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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Making the Rest of the Costume for the Mandalorian Armorsmith

Back in what seems like forever ago, I made the helmet for the Armorer as seen in the first season of "the Mandalorian:"


Read about that build here: LINK

Since I can't just leave well enough alone and I have a thing for strong, capable women, I had to build the rest of her ensemble.  Here's the end result:

SWCC 2022 Armorer and Reference

To see how it was made, read on...

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Updated Captain Phasma Build

 Years ago I made my first replica of the Captain Phasma helmet from Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens.  It came out pretty good given the reference images that were available at the time and it managed to get around quite a bit.  Here's a winning shot of one of my Phasma helmets being worn at the world premiere of Episode VII:

Ingrid Moon as Phasma at Premiere

I was very proud of the build, but since then she's been in two movies and I've been able to get images of the helmet from all kinds of different angles.  It turns out I got a few details a little wrong.  Then one day I was perusing Do3D.com, the same outfit that modeled the helmet for me originally and noticed that they'd updated the model since then.  Since the 3D printers were idle at the time, I figured I might as well go ahead and update my Phasma build.

So here's the updated 3D model rendered next to the 3D model I used for the original build:Phasma Model Update

In short order I'd printed a new prototype.  Here's the new printed prototype (right) next to a cast from my original mold (left):
New Master Progress

The print was pretty good, but there were a few things I decided to tweak by hand.  Most notably, the noseplate didn't fit quite right and made the width of the "frown" a little too big.  The "teardrop" details in the cheek area also needed some adjustment.  Fortunately, I don't mind doing a bit of Bondo work:

I used a noseplate casting from my original build and after a bit of trimming and re-shaping, I was much happier with it:
Phasma Schnozzplate Remaster Progress

With a bit of sanding and filling, it got a coat of grey primer:
Phasma Remaster Grey Primer Round One

And just like that, it was ready for a gloss coat in preparation for molding:
Phasma Remaster Gloss Coat 1

Phasma Remaster Gloss Coat 2

The mold was a pretty straightforward matrix mold with a tin-cure silicone jacket and a fiberglass mothermold.  I've covered the making of this kind of thing many times, so I feel silly going through the step by step once again.  Long story short: the mold worked and I made a few copies:
Phasma Brigade Coming Along

That's about the same time I'd stacked up a bunch of shiny things that needed to be shinier, so it was an easy thing to slip the helmet into the spray booth for chrome:
Chrome Progress

I'm really starting to feel pretty good about my shiny finishes lately.  In this case, I painted the helmet with a gloss black single stage urethane automotive paint.  Once that had cured, I gave the whole thing a coat of Alumaluster from Imperial Surface Technology.  This stuff is phenomenal:
Phasma Helmet Chroming Progress

Since I was on a roll, I went ahead and painted three:
Phasma Helmets Chroming Progress<
The recessed area of the face was painted with a couple of coats of satin black and the snoot plate was glued in place.  Then the eye lenses were installed, a bit of foam padding was wedged into place, and it was good to go.

Then it was time to dust off all of the other parts and pieces and get them re-rigged:
Phasma Leg Progress

This time around I decided to go with the Episode 8 version.  This meant more practical hand and finger armor as well as a more comfortable version of the ankles:
Phasma Lower Leg Assembly

I also decided to finally spring for a set of fabric gaskets for the knees, elbows, shoulders and neckseal:
Phasma Rigging Progress

These pieces were made by Geeky Pink's Phantastic Gaskets.  The quality and craftsmanship were great and I can't recommend them enough.  Everything was made to size and built with all the necessary velcro to make rigging up the armor a breeze.  Smiles all around:
Chest and arms rigged

With Star Wars Celebration: Anaheim coming up fast, I had to do some triage.  I managed to finish every part of the build that would need smelly chemical processes or power tools and pack everything in a bin.  The rest we could do in a hotel room.

Most of the remaining work was just a matter of sewing the velcro onto the cape and attaching matching pads inside the neck of the armor to keep everything in place.  This was all done with time to spare so we could wander around at the convention and show it off.  Here's the Lady Shawnon wearing the complete ensemble and holding a key reference:
SWCC 2022 Phasma and the Reference

Seriously, that's her under all that: 
SWCC 2022 Phasma Suited Up

I suppose I could've made the helmet a bit smaller (in light of her tiny, child-sized cranium), but I happen to have molded the chest and arm parts for this costume in a larger size to fit bigger folks too, so I think this scale was a good compromise.  And really it looks pretty good:
SWCC 2022 Phasma and Vonreg Arrive
That guy in the Major Vonreg costume is me.  Because I'll be damned if I'm going to keep making awesome costumes for my girlfriend and never get to dress up myself.

