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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Second Sister Costume from Jedi: Fallen Order Part 3: Finishing and Lighting the Hard Parts

If you're just tuning in, this is the third entry about building this  costume:
In-Game screenshot

This is the Second Sister from the video game Jedi: Fallen Order.  An Imperial Inquisitor on a mission to hunt down the remaining Jedi sometime between Order 66 and the beginning of A New Hope, I've been stalled out playing the game because I'm a terrible gamer and can't fight my way past her.  So I only play for a few minutes a week when I feel like getting beaten and abused by a woman dressed in black and knee-high boots.

But that's an issue for another time...

In my first article about this build I wrote about making the helmet from the in-game models.  In the second article, I covered the making of the bracers, shoulder armor, belt buckle, and rank bars.  At that point though, they still didn't quite look right for some reason.  Here's my assistant Rachel trying them on:
Awkward Test Fitting
Still much to do.

I didn't end up writing in much detail about the actual trimming and prep work.  Mostly because it's not very interesting, but also because I tend to forget to take pictures during the process.  Largely because I look like this:
Noisy Dusty Room

In any case, the helmet looked like so when it came out of the mold:
First cast is successful.

The first step in getting it wearable is to set myself up with one of these cutoff wheels on the rotary tool:
Cutoff Wheel

I used that to very carefully cut out the eye slit and hack off most of the excess flashing around the bottom of the helmet.  With the inside edges trimmed, I could fit the jaw back into place again:
Helmet Trimming

Fine tuning the edges was done with a medium grit (probably 120, but I don't pay attention) sanding drum.  Like this one:

Sanding Drum
That little guy managed to do most of the work shaping the rough edges into something smooth-ish.  But for really fine work in the tight corners, it was time to enlist Mr. Mixing Stick:
Mr. Popsicle, Sanding Assistant

Mr. Mixing Stick fits in where the sanding drum can't and makes everything better along the way:
Mr Popsicle Sanding

Because the neck hole is too small for most adult human heads to fit through, the jaw needs to remain detachable.  Since the wearer would be wearing gloves and possibly have a hard time trying to hook up latches or velcro or whatnot, I decided this was a great job for magnets.  To install them, I started by drilling 1/4" holes at the back of the jaw on either side:
Drilling Magnet Holes in Jaw

Then I dripped in a couple of drops of CA glue:
Glue in Magnet Holes

Finally, I inserted some neodymium magnets into each hole:
Inserting magnets

Lastly, I trimmed off any excess glue to leave the bare surface of the magnets exposed:
Trimming excess glue

I also added three magnets to the front of the jaw where it would meet the snout of the helmet:
Jaw with Magnets Installed

Matching magnets were then installed on either side of the helmet where the jaw meets the ear flaps:
Matching Magnets in Helmet Skirt

They were also installed in the snout as well:
Matching Magnets in Snout

All told, I used seven pairs of magnets to hold everything together.  This made for a pretty secure connection that could be pulled apart by hand but wouldn't fall off in the course of walking around or shaking her head.

Lighting the Visor

In the game the eye slit has a soft red glow to it.  Getting something to be see-through as well as illuminated can be a bit of a challenge.  This usually involves cheating by hiding eye holes somewhere else and letting the wearer see out of the helmet through trickery and deception.  Given the close fit and lack of details to hide eye holes in, I had to work out a way to see out through the lighted slit instead.  

I started by cutting out a piece of 1/4" acrylic sheet and heating it up until I could bend it into place inside the helmet.  Then I used a hacksaw blade to scratch a quick and dirty crosshatching pattern into the inner surface:
Helmet Visor Cut and Etched

Then I soldered up an LED array that was glued into place to edge-light the sheet:
Helmet Lighting Soldering

When it was powered up, the scratched lines picked up the light pretty well:
Helmet Lighting Test Illuminated

As you might expect, this is a lot of light inside the helmet and makes visibility hard for the wearer:
Helmet Lighting Test Installed

To make sure she wouldn't be blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night...


