Fur can be used to accent costumes, and we use it on a lot of our masks and costumes. I’m going to discuss how I choose good fur for the job I need it for, and some of the techniques I use when I’m working with fur.
We tend to use fake fur fabric. Much of the time if I’m using fur then I’m making animal style masks and getting the right fur from an animal to make a realistic looking mask would be quite wasteful and expensive. Getting good fur isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper.
There’s a few key things to think about when buying fur. The length (or pile) of the fur is key. If you’re after a shaggy look you need longer fur. Typically fake fur is 25mm long, and there is 50mm and occasionally 75mm also available online. You can also get really short pile fur, but we typically have fewer uses for this. There are a wide range of costume uses for this. We buy a lot of our fur from CRS Fur Fabrics – who trade as Swincraft* on eBay.
We use NFT fur for really high end pieces. They’re the people we go to for much longer pile fur for manes for lion and horse masks. It costs about £50 a square foot (once you add postage etc). Fur from NFT is four way stretch. This makes it much easier to skin something neatly as it will form around the shape it is attached to more easily than some other furs. It is a joy to work with other than that I am constantly aware that I can’t afford to just buy more if I get it wrong. Also there is a 4-6 week wait when ordering custom fur which is obviously quite inconvenient.
The other major feature of fur is density. A lot of fun fur is sparse and will never look that good. A denser fur is usually better, and also more expensive. We typically pay £30-40 a meter for good quality dense fur, which will have some variation in colour, and often a softer denser layer of shorter hair close to the backing. This gives us the best effects for masks, although it can change colour completely when we trim it.
A key consideration when working with fur – whether for masks or for larger creature costumes is the direction of the fur. Fur fabric has a grain. If you lay it out and run your hand over it there will be a direction in which it naturally lies most flat. With a lot of fur this will be up or down the length of the material. Fur on animals also runs in a certain direction. When you pet a dog you typically pet it with the grain. The majority of dogs get a bit pissed off if you try petting them in the other direction. The fur direction on most animals is pretty similar. If you are trying to make something that looks like an animal then applying hair with the correct direction will help.
When I’m furring a mask I will often draw on the fur direction with a sharpie and then split it into sections with different direction fur to create a coherent mask. Care is take to place seams in areas where they’re less obvious. We will often have each eye, a piece going up the forehead, a piece that wraps around the muzzle and bits on each cheek as well as fur going up the back of each ear. More complicated masks may require more sections. For these masks I will start by gluing a central section down and move towards the edges, trimming the fur to the required size.
When cutting fur I aim to cut the backing material without cutting through the pile on the front of the fabric. I use a sharp razor blade and cut from the back, adjusting the pressure to achieve this as well as possible. Trimming the pile would result in unnatural looking hard edges and lines in the fur. Shaggy edges look more correct in most situations.
Sometimes only part of a costume is furred, and there is a join between the fur fabric and the material for the rest of the costume. On these we will run a bead of glue along the edge of the fur and press a bit of the pile to it. This gives a more staggered edge and hides the edge of the backing material. There are other options. Life is too short for hair punching.
On most animals the fur is not the same length over the entire body or even over the face. I use pet clippers to trim the fur to the appropriate length. It’s typically shorter around the muzzle and eyes. Too harsh clipping results in the backing material showing through and should be avoided. Practise on spare bits of fur to get the right effect. I often trim around the eyes with nail scissors before clipping as, especially with dense fur, it would take a very long time to get the fur short enough to see through the eyes of the mask with just clipping. Before attaching fur to a mask I paint the area around the eyes, nose and mouth black. This also helps to hide joins in this area.
Finally everything looks better airbrushed. Airbrushing can help with avoiding having to use too many different colours of fur, as well as with adding more natural textures and colours to the final piece and blending edges.
The following photos in this blog of a piece we made a few years ago before and after trimming and airbrushing. Note the shortness of the fur around the mouth and nose in the second photo compared to the first, and the light areas of white airbrushing under the eyes and on the front of the muzzle, as well as the edge of the mane. The fur on the face is from CRS Fur Fabrics and the much longer pile of the mane is NFT fur.