WOOKIEE WONDERLAND

For the past 8 years I have been building wookiees as part of my roster of costumes. Each time I finished one I started a new one to improve on my previous build. I ended selling some, working with a few prop makers, trooped a lot and overall embraced my inner wookiee.

With my last build I decided to create a PDF for those engaging in this adventure as a basic guideline to work with and build upon. I tried to explain my experience and gives some tricks and tips. You can download it here or read the content below

In the Process I was asked if I took commission, I generally do not because the time it takes to make one. However I did put together a Wookiee maker Kit that gives anyone pretty much everything they need to complete the suit. All you need to add is a mask, your choice of boots/lift and your bandolier. You can EMAIL me to order your Kit or your Suit

YOUR WOOKIEE MAKER KIT

What’s included:
– Mesh Suit with boot spats and head piece and extra mesh fabric
– body compression suit and Balaclava
– 70 packs of Kanekalon hair, enough to complete your wookiee and have left over colour #1B / #27 / #8 / #171
– Tool set: WookieeWeaver, scissors, brush, clamps, bobby pins, EVA Sheets to use under the suit when making
– Eva block to make your toes and printed template
– Travel case

Introduction
The one most important thing I have learned over the last 10 years is that you need to connect with any costume you are making. In my case, regardless of what I am building I create a story for the character I am making. When it comes to a wookiee I would not start the project thinking “ I will do Chewbacca from EP …” especially on starting the first build. I believe it will turn some people insane (especially the ones that share my OCD) with details are are nearly impossible to duplicates properly, starting with fur color, texture and general look (more on that later). For each movies the suit changed ever so slightly AND several suits were made for each movies. This is why you can argue endlessly about what is the “right” look for a chewbacca. Instead I start each build as a “generic” wookiee even though I may use blends of hairs that would get it close to a chewie look at the end.  

The second advice I have is the one I got when I build my first TK and possibly the most important one for anyone starting any costume : “ This is YOUR costume and YOUR build, YOU are doing it and YOU are wearing it so make it for YOURSELF – as long as YOU are satisfied it’s all good” 

Going through conventions I have seen so many wookiees, some more impressive than others in my eyes BUT all equally loved by the public and most importantly by their owner. Coming from a design background I know first hand how everyone is a critic and knows better about your work… if you let them some people will destroy all your hard work and your confidence… don’t let them. veery wookiee is different, even if you were to purchase from a maker; there is no way that each production would be 100% identical to the master.  
In Short , simply embrace the uniqueness of your wookiee and enjoy the process – there is only one such wookiee and it is yours!

If you read around you will see each builder has his/her own version of the pretty much same techniques. As fas as I can tell I am the only one doing the hooking the way I do it. I am “lazy” in that I want something that works well, fast and with little learning curve and while I tried the “classic” latch -hook most used for some reason I became impatient with it and made my own tool to do it “faster”. It does not mean better it just means it works for me. Finishing your  project you will probably need to adapt things you see/read/hear to fit YOU and that is totally fine. 

One of the critical aspect of making the suit is how quickly you will realize how much work it is to attach the hair to the suit. As you go along this is where you will have to summon all your will power to not drop the project or make it last way longer than it really should. I completed my first wookiee in 10 month; now I can finish one in about a month or so. The key for me was to divide the suit in “zones” which I would then set up to complete. Knowing that a zone takes a couple of hours and having clear goals makes it easy to attain and see progress. I make sure that whatever zone I start I finish in one go. I know I will dedicate an X amount of time and I do not get sidetracked (most of the time). 

I find it important to keep the rhythm going, so it gets frustrating if you are interrupted every 5 minutes; sometimes you cannot control it BUT think about it before you start your process to maximize the chances that the time you dedicate to the zone will be well utilize and that you will keep the rhythm going.

As you will gain more practice you will see that the motions become almost a second nature which means you will work faster AND your mind will get freed — you will then enter a state of zen. 
When making a wookiee you will have hair all over, especially if you are a pet owner and they come around while you work… expect to find hair just about everywhere if you do not “contain” the crime scene; and consequently have some unhappy family members. You need to set yourself up somewhere else than the middle of the living room or worse your kitchen. Find a corner of the house you will dedicate to the project for the next 6 months. This is the area you will  be working in, where you will leave the project, hair etc… It does not have to be big BUT needs to not change. If you ( as you probably will) already have a work area for costume making, do make sure it is clean before you start. 