Plus, it was nice to be in theme when we ran into other First Order leadership cosplayers:
SWCC 2022 First Order Leaders

Still, the shiny chrome lady was much more interesting to look at:
SWCC 2022 Phasma and the Probe Droid

Here's a shot of her out in the afternoon sun in all her gleaming glory:
SWCC 2022 Phasma in Sunlight

I was pretty proud of the finish, right up until I spotted this chromed Fett helmet at the EFX booth.  Clearly I've got some more polishing to do:
SWCC 2022  Chrome Comparison

Still we had a lot of fun at the show.  Especially when we ran across other folks taking their costumes a lot less seriously:
SWCC 2022 Phasma Scolds a Trooper

SWCC 2022 148

SWCC 2022 Phasma and Pink Shorts Boom Mic Operators

So that was all kinds of fun.  Now I just need to coat the cape fabric to give it the proper patchy shiny sheen, assemble and paint her blaster, and set up a proper photoshoot to get some good showcase photos.

Stay tuned...

Friday, April 29, 2022

Building a New Display Booth Part 1: Flats

Back in 2011, I set up my display at the Bay Area Maker Faire for the first time.  Starting from scratch in a bit of a rush, we made this nifty little setup:

Blank booth

Twenty feet wide with display racks on either side and a small, private changing room in the middle, it proved to be all sorts of useful.  Still, I quickly outgrew it.

Over the years, this humble bit of wall with a tiny little changing room was expanded, rebuilt, repainted, redesigned, repurposed, and reworked to become some 50-plus linear feet of walls with two separate dressing rooms, display racks, pedestals, and storage areas for personal gear and whatnot.

After eight years of assembling, disassembling, packing, storing, neglecting, and meaning to improve the display booth, I finally decided it was time to scrap the whole deal and start over.  So the parts were broken up and hauled away and I was ready to make a new booth.

Then the Bay Area Maker Faire stopped being a thing and the COVID pandemic began and I haven't had much of a need for it.

Fast forward to now.  After a two-year hiatus, LUMACON will be returning on last day of April.  LUMACON is a kid-centric comic convention put on by the local librarians.  In the past I've had a limited display setup there to show off some of my various builds and sell copies of my book while some of my crew hangs out in costumes I've built. In order to comply with current restrictions for large gatherings in the current pandemic environment, the event is being held outdoors.  With no walls to hang my display on, it's time to make a new booth.

When I made the original booth, I had a vague idea of what I needed to do, but no kind of background or experience in building these sorts of things.  Since then, I've done some set construction work on TV series and movies and learned a few things.  Chief among the things I learned: I was an idiot.

Taking those lessons to heart, I decided that instead of rebuilding the same clunky, overweight, rickety junk I built before, I'd build this new booth just like a movie set. 

Movie sets can look like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

But the backside of them generally look kinda like this:

These lightweight but surprisingly versatile wall panels are called "flats."

There are a variety of different ways flats can be built, depending on what they'll be used for.  "Broadway" or "theater" flats are thinner, and lighter.  Often covered with fabric and easily carried by one person to rearrange the set on stage in a hurry between scenes.  "Hollywood," "TV," or "studio" flats are thicker, a little heavier, and sturdier.  Since I'll be re-using these flats multiple times, I'm going to build Hollywood flats.

Hollywood flats can be made in various thicknesses to suit a particular design, but are most often made of 1-by-3 pine boards.  The boards are laid out on edge on the shop floor or a workbench, the ends are glued together and stapled or screwed. Once assembled, the flat can be covered with 1⁄4-inch or 1⁄8-inch plywood, which is glued on and stapled. The vertical "studs" or "stiles" are set on 2-foot centers and the horizontal "toggles" are also placed on 2-foot centers.

For each flat you need the following materials:

1 sheet 1/4" or 1/8" plywood (or Masonite if you're into that)

5 and a half 8' lengths of 1x3

A couple handfuls of 1-5/8" screws

A couple handfuls of 1" screws

wood glue

NOTE: ideally, I'd have used wide crown construction staples instead of 1-5/8" screws and narrow crown staples instead of 1" screws, but I don't own the staplers for either of them and wasn't going to spend $400 to own them for this one project.  You'll also notice in the following photos that we used 1x4 framing instead of 1x3s.   This is because the first store we went to was out of 1x3 and I was eager to get started.

ALSO NOTE: If you're one of those folks reading from every other country in the world, I won't be providing metric conversions.  All y'all have your own kinds of standard dimension lumber and I don't know what it looks like.  You're on your own there.

