Sunday, May 1, 2016

First Order TIE Pilot Costumes

It's quite possible that I may end up accidentally recreating the entire First Order.  The problem is that there are so many interchangeable parts.

It started with the Flametrooper helmet.  I should've stopped there.  Next thing you know, I started making Captain Phasma's chrome helmet.  Then, determined to drive myself insane, I got started making the rest of her armor.  At that point, all hope was lost.

It started when someone in the workshop says, "hey, it looks like the new TIE fighter pilot has the same chest armor, shoulders, gauntlets, and belt as Phasma and the stormtroopers*"

"Think so?" I ask.

"I'm pretty sure," says he.  "All we'd have to do is make another helmet and the chest boxes and then it's just a matter of painting everything black and finding the right flight suit."

"Piece of cake," says I, being as wrong as possible.

So before anybody sobered up long enough to think better of it, I'd contacted the ever-ready 3D modelling folks at and got them to work on the helmet model.  As usual, they knocked it out of the park:

Then the madness continued.

The results of the madness?  If you were at Wondercon you may have seen a few of these guys out and about:

For more details on how they were made, read on...

The Helmet

I suppose it's best to take it from the top.  The first TIE pilot-specific part I tackled.  The main problem was that everyone was so deep into the Phasma project that I didn't really have much brain power to devote to this thing.  "No problem," I figured, "I'll just have the Lopez the Robot Whittler whittle it out in the same scale as the Phasma helmet."

I figured wrong.

After twenty or thirty hours of carving time, I assembled all of the parts and realized that the scale was off.

Way off:

Charging forward with reckless abandon, we went ahead and molded it anyway.  This was folly.

Clearly it was time for me to take a break.

Somewhere during that break, the Episode VII premiered and I loved it.  So when I got back to the shop I had a renewed level of excitement about this build.  Setting aside the comically oversized TIE Pilot helmet casting, I scaled the model down and had Lopez whittle out a new prototype.

After another couple of days of screaming away in the corner of the workshop, I pulled the parts off of the waste and assembled the new, smaller prototype.

It was still too big:
TIE Test Fit 2

Ignoring the little voice in my head screaming things like "WTF is wrong with you, moron?," and "Your head isn't nearly as big as people say it is!  That's just a metaphor, you idiot!" I set down and actually did a bit of mathing and measuring and had Lopez carve out yet another prototype.  At this point, things were getting silly:

Thankfully, the third time was the charm:

"Call me 'bobblehead' one more time, motherf*@^#r!"

Satisfied that I'd (finally) managed to get the scale right, I went smoothed out the prototype, molded it, and pulled a cast.  Everything went great except for the parts where the silicone mold rubber decided to bond to the surface of the prototype in a few places.  The end result was a rotocast helmet with warts:

You've gotta love it when an inanimate cup of goo decides to mess up your day.  Bastard.

Still, after a few seconds of extra work with a sanding drum, the warts were gone and the whole thing was ready for paint.  But first, I had to take a selfie:

Oh, and I made a new forming box for the lenses.  I did this pretty much the same way as I made the lens vacforming box for the Phasma helmet.  You can read about it in detail in that article: LINK.

Of course, while I was getting the helmet wrong over and over, my friend Matt was working on...

The Chest Boxes

The other signature element unique to the TIE fighter pilots is the set of three chest boxes attached to their armor.  Here's a snapshot I took of the screen-used ones:

Of course, when we were still working on the prototypes, I hadn't seen these in person.  Instead, Matt was armed with nothing more than an action figure and whatever images he could google up on his smartphone.

Matt loves this kind of project and I've found that it's often best to just leave him to it.  Occasionally I'd glance over and see him tinkering like so:
Matt Making TIE Pilot Chest Boxes

His first draft was pretty good (albeit a bit two-dimensional).  Here they are taped onto one of the smaller-sized chest armor sets:
TIE Pilot Chest Box Mockup

Working with scraps of foamed PVC sheet and bits of styrene, before too long he'd given them some depth:

After a bit more smoothing and detailing, we made a quick box mold and cranked out a set of castings:

Funny story about the hose.  We'd been trying to find a good source for surplus gas mask hoses ever since the very beginning of the project.  The best deal around was to buy a cheap Israeli gas mask with the hose-mounted filter canister and then just throw away the mask and canister.  The whole thing seemed a bit wasteful.  Then Matt walks in one day and tells me he's found an inexpensive source for a hose that looks just about right.

"Great," says I, "go ahead and order some."

"I can't," says he.

"I'll pay for them."

"It's not that," he replies, "the problem is that I only have my work phone with me and I can't have the website in my browsing history."

"A military surplus site?"

"No," he replies, "It's a hardcore gay leather bondage shop."

"Ha!" I exclaimed, "why didn't I think of that?!"

Since my workshop is located just a few minutes North of San Francisco, it took a 2-second web search and exactly one phone call to find a relatively local source for rubber gas mask hoses.  I'd link to their website, but it's horribly not safe for work and there's a chance that kids read my blog.