DO NOT start a wookiee if you are in the middle of another costume build; do not start another costume if you are in the middle of making your wookiee. Trust the fact that you will need 100% focus on one task AND you would not want to end up gluing hair onto an armor or helmet … Do clean up your work area regularly, the hair on the floor will make it extremely slippery AND it will follow you everywhere which will tend to annoy the misses. If you have pets, try to keep them away as you work; they will make a mess out of your work area.

Finally do buy a dress mannequin. It will make your work infinitely more comfortable and will be a great service on down time. I bought a WHITE one for visibility purposes.; but that was only after completing my 4th build and I wish I had done that before. I also use PVC sheets to add some “volume” to the sleeves and legs and ensure a good coverage. 
The added bonus of using a dress mannequin is that it will also act as a way to visualize your progress AND keep your work area tidy.  Once you are done you can also cut the feet , add some extensions at the bottom of the leg and use it as a display mannequin for your work. 
Preparing
You will need your mesh suit. I chose black mesh because if ever the hair opens up too much it will not contrast with the black compression suit (more on that in the wearing section) and with the proper blend of hair it will actually look much more natural than a white or otherwise light color. Of course in weaving the hair on the suit black can be slightly more challenging to the eyes but I did compensate ( partially ) by using a white mannequin which gives a solid contrast. 
All mesh is not equal, you need it to be not too big nor too small to allow a proper lining of the fur. It also have to be able to hold the weight of the suit. After weaving the hair onto the suit it will weight a substantial amount; you do not want the mesh to break. My first suit was made out of mesh that turned out to show elasticity. I had to reinforce it every 10 cm with a non elastic band. Turned out pretty good actually but that had me worried a great deal.

After wookiee#4 I have settled on a particular mesh ( not too big, nor too small) which seems to handle the weight well. I have also settled on the design of the suit with straight legs, a slightly larger top and sleeves partially covering the hands. The waist of the pants is made of extra wide elastic band and I use a pair of suspenders to keep it all together. 

Depending on your body type you might need to make the suit  one or two sizes bigger and compensate with hockey/football shoulder pads. 

You also need to make the pants extra long so that it will partially cover your feet and blend with whatever system you have chosen to reach your desired height ( more on that later). 
You will need extra mesh for the head and the feet. The skull need to be outfitted with meshing the back in order to add the hair properly. 

The feet will need to be covered with mesh to add hair and blend with the legs. Depending on the system you use ( stilts, boots etc…) you will need more or less mesh. 
Just like having a few extra packs of hair, It is never a bad idea to have a couple meters extra mesh fabric just in case. 

There are a few options ranging from very expensive to probably not a good idea. Depending on your funds and desired level of accuracy you will obviously choose accordingly.  However if you are reading this there are only really two viable options;
1. You can choose to go the highly accurate way by patches of “ready made” fur from NTF. This is the fur that was used by Tom Spina in making all his wookiees and if the information gathered is right also the one used in making the new Wookiee suits for at least Solo. It is expensive as you probably going to spend 2-3000 US$ to get enough fur to complete a “standard” suit.  It comes in patches that then need to be sewed onto a suit so you will need to make a pattern of the suit first, take measurements and then order accordingly. This is a road I have not taken at this time. 

2. Like most other wookiee out there you can work with synthetic hair; namely Kanekalon. When I made my first suit this was mostly available as braids of “weaved” hair and needed to be straightened. I actually found a supplier where I can buy any color ( pink and blue wookiee anyone?) and it comes straight which got the entire process of making the wookiee already much faster. The added bonus is that one is meant to be flame retardant – you never know, revenge of an angry porg and all. The Kanekalon hair comes in many shades of colors. I learned early on that #33 ended up being more like an orangutang orange shade than the brown you’d want for a generic wookiee. Also a huge mistake would be to make a suit with only two color (brown/grey) it simply does not look natural. Animals tend to have slight shade variation in their fur, kind of layers. So I experimented and my default mix is now dominant #27 with some #4 and a dash of #1. #27 is the base that I use everywhere some areas get covered with more #4 and I do highlights/contrast with #1. If I decide to go for a chewbacca like I will introduce some #171 gray in the blends and accentuate certain areas accordingly. 

