Sam Light Suit and Identity Disk- Tron Legacy

Superpants

New Member
I recently built a full, practical light suit for a party- This is an introduction to how I put it together. I have put a comprehensive write up on my own site, with a few more photos:
http://www.superpants.net/troncostume.html

I'll break this down into a few posts.

I started my costume build by deciding that as others may be interested, I wanted to be able to create more than one costume. I therefore decided to put effort into creating drawings, patterns and moulds to be able to produce multiples of parts. I also wanted to experiment with some techniques and materials not familiar to me, and this gave me a good opportunity.

My vision for the costume is not to produce something fully screen accurate to the film, but neither to create something simple but Tron like. Rather I would make something that to a general observer looks like the film versions, but is of a far better quality than cheap Halloween costumes, is durable, and most importantly has real functioning lighting.

It has always been my desire to make the costume fully lit, not relying on retro-reflective tapes as others have done. I therefore considered a wide range of options for lighting, but settled for the more expensive, but lower work option of using a kit of pre-cut electroluminescent shapes (from EL wire craft). This ties in with an easier ability to make multiple costumes.


Identity Disk

The film is reported to have a number of variants of disk (a), but for ease of handling I chose to go with the more common 10" disk. Many earlier costumes have used the Disney deluxe toy disk, and modified it; however these are now becoming uncommon and expensive, so I took the decision to make my own mouldings.

The master disk was made from MDF- the base shape was finished in a couple of evenings' work (6-8 hours), but I then had to spend a much longer time (probably about 16-20 hours) on finishing the disk to a level at which it would be able to make a good mould. This included many layers of primer and paint, spot putty and a lot of careful sanding. I have since learnt of the trick of using superglue to seal MDF that may have saved quite a lot of time.

The mould was made using Mold Max 20 silicone from Smooth on, and backed with plaster. Initially I cast the disks in polyurethane, but ended up choosing to change to GRP due to a number of challenges. The first polyurethane I picked (smooth-on task 15), ended up being too flexible to make a good joint between the two halves, and as I was brushing up and it was low viscosity, it ended up pooled in the bottom of the mould cutting down my internal space. The second version used Sika Bi-Resin, and worked much better, but still left me with a poor inner space to fit the inverter so after discussion with a professional body caster at the Brighton Mini Maker Faire, I chose to change to Polyester based GRP.

The illumination is by EL wire sunk into the C ring and glued in place. The inverter is inside the disk. This is a standard inverter with the case removed and the battery holder replaced with an AAA unit to make it fit. The on off button pokes through the disk and is un-obtrusive. To diffuse the light on the disk, I used clear silicone sealant mixed with a small amount of talc to make it more translucent than transparent. This hasn't proven very durable, so in future I would likely use polyurethane resin instead.

The disk is held together with 4 small screws. I haven't made a lit outer ring yet, but may do so in the future when time permits.
identitydisk4.jpg identitydisk10.jpg identitydisk15.jpg identitydisk18.jpg identitydisk19.jpg identitydisk17.jpg

The main build stages of the Disk
 

Superpants

New Member
The Costume

I had chosen to use pre-existing EL tape shapes, and so tried basing the design off a number of still images from the film and details from the supplier. Unfortunately the EL shape drawings supplied were scant of information and distorted, so I had to wait until I took delivery of actual parts to measure and re-draw.

The costume design started by tracing drawings from film stills and production photos into 2D CAD. Unfortunately there aren't many good full view photos, so I have had had to piece together the design from many different images. Once traced in I overlaid the design with the EL shapes. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of differences in these to the film. I therefore had to create a hybrid design using elements of the production design where possible, the EL shapes where necessary and tweaking to suit my body shape with patterns on a duct tape dummy. This sounds simple but has been a long-winded process and in the end might not have been the most efficient method, although it does result in drawings others can use.

My construction concept was to use two layers of flat sheets of foam fitted over a matt cotton-lycra catsuit. I experimented with using silicone foam prior to settling on the more common closed cell polyethylene: Plastazote LD45 (see foam notes below). I felt that as the silicone is more flexible, and already has a semi-gloss surface finish it could considerably cut down on the amount of work needed. When samples arrived, I was disappointed to find the colour to be nowhere near black, being more of a mid-charcoal, and the cost to be impractical.