To make sure she would be able to see out, I added a layer of green tinted acrylic (which filters out red light) and installed it inside the helmet between the red lights and the wearer's face:
Helmet Lighting Test Green Filter

Here's an initial test fitting with the lights in place:

My assistant Rachel spent a few minutes walking around the shop and managed to avoid knocking into anything (or at least no more than she'd usually stumble into) so it seemed like it would work out:
Walkaround Visibility Test

I was mostly happy with it:20200507_171746

The main disappointment was that the rough scratches from the hacksaw blade made for an uneven light distribution and blurry spots in the wearer's vision.  To make up for this, I hit up my friend Jesse at Puzzlebox Props for some time on his laser cutter.  He made me some much nicer clear acrylic pieces with this very uniform crosshatching pattern etched into the surface:Lighted 2nd Sister Visor Cut

To get these pieces to fit into the helmet, they were placed in a toaster oven for a few minutes until they were warm enough to flop into place in the helmet:

Cooking Acrylic 1

It's important to pay attention during the heating process.  Cooking them for just a bit too long will cause acrylic pieces to bubble up and become completely useless.  So you have to watch it pretty close and check from time to time to see if it's flexible enough to force into place.  It's not a very interesting show:
Cooking Acrylic 2

But as soon as it gets warm enough to form, I lay it in place inside the helmet and it's left to cool:
Acrylic Place to Cool

That's what it looks like when it's formed in time.  If it's overcooked, it turns into this hot mess:
Overcooked Visor Acrylic

Once the parts were formed other refinement was to notch the bottom edge with a sanding drum so it would fit a bit better where the cheekbone area was inside the helmet:

Inner Visor Notched

With all of the forming and trimming done, it was time to round up the necessary tools for the lighting:

Lighting Workstation 1

The wire strippers are one of the handiest things I've bought for my limited electronics work.  Next to them is a pair of wire cutters for speedy cutting of wires and nipping off the ends of the LED leads.  Needle-nosed pliers turn out to be useful for undoing the occasional screwup in the assembly phase.  The soldering iron is for soldering the connections together and the hot glue gun lets me do a quick and dirty version of covering any exposed elements and potting the wiring so I don't have to worry about something getting bumped and causing a short later.

Before soldering any LEDs into place, I made it a point to mock up a breadboard circuit first.  I also have a handy LED tester that lets me check each of the LEDs before I inadvertently wire in a burnt-out one that missed the trash can:Lighting Workstation 2

With a couple of bags of LEDs, spools of hook-up wire, and a stack of battery boxes at the ready, it was time to get started.  Here's what the breadboard mockup circuit looked like:Visor light circuit breadboarded

What you're looking at is sixteen LEDs wired up in eight parallel sets of pairs in series.  If you're the kind of nerd that needs a circuit diagram instead, it looks like so:

Stretched out for clarity, the soldered version looks like so:

Lights Wired

With the lighted circuit all wired up and tested, the LED were glued into the notches on the acrylic visor with a few drops of CA glue:

Visor lights wired

Someone out there is going to ask why I don't have any resistors in the circuit to protect the LEDs.  I'd like to say that I did all the math and it turns out that with the voltage drop across each diode the serial pairs are able to handle the current without any problem.  The real truth of it is that after my initial breadboard test with all sixteen LEDs in parallel just made sixteen neat little popping noises and corresponding puffs of smoke, I just kept trying different layouts until I was able to get the whole thing as bright as possible without letting any of the magic electron smoke out of the wires.  This version of the LED array stayed lit for seven straight hours without dimming or burning out any LEDS, so I'm confident it'll work just fine.