The braids I use come in 2m length which needs to be divided. The rule I use if to have  #4 and #1 always cut to about 45 cm long for #27 depending on the area of the body I will use +/-40 cm long or +/-70 cm long.

The key to a good looking wookiee is the blending of colors. You can choose to “mic” your hair the way professional wig makers do ( see video ) which is to me a “micro level” – a Macro level approach can work as well, where as you take strains of several colors and roughly put them together before weaving onto the suit. You then apply more in some areas and slowly have less until you get to a single color patch. 

I would not recommend to buy a ready made mask and do your own suit as you may have widely different shades between the two which would look weird.  At the very least ask the mask vendor if you can buy the hair from him to ensure all colors are matching.  

Whatever you do, always buy MORE hair than what you would probably need. You never know what can happen. Also it will allow you to fix any future loss of hair…
this one is the key for a realistic wookiee. They are big beasts and unless you are already naturally above 2m of height some serious rigging will have to happen. The good news is that your mask alone will give you 6-7 cm extra height. 

Next,  you will need to decide what rig you will be using for your feet. Several options are available all with their pro’s and con’s. The most important question you will have to answer is “how mobile” you want to be.  Some amazing wookiee build stand really tall but in order to reach such height you will either be a professional acrobat or you will actually have to give up some mobility; that is walking on some contraption will be easier for some than others. 

I know of a couple of wookiees who get dressed, come out and basically stay still for the duration of the photo ops; they cannot “troop” per se due to their lack of ease of walk. My very first build I created my own system but walking was extremely difficult and did not look at all natural which kinda was breaking the character ( probably even more so now that we have seen chewie running, going up ladders etc…) – eventually I settled for a “mid-size” Wookiee at 2m10 but regain natural walk allowing me to really get into interaction with the crowd

Another aspect of the decision will be the size of you shoes, at 1m83 my shoe size is 46 (12 US) which means that some contraption simply doe not work for me because my foot sticks out of too flat. Obviously it makes the leg look weird and then requires to add additional parts to give it a more natural look…but that also require the suit to be larger and to get the full body to have the right ratio ( hence use of hockey shoulder pads). For larger feet there is no escaping the “heel” – that’s right a high heel system will reduce the total length of your foot and 
This is now my default go to solution. These “goth” boots are real boots which means they are build so that you can wear and walk. They give you a solid 18 cm lift and allow you to have a natural walk. Once you attack the toes to it the legs look “right”. It is a compromise I am willing to make after so many experience trooping; having kids shoved in my arms, people pushing me while taking pictures, crashing on the floor because of a wrong step, breaking my DIY lift while walking ETC… 

It is not only the look but also the safety aspect; you will not be the tallest wookiee around BUT you will be able to interact with the crowd in total safety including taking a stroll solo in a convention or participating in a street parade. You will be able to go up and down steps or take escalator- so depending on your actual height these may be your best option. 

The first time I used demonia boots, I did have the mesh covered all the way to the top of the boot, however with the leg hair long enough , you really only need to cover it to the instep. The mesh is glued to the boot directly with superglue first and then a layer of hot glue which so far it proved strong enough.  However I have now made “spats” of mesh which come and clips around the ankle which makes the weaving of the hair much simpler, and of course they still can be glued at the top. 

Because the sole if blocks of EVA you can elect to add some height by gluing some extra thiner layers, and you can use a variety of ways to affix toes. I have made my toes out of EVA block and a dremel, with a mix of velcro and a bar that crosses the entire boot; this allows me to use or not the toes and to pack my boots in the trunk for travel purposes by removing the toes.  I fixed the toes around 7cm off the ground so they would not interfere when walking AND it sorts of gives a more “natural” look to the feet. I must confess I did quite a few trooping without the toes especially when there was a lot of walking involved. 
Once you are in public you should not remove your mask- whereas stormtroopers and other armored characters have the luxury to do so,  Vader and Wookiees should never have their real face exposed – for the crowd that is a deal breaker. In that regard hands are a critical component of your costumes as they become an important tool to help with your surrounding. Remember that once you wear the head you visibility will be reduced. 

