When I saw the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, I fell in love with Groot. His bark-covered body is the classic “tough exterior with a heart of gold.” Or in his case, bark outside and flowers and sparks inside. I knew I wanted to make a Groot costume, but where to start? I found my starting point in an awesome costume made by Calen Hoffman of Propcustomz. You can click on the photo to see more of his fantastic Groot.
Calen used eva foam and pipe insulation foam over an Under Armor suit and stilts to create his life-size Groot. So I set out to make something similar, but more runner-friendly. The first modification I did was to lose the stilts. I know it is possible to run in stilts, but not possible for ME. I still wanted the height, so I decided to have Groot’s head extend over my head, and have my face in the neck area. This also allowed me to have my face showing, which is required for Disney races (no masks of any kind). I sewed the undersuit using Jalie’s skinsuit pattern 3135. I used a brown lycra mesh fabric to give the most air circulation possible. I put a long zipper up the front. I did have to open up one leg later, as the suit was too stiff to get into. The leg closes with Velcro.
Now the challenge was to glue the insulation to the suit. I had a fabric-covered mannequin that I wasn’t using, so that became my body-double. I padded it out with foam to be about my measurements, and then covered it with duct tape so the glue wouldn’t stick to it. I left extra fabric in the hands and feet of the suit as I wasn’t sure how they would be finished.
The pipe insulation worked great for the “branches” that make up most of Groot’s body. I used several sizes, sometimes cut in half to make it flatter, and sometimes left whole with a “knothole” cut out. The red piece you see is a “stump” bit cut out of a pool noodle. The pieces were glued on with low temp hot glue (Cool Glue) because hot temp glue melts the insulation. I tried to reach a balance between covering all the suit and leaving some air circulation. If I had this part to do over, I would paint all the insulation with Plasti Dip before I glued it on. More about this later.
Now it was time to work on the head. Again, I used Calen’s design as a template for my head. I printed out the picture below of his Groot head and drew a grid over it to try and keep the proportions correct. I cut mine out of a “Best Step Anti Fatigue Foam Garage Floor Mat” from Sears. It was large enough to make the head in one piece.
To add dimension to the head, I used a Dremel tool to carve out bark-like grooves and knots. Then I cut foam into thin slices and glued it on to add more texture. To make the cheeks, I cut pipe insulation and used the Dremel to create grooves. I knew I would be adding more texture later, so I didn’t have to put it all in with the Dremel. I repeated this process with the bark plates, cutting from eva foam, adding detail with the Dremel.
The hands were a bit of a challenge and I ended up cutting them down as they were just too big. I used a cuff of soft foam for the wrist and attached pipe insulation, cut down to be a smaller diameter. I attached them to the body leaving a hole at the wrist so I can pull my real hand out. This lets me hold a cup of water without struggling with gigantic Groot-sized hands.
Next up was texturing. Calen used toilet paper to texture his Groot. I was afraid that would be too hard to work with, so after more research, I found a video of a woman who makes tree-like dollhouses using paper towel bark: http://www.sharonojala.com/2013/08/how-to-make-realistic-tree-bark.html. You can click on the picture for a video.
Using her technique, I did some samples using white paper towels, brown paper towels, and two colors of brown tissue paper. I mixed up some Tacky Glue, water, and brown craft paint in a bowl to experiment with the texturing. I found that the brown paper towels gave me the best results. Oddly, one color of brown tissue paper turned to mush almost immediately when it hit the glue, while the other color, from the same package, held up well. So I did end up using some of that as well.
I added the paint mostly to give the mixture more flexibility. I made it thick, about the consistency of pancake batter. I had problems later with some of the texturing separating from the foam. I’m not sure if this was from too much water in the mix or the type of glue I used. I experimented with paint colors, from a darker brown to very light tan.
Once I was ready to texture, I took the outfit off the mannequin. It had enough structure at this point to hold up on its own. There were some points were the glue had stuck to the duct tape, but I was able to pop it off without much trouble.
The process of putting on the texture is quite messy. I did it outside on a table covered with a tarp. The thicker your texturing mixture is, the less you’ll have to deal with drips. But there will be drips, so plan accordingly. I didn’t care if it dripped a bit onto the suit, so this wasn’t a major problem.
To put on the texture, I tore the brown paper towels into strips, dipped the strips into the glue/water/paint mixture, squeezed off the excess with my fingers, and then draped the strip onto the foam. I wrinkled it up to look like the ridges of bark. It actually goes pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. It is just very messy! I textured the body, the bark plates, and the head.
One thing I learned the hard way was that it was not a good idea to use the texturing to try to connect adjacent pieces of foam on the body. That reduced the flexibility of the costume and was the #1 cause of the texturing not staying glued to the foam. I ended up having to cut apart the connections and reglue the texture to the foam in many places with hot glue. I did actually use hot, rather than cool glue here.
Once the texturing was dry, I painted the costume with several colors of brown, tan, and green craft paint. I started with the darker brown and then just dry brushed on the lightest tan and green colors.
