September 26, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 6: The Armor II

Last time, I briefly went through the process of building up the shape of the armor from plastazote foam. This time, I'm going to visit texture, trim, and paint.


This was an interesting nut to crack. It became a perfect example of how a problem can lead to a better creative solution and also demonstrates the power of experimentation. First, the problem: texture. I had the option of simply painting directly on top of the foam and calling it a day, but it looked like painted foam. That's on the left in this picture. On the right, was my first alteration.

Inspired by the sheet-metal appearance of my source images, I looked to smooth out the foam by melting the open cells to a smooth surface with a pass of a hot iron. It's worked for me on foams with smaller cells (EVA/craft foam, for example), but this surface was too rough to begin with and it didn't hide the seams well at all. Next option was to try a surface coat. I've found people using plasti-dip to get a good, smooth, rubberized texture on foam, but I couldn't find it in Singapore. So next option, Liquid Latex.

Painting latex needs a foam brush (or cut blocks of soft/mattress foam), many layers, and patience for the drying time between layers. The drying process can be sped up with a hairdryer, but it still takes a long time. I tried a few variations of many thin layers, a few thick layers, changing or keeping consistent my stroke lines, and was never quite satisfied - none were smooth enough to work. Then I tried stippling (dabbing/poking latex on rather than brushing it over) and came to a happy accident:

Stippling gave it a rough texture, much like cast iron. I went with three thick layers. I think it would be better to vary the thickness of the layers for varying scale of texture. Also, it would have been stronger with 5 or 7 layers - especially around edges spots subject to more wear. A major downside to this kind of finish is that it's almost impossible to repair latex if torn, so really more strength is way, way better. Maybe even embedding a thin, tight-knit mesh cloth into the first or second layer to help prevent tears or using truck bed liner instead of latex.

Painted in a hammered metallic silver (Krylon Fusion Hammered Silver), it gained even more color depth and great metallic variation across the surface. Unfortunately the near constant 90% humidity prevented the hammered part of the silver spray, but the latex texture more than made up for it.

Detail and Painting

At this point, the armor was missing key detail of hoses and the central heat vent. Those were all found pieces (a basket, floor drain, and dryer hose), with a good paint treatment. I used the same silver spray base, washed and stippled thinned black acrylic over for texture, and finished with silver acrylic drybrushing to distress the "metal" and highlight edges. I slotted the masket into a slit around the inside of the foam armour and I added an EVA foam border to the drain cover to help it surface-glue to the armour.

I can't stress enough the importance of experimenting with test pieces. Normally I'd add a layer of clear-coat to protect everything I paint, but test pieces showed that it made the foam's paint treatment too brittle and would crack and look terrible with the slightest bend. Experimentation is a huge time saver versus doing a whole piece that you're not satisfied with, and starting over again from scratch (see Armor Part I).

I attached the drain cover's eva border with contact cement to raw foam on the armor, cutting away latex where I needed to glue. To attach the hose, I cut simple foam bracket pieces with steel wire inside to help them keep their shapes. Again, I cut away latex where I needed to so I could glue raw foam brackets to raw foam armor body. This all would have been easier if I attached these before even starting on the latex/painting process, but they were a late addition to my things-I-have-time-to-do list. Afterwords, I latexed and painted the brackets, threaded the hose through, and cemented down each end of the hose. Boom.

The physical texture on the foam pieces gave me a good height variation so I could apply a black acrylic wash after the spray completely set (7 days for Krylon Fusion). To bring the bright silver back out on the highest points of the cast iron texture, I lightly rubbed the whole thing down with denatured alcohol. It helped the black dissolve and run into the valleys without dissolving the much more robust silver fusion paint. The effect was to give the texture greater depth and made the piece look heavier.

And with one more piece of hose added to the heat vent in front (cut spiral around the hose to get diagonally-lined trim), the armor was done!

It was a really challenging piece that evolved as I did, but in the end it was worth all the restarts and experimentation. Next time, I'll talk about finishing the dome and whatever else there's space for.

September 7, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 5: Body Suit II

First off, welcome all the new readers! It was wonderful to meet so many of you at STGCC last weekend and it was so great to chat via reddit the weekend before. I hope something here is useful for you. Let's get to it!

