My Early Disasters pt 2 - A Biker Scout Helmet - How hard can it be?

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
I posted "My Early Disasters" part one in the props section, sorry. I'll try and avoid future disasters like that one.

Having failed to make a decent Mando Bucket, I decided I had been too ambitious, and should try something simpler. Unfortunately, passing another Sports Equipment sale, I picked up an old skiing helmet and thought it would make a perfect base for a Scout Trooper Helmet. And now I had actually invested in some foam for building, and watched some YouTube videos on making armour. I had practically RESEARCHED! Only not much. And nothing relevant. And the foam was flooring tiles, and I had nothing sharp enough to cut it cleanly, but....DETAILS!
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I didn't start keeping records of this straight away. I've cut a rectangle of foam for the top, then cut a disc out of that rectangle and pushed it down onto the top of the helmet. Then I've placed the disc back on, and filled in the gap around the edge, making the raised central portion of the helmet. This time around I had three reference pictures in the workroom with me, plus one rough diagram with some measurements. I had looked at all of these things, but used no measurements when cutting. I always think I will be able to smooth things out later on. I am always wrong about this.

The white stuff in the front is some lightweight packing foam that I glued in place to give the front of the cowl the right angles and some support while I put everything together. This turned out to be a mistake because they WEREN'T the right angles. I would find that out later.
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I meant to go slowly and be thorough, but I'm too impatient. I had some pipe lagging handy, and thought that would be perfect for the vent intakes on either side. To me, this is part of the iconic look of the helmet, and I was excited to get it into place and have everything start to look right. So excited, in fact, that I did not measure, or check the reference photos. Is it only me who works like this? Everyone else here seems a little more...competent.
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This angle shows my other glaring error. I wanted a straight edge for the upper edge of the helmet, but the flooring tiles have this jigsaw pattern edge so they can fit together. If you want a straight edge, leave the inserts in, but you still get the zig-zag line. Only a fool would try and fill it with hot glue, though, right? Because you can't sand that stuff...

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True to form, I've tried adding paint to make it look better. I'm also ridiculously proud, at this point, of finding I can use my hot glue gun to melt those neat bits along the bottom. Never mind the ugly zig-zags I can't get rid off, look at the neat melting!
Also, nothing is symmetrical. Ever.
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The view from the other side proves that the ugly goes all the way around. And the little hint of green shows where the top piece of foam isn't lining up with the side pieces. I have used a lot of filler, though. At this point it only takes two grown men to lift the helmet, but I'm not even halfway done.
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By the simple expedient of adding more paint and more filler and more filler and more filler, I have hidden those damn zig-zags at last. But you'll note you can still see that little bit of green. One mistake at a time.....
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Things are going well, so it's time to remove that foam that was supporting and shaping the....WHAT THE HELL? The front of the cowling is all over the place! It's not symmetrical! It's not squared off! It looks like it was cut out by a man with garden shears and a bag on his head. It does not resemble the reference photos at all.
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The obvious and sensible thing to do at this point would be to tear down and start over. I did not do that. I built the faceplate. Because I am stubborn and refuse to admit I have made huge, glaring, obvious errors. I would like to say that I measured the faceplate carefully, and cut out the eyepiece using a template. I would LOVE to say that. It would be a lie.
I cut it out by eye alone. With a scalpel blade that I was holding in my fingers. I didn't have a scalpel blade holder. or a sharp knife. Or, as it seems, two brain cells to rub together. It is not symmetrical.
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So there's a lot to sort out. Some major flaws that need attention. I decided to ignore those a fit a small, thin piece of foam to the side of the helmet. It's a genuine detail, and it needed to be there, it just shouldn't have been the priority. Or purple.
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This picture shows that the faceplate piece is way too big, but it also shows that the whole thing looks quite like the intended helmet. As long as you aren't looking at a reference photo. Time for more filler.
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As well as shaping the snout, I wanted to fix the edge of the cowl, and I thought filler would be easier to shape than the foam. The problem was, I didn't have a good idea of what, exactly, was wrong with the cowl. I wouldn't figure it out until much later.
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I carefully measured the line I would need to trim down the faceplate.
KIDDING! I just drew a line that looked right.
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And then I had to find more foam to fill in this gap at the back. No, you're right, the two sides aren't quite the same, are they?
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But I had to admit, cut down and with a ton more filler, this was looking better and better. Or just slightly less crap.
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That's my cue to grab the paint. The can was nearly empty, but there was enough to make it all a bit whiter, which helps me see what it could be like.
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I had been feeling there was something wrong with the cowl, and checking the reference photos showed me I had it too square. I cut it down and reshaped it, making it more curved. Then I smoothed off the snout and tried to understand how the contours ran from the snout to the cowl. This is seriously complicated, and hard to parse even with a lot of reference photos. Every time I thought I had figured it out, I saw another picture that made me think I was wrong. Plus, sculpting in filler is very hard. Don't try it.
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More filler, more sanding, more paint, and some contrasting black for the snout. I so badly wanted it to look cool. Sadly, those contours were making it look tired and hung over.
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I spent quite some time adding filler, sanding, adding filler and sanding, and then I went to town with a new white spray can. I used the whole thing. Multiple coats. I kept hoping than more paint would somehow smooth out the lumps and dents in the surface. Isn't paint self-levelling? Apparently not. But I was done with sanding. This was as good as it was going to get.
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Rather than sanding and filling the front of the snout, I cut another piece of the thin purple foam and sprayed it black, then glued that in. Smoother than more filler would have been, but not glossy enough really. The visor is more of the same school binder covering that I used for the Mando bucket. Cheap, remember?

