Aug 262013
 

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

For 14 years1, ever since first seeing examples of others that have done so on the Internet, I’ve schemed, planned, yearned, learned, studied, and plotted to make myself a “real” set of Stormtrooper armor, from scratch. It’s been a long road full of reading, studying, and learning about vacuum forming, mold-making, resin, fiberglass, silicone, carbon fiber, plastic, urethane, Bondo, pepakaura, and more. Finally, I’m at a point in life, skill level, patience, and focus that I feel ready to tackle this project.

The most complex part of the whole endeavor, which I’ve decided to tackle first2 is the Stormtrooper’s distinctive helmet. I’ve seen a number of fantastic approaches to this part of the suit, ranging from wildly complex3 to astonishingly simple. I decided to take an approach I hadn’t yet seen and start digitally, since my background is in digital art.

The idea behind doing it this way is to get familiar with the shapes and flow before I ever start assembling a physical object.

First pass 3D, with inaccuracies noted post-render:
stormtrooper_2013-08-22-000 stormtrooper_2013-08-22-001 stormtrooper_2013-08-22-002 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-001 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-002 stormtrooper_2013-08-24-001_notes

Second pass 3D, with inaccuracies corrected:
stormtrooper_2013-08-24-003stormtrooper_2013-08-24-004

Final pass 3D with some additional shape refinement:
stormtrooper_2013-08-28-000 stormtrooper_2013-08-28-001

Once I brought the 3D version to as high a level of fidelity and accuracy (with certain intentional caveats) as I wanted, I created vertical slices from front-to-back and a single horizontal slice. These slices are printed out and then carved into cardboard and assembled into a real-world 3D “skeleton.”

Initial test print of profile silhouette:
Stormtrooper Profile silhouette test print

Real profile silhouette alongside the actual cardboard cutout:
Stormtrooper profile cutout

Starting to assemble the portrait cross-sections onto the profile frame:
Stormtrooper cross-section assembly

There are 34 individual cross-sectional slices, separated by about 1cm each. As of this writing, I’ve done 11 of them.

Once I’ve printed and cut all of the cross-sections and glued them into their proper place, I plan to fill the gaps in the skeleton with expanding insulation foam, sand that down to get the rough volume, and then coat the whole thing in Bondo for further shape revision. Eventually, this will create a positive mold that I can coat with silicone, create a negative mold, and finally create an actual urethane “pull” that I’ll end up wearing.

Someone asked which version of the helmet I’m making and the answer is: a little bit of a mash-up, actually.

The helmet is predominantly ANH Hero, since that’s historically the most “real” one. The ANH Stunts were made first, but the ANH Hero is the only one of the lot to be both fresh off the master and vacuum-pulled from white ABS rather than off-white polyethylene and spray-painted. However, because of the way the ESB and ROTJ helmets were made (either refurbishing the ANH Stunts or using the ANH Stunts as a “master” to create new pulls), certain details from the ANH Stunts became more common: namely, the 8 “teeth” compared to the 6 in the ANH Hero. I’ll be going with 8 for this.

The other piece, which I haven’t yet decided about, is the eye lens. The ANH Hero had a nice, bulbous green lens that I’d much prefer to use based on look. However, these are also notoriously difficult to see through, leading many to prefer the ANH Stunt’s flat, smoked lenses instead. I’m going to try the rounded lenses first and, if those prove really difficult to see through, will fall back on flats.

The rest of the helmet details will be ANH Hero, though.

As for symmetry, while I’m usually a stickler for “on screen = authentic; author’s intent = irrelevant” I’m deviating from that standard here and going for as much symmetry as I can manage. I think asymmetry crept in unintentionally and isn’t representative of what the Empire would actually manufacture for its troops. The in-universe Stormtrooper helmet was almost certainly designed using 3D software of some kind, with the resulting specs then sent straight to an automatic manufacturing facility that stamped out millions upon millions of perfect, symmetrical, identical copies.

For the rest of the suit, my current plan is to, again, mostly go with ANH (Hero and Stunt armors were identical), but pull any more-interesting design features from the later suits as I go. Ultimately, I’ll end up with an ANH Hero variant suit, but I’m okay with that!

Stay tuned!

  1. I first saw fan-made versions when I was ~15, which was a pretty significant year for me in a lot of ways. Many things in my life have resulted from events that happened and things I learned at 15 []
  2. Primarily because it’s the one piece that I don’t need my nascent vacu-form table for. []
  3. Andrew Ainsworth, the guy in this video, is the guy who made the original helmets for A New Hope back in the 70s! []

Prerequisites

 Posted by at 23:03  No Responses »
Jun 182011
 

True to my word, I started on the vacuformer last night. The basic table framework is assembled — a gangly 3’x3’x3′ metal lattice of shelving parts. This afternoon, I headed out and bought a couple of cheap toaster ovens, the heating elements from which will end up as the oven component of the vacuform table. I couldn’t do much more construction until I had both of these components in hand, in order to properly plan out dimensions.