This is why I have long dropped the idea of these oversized rubber ones, whether monkeys or other creature that might work. They do not grip, they make your hands clumsy and they actually feel fake when using them with a fan to take a picture… so much work put into a suit just to have its realistic value destroyed by the gloves! After a while you will sweat like mad which makes matter worst AND you hand will be smelly too.

Wookiee photoOps get insane very fast as people queue to take pictures with you and you will really want to have a good “grip” on things; alongside being very stable on your feet and legs, being able to actually hold, touch, grip, things with your hand as if you would normally is one of the most important key of a good interaction with the public. 

I opted for black gardening gloves. They are easy enough to come by, being made of fabric means that you can use a permanent marker to cover up any writing you would find on it. They are breathable, they have rubberized palm and finger but the top is just weaved cotton. The rubberized fingers is what makes it feel both real (as a wookiee) but actually useful. 
The mesh Top I use has extra long “top hand” and a reinforced hole for the thumb to go through. Doing so means that the hair always cover the hand and I have a firm grip on everything being thrown at me including small children.

Finally there is the idea/issue of size ratio. The extra long hair on your arm will help give your arm the extra 5 cm it needs to have so that your wookiee does not look like a T-Rex. I do not have particularly long nor bulky hands however I feel that with the gloves as I have and using the demonia boots as lift, the whole size/ration works properly and this is how you want your final wookiee to look: well balanced , good ratio. 
Making it

The most commonly used way of attaching the hair to the mesh suit is using a latch-hook.However when I started my first suit I just could not stand the speed at which I was moving forward with it and it felt it was going to take ages to get used to it and move at a brisk pace. So I used the same principle to develop my “own” tool. The idea is the same as always, get a few hair through the mesh and make a nod to keep them in place. Using the “hook” I can keep a large amount on hair in my hand and attach them faster; it also allows me to do blending of shades on the go. 

The length of hair used with depend on the area of the suit you are working on. If the entire suit has the same length of hair the post making grooming will be tedious and you may end up with what’ve come to experience as the “L’oreal” effect. 

I use shorter hair for the arms and upper legs and tights, and longer ones for the torso , back and lower legs ( this way it blends better with the shoes and feet). This applies to the #27 hair; however for #1 and #4 I tend to use the same length throughout. It helps with the more natural blending look and creates some layering effect that are visually quite pleasing
As far as distances between the hairs nods, I try to have 3 to 4 mesh holes in between and do an alternative patterns as much as possible. However I found on my third build that being too consistent was not nearly as critical as I first thought. 

Unlike the latch-hook technique, the one I use allows to have “thicker” bunch of hair attached which sometimes comes nicely to give extra volumes in parts. However doing so you will need to immediately glue it in place as it will not keep tight for long.  In other words the lesser strains of hair you use the easier it will stay in place but the more you will need to put on the suit – thinner layering also means potentially easier to see the mesh suit once finished. I tend to go in between most of the time and depending on the area I would use bigger bunch of hairs.

I have divided a suit in “completion zones” ; I found it helps assessing progress, dividing the work in manageable timeframe and keeping the momentum going. 
There are a few prop makers making wookiee skulls. Each have their own specificities and size, Some come pre-build others in kit- The skull is made of fiberglass and you will need to outfit if with an additional helmet liner to wear it, in order to align your eyes to the eyes hols. Depending on the maker you may have 5 to 7 cm additional height because of the forehead. this will help getting closer to the tall look you want. In my experience the real issue is the nose bridge. That is where it can hurt the most and some light padding can help. The original masks did not have much mobility at the jaw, nowadays you can basically have a mouth that moves…it is great although in reality I found out that as long as you can see the teeth a bit the public is more than happy. 

Step 1: Build your skull and jaw. Make sure the nose holes on the skulls are big enough to let air in. They can be oversize, I remember even cutting the nose off one of my mask once seeing that the silicone skin is thick and covers the hole anyway. Obviously you will need to make holes in the inside the silicone mask nose as well. Add the helmet liner inside; glue the teeth and paint. The helmet liner I use is actually one I found as a full ABS liner that goes under a cap. But you can use a regular helmet liner; as long as it stays well put on your head and does not wobble. 