To install them in the helmet, I needed an option that would make them removable later in case anything ever goes wrong with the wiring. So I started by gluing in a series of T-nuts so I could just bolt them in: 

Light Mounting T-Nuts 

Later I refined the plan to use four T-nuts instead of three. Once they were glue in, I used Magic Sculpt epoxy putty to reinforce their attachment points:

Light mounting inserts 

With the lighted visor and interior green tinted layer in place, it looked like so:

Visor lights mounted 

The remaining light leaking in around the edges was blocked out with judicious application of gaffer's tape after everything was painted: Lights Taped Off

But I'm jumping ahead...

Lighting the Forearms

For the little lights in the bracers, I had an even simpler approach. Since space was at a premium, I couldn't put in very big batteries. After an exhaustive research and development process, I determined that the optimal circuit would use two CR2032 button cell batteries and a single high-intensity LED. Actually, that's not true. In reality, I had a bunch of these handy two-cell battery holders wired up with built-in switches on hand and it was really easy to attach a single LED and glue it to the end of a piece of red-tinted acrylic to make the light I needed:

Bracer Lights

Once the painting was done, they'd fit nicely into the square hole on the bracers.  Gaffer's tape contains any light leaks on the inside and a patch of velcro would keep the battery pack from rattling around.

The end result looked like so:

Lighted Set 2

Again, I'm jumping ahead.

Painting and Final Details

When it comes to prop and costume making, the biggest problem I have is that I almost never make just one of anything.  This same thing held true here.  The helmets were trimmed and prepped and primed and given several coats of satin black:Helmet Painting Progress

Same goes for the shoulders:Shoulders painted

The bracers too:
Bracers painted

With the painting finished, the final touch was to add a bit of metal screen door mesh to the holes in the cheek vents:
Cheek Mesh Installed 2

Cheek Mesh Installed 1

So with all that said and done, here's the Lady Shawnon trying on the parts all finished and waiting on the soft parts of the costume to be sewn up:
Fitting progress

So now it's just a matter of getting the soft parts and the lightsaber sorted out.

Stay tuned...

NOTE: Some of you more astute readers may have noticed that in the first photo my assistant Rachel has no tattoos and in the lighting test photos my assistant Rachel is thoroughly festooned with them.  These are two different women.  Both are named Rachel.  It's only occasionally cause for confusion.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Building the Fallout 4 T-60 Power Armor Part 5: Making the Helmet

This is the fifth article in the series about the building of my T-60 Power Armor from Fallout 4.  If you're just tuning in, here's links to the previous articles: 

While I have already explained much of the details involved in getting the parts both large and small out of the the game and into the real world, I suppose the one part that does the best job of summing it all up is the helmet.  I probably should've written this article first, but oh well.

Usually when I'm working on a big armor project, I like to start by building the helmet first.  There's a number of reasons for this.  First of all, if I end up losing interest in the project and dumping it on the backburner for eternity, at least the helmet looks good sitting on the shelf.  Second, while most people don't have space to stand the complete, lifesize T-60 in their home, it's easy to find a place to display the helmet.  This means that it makes a handy thank you gift for folks who've helped out on the project.  Finally, on the days when I don't feel like working on the big, dusty project with all the smelly, toxic materials, the helmet can sit there on the bench and stare at me.  It's a good thing for me to have this sort of thing sitting on the bench, watching, judging.  Taunting me with its unfinished nature, eventually it spurns me into action to build the rest of the body that will make it whole so at last it may be laid to rest in a place of honor among the big stack of done things in my portfolio.

So yeah.  Helmet first.

Here's the digital model I started with:
T-60 Helmet Model

The trick at this stage is to decide which pieces and parts can be made by which machines.  While technically my 3D printers are capable of doing it all, the helmet is big enough that they'll take forever and the main body of it is smooth enough that there's really no need for that level of resolution.  After a bit of tinkering in the digital realm, I had removed most of the little greeblie bits that would be better suited to 3D printing or just buying at the hardware store:
Models In Progress
I later sliced off the ear caps and the "sink drain" details at the front end since they had some very tiny details that were much better suited for printing.

