Full Speed, A Head!

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Jan 102017

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

Hey, remember this project? This project that I haven’t much talked about in the last, oh, nine months or so? Guess what! I just finished assembling the high-detail paper model for the base mold!

Full-resolution paper model mold base, front 3/4 Full-resolution paper model mold base, rear 3/4

I did indeed switch to using hot glue after my last update, to excellent effect. Rather than applying it via a hot glue gun, I instead used the glue gun to keep the glue in a liquid state and spot-applied it with toothpicks. This worked out really well, with one giant downside that I didn’t recognize until the damage had been done: leaving hot glue to just sit there with heat on it results in some of it vaporizing. My office, where I’ve been assembling this, is not well-ventilated. As a result, once I realized why I had started coughing and feeling miserable, I shelved the project for a bit. Also, finishing Embers and running a D&D game for some friends took over my life for a little while, but Embers is now out1 and I’m finally getting a handle on balancing my prep work for the D&D game, which means time to work on this has materialized once more!

Full-resolution paper model mold base, front 3/4 No doubt spurred into action by seeing Rogue One, I dove head-first back to work. This time, I kept a fan running at all times and wore a simple dust mask, which prevented most of the fumes from getting anywhere near me. I also purchased the fellow pictured here on clearance at Target to keep me company while I worked.

Everything has come together exceedingly well, as far as I’m concerned. I hit on the idea of creating small little cardboard cross-section supports, hearkening back to my original design approach to this whole project. I noticed some structural deformation happening to the cardstock due to the growing weight of the model. Given that forestalling this kind of warping with the resin and fiberglass step is the next part of the plan, I didn’t want to go into that step with an already-warped model!

Cross section printout glued to flat cardboard
Cardboard cross-section supports on the face Cardboard cross-section supports on the scalp and brim

I looked over the major distortion points and created simple planes intersecting the helmet model in Blender, then printed these out with the paper model plugin the same way I had everything else so far. I rummaged around in the basement for a cardboard box of the approximate right dimensions and sturdiness and then got to work slicing these up and gluing them into place. I used a green marker to identify the vertex attachment points on the physical model that corresponded with the origin locations for the planes on the 3D model. Turned out as well as I hoped!

Here’s the completed helmet beside its prototype ancestors. The massive size of the original prototype doesn’t really come across in this picture due to perspective, but it dwarfs both the small sizing prototype and the full-resolution model.

Full-resolution paper model alongside low-resolution prototypes.

With ventilation now prominent in my mind and knowing that my next step involves resin and fiberglass, I need to resolve the workspace air quality issue. It’s the middle of winter, so working outside just isn’t an option. Fortunately, I have a solution that’s been waiting for me to realize it exists for over seven years: the small, unused, vaguely creepy basement side room beneath the sun room. I can’t realistically ventilate the entire house-length basement to the degree I’d need to for working with resin, but that little room is its own space with its own window. Getting enough airflow to keep it well-circulated is easily within reach of a hardware store ventilation fan and some dryer vent tubing to direct the fan’s airflow out the window.

Making those modifications to this proto-workshop is my next step. I’ve also started formulating concrete plans for the vacuform table I want to build to manufacture the rest of the armor, which I’ll try to post more about in the coming days and weeks.

  1. And the next book’s word count is increasing day by day, don’t worry! []

The Face Of The Future

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Mar 152016

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Been quiet on the stormtrooper front of late, but it’s still coming along!

Face plate as of March 12 Full face and forehead as of March 15

Still all done with tape, with a few exceptions where I resorted to superglue (and nearly stuck my fingers together several times). I’m thinking about trying hot glue as an alternative. Still sets quickly, but is a little more forgiving. Messy, though…

A New Level Of Detail

 Posted by at 23:55  No Responses »
Oct 262015

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I may have gone a little overboard with how detailed the paper printout of this model is. That said, it’s going to look amazing when it’s done.

The mic tip inset

I’ve been assembling everything with nothing but scotch tape so far. Cutting up tiny strips of tape and putting enough pressure on them to make sure they stay in place is proving incredibly tedious, though, and I’m mulling over various glue solutions. (Elmer’s? Superglue? Something else?)

Pieces under construction

Even so, when I can put it beside my two prototypes and see just how much better it is, it’s worth the effort.