There’s also another impediment, which I’m working on presently. The basement stairs are, succinctly, a deathtrap. They’re very old wood held to the floor above by a thin piece of plywood and held up by one solid piece of wood and one cobbled-together leg. I am worried they’ll collapse out from under me every time I use them. Since the vacuform table is to be assembled and used in the basement, it’ll necessitate traversing these stairs on a regular basis. Not cool.

I’m building new ones. My big expedition today included transporting a great deal of lumber in my tiny Jetta (12′ long boards in a Jetta is quite a thing) from the store to the house. I’m presently in the process of slicing up the lumber destined to become the risers and steps. All the wood will get a nice sanded edge, be stained and sealed, and the new staircase will be supported by six 2″x8″ support beams.

While I’m not working on the stairs, I’ll be proceeding with planning out dimensions and materials for the vacuformer, so progress continues on that front continues unabated.

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.

Sep 202010
 

TIE Fighter case artIf that post title got you excited, I apologize.

For a while now, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some kind of Star Wars fan film, being both a Star Wars nerd and an amateur filmmaker. One idea that popped into my head recently, while recollecting fond and cherished memories of playing the TIE Fighter computer game, was to adapt the game’s story into a TV (well, web) series. The game was story-driven enough that I think it could work, and had enough characters that it could be interesting. I’m not suggesting I’m going to do this. I barely have the time and energy to do all of the current projects I’ve saddled onto myself, let alone adding something as megalithic as this. But it’s still fun to think about.

According to lore, the TIE Fighter player assumes the mantle of Maarek Steele. Seems like a good choice for the series’ protagonist. As the game progresses, a number of major secondary characters and antagonists are introduced. Among them are then-Vice Admiral Thrawn, the rogue admirals Harkov and Zaarin, and Darth Vader puts in a cameo, too. Including the Imperial officer that briefs Steele before each mission, as well as the member of the Emperor’s Secret Order that provides secondary objectives, might work as well.

In terms of adapting the game, I think I’d first just go through the game mission-by-mission and isolate the major story components from each. These would get woven into the major arc of the series, which itself might even be split into seasons to mirror the distinct campaigns in the game. Once that had been done, the next step would be to pick out key bits of dialog from the game and weave those into the episode script. Nostalgia, man! It wouldn’t have to be line-for-line, but it’d be a fun callback to hit some of the key lines.

I might visit the idea some time in the distance future. TIE Fighter stands as my favorite game of all time (yes, even over WoW), and it nicely dovetails with the desire to do a Star Wars fanfilm. Of course, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to commit the amount of time doing an entire series would require. But hey, it’s fun to dream.

Apr 272010
 

Cody’s going out of town for business, making tonight out last night together until Sunday. This is very sad. There is, however, a silver lining. I get to “surprise” her1 when she returns by presenting a de-wallpapered pantry, ready for painting. She has been on me to finish de-wallpapering it…well, pretty much since we stopped major housework after finishing the kitchen walls. So, while I’m not looking forward to doing it, I’m looking forward to having it done and making her happy.

Speaking of done and happy, the wedding website is finally live.

A random collection of WoW-related thoughts follows.

  • After spending several hours researching and implementing a customized UI for Jakosta, live use made it clear that it was a big pile of fail. With some more research, a few more addons2, and some alterations to existing addons, I think I may have something truly awesome. Won’t have a chance to test it until tomorrow, though.
  • Speaking of Power Auras, I got absurdly excited about it once I first tried it out. I immediately started wondering how I might apply it to Deowyn as well. After running my heroic for the day, I realized that it would be useful for at least two reminders: when I’m in combat without the Glyph of Life Tap buff active, and any time that Fel Armor isn’t active. Might also be worth having one when Haunt is available for casting, though I think the Mik’s Scrolling Battle Text notice I have for that is sufficient.
  • Every time I hear “Everybody’s trance dancing tonight” from the DMB song “So Right,” I think “Everybody’s stance dancing tonight,” and want to make up some alternate, WoW-themed lyrics to the song.
  • I think WoW has become my favorite hobby, which is amusing. Every time I worry about it, I just think about Jace’s “I Play W.O.W.” song and feel better. That said, I’m hoping to do some novel editing and guitar playing while Cody’s away, too.

I’m tempted to rant about driver etiquette, but have lost the gumption for the time being. My urge to write such missives tends to peak while I’m, y’know, driving, which is a somewhat inconvenient time to compose them.

  1. It’s not really a surprise when I’ve already declared my intention to do it. []
  2. Power Auras FTW! Holy crap! []