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So the surface looks rougher than the surface of the moon, so what? Why not just bang on and add some authentic details, and hope that draws the eye. Or get everyone to stand far, far away to admire it?
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I made the widgets for the front of the snout from more foam and some old screw jackets and stuff. The scale is...sigh...wrong, and the paint wasn't the matte grey I wanted to use but (I'm really sorry) some stone-effect landscaping spray that was intended for plant pots.

I think any Imperial Scout who wore this helmet would deliberately fly his speeder into a tree.
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
That's a dangerous thing to say, Snow Builder - I have a bunch of e-books up on Amazon already. The promise of one sale might be enough to push out another one. The key issue is, what more can I say that I haven't said here? Hmmm, a challenge!

Anyway, on with the next build.
Actually, let me just take a moment to make something clear. I'm not trying to be crap. I'm really, genuinely, honestly trying to make something good every time I go to work on one of these projects. I see the thing and think "I want to make one of those!" and I want to make it so well that people are impressed.
But I am hamfisted and impatient. If something needs three coats of paint, I'll do two really thick ones, then try sanding before they've dried. You've seen what happens.

And now, the Hiccup Helmet:

I have kids, so I saw "How to Train Your Dragon 2" pretty much the week it came out. Then we got the DVD. I love Hiccup's helmet. It's unusual and cool, and I wanted to make one. The week before I started, a friend on G+ posted a How To for making Death-Eater masks from Harry Potter, showing a technique where you use tin foil/ Aluminium foil (note that "i", Americans...Aluminium...Like Plutonium and Berylium and Strontium....Don't pretend it shouldn't be there...) You press foil over your face and forehead to get a rough cast of it all, then carefully paper mache over that to get a mask that fits the contours of your face.

That's where I started. Here's what I was going for:
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Look! A whole page of reference photos printed out and in the workshop with me! The boy CAN be taught!
But here's what I didn't consider until much later: Hiccup is an animated character whose face is not regular proportions. I based the mask on a cast of a real human face (well, mine, but the principal is the same) and as a result my mask is longer and thinner than the original. Starting out entirely wrong...That's pretty good, even for me.

So, my earliest photo of the mask shows the first layer of paper mache applied, on my shelf of moribund projects. It's the one on the right....
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The two masks that look good? They're shop bought pieces, waiting for modifications. Disasters-in-waiting, if you like.

With the basic shape made up in paper mache, I attached some faux-leather I had kicking about and shaped it to fit.
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I didn't have to worry about the shaping looking pretty, because I knew I would be covering up that bit with the tongue of metal that comes down from the forehead. Only I wouldn't be using metal, duh.
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Acting a little like a pro for a change, I masked off the leather before it could get covered in crap, then paper mache'd the metal tongue. Originally that was going to be it for the tongue, but I changed my mind later.
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Knowing I'd end up throwing tons of filler at it, I started early. This time I tried a new technique, using a wet paint brush to smooth out the filler as I put it on. It didn't work brilliantly, leaving a rippled effect that looked horribly like the muscles in those medical books like cut away the skin to show how the body works. I guess it was still smoother than my usual "podge it on there" method.
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There's always an element of sculpting involved in these builds, and needless to say, I'm rubbish at it. Filler is too soft, the foam is hard to cut neatly, I can't use clay... Anyway, this time, to build up the frame of the eye sockets, I used Q-tips with the buds cut off. I'd love to tell you why, but it's been about six months since I built this, and frankly I have not the faintest idea. Was I having a breakdown? Did I just look in the wrong cupboard? Did I leap out of bed one night shouting "God, yes, I could use Q-tips with the buds cut off!"? No clue.