Comparison with the prototypes

The Sizing Prototype

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Oct 152015

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Satisfied with my revised model and with scale issues now addressed, I decided to make one more prototype before printing out a high-resolution paper model that will go on to form the basis of my helmet mold. This one would be very low resolution, its only purpose to validate that it was big enough for my head and that my proportions were vaguely correct.

The smaller sizing prototype next to the first prototype The smaller sizing prototype next to the first prototype

As it turned out, this actually went a little too small, due in part to compensating for the size correction in the 3D model, but not the printout. Fortunately, it means the next round should be bang-on. I also acquired some fiberglass mat and resin with which to reinforce the paper model prior to slathering it with Bondo, which is heavy. I don’t want the paper to deform under the weight, so the fiberglass-and-resin step aims to give it enough rigidity to prevent that. The original large prototype is shiny in these pictures because it’s been given an initial outer coat of resin. The fiberglass will go inside for structural strength.

I, uh, also couldn’t resist checking the sizing prototype’s fit…

Imperial Derptrooper

Aug 202015

This post is part of a meta-series. Click here for a list of all posts in this series.

You’d think after working on this project on-and-off for two years that any new setback would come as yet another dispiriting blow. For once, tonight’s setback is a huge win and even serves to make all of the previous setbacks — especially the CarveWright-related ones — seem like blessings in disguise.

You see, I had the size wrong all along.

I originally scaled the 3D helmet model in Blender to an approximation of my own head. I eyeballed it until the size looked right. Later, I found some actual measurements folks had taken of the molds from the films and checked those against my existing pieces, which seemed to line up correctly. Cool, my estimate had been correct out of the gates! Confident now that I was on the right path, I proceeded through all of the various updates you’ve read about this project. I occasionally spot-checked during the cardboard process to make sure I was still within expected tolerance of those dimensions. When I switched to the CarveWright, I was already set, since the Blender model hadn’t changed and the cardboard cross-sections had been correct in any event. Having now switched to paper, I continued on as before with the existing dimensions.

Before printing everything out on heavy-duty cardstock, I did a test print of just a few portions of the helmet in plain paper to get a feel for the method, check dimensions, sanity check my paper templates, and so on.

Plain paper 'dome' prototype

Lumpy, but promising. Size seemed pretty good when I put it over my head (dopey as I looked doing it…), so I started printing out the cardstock parts. Here’s the same set of templates, printed in cardstock, used to make the plain paper prototype.

The same templates, printed in cardstock, used to make the plain paper prototype

All in all, everything was coming together very nicely.

'Jowl' before... ...and after

More than any other time in the project, I felt like I was making real progress at last.

A face emerges

I got quite far along. Here’s where things stand as of right now.

Progress to date

All along, though, something’s been nagging me. Every time I held up the “face” to my face, every time I eyeballed the dome, it all felt really big. Having never actually handled a stormtrooper helmet of any variety in person before, I figured this was just expectations clashing with reality. But I’d hate to go through the entire process and screw up something as basic as the proper dimensions, so I started measuring things.

And they were too big. The helmet, which I expected to “stand” about 12″ tall, measured closer to 14″. Did I misprint? Scale something wrong in the process? I couldn’t have gotten the model wrong; I’d checked that against the research from that theRPF post…

…hadn’t I?

I jumped into Blender and threw down a 12″×12″×12″ cube…and it was smaller than my model!

What the hell? At what point had I overscaled it? Perhaps at no point. I may have deliberately underscaled the cardboard cutouts when I did them and forgotten about having done so somewhere along the way. Why I would’ve done that instead of scaling the Blender model, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe something to do with render resolution and creating consistently sized cross-sections? In any event, with the exception of those templates, my dimensions have been too big all along. Even if the CarveWright had worked perfectly, I’d’ve had a garbage mold that I’d need to re-carve.

But now…I actually have a testbed. It’s too big, sure, so I won’t be casting from it, but I’m so close to done with it that it’s actually a worthwhile guinea pig to test out other aspects of my approach: resin-and-fiberglass reinforcement, Bondo filling, sanding, and so on. It won’t need the same level of finish as the “real” one will, but it’ll give me free reign to learn and screw up without feeling tremendous loss.

What’s more, I can use everything I’ve learned about the Blender papercraft export plugin thus far along with the experience of having cut out all this stuff once before, to create better, more detailed, and easier-to-assemble templates than I did the first time through.

