Thursday, April 5, 2012

Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines: Part 1

I've been a fan of Warhammer 40K since the original Rogue Trader version came out 25 years ago.  In middle school I even got a job at a local hobby store specifically so I could afford to buy more Space Marine miniatures from the game.  Now that I've got a few skills and a respectable workshop, I've been slowly bringing parts of the game to life in between paying projects.

Years ago I sculpted out a Space Marine helmet. It was the first time I'd sculpted a helmet by hand and I made a mold so I could make more than one.  I also modded one with a skull face to look the part of the Space Marine Chaplains.  Here's a shot showing the finished ones as of sometime in May of 2011:
WH40k Helmet Family Portrait

A while back I wrote an entry about building the bolter rifle I made to go with them:

That was years ago though.  Since then, the good people at Games Workshop have released several new video games based on the Warhammer 40k universe and each one has reminded me how much I love everything about it.  After making a handful of little parts, and some prompting from my friend Matt (a.k.a. my primary project addiction enabler), I decided to take another look at building the rest of the Space Marine armor.

Notionally, we were going to crank this out as a Halloween costume for 2011.  Sadly, this project fell victim to Squid's Law.  According to David Malki of, Squid’s Law states: “Things take twice as long as you expect, three times as long as you have, and four times as long as you want.” So it didn't end up getting done in time for Halloween, but there's a Halloween every year, so we just soldiered on.

Since I'm in between major projects right now, I'm finally able to focus on this build.  The problem is, working on just this one thing means I don't have any other finished work to show off.  So I'm going to break this build down into parts to share progress as it's coming along.

Here's a photo of the costume as it looks right now:
 SM Matt Test Fit Chainsword 3

If you'd like to read through the gritty details and see tons of blurry progress pictures, read on.

The first order of business was to determine how much we should scale down the parts in order to make them wearable.  According to the WH40K mythology, Space Marines are supposed to be over seven feet tall in bare feet.  I am not quite seven feet tall.  Still, after a bit of deliberation, Matt and I figured it'd be best not to scale down any of the parts at all.  Having looked at other fan-made Space Marine costumes, they all seem to fail in the scale department.  Instead, we decided to engineer the costume so that the finished character is the full height.  This way it can be appropriately intimidating:
SM Scale Diagram

The main challenge with a costume of this size is keeping the weight manageable.  Since the wearer will be walking on very high platform shoes and his maneuverability will already be restricted, it's a bad idea to make him heavy as well.  Laying up fiberglass or rotocasting resin pieces would amount to too much weight.  My Halo Spartan costumes weigh around 50 pounds, so building the Space Marine the same way would probably mean building a 200 pound costume.

This was a job for the vacforming machine.  By forming the armor plates out of thin sheets of plastic, we could make it as big as we wanted without making it all that heavy.

In the beginning, we started with some insulation foam:
Astartes Shoulder Plate01

Here's a shot of me testing the scale for the shoulder:
Astartes Shoulder Plate02

Once we were happy with the scale, the next step was to build it up with a few slices of foam and some Gorilla Glue:
Astartes Shoulder Plate04

To fill in the low spots between the slices, I mixed up a batch of expanding foam and slathered it on:
Astartes Shoulder Plate07

After a bit of work with the body rasp, it looked pretty good:
Astartes Shoulder Plate08

After a bit more body work and some paint, it looked like so:
 SM Shoulder Refined

Once I had a nice, shiny surface to work with, I applied a mold release and built up a fiberglass mold:
SM Shoulder Mold Laid Up

Since there were no undercuts and the surface was smooth, the fiberglass mold came off cleanly:
SM Shoulder Mold Finished
The plurple color inside the mold is the gelcoat that gives it a nice, smooth finish.

After applying a mold release to the inside of the molds, I pulled a couple of fiberglass copies:
SM Shoulder Forms

The fiberglass copies of the shoulder plate were reinforced with wood frames and laid out on the forming table.  After cooking up a sheet of plastic, we were able to get a good pair of shoulder plates:
SM Shoulders Forming in White Styrene

They were really big:
SM Shoulders in White Styrene

About the same time as the form for the shoulder was done, we started laying out the chest.  This is almost the exact same time as pepakura files based on the new Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine video game starting finding their way onto the internets.  Once the files were available, we decided to save money on foam and use fiberglass reinforced paper models for forming bucks instead.  Building the forming bucks went the same as building the prototypes for my HALO costumes, only the shapes were simpler and the pieces were much bigger. 

Matching the scale to the shoulder form, I started with the build for the chest armor.  It was huge:
SM pep chest progress 3

Here I am trying on the finished paper model:
SM pep chest fitting

Here's a test-fitting with one of my helmets, a pull of the shoulder, and a bolter:
SM pep chest fitting with shoulder and bolter

Then it was time to start glassing the inside:
SM Chest Glassing02

The inside also started glassing me:
SM Chest Glassing01

While I was making a sticky, poisonous mess out of the chest, Matt started building pepakura models of some of the other pieces.  They were huge too:
SM Diaper

Here's another scale shot showing the main body stacked up:
SM body scale comparison

We spent a lot of time marvelling at it's hugeness:
SM body is really big

Matt glassed the diaper section.  Along the way it started to warp as it soaked up resin, so I re-aligned it and used some masking tape to stay it in the proper shape:
SM Diaper Glassed

That done, it was time to start building the boot forms.  Here I am working on the toe:
SM Toe bottom

SM Toe building

As with all the other parts of this build, I couldn't help but be impressed with the size of this thing:
SM Toe sizing