Anyway, in this picture you can also see that I've taken a strip of the thinner modelling foam and laid it down as the metal tongue. This was a brilliant idea (unlike the Q-tips) because it actually followed the contours of the faceplate and looked like the damn reference photos. Only pink, but that was an easy fix.
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Me and paper mache have an uneasy history. I once made a life-size model of Dumbo the Flying Elephant out of paper mache... No, really, I did... Hang on....
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Ignore the pretty ladies, look up at the chandeliers...There's a Dumbo hanging from them isn't there? And another one at the top of the burning tower. So, that shows I've done a bit of this paper mache stuff before. But I'm rubbish at the surfacing. On Dumbo it didn't matter much because he was going to be up high and everyone was going to get drunk quickly. I'd heard that you should use tissue as the final layer, because that dried nice and flat, but here's where terminology is important. They meant tissue paper, like you use in packaging and gifts, not Kleenex. Kleenex is an absolute bastard to use in paper mache, and ends up leaving your mask looking like it's had a nasty skin disease.
It IS good for building up areas where you have inexplicably used Q-tips as scaffolding, but seriously, that's something you should avoid in the first place.
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Ok, so I've managed to hold off on the paint until now. That's pretty good. The surface actually works well once it's painted, looking like rough pig iron, which would be fantastic if this was an Orc helm or something. But Hiccup's helmet is a well-made steel helmet. It needs to be smooth. Also steel-coloured, not black.
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So I bring out the filler tub again, and begin to cut the teeth out of foam. This bit was fun, because it was carving the foam offcuts with a knife or scissors or whatever. Remember, although I whine a lot, I really enjoy doing this stuff. Plus, this time around I had the foresight to build a stand for the helmet to sit on. That made SO MUCH difference, because I wasn't constantly getting frustrated with it rolling over, or losing a hand to hold it steady while I tried to do something that needed two hands. Gluing on the teeth was simple, but for some reason I did not use my hot glue gun. Maybe because I hadn't plugged it in, and it can take up to two minutes to reach temp (did I mention impatient?). Or maybe I'd run out of glue sticks. (Did I mention unprepared?)
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Spray it again, Sam. I just can't resist painting to get an idea of how the final thing is going to look, and this one was shaping up nicely. At this point I didn't need to keep referring to the photos, because I'm working on surface and placing teeth in a logical progression. At some point I knew I was going to have to tackle the back edges of the helmet which were a bit rough to say the least, but for now I was happy that the front was looking mighty purty.
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Now I got round to that edging, and tried some silver paint over the top for a more metallic look. I really, really wanted to spend the time getting the top rounded and smooth, because there's another row of teeth going through it any minute now, and then it would be too hard to smooth out the surface. But...impatient....
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See? Both sides. A lot of filler. Almost smooth. But now, the neck armour...
Whoever designed this helmet came up with some lovely articulated neck plates. They don't show much in the movie, so a screen-grab was hard to get...
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This was pretty much the best I could do. Many of you out there would sit down at your computer and run this image into some kind of program to render a 3d model, then unfold that into plans and 3d print the parts or print out paper guides. What did I do?
I just kind of...guessed...a bit.
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See how I'm not in my workshop for this bit? My method involved drinking several beers, watching tv and and cutting stuff out of cereal boxes. It's the "Maybe this'll work" school of design. I did not graduate from that school, but I hung around the bike sheds for a while and talked to the kids who smoked there.
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The only way to tell if it worked was to fit it and take a photo. Of myself. While wearing a helmet and looking the other way. I have a large family, but none of them wanted to help with this part. Yes, my ears shouldn't stick out there, but I think the problem there is with my ears, not the helmet.
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OK, the dome is smooth (ish) and the neck armour is....well, it's on there. More paint, a clever mix of the silver and the black (one in each hand, two-gun Tex style) and it looks like it's made of metal. No, really, it does. Squint a little....
Anyway, now out with the newly-acquired Dremel (ok, the Home Depot knockoff version, but you know what I mean) and cut the channels for the other rows of teeth.
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This was another do-or-die moment, because I was cutting into the nice smooth dome, and any mistake would be uncorrectable. Well, would involve more dedication than I usually bring to the project. Luckily, it went smoothly enough, and I carved more teeth and they are almost symmetrical. This was the point where I noticed that, although each individual component - teeth, lower face cowl, dome, eye sockets - was in the right place and the right amounts etc, the whole thing looked...off. Like the Scout Helmet, it looked ok by itself, but then you compare it to the reference pictures and it's not the same. Finding the actual differences was really hard, but the overall difference was easy to see.
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But anyway, too late now. I painted the final rows of teeth and tidied up the rear edge of the helmet, where the filler had not come to a neat point but an ugly broken edge. The next part was removing the painter's tape, which would be the end of any more painting. One of the nice things about this project was that the eye holes were supposed to be empty, so no need to go hunting for the remains of my Folder cover to make more visor.
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It's finished! Because of the human dimensions, it looks too long and narrow compared to the original image, but I like it. When I was a kid, my Dad took me to see some of the Anglo Saxon relics from the dig at Sutton Hoo, the most famous of which is a helmet not very dissimilar to this one. Just no teeth. Or filler, I guess. They probably used the Q-tips too, though, right?

Next post (if I survive the camping this weekend) is back to Star Wars for my Shakespearean Vader helmet. There's a full costume to go with it too, if you can stand the excitement.
 
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Arktic

New Member
This is excellent! What you seemingly lack in design skills, you more than make up for with your prose! You must be a published author, right?