Catching this now is a huge win compared to catching it at any other point along the way and especially going forward. Color me relieved!

Jun 172011

I’ve been thinking and talking about building a vacuform table for about a decade at this point. In the period between living with my parents and owning a house, it wasn’t a practical aspiration to act on. Once my wife and I bought our house, it became a much more tangible goal. The size and quality of our basement only made it even more plausible. Still, we’ve lived in the house for about two years now and I have yet to actually build the damn thing.

That ends this weekend.

There is no intrinsic difficulty to the concept of a vacuform table. The basic idea involves heating up a sheet of plastic, and then pressing that down over molds while using a vacuum to suck the air out of the gaps. A many-holed “platen” sits between the mold and the vacuum hose, which allows high-pressure, even evacuation of the air. A very basic vacuform rig can be accomplished with a home oven, a home vacuum, and a cheaply-constructed platen.

I’m planning to be a little more grandiose than that, building an integrated unit that contains its own oven “above” the vacuform surface. Once the plastic is heated to sufficient malleability, it rides down drawer rails onto the platen, and the attached vacuum does the rest of the work. Hit the links for a pretty close approximation of what I’m planning to build.

I’m specifically not planning to finish building it this weekend; just to start. If I finish, great, but I’m trying to set realistic goals. Just getting all of the parts together will be a victory, and probably build enough momentum to see the project through to completion.

I’ll try to document as much of the construction process as I can, and put it up here as a Page, for those interested in making one of their own, or just seeing how I did mine.

Jan 032011

I saw a lot of people glad to be done with 2010. The general feeling seems to have been that 2010 was a less-than-satisfactory year. For my part, I’m inclined to disagree: in March, I got a new job at an awesome company working with awesome people on an awesome project; in July, my groomsmen took me to Atlantic City; in August, I got married and then went on my very first cruise; in October, Cody and I went as a very convincing Rose and the 10th Doctor for Halloween; in November, my parents finally came down to Maryland for Thanksgiving; December featured one of our best New Year’s Eve parties ever.

So, y’know, go 2010. May 2011 be as good or better.

To that end as is custom this time of year, I have a list of goals that I’m planning to work toward this year. They’re not “resolutions” and they’re not carved in stone; either notion is folly. But they’re things I care about and want to get better at, which I think carries more weight.

  • Devote some time each evening to writing or playing guitar. The main thing here is taking care of my “daily chores” in WoW, and then setting it aside while I spend some time doing either of the above activities. Once I’ve put some good effort in toward either, I’ll allow myself to go back to playing more WoW. I love my WoW hobby, but I can’t continue neglecting my others!
  • Get better about watching my diet again. I’ve slipped a bit since the wedding, which is probably entirely unsurprising to anyone who’s gotten married. I haven’t backslid irrevocably or anything drastic, but it’s noticeable enough to me that I want to do something about it. So, I plan to. Having a Droid will, I hope, make keeping track of my food intake a little easier.
  • Finish unpacking the house. This includes getting some additional furniture (bookshelves) and also tidying up the pantry shelves so that we can actually start making use of the damn thing.
  • Build the vacuform machine I’m always talking about. I intend to for Halloween to be very interesting this year.

That seems like an ambitious-enough list to start with.

Oct 082010

I had this whole plan for what to write about today that congealed as I drove to work. It vanished when I actually sat down to write it.

Yesterday marked Cody’s and my second month as a married couple. So far, so good! It seems a little silly to celebrate these milestones, given the four-closing-on-five years we’ve been together. The relationship is solid, we love each other just as much (if not more) now than we did when everything was exciting and new, we live together well, etc. It still feels like an achievement anyway. Marriage! It’s this big, important word that, for us, represented no functional change in our relationship toward one another that nevertheless bestowed a reaffirming, reinforcing strength that I didn’t even know could exist. I heartily approve.

I decided to bite the bullet and forgo worrying about writing a tailor-made web app for play-by-post Firefly-inspired Star Wars game I’ve been planning for a few months now. Instead, I went with MyBB and will adapt it as the need arises. I’ve used phpBB in the past, but it’s always felt a little clunkier than it ought to. MyBB is very smooth by comparison. This doesn’t obviate the need for a character creation web app, but it’s one less technical hurdle to starting the game than I had before. It’s been a long-standing desire of mine to play/run a Star Wars game that used an adapted version of the 7th Sea rule-set, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Play-by-post is an odd fit for such a dynamic and fluid system, but one never knows until one actually tries.

