Monday, 23 June 2014

Thigh master

The next step was to build my thigh pieces. This turned out to be more difficult than, initially, it appeared. I'm a bit of a thunder-thighs, despite the most intensive exercise regimen I've ever had. This meant each thigh plate was about the size of a shield.

I'm not kidding: the template took up virtually an entire tumbler mat for each thigh.

Fortunately, a hearty application with the heat gun soon warmed them, allowing me to bend them in to shape and spray them grey. 

Behold the mehness.
This was quickly followed by attaching some thinner black foam (bought online from Amazon for £9.99 or $17) to make pads for my arse, and adding some black 'straps' - with painted buckles - so the pads didn't just look like an endless mass of grey nothingness. Although the design for Shep shows the pads have grooves on them, I decided against this; it would require some delicate layering, and I could easily get the size wrong due to the curvature of the pads.

The end result looked a little..meh.

I'll confess: I'm not that happy with them. They look nothing like Shep's pads, and lack any really interesting features. I'm still debating whether to add some augumentations, particularly around the top of the hip, to make it more Shepardy.

And on the inside...
After painting, I added some elastic cord to the pads, glue-gunning it in place to make the foam bend in to shape. This created a natural space for my leg to slip through, and made the pads relatively comfortable to wear.

The only problem was that they wouldn't stay on.

Tragically, I have a slack bottom. Without something to bind the pads tight against my thighs the pads would drift, and, worse, slip down from my waist. It seemed impractical to strap them tightly, so instead I decided to find some way to physically hook the pads to my belt, thus preventing them from drifting about.

I'm still working on that hook plan - if you have any ideas I'd love to hear them.

Ultimately, despite being the largest pieces I've created, the thigh pads are also probably the biggest disappointment. But I'm determined to have a second attempt at them once the rest of the costume is under weigh.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The gauntlets are thrown down

The first template I chose to turn into reality was (deliberately) the easiest: the gauntlets. I soon resized the paper templates*, using the measuring guide supplied by the wonderful online source that no longer exists. Then it was simply a matter of printing out the paper template, cutting it out and taping it together with masking tape, and placing it on the awaiting tumbler mat.

I quickly discovered two things when cutting foam:

1) Paper isn't a very good template; it's easier to either mount it on card, or to use it to trace a pen outline
2) EVA foam destroys scalpel blades in record time.

It took two blades to get the gauntlets cut out with a decent edge; my blades quickly became dull, which led to tearing and uneven cuts. One advantage of the tumbler mats, though, was that one side was ridged and bumpy. This meant that I could have textured armour, rather than baby-smooth; a look that was closer to my Shepardic dream.

I quickly finished up the cuts, and was left with a flat piece of foam. Flipping the template over, I quickly created two mirror-image foam pieces: a left and a right arm. This is really important; for some reason I missed doing this for the arm pads, leaving me with two 'right' arms; this wasn't a disaster as the pieces are more or less identical, but proved to be an important lesson going forward.

Now, here's the clever part: I had to make it bend around the meathooks I call my arms. 

The first stage was to make some cuts, so the piece would fold, and to replicate the grooves in Shepard's armour. I decided to use a soldering iron for this. Although the foam melted easily (and stank), the iron created a textured trough of burned rubber, rather than a smooth groove. However, it did at a pinch, and I figured I could always sort out the roughness later.

A slightly bigger problem was the cuts to make the three-piece shape (the flat of my arm, and the two sides). These came perilously close to going straight through the foam and cutting it into three pieces. Gaffer tape proved to be the perfect solution to sure up the edges and make sure the costume didn't break apart.

The gauntlets and arm pads, following spraying; note the gaffer tape showing on the far right

Then it was time to spray. This was really easy: point and click. That said, it took a few spray-dry-spray cycles to get all the little bits, as the foam was uneven (particularly in the soldered grooves). I used masking tape to get the signature white-red-white stripes. I then messed it up a little with a few streaks of metallic paint, particularly around the edges, to make it look battle-worn.This technique proved particularly useful for covering up bumps and scrapes that revealed the brightly coloured tumbler mat foam underneath.

