Saturday, October 2, 2010

Past Projects: Stormtrooper Costume

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:
Stormtrooper Test Fit

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, 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

Here's a shot of the sculpt in progress:
Early Stormtrooper Sculpt2

Here's the front:
Early Stormtrooper Sculpt

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

Here's a later shot of the sculpt in progress:
Stormtrooper Sculpt Progress

In this shot you can see me making negative molds of two of the calf halves:
Stormtrooper calf molds

My vacuum forming rig was the end result of a variety of shortcuts:
vaccuumforming rig

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:
Stormtrooper strap system test

Here's the mess in the garage of my old house while this project was in full swing:
Stormtrooper Project Mess

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:
Stormtrooper Neckseal
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:
Stormtrooper Test Fit

With the project done, all of the vacforming bucks were shelved.
Stormtrooper Molds

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:
Two Stormtroopers

And here's a better one:
Troopers Waiting for Dinner

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:
Premier night 011
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.


  1. LOL, I'll take the suit. You'll find pictures of a lone Storm trooper roaming South Florida...

  2. I would very much like the suit as wel
    contact me @

    always have a dream of getting 1. money issues let me not have 1 :(

    anyway i would very miuch like to roam holland with it :)
    or could you perhaps make me1? i could pay you for it ,,, please

  3. If you had bought the suit from someone else you would still have no idea how any of this was done. I'd say from looking at your production that you fell into the right line of work/hobby/love! Awesome! More people should try to make their own stuff - it makes them realize how much actual WORK goes into something to make it right and it gives you confidence/skills to use later. You are an inspiration, and a geek - both true.