November is bearing down on us, which poses two annoying problems. The first is that Cody and I are still at a loss about a concept for Halloween costumes this year. There isn’t enough time to do anything complex1 in the time we have—next year, for sure—but even within that constraint, it’s rough. The second problem is one of time management: NaNoWriMo is going to eat my time in November, which presents something of a blockage on both the aforementioned Star Wars game as well as the heavy WoW-playing fronts. Oh, to have just six more hours each day.

Hell, I’d settle for two.

  1. Like the various costumes I’d make with a vacuform table []

Toying with ideas

 Posted by at 15:07  No Responses »
Sep 292010

A friend planted an idea in my head that has already started to germinate, though it may not bear this year. He made mention that if he were to make cool costumes of the kind I mentioned, rather than using vacuformed plastic, he would use carbon fiber. I didn’t even realize carbon fiber parts manufacture was something hobbyists could do. I really need to stop thinking hobbyists are so limited.

Turns out, making parts out of carbon fiber isn’t all that difficult. It involves resin, which makes me a little sad, but it can achieve results at least as nice as HIPS1. On top of that, it’s substantially stronger as a result of being a composite and, oh yeah, carbon freaking fiber. It may also end up being lighter, though even if it’s heavier, it’s strength-to-weight ratio will be leaps and bounds beyond that of a plastic part.

Evidently, you can use carbon fiber to make all sorts of stuff: aerospace parts, automotive parts, cellos, or pretty much anything else you have a mold to put it in…like a costume. The process is straight-forward, if more time-consuming than vacuforming: make a mold, apply release agent, apply resin coat, lay down first layer of carbon fiber and press into mold, lay down additional resin/carbon fiber layers as desired for added strength/thickness, allow to set, release from mold. Trim, sand, polish, and so forth to taste. Done and done.

The obvious up side is that it doesn’t require nearly as much infrastructure (i.e. building a vacuform table). The downsides are working with resin and the cost. Low-grade carbon fiber2 costs around $20/yd2. HIPS, by comparison, costs $3/yd2. What you spend in infrastructure—I figure building a vacuform table with integrated plastic heating elements will cost me $150-$200—you quickly recoup in materials costs. I’m also not factoring in the resin costs into the carbon-fiber estimate.

I like the idea, though, so I may visit it in the future for a particularly special costume3. We shall see.

  1. High-Impact Polystyrene, or the plastic one would likely use for vacuforming []
  2. I don’t need ultra-fine supermesh stuff; I’m not making airplanes. []
  3. I’m looking at you, Iron Man. []
Sep 272010

If you’ve been here long enough, or are the sort to read a blog’s entire archive when you stumble across it1, you may remember my this entry I posted about Halloween last year. The time is approaching once again, and once again both Cody and I are a bit at a loss for what to do. We have a fallback plan, but neither of us is very gung-ho about it and want something more interesting. I’m toying with the idea of trying to finish my Vader costume from several years ago, this time by first building a vacuforming table and constructing the various armor pieces out of plastic rather than placemats. The downside to this is that it leaves Cody in the lurch about a costume, since she has no interest in a Padmé costume2. The implications behind such a pairing are a little disconcerting, anyway.

I finally got caught up with House this weekend. I had forgotten how much I adore that show. Looking forward to tonight’s episode, especially on the heels of the last one, though I don’t know when I’ll actually watch it. Cody hasn’t caught up yet and I don’t want her to get spoiled about recent events. Olivia Wilde continues to be mind-breakingly gorgeous, but Cody is absolutely right when she points out that it’s particularly true in House. Outside of the context of the show, Olivia Wilde’s sculpted features can get a little too inhuman. Almost certainly a function of makeup.

September has been a very tough month, though not for any particular reason I can point to. Cody’s been feeling it too; the entire month has just felt frantic and busy beyond justification. You’d think that with the wedding behind us, things would have settled down. I think some of the insanity may stem from all the stuff we set aside for the wedding, or perhaps tuned-out while dealing with the wedding, which is now coming back with a vengeance. Even work has been nuts for the both of us, though. Not bad, just crazy busy. I’m hoping things will settle down a bit in October…so that the craziness of Halloween can take focus. Ugh.

Never rains, but it loves to pour.

  1. Guilty of doing that many times myself. []
  2. Can you blame her? []