Change of Materials

I said in the last section on the body suit that I'd be making the suit from neoprene. Well that didn't happen for a few reasons. First, neoprene is really, really hard to get in Singapore. I tried dive shops, fabric centers, rubber factories, other bloggers, and online shops overseas, but none could help me find a color/thickness/quantity/texture that could possibly work. So in the end, I went with a black 3mm thick neoprene from Spotlight, intending to paint it. Unfortunately, my experiments with painting it were only partially successful: successful in that I eventually found a color/texture I was happy with but unsuccessful in that the paint seeped too deep into the neoprene and killed its elasticity.
Add to this that it's just a really warm, insulating material, and I decided it was time to give up that dream and go searching for other alternatives.

The Real Deal

In the end, I found a fabric I really like while just browsing through a fabric district in Chinatown, so now it was finally time to sit down and make the real suit. The lady at the shop called it "Stretch Cotton," but it totally stretches, burns and melts like a synthetic fabric. It's definitely a blend of some kind. It's a bit shiny, has different tones of grey on each side, and is super duper cheap. The only downside is that it snags easily, so I had to be careful.

So! One important thing I learned from looking at the test body-suit was that the lines of the seams were really quite important to the design. I decided to make them pop out more like in the design by adding piping in most of the seams. Piping is basically a long, thin length of fabric wrapped around a length of cord and attached between the two pieces of fabric in a seam. I learned how to do this from (aside: Coletterie has some of the best sewing tutorials I've seen - super good stuff.) The general consensus with making piping is you cut the fabric on the bias (meaning diagonally) to make sure it can stretch and bend neatly around corners. However, I cut this particular corner as the fabric I was using for the piping (i.e. the back side of the main body-suit fabric) was plenty stretchy just cut straight.

In the picture above, you can see the obvious underwear section with some piping in some seams, a pile of piping, and all my cut out pattern pieces. From here, it was the long process of sewing it all together. Well, most of it together. If you look at the design image, it has an alternate material (armored kevlar/vinyl/something) for knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. My plan was to sew all the pieces together that would be made with the main fabric, then make the pieces out of the armor fabric and then sew them in. This was a big mistake. Why? Because it was way, way easier and more precise when attaching a complete arm or complete leg to a complete torso than it was to fill in holes in that incomplete connection later, dealing with bad alignment or misplaced easing (easing is where one piece of fabric is stretched or gathered to sew to another of a different size). I'm never doing it this way again. In the end, I removed the arms, added the shoulder pieces, then added them back. It was a bunch of wasted effort, but a good lesson learned. You can see how badly it was aligned before I redid the arms below. You can also see how the piping helps the seams pop. A whole lot.

Unfortunately, I didn't take many good pictures of the fabric armor bits as I made them, but they're basically made like the rest of the suit, meaning panels of fabric with piping between. The only difference was that I then sewed the complete armor sections onto a bit of eva/craft foam to give it some rigidity and padding. The fabric is some shiny, textured silk fabric that I thought looked appropriate to the rest of the body suit.

Looking back, I should have either chosen a softer/stretchier fabric or a stiffer foam, because the fabric reshaped the foam more than the foam kept the shape of the fabric. Ah Hindsight. There is a lot of it the body suit. I suppose this is only my second major sewing project, so that's forgivable, I hope. As with any time we make anything at all, next time will certainly be better in a hundred little ways. Here's to improvement with each failure and pulling something cool out of a void of knowledge.

Later, we'll revisit this to talk about painting, because a decent paint job will make anything look better, especially cloth. Next time, we'll get more into the chest armor that you see a bit of in the above picture. I'll talk about how I did the texture, painting, and adding of non-foam detailing. Fun stuff.

August 27, 2013

Mr Freeze: Complete Suit

Just a quick interlude to post the complete suit:

I am damn proud.

This picture was taken during a photoshoot on Saturday with Jay Tablante. It will be quite some time until he and his collaborators are done with their magic, so I'm posting this a bit early. In any case, since I'm no longer frantically making on a timeline, the build journal will continue shortly.

June 30, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 4: The Armor I

This armor has been a bit of a journey.  Prototyping/development, building while trying out new materials, rebuilding in materials I know.  And now the structure is done, awaiting paint, detail, and finishing.  Here it is as it stands now, built of foam:

So how did we get here?  Let's go.