Plus, I don't think your work is as bad as you make out. The HTTYD helmet is pretty good, I've certainly seen worse at conventions etc.

I also recognise a fair few of your traits in myself - like you I have a knack for getting dimensions wrong.

But, you know, it's not always just about the destination, if you enjoy the journey, that's the main thing, I think.

Keep up the great work, I await the next instalment with baited breath!
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Right, I'm back from camping, relatively unscathed, and I have twenty minutes to upload the last-but-one costume project. I do have some prop disasters that I'll add to my other thread piecemeal over the next few days, but this is the last big project I worked on before starting the one I'm nearly done with now. Yeah, that makes sense....

So... SHAKESPEAREAN DARTH VADER

I'm sure any Star Wars fans out there have read, or at least seen, Ian Doescher's rewriting of the complete saga in Shakespearean format. It's not a bad job (said as an English scholar and a script reader for a professional publisher, you understand.) Anyway, I got a copy of the first book for my birthday last year, and the cover illustration is a thing of beauty:
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As soon as I saw it I wanted to make a crappy version of it myself, but Vader's helmet is way, way too complex for me to consider. Well, to consider while sober, anyway. However, the Force was with me, because I was wandering the aisles of the local thrift store, with some birthday cash burning a hole in my pocket, and I found a voice changer Vader Helmet for $6.
I know.
Six dollars! For a full helmet! Ok, so it's a bit small, not being designed for a 6ft 2 guy, but it would mean I didn't have to scratch build the helmet, just mod it. And how could I screw that up, right? Well, I gave it my best shot.
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There aren't many things in life that look weirder than a Vader helmet and an open-necked shirt. Casual Vader.
First things first: I had to clean off the price sticker and add some of the extra panels round the neck flange. I briefly wondered if it was called something other than "flange", but you don't get many chances in life to write or say the word "flange", and now I've done it three times in two sentences.
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I used sheets of craft foam, thinner than the flooring stuff and specially bought for the project (birthday cash, remember?) and chose black to help the painting. How much measuring do you think I did? Come on, you know me by now... I'm starting a new project, I want it to be great, but it's exciting and I don't have much free time... YES! No measuring at all. That's why you can see the foam flange creeps up ever so slightly as it heads back. Still, not to worry, I was going to add another layer underneath that, which should help.
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There! Two layers of foam extensions! They're almost the same measurements. Of course, it would have been nice if they reached all the way around the helmet instead of meeting in an ugly seam at the back, but who sees the back, right? I intended to wear this costume and stand with my back to a wall at all times.....
Oh, you noticed the price sticker hadn't come off properly? No, I was going to, and then I got distracted, and... Fine, fine, I'll do it now, ok?
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While we're at it, I'll patch that ugly seam on the inside too. Ok, it won't look any better, but it'll be stronger.
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Phase Two : The crest.
When I was a kid, my Dad had a collection of useful tools in his workshop. He wasn't much of a hobbyist carpenter, but he had all the basics and a few extras. One thing I remember him having in particular was something that looked like a double sided comb. You could push the tines on one side into any curve on any surface, and the tines on the opposite side would rise in exactly the same curve, but inverted. Then you could draw that curve onto something else and cut it out. Whatever you cut out would fit precisely onto the first curve.
That thing, whatever it was, was what I needed right here. I needed to know the precise curve of the helmet so I could cut a crestpiece that would fit it. Maybe I should get a big piece of paper, cut lots of slits in it and fold back each strip of paper to get the same effect? Yeah, yeah, I should do that.
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While the paragraph above is going through my head, I'm cutting out two pieces of flooring foam that are not quite the right curve and hot gluing them to each other and the helmet, leaving a ludicrous gap in the middle. I know I want to do this properly, I know I should take my time and work professionally, and yet still I charge in like a toddler in a sweetie shop, ending up sticky, a little bit nauseous and feeling ashamed of myself.
Well, we all know how to fix foam-related disasters, don't we? Pass me that pot of filler, would you?
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Ah yes. Much better. Back to my usual standard. Better sand it for a bit and then spray it.
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Sigh.

The plastic helmet is a little dull, not like the film props, so I dragged out one of the few spray cans I actually bought - a thing meant for artists to fix their paintings. It leaves an acrylic coating, and can make things shiny. I applied plenty.
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There followed a hiatus of quite a while. I wanted to move on to the gold scrollwork on the helmet, but not even I believed I could do it by hand with gold paint. Somewhere, there had to be a transfer set or something. Some gold-leaf kit that would allow me to use a pre-formed pattern and just stick it on.

