Thursday, September 8, 2011

Achilles Costume for Burning Man

A while back my good friend Trevor, who you may recognize as one of my walking mannequins from various other costuming posts, asked me to help him out with a project.  It turns out Trev was going to this year's Burning Man Festival and participating in a Trojan War reenactment that would take place there.  When he heard about it, he found out that nobody had been cast to play the part of Achilles and jumped at the chance.

The only problem was that he didn't have any ancient Greek combat armor hanging in his closet.  So he turned to the one person he thought might: me.  I suppose he'd heard enough people talking about my last Ancient Greek costume project.  I didn't have exactly what he was after, but once we'd discussed it for a few minutes, we had a plan.

I had a torso mannequin on hand that happened to be just about the same size as Trevor.  So the first thing we did was heat up a sheet of foamed PVC sheet on the vac forming oven and stretch it over the back of the mannequin.  Using damp rags, we pressed the hot plastic down until it was roughly the same shape as the back of the mannequin.  Once it cooled, we pulled it off and trimmed out a back plate:
Backplate progress

Then we flipped over the mannequin and repeated the same process for the chest:
chestplate progress

To add a bit more strength and finesse, Trevor cut 1/2" wide strips of the foamed PVC sheet and built a border all the way around the armor pieces.  They were bonded to the rest of the armor with solvent cement (just like plumbers use on plastic pipe) and held in place with a few clamps while the adhesive set up:
Trevor Achilles Costume2460

Since we were excited to see how it would look, we didn't wait for the last of the glue to set before priming a spot in the middle of the chest:
Trevor Achilles Costume2461

For the base color, we decided on "Classic Bronze" from Rustoleum:
Trevor Achilles Costume2462

Happy that we'd found the right base color, Trevor went ahead and sprayed all of the parts with primer:
Achilles Chest Primed

The next step was a base coat of classic bronze:
Achilles Fit Testing 1

The same process was used to build the back plate:
Achilles Fit Testing

And the shoulder plates:
Achilles Shoulder Clamped

The greaves and bracers were done the same way too:
Achilles Bracer

Once the parts were formed and glued together and the base coat had dried, the next step was a blackwash to make it all look a bit more used.  The shoulder plate on the left in this picture had not yet been weathered:
Achilles Weathering
I think the effect came out pretty good.

Here's Trevor test fitting the parts before he'd done any of the leather work or made the helmet:

To make the helmet, we started by making a fiberglass shell over the top of a child-sized motorcycle helmet:

So we cut some sections out of it to make it smaller, and cleaned up the edges.  Then Trevor made a form for the face portion of the helmet out of some ABS scraps I had on hand:

Then he laid up fiberglass inside of the helmet.  After it had cured, the plastic form was peeled off and he tried it on:
Achilles Helmet Glassed

Fortunately, he can fit his breathing mask on underneath.  Barely.

After trimming off all of the rough edges, he stopped looking like the king of the fuzz people:
Achilles Helmet Trimmed

After a bit more work, he'd added a skirt to the back of the helmet:

Here it is with the bronze base coat:
Achilles Helmet Bronze Basecoat

For the soft parts of the costume, we went over to Barta Hide on Lakeville Avenue in Petaluma and went through their scraps and offcuts for a while:
Leather Shopping

Barta has the best deals I've ever found for leather of all kinds.  They primarily deal in green hides so the warehouse smells like rotting cow.  If you can deal with that, it's a Godsend for costuming.  After a few minutes of digging through the scrap boxes we'd come away with a trunkload of belt leather and goat skin, all dyed black.

I hate sewing.  So aside from offering a few suggestions, I left all of the leather work up to Trev.  In the end, he developed a strap and lace system to hold the armor on as well as a "battle kilt."  I think he called it "battle kilt" because all of the other options were less manly.  I preferred "fighting dress," "war skirt," and "conflict frock," but none of them caught on.  Oh well.

Once he was done with all that, he stopped by one more time so we could make some boffer weapons and pick up all of his gear.  Here's Trevor as he was riding away on his way to the desert:
Achilles Cycling

Trevor's apparently terrible about remembering to take pictures when he does cool stuff.  Fortunately, he went with friends who managed to snap a few. 

Here's a shot of him in the desert with all of his kit on:

Most of the pictures he got looked like this:

But he did get a few action shots:

As the battle raged in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, you'll be pleased to know that Troy did indeed fall, Trevor died a heroically tragic death, and a good time was had by all. 

There was also something about a horse:

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