Once that was done, I sliced up the main body in the Carvewright design software and fed it to Maria (my third Carvewright in the shop):
Right Upper Arm Carved

All told, she whittled it out in three separate sessions of about six or eight hours each.  The raw carved parts looked like so:
Helmet Parts Carved

Once the bits and pieces were snapped out of the waste material, it was time to jigsaw puzzle them back together:
Helmet Parts Laid Out

With a bit of glue, the main body had taken shape:
Helmet Assembly Progress

I was pretty happy with the size too:
Test Fit Wide Angle

At this point I was still leaving a couple of slices out of the helmet so I could see out of it while I was goofing around trying it on in the shop.  I'd get around to plugging those holes later.

While all of that was going on, the Zortrax printers were growing the little bits for me.  Here's much of the detail add-ons fresh off the printer:
Helmet Greeblies in Progress

While many of them would be molded and cast separately, there were a few that made more sense to blend into the rest of the helmet body so they'd be cast directly in place.  For example, the nostril and snout details:
Huuuuge helmet Fitting
These either included undercuts that the 3-axis Carvewright couldn't get to or very thin edges that would've fallen apart if carved in the thoroughly frangible MDF.

With the first little bits glued onto the main body, the next step was filling the seams and smoothing everything out.  This initial fairing process was a great job for Bondo body filler:
Roughing In More Shape

At this rough stage, the helmet body went through a couple of rounds of filling and hand sanding on its way to getting the shape right:
Smoothing Helmet Prototype

Once the rough shaping was done, the next step was fine tuning and feathering in the edges with spot putty:
Helmet Sanding Continues

After a couple of coats of primer, the remaining smaller surface flaws were touched up with more spot putty:
T-60 Helmet 5th Filler Pass

At this point, a few more details were added.  In this case, the hose attachment points and the sink drain detail cut from a piece of flat stock:
T-60 Helmet Progress Left

When it was almost as smooth as it was going to get, the left ear cap was added too:
Only the left one though.  The right one would need to be separate for reasons that would make sense later.

Finally, rivets were added where needed before the whole thing was given a glossy coat of paint:
Helmet Prototype Ready to Mold

While most of my helmet molds lately have been matrix molds, this part of this build was done a few years ago before I was entirely confident with that method.  Instead, this was a brush-up silicone mold jacket and a fiberglass mothermold built on top of the jacket.

It started with mounting the helmet to a cardboard riser hot glued into the neck hole:
Helmet Mounting Begins

Then I packed the undercut area in the bottom of the neck ring with thixotropic silicone before mounting the whole assembly on a scrap of MDF and adding a cardboard drip wall:
Undercuts Filled Before Mounting Helmet

Then I poured on a thin "print coat" to capture all of the details:
Helmet Print Coat Pouring

After this had set up I started adding more thickened layers.  Here's somewhere in the middle of the second or third coat:
Helmet Mold Print Coat

Because I was trying to capture this build on video, I neglected to get photos of the rest of the mold process for the helmet body.  Suffice it to say that it went pretty much the same way as most of my other older helmet molds. If you really need the details, you can read all about the process in the moldmaking section of my book:

Make Props and Costume Armor cover

You can get a copy here: LINK  In addition to explaining brush up molds, I cover all manner of things from Pepakura building to foamsmithing to vacforming as well as painting, weathering, rigging, and so on.  I'm very proud of it.  End of shameless plug.

In any case, once the mold was done, it was only a matter of time before I had rotocast my first helmet body.  Here it is next to the prototype:
First T-60 Helmet Cast

The rubber hoses are actually some new old stock Cold War era Russian gas mask hoses that I picked up on eBay from a seller in the Ukraine.  They just happen to be about the exact right length and the fact that they've been sitting on some warehouse shelf collecting dust since the fall of the Soviet Union means they look just right for the wasteland aesthetic I was after.

