida weather pretty well. The only issue we've had is some of my paper mache paste dripped on the legs before we painted him, then later flaked off. (oops) That's an easy touch-up, though, and everything else has withstood rain, burning sun, and freezing wind like a champ. He's actually still in the yard, sans wings, and I can see him from my office window. :D

And that's Tiny Tim the thestral! Hope you guys enjoyed seeing how we built him, and maybe try to make your own? If so PLEASE share pictures over on the Epbot FB page, or tag me on Instagram so I can see!


  1. Love it! Though I wonder if wrapping the body is a stretchy material wouldn't look more skin like? Ill have to make a mini one!

    1. It might, yes! We needed ours to be weather-proof (and figuring out the sewing pattern was beyond us) so we just did our best to have the tape stick to the bones best we could. :)

  2. This is EXACTLY what my daughter wanted us to do when she saw these skeletons at Home Depot. Ok, maybe she didn't plan it all out, but I'm pretty sure this is what she would have been aiming for. And now she's going to expect us to do this for Halloween next year.

  3. He's really rocking that festive hat. ;)

  4. OMG! it was all MrPooslie could do to keep me from buying one of these ("what about the smaller one?!" "NOooOOO!") to make a Thestral of my own! i will have to show him this when he gets home tonight! like SEE THAT COULD BE IN OUR YARD!

  5. You guys are amazing and the video of the party was so cool. I’m interested to know more about the drinks you served.
    I made pumpkin juice for my birthday with added champagne. Everyone started calling it my muggle juice. It’s now a must have for my November birthday. :)

  6. Wow! I NEED to be at one of these parties! Too bad I live in California... I love how you two can figure these things out and then post the process so others can play too!

  7. Love it! but I am still getting over the fact that you can buy horse skeletons for Halloween in the USA LOL

  8. I thought you guys used shrink wrap. Still think that might work.

    1. I have seen shrink-wrap mummies that turn out well.

    2. It definitely could; my only concern would be getting plaster & paint to stick to the shrink wrap - I feel like it would just flake off the slick plastic. Masking tape has a good grit to it - very papery - so that helped the plaster really hang on.

  9. You guys are positively insane. I love you. In a non-creepy, internet-fangirly kind of way, of course.

  10. This is one of my favorite thngs you guys have ever done.

  11. This turned out amazing, I love it! I use FreeForm Air for projects a lot, great epoxy putty, even if it has a bit of a learning curve to sculpt with it. One tip for future use, if you've got a big section to build, make a little armature out of cardboard, foil, or that plastic mesh used for yarnwork. It'll save a lot of time and material, and you won't get the saggy problem. Here's a couple builds where I used FreeForm a lot: and

  12. Okay, WOW. I mean, I should probably say something more thought-out and well-phrased than that, but it's exactly how I feel: WOW.

  13. For those wanting to do a smaller version, they did sell a colt version of the horse skeleton this year. I want a few of those for making skele-reindeer next year, so I'm keeping an eye out. I missed getting them right after halloween. This is awesome!!!

  14. Where did you guys buy your skeleton? I accidentally (oops) got my husband super jazzed to recreate a Mari Lwyd (link: celebration of Christmas, and finding an economic solution for a horse skull has been a total PITA.


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