Well, maybe there is, somewhere. The closest thing I found was in Michael's, the craft store, and it was like a roll of sellotape, but with an ornate gold sparkly design on it. You peel off the back and roll on the design. Except, because the design curves back on itself every inch or so, you have to peel off each inch carefully, using a tool to lift each curl, and you need to stick it onto the helmet pretty quickly so it doesn't tangle. And you get covered in bloody gold glitter, because that's what glitter does.
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I couldn't understand why I was so pleased with this effort, and then I realised it's because I haven't done the other side, so it isn't asymmetrical yet. Another long pause followed, as I'd run out of tape and it's expensive ($8 per roll). No more birthday money.
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Second row goes on and matches up pretty well. Again, the helmet looks neat by itself, but the scrollwork is not a precise match for the illustration. I tell myself it's an interpretive work and plough onward. Now to put tape on either side of the crest, gold paint the detail like the tusks, and the helmet is done....
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I had the bright idea to add another piece of scrollwork on the cheek piece, because you would, wouldn't you? It makes the whole thing look more ornate. Painting the tusks with gold paint wasn't very visual after all, but I know I did it. Then I swathed the stand in some more impressive fabric and began to think about the rest of the costume.
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I know my abilities with foam. Building the chest piece seemed feasible, but I knew I wanted to cut corners where I could. I'd seen a costume piece at Hallowe'en that was the neck and shoulders of some vampire armour, made out of some kind of rubber. I figured I could adapt that and not have to do a neck piece of my own, just the bulk of the chest armour. I shaped a piece of foam which would cover a lot of chest that I haven't got, again, working by guesswork and hot-glue-gun.
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The picture is bad, but the top section is the bought piece, with the vampire insignia (in the centre) blanked out with duct tape sprayed black. The massive section underneath is the home-made chest piece. At this point I had no idea how I was going to attach it to myself - the top section went over the head and sat on the shoulders, so maybe when the two parts were glued together, that would be enough? No. No even close.
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More scrollwork tape to make it clear this is all one suit, and I haven't just put on an ornate helmet and fallen into a scrap foam bin. The duct tape just would not look good, so I bought some of that plastic material you cover books with - we used to call it "fablon" when I was a kid - and covered the tape with it. I got wrinkles in it, and it reacted badly with the spray paint, making it look like I had glued a trash bag to the front piece. Excellent. Stick some scrollwork on there and call it done, mate.
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Sorry, more bad photography. Consulting the reference pictures at last, I noticed the gold lines on the chest armour and risked some hand painting. It turned out as well as expected. Have you seen those sign painters who just dip a brush in the paint and draw a smooth, sweeping curve with one stroke? Bastards. I also added brass upholstery tacks to look like rivets at the edges of the chest piece. They just push in to the foam, though I added glue to keep them there.
Getting bored with being thorough, I decided to sidestep into accessories. The other birthday present I had in mind was the bike horn Darth Vader head. It's rubber, and when you squeeze it, it goes "Honk!" which isn't very Dark Side when you think about it. I sprayed it silver:
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And hot glued it to the end of my SFX Vader lightsabre:
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Two days later when it fell off, I glued it back on again. Dedication, see?
Having examined the genuine Vader costume in the lobby of Lucasfilm in SF, I had reference photos of the belt and codpiece. Try not to feel embarrassed when you're taking close ups of the Dark Lord of the Sith's groin in a public area.... Here's my version.
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Using the codpiece meant I was sticking to the original design, and I didn't have to make lower-body armour. That area is never illustrated in the Doescher books anyway. I had finally hot glued a belt to the chest plate so I could buckle it on, and used offcuts of the leather to make a sheath for the lightsabre (I have a bad history with belt hooks for lightsabres.... That's a story for another day. Or maybe not, it didn't work, it's a short story...)
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And the cloak. Ok, so I didn't want to buy four meters of black material if I could help it. I went back to the thrift store and found a pair of curtains that were mostly black, but had these little touches that looked kind of ornate and seemed to match the vibe I was going for. Yes, I tried on a curtain in the store, swishing up and down the aisle and ignoring the stares of the old ladies fighting over cheap romance novels. I took the curtain home and thought about how best to attach it. Then I realised one was not enough, and had to rush back to get the other one before some other bastard picked it up.
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There are many great and simple patterns for cloaks out there on the internet. I did not use any of them. I cut one curtain in half, right up the middle, then sewed the cut ends to the out edges of the back of the whole curtain. That meant that I had two good hemmed edges next to each other on the front. I sewed (with a sewing machine, I'm not stupid, just slapdash...) almost all the way from the outer edges to the middle along the top, stopping to leave space for my neck. Then I turned the whole thing inside out and sewed a curve at the top left and right corners for shoulders. If none of this makes any sense, don't worry - you don't want to do it this way. Get a pattern, get a seamstress, make it up yourself...Anything is better than what I did.
Then I added the fake ermine trim I had bought. With a hot glue gun. This was a really, really bad idea, but I couldn't imagine how to sew it and I hated the sewing machine by this point. I spent the next day picking white faux-fur and glue off my fingers and clothes.
Then the fun part - I made the cloak fasteners from jewelry supplies from Walmart - chains and broaches, total cost about $8. The Imperial design was printed out on thick cardstock, cut out with scalpel and then sprayed with black enamel paint and glued to the broach, with was hand-stitched to the fur.
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I sprayed my ski-gloves black, found an old pair of biker boots at the thrift store (this costume should be Thrift-store Vader, really...) and got my wife to buy me a pair of those fake-leather leggings that are currently in vogue with women who shouldn't be wearing them.
For various complicated reasons, I didn't wear the costume to Vancouver FanExpo 2014, which was the goal, but I did arrange this photoshoot (because it was done by me, a timer and my basement) just for proof of concept.
Oh. But I'm out of room on this post....
 