Now it was time to figure out how the little greeblie bits would attach.  Video game models don't have to necessarily concern themselves with how the parts of things fit together.  There are not really any physical barriers that prevent digital meshes from passing through each other and they are often left to just hover in place with nothing actually holding them in place.

When it comes time to make parts with mating surfaces that will fit snugly together, what I'll often do is cover the contact area with masking tape, then a coat of Vaseline.  Then I blob a healthy dollop of Bondo onto the adjoining part and smoosh it into place like so:
Whisker Tubes Fit Adjustment

Once the bondo is cured, the part can be popped off and I know that the backside has the just right contour to fit where it goes onto the main body.  At that point, it's just a matter of a bit of trimming and cleanup before the pieces can be sanded smooth, primed, painted, and molded.  Again, I did a terrible job of photographing the works in progress, but here's a handful of the helmet details and one of the chest canisters we started referring to as the "oil filters" for lack of a better term:
Helmet Greeblies Ready to Mold

Most of those parts were made in simple block molds.  I had a helper make the mold boxes and pour the rubber and probably should've been supervising them a bit more closely because one of the boxes sprung a leak and about fifty dollars worth of rubber drooled all over the bench and onto the floor:
Rubber Molds in Progress

One of the trickier add-on bits was the right ear.  Mostly because it had this contraption sticking out of it:
Improved T-60 Sight Arm

The digital model was lacking some of the definition I needed, so it ended up being mostly modeled by hand from scraps of plastic that I had on hand in the shop.  The final detail was a pair of rivets in the front end:
Improved Details for T-60 Helmet Sight Arm

Once it was sanded smooth and painted all pink and shiny, it was mounted on it's back end, set up with vents and sprues, and boxed for molding.  Here it is once the rubber was poured:
Last Round of Molds for T-60 Helmet

Once the rubber had cured, the mold was cut to release the prototype and I was ready to start casting more:
Cutting the Mold for the SIght Arm

With that mold made, I had a full set of the cast add-ons:
Full Set of Helmet Parts

The headlight lens was cast in clear resin:
T-60 Headlight Lens Cast

It was sized to fit neatly into a notched ring set in the headlight housing:
T-60 Helmet Lenses in Place

The eye lenses were just a single piece of dark tinted acrylic sheet that was heated up in a toaster oven and then laid in place against the eye holes until it had cooled:
T-60 Helmet Headlight Lens Installed

So that's the first helmet all trimmed and ready to paint:
Assembled T-60 Helmet

Of course, I never make just one of anything.  After a fun-filled day of casting and demolding, I had a few extra helmets lined up:
Helmets Ready to Finish

Then I started started the trimming and prep work portion of  this build.  Most of the casts were pretty good, but someone did an absolutely awful job on this one cast:
Neck Hole Cut

Normally a cast like this would be crushed and used for filler in bigger cast parts, but it had some interesting surface flaws that would be useful later.

In any case, I started by rough trimming the neck hole and eye holes with a tile cutting bit on the Dremel:
Cutting Out Eye Holes

The same bit was used to cut out the sink drain holes on the snoot:
Cutting Out Drain Holes

Then I fine-tuned the edges with a sanding drum on the Dremel:
Grinding Neck Hole

Grinding Out Eye Holes

There were a few tiny bubbles in the mold that ended up leaving these little warts on the casting:
Chin Flaw

A high-speed cutting bit made quick work of those:
Removing Chin Flaw

Chin Flaw Smoothed

At this point, I was mostly done with the heavy grinding portion of the prep work.  The next step was to smooth out the remaining rough bits by hand sanding:
Sanding Neck Hole Smooth

Sanding Eye Hole Smooth

This included getting rid of the slight seam line where the mold was cut to remove the helmet:
Seam Line Mold Flashing

Sanding Surface

Finally, I drilled the bolt hole for the right ear:
Drilling Ear Hole

To attach the right ear with the built-in sight arm, I would need a bolt hole there too.  This started as a 3/4" hole drilled inside the center of the ear cap with a Forstner bit.  Then a T-nut was glued in place in the bottom of the hole.  Once the glue had set, the hole was filled around the T-nut with casting resin.  This makes a nice, secure threaded steel insert permanently embedded in the resin ear cup:
Sight Arm with T-Nut

