Photographer Brian Vu's DIY Tornado Costume Will Blow You Away

It only cost him $25!

To celebrate the start of the most terrifying #SPOOKYSZN in living history, VICE asked a few of our favorite artists and photographers to create costumes based on prompts forged from the depths of our brains. Armed with nothing but $25 and their own wild imaginations, the artists were tasked with building cheap Halloween costumes and sharing their scary good savings tips. Supported by GEICO.

This year has been a whirlwind. That in mind, VICE asked Brooklyn based photographer/artist Brian Vu to create a costume, something that might inspire Oohs and Ahs at whatever Zoom Halloween party he finds himself at this year. His prompt: only one of the most feared calamities in the natural world…the tornado. The twist(er): we only gave him $25. No matter. He delivered.


Vu’s approach to portraiture is wholly his own. He creates bold images that conjure strength and representation from subjects that inspire him—radiant, colorful portraits of people isolated in dramatic backgrounds, adorned in elaborate wardrobes that accentuate their presence. Here we talk to him about his costume, what inspires him, and his aesthetic.


What was your initial reaction to the prompt?
I was blown away. Just kidding. I was nervous at first because it was out of my comfort zone! It was so fun to figure it out step by step. I asked a few people what they would do and they gave me tips. I did a lot of searches online and thought of American films that depicted the tornado. I knew I wanted to create an all gray look right away. Since there was a budget of $25 there were a lot of different approaches I could have taken. I thought the wire and the tulle would be a good approach to take.

What were the challenges of the "tornado" as a concept for a costume?
The biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to create the actual tornado. There was a bit of hesitation on the execution. I was worried whether the wire could hold up the fabric well enough.

How would you describe your interpretation of the tornado?
A tornado blowing all of the color away.

Do you typically make your own costume for Halloween?
Yes! I’m getting better at it year by year. It’s just so much more fun to make your own from scratch.


How did you develop your aesthetic?
I’ve been working on portraiture on and off since I’ve moved to New York eight years ago so it’s been a slow process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t for me. With this recent body of works I’ve studied renaissance paintings and portraiture. The way subjects and stories were portrayed in [Gustave] Moreau paintings moved me a lot.

What subjects inspire you?
I’m extremely inspired by the queer community. The endless creativity and ideas they share on a daily basis bring me so much joy. I look up to these people so much. I always try to photograph them in the best light I possibly can.

How did you use the $25?
With the $25 I was able to purchase three items total. Wire ($3.50), Gray body paint ($10.67), and tulle fabric ($8.99).

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Walk us through the steps to making your costume, while giving us some hints on how to save money.
I wanted to create a costume that would wrap around my entire body to make a spiral tornado-like shape. I wrapped the wire with a lot of tulle to give it texture and volume. If you don’t have tulle, then you can use party crepe paper, which is a lot more affordable.

The next step was to create elements that would be typically sucked up in a tornado. My main inspiration behind these drawings were from films. I drew different animals, houses, cars, and trees of different sizes. I then cut them out. I decided to keep everything black and white to give the image an overall graphic look. These didn’t cost a thing to make, just paper and a pen is all you need.


Now it’s time for makeup. This is always my favorite part of any photoshoot or costume. I wanted to keep the products very limited. I had purchased the body paint and I painted it all over my body with a paint brush. I own a beauty brand and we create eyeliners and lip paints so I used the products for the costume. I had a black eyeliner, a brown eyeliner, and a red lip paint. I created diagonal streaking motions that made it look like my face was in motion and being blown away. If you don’t have brushes you can do these streaks with your fingers and some cheap body paint that you’d find at any party store.

Next was putting on the costume. This took a while to figure out and I got tangled up a bunch. But with trial and error came success! I wanted an asymmetrical tornado that went from my shoulders down to my waist. The wire was easily bendable and great to work with. I then attached the drawings I did with tape.

How did you create your backdrop?
I shot everything in my studio once I was finished. I already had a gray seamless backdrop there. I shot the image with flash and a self-timer. Then I took out the gray in photoshop and added a sky over it. You can do this as well on a phone editing app. Another method is to go outside and photograph yourself with a sky behind you. After that you can edit the sky black and white.

Lastly, do you have any additional tips for fledgling DIY costume designers on a budget?
Borrow things from friends. Go thrifting for outfits at second-hand stores. Makeup helps tie in the look, and can be purchased at low prices from local drug stores. There are also a lot of resources and ideas online that can help. Just a simple search will go a long way.


Supported by GEICO.