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Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Shakespearean Vader Head Shoulders.jpgShakespearean Vader Full length.jpg
There's a short film too, but it uses Doescher's text, so I'm not sure I could upload it here. What do you think of the project?
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Awwww, thanks Snow Builder!
There's going to be a hiatus on this thread because my Stormtrooper Helmet build (a la Atlanthia) is going very slowly, because I'm trying to adult it. I will be posting a few small prop disasters over on my props thread, but right now I'm dodging real work I should be doing. It's just the RPF is more fun....
 

Sym-Cha

Master Member
Awesome ... see your skills are improving already ... now 'Off with his head!' by means of a guillotine or somesort of horrific device from the dark ages ... muaha, ha, ha, haaaa!

Chaim
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Treating all the pieces that have come before as preliminaries, I decided to tackle a serious project. I'm a huge fan of Atlanthia's build (http://www.therpf.com/f79/tutorial-how-build-stormtrooper-helmet-less-than-10-gbp-finished-see-pg9-120552/ ), so I thought I would try to emulate his success. The advantages were simple: A good series of step-by-step photos, and simple materials. The differences in my work habits might help too - I would allow myself time to work on the project, adding the time into my work day, rather than trying to squeeze in a few minutes here and there. Best of all, Atlanthia posted some decent plans with a rough inch-square grid that would save me having to figure out precise measurements (which we already know is not my strong suit....)

First things first, I had to build the form for the dome.
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I'm working in the basement, not my workshop, meaning more light and space. Despite this, and despite this being only step one, I've made my first error. I won't discover it until much later, but I have made the semi-circles that form the dome the same width, when the one that goes left to right should be shorter in width than the one that runs front to back. As I said, the grid gives a rough measurement, and I was not being careful enough.
At this point it didn't stand out as a problem, so I plowed on with paper mache over the dome.
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I used some handy white paper, which was another mistake - it was thick and less absorbent than newspaper. I did manage to cut the forms for the lower half of the helmet quite neatly, and it's already possible to see how the whole thing comes together. Just a shame about the damn flappy paper top.
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I'm not going to keep referring to the original build, but I'd like to point out that, although he's using cheap and simple materials, Atlanthia does not cut corners on accuracy and neatness. I, it seems, do. I tried really hard to get these portions of toilet roll to line up neatly. I never seem to have enough hands for the job. Is it just me?
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Wrapping the cereal box around the back was very reassuring. This was really looking better with each stage, plus I hadn't had to do anything tricky yet! Everything was going as it should. Which was why I took a huge break at this point. I pretended it was because I needed more toilet roles, but really, I was scared I would screw things up with the next stage. In fact, just repeat the last half of that sentence after every stage from now on.
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Two things have happened here: I've added the forms for the back of the neckpiece - the curve that runs around the back of the helmet. I've also cut and fitted the eye piece and the toilet roll for one side. The eye piece was a nightmare, because the view from the front of the helmet on the plans doesn't indicate a true size because the eyes slope away on each side. How did I get an accurate measurement? Come on! This is me. I took a rough measurement, cut it out, held it up against the helmet so far and went "eh...That'll do, pig!"
I still have my crazy belief in the restorative powers of filler, and also, I'm taking it slow. There's been at least two weeks passed by this point. Atlanthia was making changes to the eye sockets even while applying the bondo.... I'm still trying.
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Ok, this one shows the forms all around the back of the bucket. I added a few more strips of card, because I know paper mache needs all the support it can get. It's a surfacing material, not a structuring one. Don't I sound all grown-up all of a sudden? At this point, both eager and terrified about moving on to the mache.
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But I don't really have a choice. Look, I've finished an old pot of filler on the dome, getting rid of those godawful fluffy edges, and now I have all my toilet tubes in place... Don't often get to say that. I haven't built the support structures for the pieces I think of as "mandibles", but that comes later in the plan. Fetch the newspaper!
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Oh. My. God. It's ok, it's ok, don't panic.... I'm rushing this again, eager to get this looking less like a heap of soggy paper and more like a plastoid head protection unit. I'm building the mandible structure on the fly, with wet, gluey fingers. I'm struggling to leave the thing alone long enough to dry. Must...not....ruin...new...project!
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There's no question that newspaper is the stuff to use, but it makes it so hard to see the lines of the helmet. I've added cut rolls to the bottom of the mouthpiece, either side of the comlink, and I'm building out from there to make the mandibles. Does that make sense? Anyway, I'm going too fast, and I should be using a stand. These are lessons I should have learned by now.
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Ok, this is where we pause part one. I got all the paper mache done, and I'm beginning to podge on the filler. You can see the front is asymmetrical. At the time, I could not. It sounds feeble, but staring back and forth between the thing I'd made and the plans and reference photos, I could see there was something askew, but couldn't see how to fix it. That's come back to bite me now, wrestling with this in the final stages, rebuilding that lower section over and over when a better foundation would have saved so much time and effort. Part two tomorrow, maybe.
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
The Atlanthia Build part 2

