Saturday, 26 July 2014

The awkward stage with no real progress

Two weeks went by with little progress. I bought some shin guards to augment the leg armour, but these were essentially modified football guards and didn't really add anything. I had considered using hockey guards, but given I wasn't actually mounting them on the shin (rather the lower knee), I figured it was better to go small.

 Then I started work on the torso. This proved to be the most complex piece to date, comprising numerous sheets of paper and tricky design made harder by my less-than-perfect frame.

Each costume takes around half a rainforest.
I had to scale to factor in not only my unusually tall height, but also my protruding gut. This worked out fine with the exception of the cup, which ended up looking as if my crotch is the size of a ping pong paddle. 
Before spray, cuts etc.

Still, I persevered. The cup could always be left off as required, so I instead started on cutting the pieces out of foam. This was more complex than I'd anticipated, because England decided to have a small heatwave; this meant creating the ab grooves and various sci-fi elements was close to torture with a soldering iron.

After two weeks, the costume was still in the spray and glue stages; everything was holding together in the shape I desired, but it was far from finished. The weather decided to complicate things again, and began to rain/thunder; I also fell ill. This meant the spray coats weren't close to finished, and the whole torso was taking its time.

Instead, I decided to focus on another area that was bothering me - the shoulder pads. I finished securing the pads with fabric to create a hinge, and started work on how to attach them to my shoulders. At first I tried to use fur hooks, as I had with the leggings. These worked, but created an uncomfortable lateral movement, and tended to get pulled off.

Note the hook just below the small shoulder pad.
The problem boiled down to physics. Effectively rather than working with their inherent strength (as in the case of the thighs), the hooks were working to pull each other and create tension: this invariably meant that either the fabric ruffled or the glue snapped.

So I decided to cheat. I thought the Velcro idea had been sound in principle, and with the new spandex undershirt I could be confident it would stay in place. So I simply sewed the Velcro on to the spandex and stuck the pads down.

And it worked.

Raarargh! Rarrrrrrgh! RARRARRGH! Bleh.

This left me with a month to finalise everything; maybe two weeks' work in addition to tidying everything up and making sure the fit is comfortable.

In short, it was two weeks were no giant strides were made. But two weeks that would hold me in good stead going forward.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Bottoms up

Despite my best efforts the pieces weren't attaching to my undergarments. Armour was sliding off my arms, and slipping down my legs. Clearly, a new plan was required.

I asked around on and a helpful soul suggested...well, spandex.

I have run a marathon in the past, and happened to have some spandex bottoms to use. I quickly bought a spandex shirt (£14.99) and completed my strangely snug spandex look. This was a little strange, particularly as, being a fat guy, I tend to run a mile from figure-hugging elasticated clothing.

Still, the spandex was only the first step. The second was to create hooks on the undergarments, then literally hook the armour into place. This may sound odd, but it's a far more sensible approach to my previous efforts, which largely consisted of trying to create a webbing harness, or sticking endless reams of Velcro to body parts.

The end result worked perfectly. I bought some fur hooks (hooks lined with cloth, which gave the hot glue necessary purchase), and then proceeded to attach them to my spandex pants and my thigh armour. I then donned the wellies to appraise the overall look.

Not exactly a timeless appearance.

Overall I'm quite pleased with how it's going. The one issue, if I'm brutally honest, is that the thigh armour makes my legs look skinny. This is surreal (believe me, my legs are *not* skinny), but importantly it doesn't have that Shep look. 

I also have quite a lot more space on the shins than I first thought. Rather than make a shin guard though, I figure a little converting work to some football shin pads will bulk things up nicely, and make it look like I don't have knobbly knees.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Give it some welly

Footwear is always a challenge. And I knew this costume's footwear would be no different.

Rob Liefeld drew my feet.
I have big feet (size 12s), which means its hard to find decent things in the right size. I was also conscious of the fact that I've got to put on the shoes (or boots) of the costume first, because the armour would restrict movement; that meant any footwear had to be flexible enough to take me getting the rest of the costume on.

Finally, I had to face facts: I wasn't going to spend much on Commander Shep's boots, and nor was I going to trash my own footwear in an effort to create a perfect replica. What does Shep wear, anyway? Shin guards and Nike Airs? I didn't know, and the pictures and camera angles aren't too clear.

This meant I had to think laterally, and I decided the most economical - and practical - way to achieve my aim was to fall back on the staple of English eccentrics everywhere.

The Wellington Boot.

I bought a pair of charcoal Wellies from Asda (Wall-Mart) and set about converting them. Initially I had planned to add pads and buttresses to make them more Shepardy, but I quickly saw this would be a problem when walking. Wellington boots deform when you walk, meaning that any additions to the rubber would come unstuck or look unsightly.

This meant that the entire effect had to be painted.

First, I took off the mold lines. The first coating was a simple spray with the grey of the rest of the costume. I then added my own flourishes to the Wellies' rather traditional pattern. The end result was an uneven grey/black combo, which worked fine but lacked any real interest.

Unpreturbed, I took the Wellies for a walk to the local corner shop, grabbed some brain food, and tackled the problem again. This walk was deliberately designed to expose the Wellies to the environment I'd be using them: navigating my way along paths, roads and rows of other people. Almost immediately my spray and paint developed clear scuff marks in the pressure points where my foot bends. This was exactly what I wanted: it exposed the areas that were likely to suffer through wear and tear.

