Meet Bones the AT-AT Dog! Team | October 19, 2011

photos: John Nolan

This adorkable AT-AT dog costume made the rounds last week online. As a craftster, I am always curious how fans make their elaborate cosplay costumes, especially for their pets. chats with artist and photographer Katie Mello — who works as a Character Fabricator at LAIKA/house, an animation studio (Coraline) in Portland, Oregon — about how she made the AT-AT costume for her dog named Bones!

What is the back story of these photos? Why dress up your dog as an AT-AT?

I have been a Star Wars fan forever. When I was younger, I wanted to work for Industrial Light & Magic when I grew up. I studied everything I could about “special effects.”

By the time I got into college it was clear that everything would be done with computers and I was more interested in making tangible artwork. Lucky for me I discovered stop-motion animation. Now I build puppets for stop-motion productions, and have developed the skills that I need to make just about anything I want.

From the first time we saw Bones, an Italian Greyhound, my husband and I thought he looked like an AT-AT. He has such an unusual shape. Three years later, I finally made him this costume. I also used this opportunity to improve my patterning and sewing skills.

What did you make the costume out of?

First I made a costuming dummy out of upholstery foam, so I could minimize the amount of fittings that I would have to do on Bones. His comfort is important to me. To make the form, I carved the foam into Bones likeness and made sure it matched his measurements. This made the whole process much easier, and I can make other costumes for him very easily now.

The main body is a super-stretchy cotton/spandex, which I patterned for Bones using a shirt that he wears to keep warm. I also made a stretchy cowl to go over his head. I airbrushed this while it was on the costume dummy using airbrush paint.

The feet and circular gears are made from regular yogurt cups. The feet attach around his ankles with Velcro like a hoop skirt, so they float harmlessly around his paws, since Bones, like most dogs, does not like things on his feet. The circular gears snap onto the suit body, so I can wash the body if I want to.

The main body and the head piece are made from a very light weight foam which is 1/4-inch thick, accented with another kind of foam (“fun foam”) which is about 1/8 – inch thick. The whole body weighs about 7 ounces. There are little arches inside which sit on Bones body. I sewed in a strap lined in fake fur and attach it with Velcro around Bones chest. This is similar to how many of his jackets attach.

The head piece is made of the same kinds of foam and it weighs less than an ounce. It attaches by one snap on the cowl on his head. I think it is pretty comfortable. He has never shaken his head or rubbed at it with his paws to get it off, which is what I thought he might do.

All of the materials are easily found at any craft store or in the recycle bin.

What was the dog’s reaction to the costume? Was it difficult to get the photos you wanted?

Bones likes the attention and extra warmth. He is an Italian Greyhound, meaning he has very little body fat and hair instead of fur. This means he does not have those extra warm insulating layers that keep dogs warm. So “Iggies” wear lots of sweaters and coats when the weather turns cold. He is pretty used to wearing clothes.

He was great at the photo shoot. I have a lot of very talented friends who were nice enough to help me and be there to encourage Bones. It was very easy to get our shots, we had a slice of cheese and gave him a piece for each picture. When we ran out of cheese, we were done shooting.

Have you dressed up your dog before — as what?

He has a silly, sheepskin-style coat that (almost) makes him look like a lamb. Most store bought outfits don’t really fit him very well, so he has many talented friends who enjoy making things for him. His friend and my co-worker Sara made him a custom racing jacket, just like a full-sized greyhound. Chris, an animator at LAIKA/house, knitted a special sweater and Jeanne, an armature expert, knitted him four custom leg warmers.

What has the reaction been around your photos?

Pretty crazy. I had a feeling it might go viral. Bones has a ton of personality and who doesn’t like the AT-AT?

Also, a lot of people think he is too skinny and I must not feed him. I am very used to this. When we walk around town everyone has to stop and ask me about him. Sometimes kids tell me I need to feed him and I ask “EVERY day?”

Then I explain that that is just how he is, he is very healthy, sometimes people and animals are just naturally skinny. He gets lots of food really, I swear I feed him. He really is a happy dog who even gets to come to work with me every day.

Where can fans find more of your work?

I’ve been doing character fabrication for almost 15 years, and I got my start making puppets for the TV show The PJs. I usually work on commercials and short films. Recently, I’ve made puppets featured in commercials for Planters, Ben and Jerry’s, SPAM, and Coca-Cola.

Fun fact: Bones was born on a farm in Vader, Washington. Bones has one brown eye, one blue eye, and sees just fine out of both.

Bones gets to go to work with me most every day. He has a big bed that he sleeps on and watches me work. He gets many visitors during the day, people love him a lot. I call him the chief morale officer since he is there to cheer you up if you have had a hard day.

If people like him and want to see more of him he has a Bones Mello, the AT-AT Dog Facebook page.

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