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God, this looks awful! I wanted to cover the newspaper...Well, that's not true, I wanted to get to the stage where the filler is on and sanded smooth and the helmet starts to look like a prop, not a kindergarten project. Right now it looks like a kindergarten prop that's been attacked by a cupcake decorator.
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Sanding it definitely helps, but here's where my slapdash nature begins to show through. The lack of planning and careful building back in the beginning has resulted in a slight slump to the right, in this picture. I can compensate a little for this, but it's always going to be there. At this point, the voices in my head start to ask why I do this at all. Well, the ones that aren't talking about beer and chocolate biscuits, anyway. Somedays it's quite crowded in my head.
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Here's a thing though: Rather than just piling on filler, which is hard to sculpt and not very drop-resistant, I'm using additional paper mache to build up areas that aren't right. It's not easy, and it feels like a backward step, but I want to make this as good as I can. That's a pretty big qualifier - as good as I can. But it's also a sign that I will keep going on this, not just spray it white and call it done.
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Here's a different angle for a change. Again, a significant amount of time has passed since the first photo in this section. I'm adding filler here and there, sanding again and again, and cutting the shape below the eye socket until it looks better. I'm pleased with this - it's not perfect, not even close to perfect, but it's way better than I have any right to expect, given my history. This is due to the process, not the practicianer, I think.
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I've been good and held off on the paint so far. There are two reasons for this - the first is that I was working hard to get the shapes right and sanded as smooth as I could. The second and more important reason was that I had no white spray paint left. Finally I cracked and used this household wall paint, vainly hoping that those small irregularities in the surfacing would be filled with self-levelling paint. They were not.
On the other hand, there is a sheen to the helmet now, which is nice to see, and a uniformity of shade which helps me see how this could be.
One more picture for this section:
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With several coats of filler and two or three layers of paint, I was finally confident enough to cut out the cardboard framework from inside. The helmet is pretty rigid by itself, though some areas are way thinner than others. I want to coat the inside in something, but I'm not sure what right now. I certainly need to add some foam padding to keep the thing still, but it fits over my noggin and I can mostly see out through the eyeholes. This isn't going to get me into the 501st, but it's going to be a nice addition to my helmet collection, and it's taught me a lot about the style of building. The next section will be more painting, more sanding, adding the ears and the brow piece, plus working on balancing out that slump and getting the front end of the mandibles right. Or less wrong.
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Ok, here we go with the last group of pictures until I finish this one. The changes aren't so noticeable, because once I've done the final big detail (the brow band) it's little fiddly bits, trying to correct errors made back at the beginning.
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I checked the plans, and then made measurements using sewing tape (because it can follow the curve of the bucket) to find the right length for the band. I cut three versions out of cereal box card and glued them together. That thick, they didn't curve quite as nicely as I'd hoped, but they didn't buckle too much. The length looked about right, and I seemed to have placed it fairly square. Funnily enough, adding the brow band makes the forehead of the bucket look better. Inevitably, I barely had time to put filler on it and give it a quick sanding before I had painted it black.
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Something else that was bothering me was the impression that my helmet was starving to death. I realised it seemed this way because the cheeks were hollow, the eye sockets too prominent. My profile piece, cut out of card all those weeks ago, hadn't followed the right shape, I think - the nose piece needed to be higher, and the corresponding chin piece needed to rise as well. That would mean the eye sockets would disappear almost completely at the bridge of the nose.
This is where I hope to demonstrate that I have learned from my earlier disasters: I'm checking the reality against the reference photos, I'm noticing the small errors that make it look wrong and I'm trying to fix them, even though it means delaying the final paint job again. I am DESPERATE to spray this bloody thing with gloss paint, and mad keen to paint in the final details like the blue strips along the sides and stick in the green lenses. But I won't, not until I'm sure I am done with surfacing and modelling.
One more big thing to fix first, though: Ears...
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Since I've been working from these plans the whole time, I reckoned making the ears to the same scale would be smart. They seemed to be about as thick as the flooring foam I use, so I cut them out of that. I even made sure they had the smooth side outwards.
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Of course, when I glued them in place, I found they were too thick.
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Since they were solidly hot-glued in, I had to slice them in half using my scalpel (I had bought a holder at last, so there's no blood...) and cover the uneven surface that resulted with more filler.
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It's also possible to see in that last picture how I've been shaping and adapting what Atlanthia refers to as the "eyebrows", which go over the mic tips. I had made them pointing down, like fangs, but they have a more complicated sweeping shape. I'm nearly there, but it's sculpting in filler again, which is slow and frustrating. This is the part I worry most about when I get to casting.
Oh yes, I'm still planning to make a mold of this and cast a resin version. Not because I have delusions of selling this monstrosity, but because I want to try casting, and I think a resin version will be better for sanding smooth. Also, some of the areas that are the wrong shape can't be sanded down without getting into the structure. If I cast in resin, I'll be able to sand those parts into a better shape.
So, only a few steps from completion, I finally made a stand for this thing. It took five minutes, most of which was finding the scraps of wood and cutting the block of foam to roughly the right shape. Now I can finish the damn mandibles, get the grill/mouth right and start on the paint job. Oh, yes, I have to do the detail on the ears too.
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I only have a week or so to finish this, as we have visitors arriving in July and they'll need the basement space, and not want paint fumes filling the whole house. Thanks for following along this far and for all the kind comments. Once I'm done with this I'll take a break, then get on with designing a Republic Commando helmet, based on the same principles. Any plans or measurements would be gratefully received.
 

