Jun 222014

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To be honest, part of me feels like this is cheating. My original objective was to do an accurate helmet but inexpensively (Blender being free and all, and everything else being mostly household/hardware store commodities easily and cheaply obtained). In some respects, I feel like I’m betraying that original goal in the interest of improving accuracy. But…new toy!

In other news, here’s the result of the second test run!

It’s much better, but still not quite right. The curvature is definitely right, thanks to the linear colorspace change, but I’m still having issues with the pieces not matching up (most notable in this image around the the “jowls”).

After a bunch of googling, comparing my heightmaps with the interpretation in the Designer software, and then looking at the result, I think the “problem” lies between the Designer software and the machine itself. Specifically, I think the machine is disregarding certain levels of black/white and just considering them flat, when in fact they should be subtly curved. This may be the result of using “Draft” quality and images where “1,1,1” and “0,0,0” color differences are really important. For example, look at the third “slice” up from the table: there’s a flat area around the bridge of the nose here that should not be flat at all. It’s not flat on my model, in my heightmaps, or in the Designer software’s 3D preview, yet it came out flat.

My next test will just be two pieces, but at a much higher quality setting, to see if this hypothesis proves true or if it’s something else after all.

Jun 222014

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A friend of mine is moving out of state and needed to downsize the amount of stuff she had to move. Among the assets in question was a CNC router…which she sold to me!

Instead of manually cutting the cross-sections, I now can actually send the true cross-sections to the CNC machine and “print” out slices that I would have sanded into shape by hand previously.

Here’s the result of the first test run!

I realized that I had saved everything with non-linear colorspace, and when you’re doing stuff with heightmaps, non-linear colorspace screws up your curves and so on! Based on what I learned from this test, I’m now preparing to do a test with slightly adjusted positioning for the cross-sections…and proper linear color space data!

Nov 072013

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I’ve been quiet on this front of late, but not idle. When we last left off, I had nearly finished gluing the cross-sections into place. Once finished, my concern about the main profile board proved well-founded, with the board making a gentle but noticeable arc from front to back. This meant the centerline of the entire helmet would be incorrect once finished.  However, I noticed that I could manhandle it into correct alignment. I hatched a scheme to create a platform for the helmet into which I would drill regular holes for dowels that would enforce the spacing between each profile. After doing just the center two and two toward the rear (around cross-section 8), I realized that the dowels just weren’t rigid enough for the idea to work. They bent too easily, meaning the heavy mass of cardboard was better at shifting their alignment than they were at keeping it aligned. I ultimately went with a simpler approach and tried to fix each of the cross-sections in place by anchoring them to other cross-sections with masking tape. It mostly worked.

Next came the insulation foam.

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Sep 192013

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As of September 10, I finally had all of the cross-sections cut!


I’d been working in the basement, since the stairs were finally done, but all of the pieces felt a bit damp (not severely so, just…not as firm as one might expect).  I brought everything upstairs to dry out for the night before I started gluing the cross-sections to the profile. I’ve been doing that two-at-a-time, more than a little frustrated by how “slow” Elmer’s is to bond. Really, though, that’s just impatience talking.

As I’ve been going, I noticed that the thin cardboard of the main profile is actually bending a fair amount, which I’m going to have to figure out how to correct before I start filling in the foam. Would be a shame to go to all this trouble to achieve a fair amount of symmetry only to have my entire axis be wobbly!

I also had a minor crisis last night, when I realized that I had mislabeled cross-sections 25 and 27 (part of the “face”). I realized this when I went to put on cross-section 26 (i.e. after 25 had set) and it was larger than its predecessor. I checked my Blender file and all was well, but the profile I had in Blender did not at all match the profile I expected to see for 25, based on the printout template and the cross-section itself. Sure enough, I had mislabeled it (and 27) in Photoshop! Cue emergency surgery to slice that cross-section off of the main profile and replace it with 27.

I just attached the “true” 27 a few moments ago. Here’s how it’s shaping up:

(Bonus: In the background on the right, you can see the two toaster ovens that I’m going to use to form the plastic-warming oven for my vacuform table!)

Aug 312013

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Right now, it’s all grunt work. I’m steadily making my way through each of the cross-section cut-outs. They’re tedious and time-consuming, but I had the good fortune to secure a large supply of cardboard boxes completely free thanks to a well-timed arrival at Lowe’s one morning. An employee was in the process of unboxing a number of items and placing them on shelves. I asked if he was going to throw away the boxes, which he was, and then asked if he’d mind me taking them off his hands, which he did not. Jackpot!

Today, I finally bit the bullet and printed out all of the cross-sections. I had been printing them out two and three at a time, waiting until I had finished the cardboard version of each before printing out the next batch. Instead, I now have the flexibility to tackle as few or as many in a sitting as I want. I’m about halfway done cutting out the cardboard versions.

I added an ongoing project cost list to the meta page, as well as a list of tools I had on-hand when I started, for anyone interested in trying to replicate this method.

Some pictures:
Finished cardboard cross-sections Remaining paper templates

Aug 262013

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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:

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! []

Stormtrooper Accuracy

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Oct 152010

It’s time for a good, old-fashioned nerd rant!

Stormtroopers get a lot of shit. It’s become a fairly widespread public perception that they’re a laughably incompetent bunch for a supposedly indomitable galaxy-spanning military. They can’t shoot straight, which makes the line “Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise” comical. A legion of the Emperor’s best troops get taken out by teddy bears. Obviously, the Rebels were destined to win.

Except all of those things are wrong.
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Oct 132009

I love and hate Halloween.

One of my ambitions in life is to get to a point where I can make awesome costumes. Darth Vader, a stormtrooper, Iron Man, and Night Owl (with Cody as Silk Spectre) are all on my list. Halloween gives me a great excuse to make these costumes without the expense of having to go to a con to show them off.

Now that Cody and I have a house, I have a place where I could actually make some of these. Unfortunately, we’re not quite settled-in enough yet to start doing that.

This is why I hate Halloween. Every year, I get excited about making costumes. Every year, I end up with a costume I’m disappointed in—if I end up with a costume at all. The last Halloween costume I was somewhat proud of was my Kosh costume—10 years ago (which reminds me, I should put Kosh on the costume list and take a crack at doing it with fiberglass instead of paper-mâché).

Perhaps some day, I’ll start making good on these unfulfilled ambitions. I can only hope that I can provide my kids with awesome costumes so that they never have to feel this perpetual disappointment.

So, yeah. Halloween is not the most uplifting time of year for me.