Step 2:  Add the mesh for the back of the head. I glue it to the skull knowing that a portion of it will be cover by the silicone face which will add to the fact that it won’t move…

Step 3: add the hair to the mesh to same way you did to the rest of the suit. I use the longer length of hair and then adjust during the grooming. I like having longer hair in the back as it helps covering the neck nicely and give “width”.

Step 4: Add the silicone face and glue in place. super glue should do the trick. Most important part are the forehead, around the eyes, nose, around the mouth. Do not glue too much on the check or you will limit the mouth opening action. 

Step 5: adding the hair onto the skin. You will encounter those who “punch” hair and those who glue. I have done both and now even mixing both technique. Punching hair is a very very long process which requires to use a special needle to punch hair “one by one”. This technique is used by pro EFX people to make a character as realistic as possible. However It is my belief that the original technique used was the faster “gluing” one which require you to use silicone caulk onto the skin and glue hair onto it. 

Using “glue” allows to shape the end result better, having areas that are “flat”, much more so than punching in the hair. It will help with the final grooming, especially around the eyes and the mouth. That being said the technique maybe give you too much of a flat feeling overall and this is why I tend to mix some areas of the forehead and sides with additional hair punching; adding volume.
The introduction of new versions of Chewbacca from the prequel to sequel to Solo each with their own variation of satchel, bandolier end belt boxes. You will need to decide which version you want to go for in order to get the right one. 

Doing your OT bandolier is not an impossible feat as its construction is easier than the newer version and require lesser expertise in leather craftmenship. The Satchel however will be much more challenging and using a thinner leather 1.5mm will make things much easier when stitching it together. 

Belt boxes can be 3D printed, or use EVA blocks painted. If you want to nicer look you will need metal ones; the smaller version is easy to find as they are still being sold on the market BUT the larger box ( which are same as officer belt boxes) will need to be done by hand or purchased. I eventually found an “easier’ alternative although not 100% visually accurate: Play card tin boxes are just slightly smaller and have rounded edges BUT 99% of the public cannot make the difference. They are lightweight and easy to install with chicago screws.

The challenge with making your own bandolier is the length of leather you need to make the main strip which will require you to buy a full skin – this will come pretty expensive. Especially since you want that part to be thick and sturdy so you cannot use the same leather for both the satchel and the bandolier. 
The investment in raw material, tools and time may not actually be worth doing the bandolier on your own and buying from a prop maker although seemingly expensive actually is not a bad investment. 
coming soon
After You are done
As a general rule, I always wear a black compression suit, regardless to the costume I wear. Trooping is tough on the body, you stand, you walk, you carry, you do everything but rest. You also sweat a lot and at the end of the day you feel like you’ve been at the gym… your body needs to be supported and compression suit do just that: tighten the muscles, helps the joins and circulation. I combined that with compression socks for the same reasons/purpose. It makes a difference. 
In the case of the wookiee it also acts as the color of the “skin” which , if hair move too much and reveals a bit of the suit will then look natural the mesh will not contract with the under-suit and visually it will be fine. 
That is also why I do use #1 black hair to give some dark shading and make sure that everything looks as natural as possible. I do recommend the use of a balaclava to conceal the neck as it may happen that the back hair move or get pushed aside by a hug. It will also absorb some of the sweat you will experience in the mask. 
Can you wash your suit?
Absolutely NOT ; you’d think that because you use hair you can wash and then use a hairdryer, don’t ! the sheer amount of hair on the suit will make it nearly impossible to dry properly and in the process you might create patches with no hair at all. 
How about the smell?
Air vent your suit after each use; however most importantly your compression suit (if you buy the right kind) will absorb most of the sweat and actually very little will find it’s way into the suit. When you air dry your suit , flip it around so the inside is exposed to the air. 
But what if there is a smell?
Febreeze works well spray, air dry, you done. 
Will I loose hair?
you will shed some of course BUT if you have build your suit properly the super glue will keep most hair in place and you will not have to worry. Do buy a bunch of extra #27 packs of hair to guarantee they come together with the one you use for the suit. This will ensure that if you need to patch the coloration will be the same. Simply add some hair wherever you might need. That being said I never had to do so myself. 
How do you store the suit?
Keep your suit on a hanger packed in a “body bag” to prevent hair going all around. The hanger will come handy when you change. 
For the last 4 years I have been using a trunk suitcase. It is narrower than a regular suitcase but actually deeper. I have been carrying full armors on major international travels and it fits and entire wookiee: shoes/suit/ mask/ bandolier / satchel / and all the grooming equipment. 
Obviously I tend to let the suit in “rough” shape in that I do not brush it to have perfect straight fur…it actually is not how a wookiee should look like to me. 