To attach the right ear assembly, it's just a matter of running a bolt from the inside of the helmet into the threaded insert in the ear cup:
Sight Arm in Place

The last bit of drilling was to cut out the ends of the rear tubes where the gas mask hoses would be inserted:
Drilling Hose Holes at Rear

So that was most of the prep work the helmets needed:
Holes Drilled

The next step was to cut off the mold sprues from the nostril tubes:
Tubes To Trim

This was done with a cutoff wheel:
Tubes Trimming

Once the ends were sanded down, they were all glued in place:
Tubes Installed

Next I bent some 1/4" aluminium rod to make the guard rails on either side of the eye holes:
Helmets in Spot Putty
The red in the above pic is just some spot putty used to smooth out the seams.

I mentioned that there was one helmet cast that would've normally been tossed out.  The main reason for this was a huge air blister that was near the surface:
Cast Flaw Road Rash

This is what I get when I'm using a really big mold to teach a noob how to rotocast helmets.

While it usually would've ended up in the trash, the Fallout universe is a welcome place for rusty, dusty, damaged things.  With that in mind, I decided to embrace the flaws.  I even used a drill, some bondo, and a bit of spot putty to add a bullet splash in the other side:
Forehead Bullet Ding

A flawed section of the snout was repaired with a blob of bondo sculpted to make the metal look bent instead of just missing:
Snout Dent Bondo

And with that, I had five helmets all ready to paint:
Stack of Helmets in Progress

 After a couple of coats of black primer, they were mostly given a plain silver basecoat:
T-60 Base Silver Front

This did wonders for the "damaged" helmet:
T-60 Base Silver Side

Once the silver had time to set up, it was given a generous blackwash.  This started wit smearing black acrylic paint over the whole helmet: 
Blackwash Begins

Along the way, the black acrylic was thinned with water and isopropyl alcohol to help it flow into all of the recesses:
Blackwash Complete

After using a rag to daub off most of the black, the metal finish began to look suitably aged as shown here on the right:
Helmet Lineup Right

The one exception to the rusty dirty theme was this guy:
Atom Cats Helmet Beginning

He was painted in the Atom Cats' signature hotrod style.  Complete with this logo stenciled on the back:
Atom Cats Stencil Plus Blackwash

Of course, even that helmet got at least a bit of blackwash to knock down the shine.

For the rest of them, rust was the order of the day:
Family Portrait 1

All of the bare metal helmets would need at least a bit of rust, but the one with all of the casting flaws got the most of it:
Tiiiin roof...  rusted!  #t60 #FALLOUT4

The effect was achieved the same way as the blackwash, selectively using colors such as burnt umber and raw sienna and letting the watered-down paint drool it's way all over to leave streaks of rust along the way:
Rusting in Progress Right

For areas where excessive scaly rust buildup was needed, drops of CA glue were smeared into place and then caked with cinnamon before spraying with an accelerator to lock everything together:
Heavy Rust Closeup Snout

The cinnamon trick was a tip I picked up from my friend Freddy Schramm, master of all kinds of corrosive fiction: 
Heavy Rust Closeup Right Side

The final effect is gorgeously believable and as an added benefit, it makes the shop smell like a bakery for a moment, instead of the toxic chemical nightmare it really is:
Heavy Rust Closeup 1

Once the paint is set up, the headlight and sight arm lenses are glued in place.  Then I install the gas mask hoses and it's all done:
Rust and Dust

At that point, all that remains is finding a suitable location to display it:
Junkyard Find

Stay tuned for more updates.  Next up for this project will be the boots.  In other words, I'll detail how I turned a 5'7" tall me into a 7'3" tall armored behemoth.

Stay tuned...