I've had a few people ask me what got me started in making all of my over-the-top movie and video game costumes. While I had other, earlier projects that were very involved, I'd have to say that this is the one that really set the hook for me.
Here was my end result:
If you'd like to see how I arrived at this point, there's more after the jump.
After being stationed in Japan for two years with the Navy I was scheduled to be transferred stateside again in late 2001. I had time and money to spend and I was looking forward to going all out for my first Halloween in years. History conspired against me though and it wasn't until 2002 that I finally got a chance to put anything together.
That year I'd seen the Kevin Rubio short film TROOPS for the first time and decided that I needed my own set of stormtrooper armor. A quick perusal of eBay revealed that there were a variety of fan made suits available, but there were two main problems. First, they were all designed to fit someone around six feet tall (I'm five foot seven, clearly a little short for a stormtrooper). Second, the cheapest one I found (with no helmet, boots, gloves, or undersuit) cost over $800!
By my reasoning, if these folks could figure out how to make stormtrooper armor, there was no reason I couldn't do it too. This notion launched me on a months-long creative fiasco that would consume most of my nights and weekends for several months.
The best resource I found in all of my research was studiocreations.com, a website that lists all sorts of how-to articles for making replicas of Star Wars costumes. I'd explain all of the details that went into the process of making these parts, but there's no way I could do it better than they did.
Starting in May and following their instructions, I enlisted the help of an unwitting friend and she helped me make a fiberglass lifecast of my entire body from the neck down. I then painted it black, mounted it on a platform with casters for portability, and set about sculpting the armor on top of it using oil-based clay from monstermakers.com.
Here's a shot of the sculpt in progress:
Here's the front:
To save myself time, I cheated and bought a helmet in advance. This particular helmet was a discontinued "Classic Action" helmet from Don Post. As stormtrooper helmets go, it's fairly low-grade. In the years since I've learned more than I care to admit about the various versions of this helmet that have been made. If you're really interested in geeking out about it, check out starwarshelmets.com.
Here's a later shot of the sculpt in progress:
In this shot you can see me making negative molds of two of the calf halves:
My vacuum forming rig was the end result of a variety of shortcuts:
All it really is is a couple of hotplates wired together with a foil-wrapped box for an oven. The forming surface is a wooden box with 1/8" holes drilled on a 1-inch grid and the vacuum source is my 6hp shopvac. I really figured I'd just need this thing for a one-time project but, like most temporary solutions, this has become my permanent arrangement for vacforming sheet plastics.
In hindsight, I really wish I'd spent more time making this thing right. I will probably end up making a new one sooner or later.
The armor itself was formed from .080 gauge sheet styrene. I wanted to use ABS, but I let myself feel rushed and wasn't willing to wait for my local supplier to replenish their stock.
Here's a test-fit shot of the first two pieces I formed:
Here's the mess in the garage of my old house while this project was in full swing:
With all of the pieces formed, I had to start looking for ways to make some of the finishing touches. For the neckseal, I stitched together some upholstery trim to get the proper ribbed effect:
Notice there are seven ribs. I'm not too proud to admit that I know for a fact that all of the stormtroopers in the original Star Wars trilogy had seven ribs on their neck seals.
After spending quite a few hours with a drill, some pop rivets, and a few rolls of velcro, here's the whole thing put together:
With the project done, all of the vacforming bucks were shelved.
I still have them kicking around, so the following year, when my friend Matt was desperate for a costume, I pulled out the vacforming kludge, dusted off the bucks, and gave him a five-minute tutorial so he could crank out all of his own suit of armor. Here's a shot of the two of us:
And here's a better one:
By the time Episode III hit movie theaters, I was goaded into going in costume. Since I'd already been wearing this particular outfit for three consecutive Halloweens (each in a different state) I figured it was time to wear something else. We ended up in a group that had three stormtroopers:
This was Matt (left) his wife Jen (center) and my cousin Desmond (right) in a suit by a different maker.
Meanwhile, over the course of a week and a half, I had cranked out a rushed Boba Fett costume:
The armor plates aren't quite right, I didn't finish the jetpack in time, and the gloves are completely wrong, but it looked the part. I also had picked up a TIE pilot costume which I loaned to Matt's twin brother Chris (far right above).
This was the last time any of these costumes were worn:
Maybe sooner or later we'll drag them out for a convention or something, but in the years since, some of these photos have gotten around. A while back I found this online somewhere:
Still, I can't help but think I would've been better off if I'd just bought the suit from someone else.