Finally, it was time to attach it to the arm. My initial plan was to use Velcro straps, although on experimentation these proved to be annoyingly loose. Rather than let the armour fall off, I decided to reserve the Velcro for other parts of the project, and order some straps from Amazon, which I could then glue-gun to the armour at the final stage of the build.

* This is a lie. It took me a lot of faffing to work out exactly how to use GIMP to resize, and then even more faffing to work out that I needed to crop the image, save it as a new file, then export it as a PDF that I could then print. But let's assume my techno-whiz skills are proficient enough to have done the templates more or less instantly.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The boring research bit

I have a Geek Lair. It's a spare bedroom decorated in full geek colours. One wall has a 14 foot graffiti mural of Godzilla fighting an anime robot. Another has stuffed latex heads of the Alien and Predator mounted as if I'd shot them and collected a trophy. A third wall proudly flies the flag of Dr Doom's kingdom of Latveria. 
The Geek Lair.

The final wall has a five foot transfer of Commander Shepard in full Mass Effect 3 pose. She - Commander Shepard to me is female - looks utterly badass. It would provide me with a perfect image to work from.

Of course, Shepard is available to play as both male and female. I am, for those who wonder, unquestionably male: a 6'5" monster of a bloke who looks predestined to play rugby all his life.

As tempting as a wig and svelte look was, I decided I was going to be a male Shepard.

A quick web search led me to various Cosplay message boards, all with different suggestions on how to achieve the right look. It soon appeared that there's no 'right' or 'wrong' way to do Shepard; it's a character whose looks you can customise, whose armour you can tweak, and who appears in three games with slightly different armour.

Commander Shepards. Both equally valid.
This was a relief, as it meant any mistakes were forgiveable.

Better still, though, was the availability of templates. Within an hour I'd found a complete template for creating Shepard's signature N7 armour, all laid out with easily modifiable tools from a guy called Julian Beek. I downloaded it in full almost immediately. I'd add a link, but his blog seems to have vanished.

Of course, it wasn't going to be that easy. The templates were the most complicated kit instructions I'd ever seen; the equivalent of creating a whole room of IKEA furniture with only the blueprints, in Swedish.

Still... that's what I had to work with.

And I was going to need tools.

Curses, tools!

I live about a mile and a half from town. Rather than catch the train, I figured I'd walk in and begin the long, arduous slog to personal fitness that would accompany my transformation to Commander Shepard. This proved to be a mistake. It was a blisteringly hot day for England - by which I mean it was a pretty average temperature day for the Southern US, or surprisingly chilly for the Middle East. Either way, I ended up like a panting sweaty fat man as I loaded up on craft-related junk.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I was going to need foam (specifically EVA foam) if I was going to make foam armour. This turned out to be very difficult to obtain in the UK: hardware shops and superstores just don't stock this kind of stuff. I also didn't want to buy something off Amazon, in case it wasn't the size or type I required.

I applied a little lateral thinking. In the UK, there's a store called Argos. It sells all kinds of household nonsense, with customers forced to leaf through a catalogue and order their objects in a depot, with objects arriving creepily on a conveyor belt - a bit like a sushi restaurant crossed with a gameshow.

Mutlicoloured saviours of foam!
Here, I found the perfect product: Chad Valley Tumbler Mats. They are great for kids, but even better for crafty sods who wanted to cut up foam to make power suits. Soon four multicoloured slabs of 6mm thick EVA foam arrived for me to collect. A quick spray of paint would disguise the garish colours, and I was confident I could hack them in to any shape required.

Cost: £9.99 ($15) for a pack of four 60cmx60cm squares

Following tips online, I also picked up a few tool essentials: a glue gun (£17 or $30), a heat gun - effectively a high-powered blow dryer (£18 or $30) and a soldering iron to burn out grooves (£10 or $17). I already owned a really good craft scalpel, with a crazy amount of spare blades, a pair of scissors and pens and pencils

Finally, I picked up the paints I needed at Wilco. These were a few cans of Plasti-kote matt grey spray paint for the armour (£6.99 or $12 per can), and two smaller cans of matt white and insignia red (£3.45 or $6 per can). 

I also bought a roll of masking tape for the spraying, and a roll of gaffer tape (duct tape) in case anything broke. 

Now I was ready to get to work. All I had to do was mess around with the templates in GIMP, print them off, and start making stuff.