Snow Builder

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
You're definitely learning Padowan!

A couple of thoughts:

Assuming you're in the U.S, you may want to pick up some plumbers 2-part epoxy (you can get it at Home Depot). It's a 2-part clay that, once combined, can be shaped for about 5 minutes. After that it hardens to stone consistency and sand beautifully -it might help on the areas you want to do some re-sculpting on.

Be careful with your paints, silicone will not cure when exposed to chemicals in some paints (it just turns into a jelly-like goo). Coat your final piece in a light layer of lacquer.

Looking forward to your next update!
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Excellent tips, thank you! I'm in Canada, but should be able to track down the 2-part epoxy - I worked at Home Depot for two years, but I was a greeter, so I didn't pick up a lot of DIY savvy in my time there. Met a lot of folks, though.... LAcquer is a word I need to remember. When I was back in the UK, you could buy tins of Yachting varnish which was a clear liquid that would harden nicely. Haven't found a spray version over here, but maybe I should be looking for lacquer!

My next (and, probably final) post on this build is waiting on my spray white gloss. Everything else (except lacquer) I already have, but until I've done two or three coats of white spray gloss, I'm not painting in the little details or gluing in the lenses.

Also, thanks to your earlier suggestion, I'm looking at putting all this together in an e-book. I have some experience in that area, but not with this many illustrations. (E-books are easier to arrange because there's no one saying "No, we won't publish it!". Just lots of people saying "No, we won't buy it!")
 

Dtrasler

Well-Known Member
Ok, the final stages:
I used more cereal boxes to make the surface of the ears, since filler and sanding would drive me insane. Plus, that way I could fit the details on easily.
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With those in place I added the tubes under the mandibles, previously only drawn in with permanent marker.
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There was a break of a couple of days while I scrounged up the cash for some nice white spray paint and some lacquer... Odd, rattling a tin on a streetcorner and shouting "Give me money so I can paint my helmet!" didn't get the response I had hoped for.
I remembered to screen off the newly-made grill and teeth before spraying.
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The paint I bought was for appliances, by the way. I liked the thought of my bucket matching my fridge. I did at least three coats, and it proved to me once and for all that the surfacing has to be done with patience and sandpaper and heaps and heaps of time. Paint will not fill in the ridges and valleys. They're there to stay.

Now for the details! Of course, I screwed it up.
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The idea was simple - tape along the side, cut squares out of the tape, paint over the squares, remove tape. Voila! What actually happened:
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I indulged in a little light scraping and touching up the paintwork before going on to do almost exactly the same on the other side.
Then I filled in all the other details with grey paint, black marker and some black paint.
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And then I got busy with the lacquer. I managed four coats before I just had to crack on with the lenses. Impatience has driven me crazy during this build, but I have been much, much less slapdash than usual. It's a good sign for the future, I think. If only I can apply it to the areas of my life that people pay me to do....

So, I grabbed the two strips of green soda bottle, my hot glue gun and all my hopes, and I glued the lenses in. It was messy, and hot, and painful. The plastic warped where it touched the glue, and one side had to be redone three times before it would hold. The green is lighter than I wanted, but they don't seem to do dark green soda bottles in my local supermarket, and I wasn't going to go speciality drinks shopping just to complete the helmet. This was supposed to be done on a tiny budget, after all, and I just blew $16 on two cans of paint.
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So, it won't get me into the 501st, but it wasn't meant to. It was proving I didn't need to use some other helmet as a base for building, and to show myself I can do a decent job when I really try. I'm keen to use these techniques (better!) on the next project, but we have visitors throughout July... Maybe when the Weasels go back to school in September and the nights start drawing in, eh?
Thanks for following along with the build. I've done as Gixxerfool suggested and put together an e-book of my disasters, but I can't link from here - terms and conditions, folks! This is about the fun, and I've had a whole bunch of that.
 
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