Rather than be embarrassed by these, I decided to make them a feature. I quickly covered them up with a generous daub (and dab) of metallic paint. The end effect was to make it look like the boots have seen combat, and the initial finish has given way to a metal space suit underneath: just as Shep would have.

The end effect doesn't stand up to close scrutiny: note the overkill on the black areas, and the still-visible mold seam. However, at a distance, it works as a battle-worn pair of stompin' boots.

And I hope nobody's going to be looking at my feet anyway.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Left arm test

I decided the best thing to do would be to test if all the pieces work together. I was never going to have full arm movement wearing armour, but I needed to at least be able to function for the duration of the con.

I found it virtually impossible to anchor the armour in place with a glue gun and strap. Instead, I decided to drive a pin through my undershirt, and see if I could hold it in place that way. It turned out to be a highly effective strategy, which kept the shoulder in the exact position I wanted. This will need refinement before the con, as you can't have spikes sticking out of your shoulder (not Shep's style). I think it might boil down to glue-gunning the shoulder pads to the under-shirt.

The work in progress, though, looked good. A little tight around the elbow, but that can be fixed with a few small tweaks. And remember, because the photo is being taken in a mirror, this is actually my *left* arm, so is missing the signature Shep N7 stripe.

Fit test

Saturday, 5 July 2014

More shoulder pads than Dynasty

The next phase of Operation Mass Effect was the shoulder armour - or pauldrons if you want to use the correct term. These proved quite a challenge.

Not underpants
The first difficulty was measuring the correct size. The templates weren't very clear, and it was hard to accurately gauge the size of my shoulders in relation to the water wings bicep pads. The resulting template just looked too big, and, more to the point, not very Commander Shepard. Ultimately I was looking at a Shepard from Mass Effect 3, and needed pads that had some weight, but weren't the size of an Ultramarine.

In the end, I merged the templates. This gave the correct curvature, and also adopted a significantly smaller pauldron size than the creator envisaged. However, it felt right.

The two pieces hinged together with duct tape

From here it was a simple matter of cutting out, heat-gunning to get the right shape, and adding a smaller piece underneath to anchor it to my shoulder. I ended up joining the two together with duct tape, which seems to create an effective joint, although it might require strengthening with glue-gunned elastic in the future.

On a trial fit, I noticed one problem; the joint didn't flex with my arm, but rather drooped into position. This was actually all right, as the position mimicked my reference photos near-perfectly. However, I thought it would be cool for the joint to shift with my arm, so I joined the pads to the water wings bicep pads with a ladder buckle. 

I was pretty pleased with how these turned out, and ready to move on to my next major section: the boots and shins.

In need of a little paint touch up, but good to go

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

We got nukes, knives, sharp sticks...

The failure of the thigh pads led to a week of sulky petulance on my part, where I didn't really try and build much of the costume at all. Instead, I decided to focus on the ancillary pieces: the Shep-Pistol and the Omni-tool.

Pew! Pew!
The pistol was easy. My brother had 'gifted' me two remote guns for his long-defunct GameCube. One fitted a rough shape of the many pistols that appear in the Mass Effect universe, so I severed its cord with scissors and spraypainted it white. 

The gun took another coat to obtain an even coverage and prevent the natural colour of the plastic (black and green) coming through. I then sat around with little pots of Citadel Miniatures paint, delicately tracing out the components of the gun in black and red. I didn't get this right first time, and had to patch up overspill several times with white paint. However, the end result created a gun that, while not the 'M7' standard armour of Commander Shepard, certainly looks like something Shep could have bought from the Citadel.

That left the Omni-Tool, and a serious problem. Working with foam was new to me, but working with transparent materials was something else. In particular, they were incredibly hard to source; Amazon didn't have a clear line on cheap transparent plastic, and while there were many companies offering custom shapes, it just seemed to expensive.

In addition, I didn't possess any power tools that could really tear through plastic and get the job done.

This is what a ring binder looks like,
for those who don't know
In the end, the solution came to me through blind luck. I was in town after a jog, and suddenly remembered that my local stationary shop (WH Smith) occasionally sold strips of transparent plastic - the kind you use in school plays. I popped in, and failed to see anything useful. I was about to leave dejected when I stumbled on the perfect solution.

Ring binders.

Orange transparent ring binders. I knew (from youthful misadventures) that they were thin enough to cut, and were just about perfect for Shepard's omni-tool. I snapped up three of the binders, and set about hacking them apart. 

Now more Omni-tooly
This was easy - a pair of scissors did the trick. From this, I traced out templates with my scalpel and followed the lines, creating three separate elements: a gauntlet (held in shape by a Velcro strap at the bottom, with two quarter-circle arcs cut out at the glove end), a perfect circle (I used a Mass Effect CD to do this - largely for my own amusement), and a sort of stabby-knife-thing.

After that, it was simply a matter of glue-gunning the elements together. The glue could be seen through the transparent material, so I was careful to trace out shapes that could be considered part of the costume. The final tool had a few rough edges and needed sanding, but it looked pretty good.

One issue I had was the stabby-thing was a bit floppy. However, with a little help from my finger it would stay upright.

Securing the Omni-tool was relatively easy. Rather than faff about with the Velcro strap that gave it its unique shape, I decided to stick it in place. I added some Velcro to the bottom of the circle, and a similar piece to the top of my glove.

The end result was a rather nasty, if short, Omni-tool perfect for my Shepard.

Omni-tooled up