Cardboard Prototype / Pattern Development

Rather than jumping straight in with my chosen materials, I wanted to use cheap, cheap cardboard so I'd be able to make all the mistakes I needed to make.
This is how I finished my cardboard model.  The process I used to make this was very trial-and-error.  In short, I looked for flat areas on the design image (check back here) and tried to match them, panel by panel, in cardboard.  Some obvious interpretations were made since my body isn't quite the super-ideal comic-book-man body.  Each panel is symmetrical, so I cut them out on paper across a fold line before unfolding tracing onto the cardboard.  In the end I was left with this cardboard form as a  good 3d model and all the paper panel patterns to more easily make the real thing.  Cool.

Next came my biggest mistake, but I'm glad I took the time to make it.  I've been wanting to try building directly out of plastic and this seemed as good a time as any.  I found an ikea storage container that was about to be thrown out, and I went to work cutting out the patterns out of the plastic.
I really liked the texture of the plastic - slightly rough with structural ridges and lines throughout that I would work into the front, back, and shoulders.  So cool, I was fairly happy with this.  It seemed a little thin on me when I wore it, but I chose to move forward anyways.  So how to put it together without the tape?  Platic really doesn't glue very well.  My answer came in a horrible, painstaking, annoying process: rivets.  Once on there they look nice in a very steampunk kind of way, but it took nearly three days of work to put them all in there.  Oy.
Now for why this process was a bit of a failure and what I learned from it: bit's been a few years since I've worked with hard materials (plastic, wood, metal) - I've mostly been using foam and fabrics.  So I had forgotten how precise you need to be with them.  Precision is fine, I can do it, but my workshop is currently my bedroom and my precision tools are anything but at the moment.  So there were gaps.  Also, I needed something flexible, paintable, and plastic-stickable, so I found a kind of painter's caulk that fit the bill.  It worked ok.  The whole thing was mostly symmetrical.  Putting it on, I mostly liked the shape:
In this picture, you can see the neck seal piece I added on top.  In the end though, it just wasn't good enough.  I mean it would have been adequate, but I wanted it better than adequate.  So started again.  From the prototype.


I kept some parts and re-did others.  I reworked my prototype and redid more than half of my paper patterns.  Instead of using plastic this time, I used something I knew I had proper tools to use - and a more forgiving material overall - plastazote foam.  It's kind of like the type of foam that makes up camping mats or gym floor mats (EVA), but it's much lighter weight and more meant for prop making, millinery, etc.
Working with foam to make something like armor, a hat, or a puppet can be a huge topic in itself, but I'll be brief.  To have sharp corners out of a material with thickness like this one, you need to cut more-than or less-than 90deg corners.  On the picture on the left (which is simply pinned together for testing and fitting), each piece along the joins you see are cut inward so that the inside side of the piece is smaller than the outside.  I developed my patterns so that the paper pattern is the size out the outside shape (since it's the part that is seen) and each seam is labeled "30deg in" or "20deg out" so I know which way to cut the plastazote.  After pinning and testing the whole form, I used contact adhesive to glue the whole thing together.  Plastazote  works best with contact adhesive and, once glued together, forms an absolutely permanent bond.

One of the nicest things about working with foams you intend to paint or cover in fabric is that they are super, super easy forms to edit.  it's easy to cut away a section if it's too long and glue the rest back.  It's easy to make a slit and glue in a bit more.  It's easy to add on top of and it's easy to pin to test.  It bends, folds, and stretched wonderfully and will keep beautiful organic forms unless you force it not to.  Finally, you can carve, melt, or layer detail onto or into it when its done and make it look just fabulous.  Working with foam is just great.
In the end, starting from (almost) the beginning was annoying and discouraging, but I absolutely feel that it was the right decision.  The new form fits on me much better, builds a wider frame more in keeping with the comicy aesthetic, is lighter, and should paint better.  This is absolutely a learning process every time, so matter how many times I make things.  I'm glad to experiment with new techniques and materials, succeed or fail, and do better next time.

Next Time

I'm into making the body suit from Neoprene, and that's a bit of a saga.  In short, there's a fabric sale, odd paint choices, and some unfortunate cat paws.

