Among the litany of great science-fiction books, Frank Herbert’s Dune stands out as one of the most beloved and successful, leaving behind an almost 60-year legacy of sequel and prequel novels, radio dramas, film adaptations, and, more recently, a massive 45-foot sandworm constructed by Michele Cotten and her team of community makers in Huntsville, Alabama.
Cotten, who originally moved to Huntsville in 2001 to attend university, has been cosplaying in various conventions for nearly ten years, both solo and with her husband Jeff. The sandworm (now affectionately known as Leto) began life in 2019 as a special request from Jeff, and Cotten decided to design the beast in the style of a Chinese parade dragon. Huntsville’s local maker group rallied around Cotten and assisted with Leto’s construction, which took over six months from beginning to end. Although Cotten was unfamiliar with both the engineering and materials necessary to bring Leto to life, the end result is truly impressive from all aspects.
Leto’s final design consists of several 5-foot wood, foam, and PVC pipe sections attached to carriers via harnesses and connected to each other with Velcro. The head, which weighs approximately 35–40 pounds, replicates a sandworm’s iconic gaping maw through foam jowls and hundreds of defender spikes for the teeth. On the go, the monster requires eight carriers and at least two additional helpers with tools and materials just in case Leto needs a touch-up.
For Denis Villeneuve’s new Dune film, Cotten responds that Leto hung out in the local theater lobby to greet viewers for the first week of screenings. Leto has made three public appearances so far, and is currently undergoing upgrades for the upcoming Dragon Con Parade in Atlanta, Georgia this September. Cotten, meanwhile, is busy perfecting several new cosplays, and can be found at facebook.com/squeakykittiecosplay.