Since neither of us had time to make the run down to San Fran to pick up the hoses at the gay leather bondage shop, I asked a friend to stop and pick them up on his way in from the South Bay.  In hindsight before we sent him I suppose we should have told him more about the shop than the address.  Then again, maybe we did him a favor.  Who knows.

In the end, the hoses turned out to be a few inches too short and I now have a few dozen of them.  So I've got that going for me.  Which is nice.

Eventually, I ended up finding an ebay seller in Poland who had a stockpile of new old stock Soviet surplus gas mask hoses and bought up a bunch of them.

Somewhere along the way, this simple project of making "just a few new pieces" took a turn for the complicated.  It turns out that the only parts the TIE pilots had in common with the suits we'd already been making was the belt, chest, and back.  Everything else would have to be new.  So the next thing I tackled was...


Upon closer inspection, the TIE shoulders aren't quite the same shape as the standard trooper and Captain Phasma.  Instead, they're quite a bit longer, covering more of the upper arm.  To match the shape, I took one of the copies of the regular shoulder and started hacking it apart:

Then I glued the pieces back together with some tongue depressors to keep the pieces relatively straight:

Here's the outside:

To fill the resulting gap, I used Bondo Hair, a fiberglass-reinforced version of Bondo auto body filler that provides greater strength than the regular stuff:

Even though I only needed this piece to last long enough to pull a mold off of it, I went ahead and filled all of the gaps with Bondo hair:

Then ground them to the rough shape:

Then I switched to regular Bondo and did some more shaping and filling:

Eventually they really started to smooth out:

A quick coat of primer confirmed that the shape was correct.  Here's Matt trying it on:

In order to make molding easier, I gave the whole thing a coat of glossy green paint:

Why green?  Because I was out of pink.

In any case, the whole thing got waxed and coated with PVA mold release so I could make a mold.  Here's a shot of the demolding:

After pulling the first copy in fiberglass, I had Matt do another test fitting:

Good enough.


It also turns out that the gauntlets worn by the TIE pilots are different from the standard troopers.  As luck would have it, they're the same shape as the flametrooper's gauntlets, just in black instead of white.  That'll be a fun tidbit for another day though.

To get the shape right, I pulled a pair of gauntlets from the Phasma/trooper molds and started grinding off the parts that were wrong.  Then I filled in a few holes that didn't need to be there, split them along their length, and rounded them out a bit.  Here's one in progress:

Once I was happy with the shape, I gave them a shiny new coat of pink paint and set them up for molding:

Here's the silicone rubber print coat:

And the fully built-up jacket:

Once the rubber jacket was done, both molds got a 2-piece fiberglass mothermold:

After rotocasting a couple of pairs in urethane resin, I did some quick cleanup and they were ready to go:

Odds and Ends

Somewhere along the way, Matt made up a set of blocks to serve as the belt boxes:

Fortunately, those will also work for Phasma and the regular stormtrooper armor whenever I get back to working on that:

I also made up a pair of what I'm calling the "epaulettes" that go onto the shoulder area of the chest armor:

The "teardrop" brackets for the helmet were 3D printed (along with a few spares):

So were the "aerators" to fit into the tusks of the helmet:

Those were molded and then cold cast with aluminum:


Somewhere around the same time as I had made molds for all of the parts, a friend of mine with the SoCal Garrison of the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers contacted me about making a few extra copies for them.  I set them up with complete sets of the raw, untrimmed pulls out of the molds and they got to work making them into awesomeness.  

Less than two weeks later, they made their debut appearance at Wondercon 2016:

They're still getting a lot of mileage out of their armor.  Last I saw of them was when they made an appearance at a Star Wars themed pet adoption event earlier this month:

I'm still amazed at how great they turned out.  Now I just need to hurry up and finish one for me.  Then I can get back to work on Phasma:

And the standard trooper.

And the snowtrooper:

And the flametrooper:

And the rest of them...

*"Phasma and the stormtroopers" would be a great name for a geeky garage band.  Just sayin.'


  1. I was happy to check your blog today and find not one but two posts to read! Always a pleasure reading through your posts. The story about procuring the hoses reminds me of a dairy farmer in my area who retired a while back. He decided to put up a post online offering to sell some of his milking equipment. Apparently there was a strip club that bought some of the milker units. I'm guessing they put on a fairly unique show at that club.

  2. Absolutely amazing job with all of this. I had a question: Would you be at all willing to create/sell just the lenses? Its the only thing I'm missing for my first order helmet right now and I've had no luck as of yet.

  3. amazing costumes :) I just got asked about doing the Halloween dress ups and helping folks put together costumes today if the normal guy can't do it and found this checking out ideas, don't suppose you sell any of these costumes?

  4. I'd like to know if you have the armor pieces up for sale? I have the helmet but no armor. Also want to know where you got the jumpsuit. Please advise

  5. Do you have a store or site with TFO tie fighter Pilot props, parts etc for sale ?
    Let me know
    Cheers !!!!