June 9, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 3: The Goggles

These were a bit tricky.  After much testing, prototyping, and tweaking, I happily ended up with this terrifying creation:

In person, they look excellent - a textured, glowing lens with 6 hotspots of light around a black pupil-like-darkness set into welding goggles.  Also, I can see surprisingly well through a tiny hole in the center of each lens.  It's super bright in the photo because you are seeing 12 LEDs going at full blast, but in person it looks great in a bright room.  So how did I do this?  Lets go.

The Process

I started with a pair of cheap welding goggles, chosen both because they were a form I liked and also because welding goggles have easily removable lenses so you can switch the darkness rating for different kinds of welding.  In this picture you can see a lens cap ring unscrewed from the goggles body, the dark lens, clear lens, and plastic gasket ring removed.

Putting in the lights, I needed to find a way to have tons of light come out of the lens with absolutely none coming into my eye.  The easiest way was to mount the LEDs to a mirrored Acrylic disc.  Simply gluing tinfoil to the acrylic would have done, but I already had some with a mirrored film attached.  Before we go much further, let's look at a cross section plan of this thing:

Don't be scared - it's actually pretty simple.  Now this is what I ended up with - far, far away from where I started.  Here's an explanation of the pieces of the cross-section from the front to the back.  Pictures follow.
  • The lens holder is an original part of the goggles, basically a ring that screws onto body to hold onto the various lenses.
  • The glass lens is a flat, boring glass disc that came with the goggles.  I kept it to make sure the front of each lens has a uniform, shiny surface.
  • The gasket is just a tiny plastic ring that acts as a small spacer between the glass and plastic.
  • The plastic disc is a disc of opaque, white plastic I cut from an Ikea storage box.  The front is lightly textured and the back has a regular triangular tessellation carved into it with a dremel.  Through the center is a small hole (roughly 1.5cm diameter) through which I can see.
  • The black foam tube is a small tube I cut/carved from EVA foam (craft foam) to keep the LED light from making it into my eye by maintaining a solid tube of darkness.  The squishiness of the foam also helps keep everything in place.
  • Six LEDs are mounted evenly around the foam tube, mounted onto a piece of mirrored acrylic simply by pulling the leads through tiny holed drilled through the acrylic.  Acrylic because it's solid and can be clear in the center, mirrored to bounce all the possible light out of the front of the lens.  The mirroring was a film applied to the front side, but tinfoil or aluminium tape would work equally well.  I made sure to cut away the mirroring in the center of the acrylic so I could see through.
  • The foam disc is for comfort, to protect my face from the electronics, and to make sure to block any light that comes through or around the acrylic.

In Pictures

Here you see the LEDs wired in parallel into the mirrored acrylic.  I used the leads from the LEDs and resistors themselves to complete the circuits around the center for the positive sides of the LEDs and extended with small wires around the edges for the negative side.

Here you see both acrylic/LED discs mounted into the goggles.

Here are all the layers in front of the LEDs, though not quite in the right order.  You can see the pattern etched into the back of the plastic disc in this picture.  When all lit up, that pattern shines through each lens, though the front of each plastic piece is flat.  It's a cool effect.

After some testing, I wired the left lens into the right, thus putting all 12 LEDs in parallel.  Then I could replace the noseguard with a new one made from bent steel wire and EVA foam and add the foam discs.

All put together.

And that's it for this week!  Right now the voltage source is a pair of AA batteries (totaling 3V).  All LED/resistor calculations were simplified by using this website, LED Wizard.  They're not hard calculations, but if you're new at any kind of electronics, it's nice to have a computer tell you that you're on the right track.

Future modifications will be few.  Namely, I'll change the wire-hanging-from-my-goggles look to one that looks like a curlicue earpiece wire attached to a fake (or potentially functional) earpiece.  Also, I'm going to change the voltage source from simple batteries to an arduino so I can add dimming for picture taking (via a dimmer knob hidden on the chest armour) and timed pulsing.

See you next time!

June 1, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 2: Body Suit I

The Body Suit Pattern and Test

Obviously, Mr Freeze is wearing a body suit and I'm going to need to make it from scratch if I want the same shapes and lines as my design images. On the advice of Jay Tablante, I'm going with Neoprene as the material because of the way it can be lit for photography, stretches while worn, and has a bit more body to it than simple lycra/spandex.  First Step: make a pattern.  Which I have never done before.