Here's the fully-assembled boot sitting on a pair of 5-gallon buckets:
SM Boot pepped

SM Boot Scale Pic

Then it was time to start glassing the boot:
SM Boot Heel Resined

With the boots built, it was time to make the other parts of the legs:
SM Leg Pep Progress

They're huge too:
SM Leg Test Fit 2

Matt took over glassing the insides of the parts:
SM Thigh Glassing

Meanwhile, I was outside grinding down all of the high spots from the highly faceted shape of the original paper model:
SM Torso grinding

Several times throughout the build process, we ended the day by stacking up the parts and saying, "damn that's big" like so:
SM Size test

After a great deal of study, we decided that we could get away with using one lower leg form as there was no difference between the left and right sides.  We also used just one shoulder, one boot, one knee, one elbow, and one forearm for both sides.  This cut down on much of the build time.  About the same time as we'd finished building and glassing all of the parts, I focused my attention on the Dead Space costume and Matt took over the fairing process:
SM Matt Working Fiberglass

Fairing out the shapes only required Matt to grind off the high points, add bondo, sand, bondo, sand, bondo, sand, bondo, sand, bondo, sand, rinse, and repeat ad nauseum.  Here's a shot of him in the middle of the process:
SM Matt Sanding

Here's the arm coming together:
SM Matt Arm Sizing

Here's the leg midway through the process:
SM Leg Fairing

Whenever I could take time away from other projects, I worked on the torso armor:
SM Chest Fairing Begins

Here I am surrounded by projects:
SM Chest Fairing Progress

Here's a bicep nearly finished smoothing:
SM Bicep Fairing Complete

Here's the shin coming together:
SM Greave Fairing Progress

And the elbow:
SM Elbow Mostly Faired

The buttplate:
SM Big Butt

All of the arm parts together:
SM Left Arm Fairing

My nephew trying on the nearly smoothed chest armor:
SM Test Fit Trey

After all of the rough work of shaping the parts was done, the last step was to give them a coat of high-heat paint:
SM Forearm Done

Once the pieces were faired out and smooth, the next step was to cut them open so they could be used as forming bucks.  Here's the main portion of the boot cut in half, laid open, and reinforced to work as a forming buck:
SM Boot Split

Some parts were much trickier to cut than others.  For the chest, I used a laser level in order to mark a slicing plane:
SM Chest Cutting 1

To fit on my 24" x 48" forming table, the chest had to be cut into three parts.  I settled on cutting off the top, then splitting the front and back.  Here I am marking the cutting line for the front and back:
SM Chest Cutting 3

I delegated the actual cutting to Matt so I'd have someone to blame if it went wrong:
SM Chest Cutting 2

Everything went swimmingly, so here's how the parts looked:
SM Chest Cutting 5

After adding a bit more material to the bottom of each piece, we did a test pull.  Here's the top of the chest armor with one of the toes:
SM Collar Vac Pull 1

Once all three pieces of the chest were pulled, we taped them together for a quick test fitting:
SM Vac Pull Test Fit

There was much rejoicing:

Having proved the concept with the chest, we went on to repeat the process with all of the other hard armor parts. Here's the thighs all assembled:
SM First Thighs

And the first full leg:
SM First Assembled Leg

With the basic armor parts done, the real fun begins with sculpting on all of the badges and other details:
SM chest sculpt part one done

SM Chest Skull Sculpt in Progress

The main challenge now is to stop screwing around long enough to actually make progress. It's hard when everyone who stops by can't resist the urge to try on all the parts:
SM Dressing Matt

My plan is to have this project done in a month or so, so stay tuned for more updates as I continue to make progress.

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  1. Amazing work fella and the pics made me smile.

  2. This project is amazing, I can't begin to fathom the amount of work or skill that goes into this thing. How tall is the suit of armor? I'm a pretty tall guy, so if you need a volunteer Space Marine... Lol. If I ever win the lotto I'm definitely going to get you to make me one.

  3. Looking good! Can't wait to see the finished product :)

  4. Looking excellent! can i have an space marine armor too???? :D

  5. Hola
    un saludo

  6. I am loving reading your updates. The pepukura pattern looks like Shiny's 850 scale Space Marine pattern only upsized, is this the one you used for your work. If it is what scale did you use on it?

  7. how much would it be to buy one of these suits?? I already know it wouldnt be cheap but very interested!

    Drop me a line on Facebook @ Hank Angello Hughes-Lundy

  8. OMG so I stumbled on to this and while googling some WH40K stuff HOLY **** this is awesome I can't wait to see this finished!!!!!! Great job guys looks like alot of fun to build as well.

  9. So the thight doesn't have a front and back, right? You can use the same piece for both legs, just reversed?

    1. The thigh actually does have a front and back. It's subtle, but there is a definite difference at the knee. The shin, boot, shoulder, and forearms are both interchangeable from left to right. The thighs and biceps are not.

  10. nice

  11. Looking for more detailed information or even buying a suit drop me a line

  12. Looking for more detailed information or even buying a suit drop me a line

  13. los archivos de pepakura donde los encontraste.. y pues cuando utilizas bondo la traduccion es arena pero pues que otro material utizas a parte del bondo

  14. Hey, brother! Your armour turned out fantastic! But I have to ask how you calculated the scale for the armour to full size? Was there any adjustment for rib cage width on your guys part? I ask because I'm planning on making a Cypher suit and he doesn't wear a helmet but a hooded cloak.


    1. I used the files as-is without doing any scaling at all.