Before starting the build in earnest, and as this was a new type of project for me, I spent time gathering samples and carrying out tests of materials and techniques so that I could have confidence the final project is going to work and be durable. This included making a couple of foam test pieces and wearing them whilst working on other projects to ensure foam durability, adhesive bonding, wiring routing and EL tape mounting methods. Whilst there is much written on foam armour techniques, I have seen little on the method of foam directly attached to an undersuit, and my exact selection of materials differs from other builders. I would strongly suggest that anyone else working on this type of product does their own experimentation.

I chose to use hook and loop tape to secure the EL wire to the costume, however conventional Velcro and its generic equivalents are quite thick compared to the EL tape and foam thickness I wanted to use, so I tried to source 'low profile' types. These are available, but unfortunately not in the black I was hoping to use on the costume side, and the widths available are limited. Enquiries to a couple of manufacturers for retail availability proved fruitless, so I resorted to using a 50mm wide white system that was available. This has a mated thickness of approx. 2mm and so is fairly unobtrusive, and I have been impressed with the bonding ability of the adhesive.

Most of the established foam fabricated costume sites are US based and so recommend 'Barge Cement' as a suitable adhesive for bonding foam together. In the UK this is not widely available, so I chose to use Evostik 528 as this is readily in reasonable size cans. The Evostik adhesive isn't suited for bonding to the cotton lycra, it tends to peel too easily. For these areas I used 3M 76 spray adhesive. This is quite a lot more expensive but is much more effective. As it is a spray adhesive, parts not to be covered needed masking up with a combination of cling film and masking tape.

Once the planning was complete I had the templates printed at the local Staples and cut them out. These were transferred to the foam and this in turn cut out. The two layers of foam were then carefully laminated together.

In areas where joins were made or, places where I felt the foam would not take the stress on its own I added reinforcement by black calico. This was particularly important round the base of the torso section and was used to attach the velcro needed around the waist.

To secure the disk, I manufactured a plastic moulding that snugly fitted into the disk centre by making a wooden mould and vacuum forming HIPS sheet over it. The battery sits in a separate moulding made in the same way and the two are linked together by a sheet of HIPS. This is then laminated into the back of the costume.

To mount the disk to the costume I installed a number of powerful magnets in both the disk and the moulding. This is sufficient to hold the disk, but easy enough to remove.

Velcro was added to secure the el panels and the Velcro and other areas masked prior to paint. For this I used 3 coats of Plasti-dip black which gives a nice matt black and evens out the finish.

The gloves were made from a pair of neoprene diving gloves with the fingers cut off and embellished with foam and then painted with the Plasti-dip.

Once assembled, parts that required it were masked off and the foam sprayed with three coats of black Plasti-dip giving a rubbery and durable matt black finish.

I contemplated doing an undersuit with the hex print, but in the end found the cost too high for this project- material alone would have been around £100. I therefore used a basic cotton-Lycra dance catsuit as the base. Changing to a printed undersuit, or stencilling on the pattern is possible as a future upgrade.

The panels I bought came with a wiring harness, but I chose to redesign this to my own needs. Firstly the connectors used are 9mm thick, thicker than just about any other part of the costume and so would be difficult to conceal. The supplied harness was made with a lot of connectors as joints to connect sections together, again giving me more of a challenge to conceal. I therefore made a harness with splits spliced by soldering in unobtrusive places and insulated with heatshrink. I used a high spec PTFE insulated wire I happened to have a reel of to get the wire diameter down significantly and used JST RCY series connectors to connect parts. These are 4mm thick- much easier to conceal! I used strips of calico to secure the wires in place.

I have used the inverter supplied with the panel kit to drive the costume, and used a modified standard part for the disc, but have been a bit disappointed that there aren't many better options available on the market. When you open up the units they are not particularly well built, have tall transformers and are not very efficiently packaged, being made down to a price. I suspect there would be a market for better units at a modest cost that are more compact than the existing and offer options for external switching.
 