The trunk is cost effective, easy to use, lightweight , protective enough to put on the haul of international flights and frees my hands for whatever else— it also work miracle to hold a  drink 🙂 
On location the most important part of the grooming will be on the head to make sure it stays put for the duration of the event. Prior to event I will have already put in place the necessary bobby pins and have had a good spray of hair fixative, then in the trunk (on top of everything) covered by the compression suit. 

Once arrive on location I will verify that the bobby pins are still in place and will add a second layer of fixative spray. 
As for the rest of the suit, I simply make sure that all part overlaps and that there are no visible “open” patches. I do not brush it and keep it rough. 

I use Got2Be extra strength spray to fix the hair, it lasts a good couple of hours during a trooping. If you want hair to have the fuzzy look you can heat the hair with a curling wand ( beware of too much heat), use a bit of styling oil Got2B and rub the hair in the palm of your hand.
This is my sequence of action:  
1. compression suit, socks and balaclava;
2. eye blackened;
3. If you shoulder pads or protective gear put them on now; 
4. put all your clothes and belongings into your trunk/case – close and move aside. 
5. pants are placed on a chair, put them on and rolled up high so you can see the undersuit, straps around the shoulders 
6. sit on a chair put on the shoes- let the pants flow back down and make sure everything is covered and overlaps. Stand up !
7. put on gloves
8. your top is hanging, put in on, look into mirror to ensure everything overlaps properly; thumbs in the sleeves hole. 
9. Bandolier on- left shoulder. 
10. the head is flat on top of the trunk ( or table) – put it on
fix the neck hairline and make sure over part is covered – do ask assistance if needed 
11. Walk out ( be careful you are now very tall and you have an extra 7-10 cm of clearance just for your head…bend at the door!
Trooping as a wookiee is very rewarding, get ready for loads of hugs from kids, adults, men and women… it is a fan favorite. You will have hundreds of pictures taken with you and you probably want to prepare some pose or fun stuff to do to ‘amuse” the crowd.

There are classic poses likes the two arms hug (favorite amongst the ladies) ; strangling , raising your arms ( although that may cause issue with the photography) … I like to spot people that have short hair ( or none) and put my hand on their head…the extra hair make it look like they have a bad wig and always makes the crowd laugh.

Regardless of how tall you are, you will always have a couple of dude that will be nearly as tall as you , I tend to face them and pretend to arm wrestle – you will hear someone screaming “let the wookiee win” again the crowd will like that. I also tend to spot families with babies because some dads think it is ok to hand over their kids for picture and that is always a concern for me hence my choice for feet and hands. Some kids are shy and of course “shorter” than you , with demonia boots you have the ability to actually squat at their level to take a really cool picture. 

When walking, I tend to wave at people; I try not to stop too much for pictures because as soon as you stop you know that you will be there for 15-20 minutes. So as I walk around I keep an eye for easy spots to stop where I will not be in the middle of everything and pushed around or create a traffic jam. In convention exhibitors will appreciate that. 

I try to always have a helper (minder) with me but I learned (very painfully) that you need someone that understand the constraints of your build. In one comic-con I was walked to a booth from a famous on-demand TV – the helper asked me to get in without telling me there was a steps and cables…you can imagine what happened next !

With my current build I can be a lot more autonomous and able to prevent most danger myself. If I am teamed with a helper I ask him/her to help dressing up ; I do not need any help to get dressed BUT that way they can see the shoes, the suit and realize themselves some of the constraints.

As a personal preference I do not carry weapons.

And here is a video about the making of a Wookiee Bust to display the mask at home.