Having not nearly enough expertise in costume making to actually draft a real pattern from scratch, I instead opted to cheat with a packing tape dummy.  Firstly, Elina (my wonderful fiancĂ©e and more-than-able maker) helped to wrap my entire body in a few layers of cling wrap followed by roughly three layers of packing tape.  Before the last layer we marked lines that might later be useful with colored electrical tape (waist, hips, chest, and center line).  After about three hours of constricted movement and the sound of tape coming off the roll, Elina cut me out with a zig-zag slit up the back (to make realignment easy) and at the ankles and wrists. I taped those cuts back together had a ghetto body mold:
I didn't matter that it wasn't perfect or rigid as the material I would make the suit from would be stretchy and flexible.  From here, I drew lines on the suit roughly matching my source design with slight alteration to make sure it would be possible to build and would work with real human body shapes.  Then I labeled seams to make the construction easier and cut it all apart.
To save myself work, I assumed that my body is reasonably symmetrical and only did half.  Wherever the actual pattern will not be cut down the center, I marked the center cut as a fold line.
Also in that half-body picture, you can see that I copied the cut out body pieces to paper, giving me an organized, labeled, non-stretchable, archivable copy of the pattern.  Next, I found a cheap, stretchy test fabric with a truly horrible pattern.  I'm testing because I want to make a suit that I could pin and alter easily, changing the pattern as required before committing to the real (expensive) material.  The process was to copy the paper patterns onto the fabric, adding a 1.5cm seam allowance on all sides.  Then I set about sewing the cut panels together along the pattern lines, horrible sides together.  I started with the torso, then the limbs, then connected all.

Here you see the completed test pattern (sans pinning/altering - afterwords it lacked the little bit of wrinkling you see around the waist and hip).  I'm wearing it inside-out in the pictures because 1. the pattern is just too gross and 2. with the pattern being a kind of icy camouflage, it camouflages the seams whereas I need to see them - d'oh.

In any case, this early planning should help immeasurably when constructing the actual suit.  This is as far as I've gotten with the body suit for now as I'm still trying to source for the right neoprene, so instead of continuing on this next time I'll jump into the goggles.  They glow.

May 25, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 1: Design and Dome

A few months ago I started a new cosplay project for Singapore's International Cosplay Day and STGCC.  Last year, my fiancee and I met and befriended the phenominal photographer Jay Tablante while we were cosplaying The Joker and a female Penguin.  He dug our work so this year he wants to do a proper photo shoot with what we come up with.  As I had plenty of time to work and wanted a challenge and lots of learning opportunity, I settled on Victor Freeze of the Batman Universe while Elina is opting for Inque, of Batman Beyond.


Rather than starting from scratch, I crawled the internet for a successful design to base my costume on.  Thankfully I stumbled onto the DC Universe Online design:
I love a lot about this design.  The cool colors are great, the mixture of hard armor and soft suit would be challenging, it looks hefty without being ridiculous, and has great lines and a good feeling of utility with good electronics flourishes.  It seems like this suit could actually be somewhat useful to wear for Freeze.  I didn't quite like how minimal the chest armor is though, so I did some quick digital painting and bulked it up by wrapping it all the way around the chest:
There.  That's a good working image.

Sourcing The Dome

The head dome has been one of the most problematic things in this build to find.  Weeks of searching for acrylic bell jars, plastic cake covers, and action figure cases led me in circles, as did experiments in reshaping (i.e. melting) plastic bowls and containers.  It's a very specific shape that is absolutely required for Freeze's identity, and the size and shape are both really specific.  Finally I bit the bullet and ordered a pack of garden cloaches from Lee Valley Tools in Canada.  Believe it or not, buying a pack of five of these suckers and shipping them all the way to Singapore was the easiest, cheapest way to get anything close to the right shape that I could find.  Geeze.
As you can see, when it finally arrived it was a bit bucket-like.  To fix that, I cut a slit up the back and overlapped a bit to make the edges more (but not fully) parallel and test-fitted some plastic around the base and covering said slit as trim.  This is a definite change from most Freeze designs.  However--as this is my interpretation of Freeze--I'm embracing the extra structure along the back of the helmet.  In my opinion, the best design decisions arrive organically.  In any case, it will need much refinement later.

That's it for now.  Next time will be adventures in making a body suit.