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Superpants

New Member
Boots

I spent some time investigating possibilities for the boots (dance boots, fashion boots, boxers boots etc.) but didn't find anything I was truly happy with. I bought a pair of used motorbike boots of a style not too dissimilar to the film, but once I started experimenting with them I decided they weren't a particularly good option. The leather and lining together were fairly thick, but the boot was going to need covering with foam to give the right shape to accept the EL wire and doing this would end up with a very bulky finished part. As the boots are fairly stiff, and are designed to be worn with leathers the boot opening is largeand therefore didn't give me the look I wanted. I started looking at other options, for which my favoured solution was going to be modifying a pair of cosplay superhero boots- they were much thinner and fitted the calf much better, but were still relatively expensive for something to be modified. At this point I by chance did a Tron search on Ebay, and found someone with a pair of UD Replicas Tron motorbike boots in my size, in virtually new condition in and the UK. After a nervous wait I was pleased to win them for a very good price, and so my boot dilemma was solved.
 

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Superpants

New Member
Helmet

I looked into making my own Sam helmet, and probably will still do this at some point in the future, but decided that I didn't have either the skills or time needed to complete it at the present time. I therefore looked around for a good cast from a cosplay supplier/ prop maker but unfortunately didn't find one so took the decision to use a Rinzler helmet instead that RPF member Crimson590 has produced. This has not disappointed! The cast is excellent, the turnaround time has been really good (a couple of weeks) and his communication has been thorough and friendly. If you want to buy a helmet I cannot recommend him highly enough (e).

The helmet was supplied as a raw cast which firstly required trimming. This was done by using a cut-off disk in a rotary tool followed by sanding drum and finished with hand sanding. Slots for lighting were cut out also with a rotary tool and finished by hand. I masked the vision area inside the helmet and following some tips from the supplier sprayed the inside Rustoleum matt black. After a thorough clean the outside was protected from overspray with cling film, enabling the helmet to be held up to the light during spraying to ensure an even and opaque coating. One important thing to note- the clear polyurethane was very susceptible to heat and softened under the hot water used to clean it- luckily I noticed before any permanent distortion.

Lighting is by a length of EL wire. I planned the route out and used black heatshrink to cover the wire where light isn't needed. The wire was then fitted into the helmet with hot glue. A few pads of scrap foam, also hot glued in finished the inside off and made the helmet fit securely. helmet1.jpg helmet2.jpg helmet3.jpg helmet4.jpg helmet5.jpg helmet6.jpg tronhelmet.JPG
 

Superpants

New Member
Project Final thoughts

I was very pleased with how the costume turned out and it has so far been well received. The durability of most of the costume has been good, and the mobility whilst wearing it was reasonable. I am glad that I had carried out a number of trials on materials and methods before starting the main project and would recommend others doing the same. If I had made my patterning trial parts out of the same material I may have been able to get a better fit around the torso, although this didn't prove a significant issue.

Inverter battery life turned out well, with it lasting about 3.5 hours with no visible dimming.

The only significant thing I would change in the design was how I attached the EL tape on the arms. I will now change this to more pieces with a split at the elbow to allow better flexibility, but could have avoided the problem originally.

This type of project can be very time consuming, especially if you are trying techniques you haven't done before- my total time investment was in the order of 150-200 ours. There are ways this could have been reduced, but if you are starting from scratch, you will need to devote quite a lot of time.

This project was relatively expensive- the cost of the various materials, especially Plasti-dip paint and spray glue mounts up as do the electroluminescent panels- again bear this in mind before you start.

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The Finished costume
 

RiCor

New Member
Wow, great build! Nice build log :)
I like how you made your Identity Disc from scratch.

I'm currently working on my Identity Disc, I just finished and am moving on to programming now. Will definitely be using your build log as one of my references when I start work on my own suit!
 

RiCor

New Member
Thanks.
I will let you know when I start working on it. Might be a while due to costs and my schedule but I'll definitely let you know.
For now I have to finish programming my disc.

I was reading your site. Thank you for the artwork book reference, ordered it right away. Like you did with your project I did with my Identity Disc project, I will first be spending some time looking into different options before I will actually start.
Until then ;)
 
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