In places where the texturing came away from the foam, the black foam underneath was exposed. I ended up going over the costume several times to touch-up these spots with paint. I think I will have a continuing task to do this touch-up every time I wear the costume. If I had painted the foam before putting in on the form, I wouldn’t have to worry about this. In some ways the loose texturing looks OK, like peeling bark. But it does need the paint to cover the black foam.
Once I had the colors applied, it was time to add some “moss.” I used two products used by model train enthusiasts, Scene-A-Rama grass and bushes. The packages look tiny, but I actually only used one 2 oz. bag of each.
To apply the moss, I mixed up a slurry of the “grass” and glue with just a bit of water. It looked a bit like pesto. Then I painted this mixture onto the areas that I wanted to be mossy. For areas with a heavier moss texture, I added in the “bushes” to the slurry and again painted it on. this worked very well to adhere the moss just where I wanted it.
For Groot’s eyes, I used glass eyes from an online taxidermy supply. The correct size for my Groot turned out to be the elephant eyes! They really add a lot of life to the costume and were well worth the cost. I hot glued them in on the inside of the head.
I didn’t do a lot of “vining,” just a couple of spots near the shoulders. I used twisted paper that is actually used as parrot toys. Go figure! I added a few plastic leaves on one shoulder.
I left the feet for last mostly because I wasn’t sure how to handle them. I ended up cutting pieces of felt that wrap around my running shoes and attach to the shoes with Velcro. I dabbed some paint and moss on the felt to make it blend in. It turned out OK since most of the focus is on the head and not the feet.
At this point I was ready for a test run. I had tried on the costume several times during the construction process, but never taken it out for a jog. After the test run, I cut down the hands as they seemed way out of scale. The suit itself seemed to hold up fine with some paint flaking that I touched up. You can click on the photo below to see the test run.
Now I had a working Groot costume, but somehow a giant tree costume was not enough for me. I wanted to add Rocket to really put it over the top. I looked at some available Rocket plush, but they just weren’t fierce enough for what I had in mind.
So I ended up getting a Folkmanis Large Raccoon puppet and “Frankensteining” it into Rocket. I thought this was appropriate given Rocket’s history.
I cut him open to elongate the body and added cardboard to stiffen his legs. I sewed him a little suit out of orange and black denim. I made the straps out of some leftover imitation leather. His backpack is leftover foam with a blue drain cover from Home Depot.
I wanted him to be fierce, so I ordered a set of teeth from Van Dyke’s Taxidermy, http://www.vandykestaxidermy.com (the same place I got Groot’s eyes). It make all the difference between cuddly raccoon and fierce fighting Rocket.
When Rocket was done and I tried to attach him to Groot, I realized that I would need a support system to hold him up. I used a paintball harness to hold up a PVC pole that went down my back and up into Groot’s head. I drilled holes in the PVC pipe and ran plastic zip ties through the pole and through Rocket’s hand. I put another zip tie through the pole in Groot’s head and around Rocket’s knee. That wasn’t quite enough support, it sagged in front, so I added two poles that came down my chest. I used some leftover foam pipe insulation to cover the poles so they wouldn’t hit me in the head.
Under the suit, I wore a tank and shorts I made from camouflage mesh. I added a camouflage beanie that cools a bit when it’s wet. The picture shows green, but mine was a brown camo. The beanie was important to keep my hair out of the way and helped cushion my head from Groot’s. I painted my face with brown and green face paint. It helped to disguise my face, especially when I unzipped the costume more for ventilation.
Groot and Rocket’s race debut was the Portland Starlight Run, a 5k. We won the costume contest! The race goes along the route of the Starlight Parade, so there are thousands of spectators. Every kid along the route wanted a high five from Groot! The race is part of Portland’s Rose Festival, so I had Groot holding a rose.
Everyone asks how hard it is to run in a costume like this. I’m 57, have asthma and allergies, and am a slow runner. But I made it through, just. The key is to slow down and take it as easy as possible. I ended up walking quite a bit as my asthma has been especially bad this week. After this experience with a run in Groot on a hot evening, I think I will add a hydration pack. It was thirsty work! And when I finished the run and had a chance to grab a water bottle, I didn’t get a chance to drink it because I was too busy taking pictures with all the other runners. But, possible? You bet! And the most fun I’ve ever had as a giant tree and “not a raccoon.”
Groot is now relaxing quietly at home. Rocket, however, is an adrenaline junkie and can’t seem to calm down. I’ll have to take them both out for another race soon!
Just a quick update to share that Groot and Rocket are filling in as my Christmas tree this year!
Groot and Rocket wish you peace and happiness this holiday season and through the year. Well, actually, Rocket said, “OK, are you happy now? We’re all wearing the jackass outfits.” And Groot said, “I am Groot.” Then Rocket replied, “So what if it is the holiday season?” And Groot said, “I am Groot.”