Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pre-Con summary

With my target only two days away, I've decided to take stock. What does the end result look like? And was it all that I hoped for?

When I started out on this quest, my aim had been simple: a decent enough costume that would represent the level of work I'd put into it. And something that vaguely looked Shepardy.

My goal

So how does the end result compare? Well... judge for yourself.

The front (obviously)

The back (even more obviously)

Overall I'm delighted with the appearance of the costume. It looks the business, and has enough scuffs, marks of wear and tear and natty features (including the see-through stabby omni-tool to really make it pop. I'm also delighted with my fudging around the collar, as putting on the costume makes it very clear that it would have caused all kinds of issues. There's a few areas that could be improved (note the yellow streaks on the leggings) and the pistol looks a little weedy, but that's largely because I'm 6'5". Guns look small when I hold them.

But Operation Mass Effect wasn't just the costume. It was a whole ethos and weight loss and fitness was central to that. How did I succeed? Well, I managed to hit 3 mile runs, three times a week, before an ankle injury knocked me off my schedule and sidelined me. I still haven't started running again due to the pain.

Diet didn't go perfectly, either. After two months of dieting I'd dropped 2 1/2 stone, but a combination of lack of exercise in the final weeks, plus a collapse into old habits (curse you Dr Pepper and pizza) put me back a couple of pounds. I'm now hovering at the 2 stone lost mark; still an achievement, but something I really need to fix.

After the Con, I'm going to restart the fitness and diet. How I'm going to motivate myself I'm not sure, but I'll find another project to fixate on.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


The final ingredient was the backpack. This was the hardest part of the build, mainly because of the sheer number of individual pieces. The size of the pieces only added to the complexity; Shepard's backpack has a small metal bone to represent his vertebrae. That's a lot of cutting.

The second problem was the neck guard. As mentioned previously, I was worried that this would rub against other components, ruining the finish and causing an irritating, chalky noise as they bounced together. At first I designed the backpack with the neck guards, and decided I'd figure out what to do once I had the costume ready.

The build was time-consuming and cost an entire pack of glue sticks. Simply put there were three distinct layers, which interlocked with other layers to create a supportive base. In reality, it meant I had to paint things separately as there was a black layer between two textured grey layers. It was a small puzzle that ended up with a very strange backpack that spooned out at the sides.

The neck guards were also a problem. It became immediately apparent on fitting that they were going to create a false effect, with space where there should be solid metal. For pro builds this kind of issue isn't too much of a problem, but as I'm an amateur working alone, it meant that I was looking at open-spaced arcs of up to an inch in size. It would have cheapened the entire effect of the costume.

Welcome to my shiny, jet pack future.
And it wasn't like Shep was worried about being shot in the neck; the dude I was replicating doesn't wear a helmet.

So, in a last-minute change, I hacked off the neck guards. This created an ugly build with a clearly serrated line of blue, unpainted foam. It looked terrible.

I did the only rational thing - covered it up with a little pipe insulation I had lying around (a tube is a whole $4). I also neglected to include a light system or shield generator, instead favouring insulating pipe and a little paint for the job.

The end result, however, looked suitably like space armour, or possibly even a jetpack, for it to work.

This was the final piece of the puzzle: completed a full three weeks ahead of Cam Con. Now all I needed to do was fix the Velcro to my undershirt, give a quick brush-down with tissue coated with metallic paint, and tidy up any scuffs.

The next post will show how I got on at the Con.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Chest bump

It took a whole week to finish painting the chest as I wanted; the N7 logo was particularly difficult to spray on because of the curvature of the pieces. I also had to use almost an entire pack of glue sticks just to make sure all the foam would anchor; in particular the two under-arm pieces, which were essential if the structure was going to bend.

The chest piece.
A further morning was taken up sewing on the Velcro strips. One of the problems was that the seam of the undershirt ran exactly where I needed the strips to secure, meaning that I had to put one of the strips on at a jaunty angle. Another key issue was forcing the needle through the Velcro strips. The spandex didn't prove a challenge, but the pads were basically a layer of thick glue, and it required fingers in thimbles to get the power needed to drive the stitch.

An additional problem, that I hadn't really considered, was that the needle started to pick up the glue. This meant that after a few stitches the needle needed to be scraped to make sure it was clean and serviceable.

Once clean, it was time for a test fitting. Everything was a little awkward to put together (and tended to make an 'eeek-eeek' noise of foam rubbing together). However, it looked, frankly, awesome.

With only the back piece to do, I contemplated any last minute adjustments. I still had four weeks to go, so I had time if I needed to make a change. However, the only significant thing that came to mind was removing Shepard's neck armour. There was too much going on around the shoulder joints, both for the pauldrons and the chest piece, to risk damaging the integrity of the suit by building a neck brace. This would also give me greater movement at the Con, and lack of Mass Effect 3 authenticity was a price I was willing to pay for a little comfort.