Step 1: Measure and cut your framing lumber:CHOPSAW IS YOUR FRIEND

The framing lumber is the 1x3s (or in these pics 1x4s) that will be attached to the backside of the flats.  For each flat, you'll need the following cuts:

2 pieces 48" long (the "top plate," and matching "bottom plate.")

3 pieces 94.5" long (the "studs" that are eight feet long, minus the combined thickness of the top and bottom plates)

6 pieces 22-7/8" long (the toggles, four feet long, minus the combined thickness of the three studs, split in half)

Once you've made your cuts, it's a good idea to clamp all of the like pieces together and pre-mark for centers.  Here you can see me measuring all of the studs so I can mark the center locations for the toggles:

The speed square is painted pink to piss people off

The centers of the top and bottom plates were also marked.  This will ensure uniformity when the assembly is done and saves you time later.

Step 2: Set up a clear work area:
Lovely, isn't she?
Disregard the background clutter.  This room has yet to be properly built out.

Step 3: Set up three studs on edge and attach the bottom plate:

Hollywood Flat Building029

For each of the joints in this project, we'll start with a bead of glue:
A little dab'll do ya!

Then, because we're using really thin, cheap lumber, we'll pre-drill each screw hole:Drill, baby, drill!

You'll notice in the pic above that the Lady Shawnon is holding the wood so that the top edges are flush.  If we were working on a perfectly flat surface and had reliably straight/square lumber, we could count on it to line itself up pretty well, but given that the boards we bought were pretty janky, we had to settle for making the front face straight where it would be attached to the skin.

Finally, the boards were screwed together:

You know how I like it!

Each joint would get two screws in this manner.

With the bottom plate attached, it's time to 
attach the top plate.  Now the assembly looks like so:
Just like the other end, but on this end.

Step 4: Attach toggles on one side.  These are installed on two-foot centers with screws through the studs into the toggles:

Hollywood Flat Building004

These are easy because you can drill and screw them through the outer stud and the inner stud:

Hollywood Flat Building010

Step 5: Attach toggles on the other side.  These area bit trickier.  On the outside stud, you can still screw through into the toggles like we did for the first half:

Hollywood Flat Building035

But the inside stud is blocked by the toggle on the other side.  To work around this, I 
toenail through the stud into the toggle to attach it:
Hollywood Flat Building037

Hollywood Flat Building036

Hollywood Flat Building038

Then, just like that, all six toggles are glued and screwed in place:
Them's there's the toggles.

Step 6: Attach the skin.

We start by applying glue onto the surface of the frame:Hollywood Flat Building039

NOTE: as you can see Doctor Girlfriend doing here, you want to put the glue on the center stud and the toggles first, then the outside edges last.  That way you don't have to lean your carcass across the sticky parts and make a mess of yourself.

Hollywood Flat Building020

Once the glue is applied, you can screw down the skin:

Hollywood Flat Building024

Despite what your mom says, there's a right way to screw.  Start by making sure the skin is flush on one corner and put a screw there first:

Hollywood Flat Building025

Then screw down the long side, straightening the stud to keep it flush as you go:

Hollywood Flat Building023

Once the long side is screwed down, screw down bottom edge.  Working from the first corner you screwed down, you'll be pushing and pulling the bottom plate up or down as needed to make sure the edge of the skin is flush with the framing. 

Once that's done, continue screwing down the skin, working from bottom corner upward and outward to make the whole thing flatten out as you go.  At this point, things might look a bit off.

The first corner and first two edges were nice and flush when we started:

Hollywood Flat Building025

But because the sheet isn't exactly 48" x 96" (and if we did it right, our framing was exactly 48" x 96") the edges of the plywood will overhang a bit:

Hollywood Flat Building026

Hollywood Flat Building027

Step 7: This tiny excess gets trimmed off with a router using a panel trim bit like this one:Edge Trim Router Bit

Is dusty work:
Hollywood Flat Building041

The end result is a nice, flat panel 48"x96" and ready to be painted, dressed, and made into something awesome.  

Assembled Hollywood Flats

To make it easier to get a nice finish, the screw holes are filled and sanded:
Hollywood Flats Spot Putty and Sanded

Then they all get a couple of good coats of primer:
Hollywood Flats in Primer

Finally, paint:
Basic Black Hollywood Flats

We went for basic black for starters.  All told we made 5 of them.  

Next I'll have to build something to keep them from falling over:Backside of Hollywood Flats

Stay tuned for more on this somewhat useful new project...