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:
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 Wondermark.com, 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:
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:
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:
Here's a shot of me testing the scale for the shoulder:
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:
To fill in the low spots between the slices, I mixed up a batch of expanding foam and slathered it on:
After a bit of work with the body rasp, it looked pretty good:
After a bit more body work and some paint, it looked like so:
Once I had a nice, shiny surface to work with, I applied a mold release and built up a fiberglass mold:
Since there were no undercuts and the surface was smooth, the fiberglass mold came off cleanly:
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:
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:
They were really big:
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:
Here I am trying on the finished paper model:
Here's a test-fitting with one of my helmets, a pull of the shoulder, and a bolter:
Then it was time to start glassing the inside:
The inside also started glassing me:
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:
Here's another scale shot showing the main body stacked up:
We spent a lot of time marvelling at it's hugeness:
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:
That done, it was time to start building the boot forms. Here I am working on the toe:
As with all the other parts of this build, I couldn't help but be impressed with the size of this thing:
Here's the fully-assembled boot sitting on a pair of 5-gallon buckets:
Then it was time to start glassing the boot:
With the boots built, it was time to make the other parts of the legs:
They're huge too:
Matt took over glassing the insides of the parts:
Meanwhile, I was outside grinding down all of the high spots from the highly faceted shape of the original paper model:
Several times throughout the build process, we ended the day by stacking up the parts and saying, "damn that's big" like so:
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:
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:
Here's the arm coming together:
Here's the leg midway through the process:
Whenever I could take time away from other projects, I worked on the torso armor:
Here I am surrounded by projects:
Here's a bicep nearly finished smoothing:
Here's the shin coming together:
And the elbow:
All of the arm parts together:
My nephew trying on the nearly smoothed chest armor:
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:
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:
Some parts were much trickier to cut than others. For the chest, I used a laser level in order to mark a slicing plane:
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:
I delegated the actual cutting to Matt so I'd have someone to blame if it went wrong:
Everything went swimmingly, so here's how the parts looked:
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:
Once all three pieces of the chest were pulled, we taped them together for a quick test fitting:
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:
And the first full leg:
With the basic armor parts done, the real fun begins with sculpting on all of the badges and other details:
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:
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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