And now we come to my current project, aiming to be debuted at the 2014 Comic-Con in San Diego. What's different about this one is that it's not based on a specific character, but instead it's a member of the species that only had about 2 seconds of screen time in the first Star Wars film. Most folks know them as the hammerhead looking guy in the cantina scene. Officially they are known as Ithorians, and there are a large number of characters from that species in the extended universe.
They also appear from time to time in the game Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I captured screen shots of those characters whenever I came across them in the game.
My first step was to take a wooden artist's model and use Plasticine to create a scale reference. That let me experiment with proportions and shapes until I got a look that was a nice synthesis of the reference photos. From that I took a bunch of measurements and scaled them up to my size.
My next step was to make a foundation for the costume. Based on some videos I've seen, I decided to make an FX corset. This is a standard costuming trick used whenever a special effects prop needs to be attached to the performer's torso. I used my body form (which I've talked about in other blog entries) to create a form fitting pattern. I sewed it up and then adjusted it on the form as well. I ended up with a corset that fits solidly and securely. And the lacing on the side lets me adjust for any body shape changes.
Next came creating a structure on which I can build the body. The outer structure will be upholstery foam, and I'll need the structure to hold it up. It should hold the shape of the body's "hump" around my head, provide attachment points for mounting actuators and other controls, and let me counterbalance the eyes that will be cantilevered off the front of the structure. I used aluminum tubing to keep the weight down but still maintain strength. Also, most of my woodworking tools can work with aluminum, so my wood shop is now also a metal shop (actually, I already use the shop to do a fair amount of metal and foam work). The first picture shows how I use a Styrofoam head for sizing the supports, and also shows the pockets sewn onto the corset for holding the aluminum tubes. The second picture shows the full support structure along with the spring supporting the forward part of the head.
To create the foam body, I needed to make a pattern. I used chicken wire to mold the shape I wanted over the support structure, using the clay mold as a guide. The wire was fairly easy to shape, being both light and flexible, and duct tape held pieces together as needed. Once the shape was good, I covered the whole thing in aluminum foil and then duct tape to hold the final shape. Next, I cut the foil and duct tape shell up into the pattern pieces for the foam and then transferred the shapes onto construction paper to be the final pattern.
The pattern was then transferred to 1" foam, the foam pieces were cut out, and then it was all glued together. I used Weldwood contact cement (made by DAP) on the foam. It's smelly to work with, but the final glue joint is very strong. I never got a picture of the original foam structure. The above picture was taken after modifications made for the eye mechanism.
I'm going to mention the details of my first attempt at then eyes, but I wasn't happy with them and so I'm now in the process of rebuilding that part of the head. a future post will deal with my current process, this is a catch up post.
I decided to use 4 inch Styrofoam balls for the eyeballs. They're light and the right size. I found some ball joints at a remote control hobby shop (used in remote control planes) and I placed them in the middle of the balls by drilling an access hole in the back. I drilled and tapped an aluminum post in order to hold the ball joint and the eyeball while allowing rotation in all 3 axes (roll pitch, yaw). I them built a structure around the eye that holds the ball, and provides mounting points for other controls. Some 18 gauge wire was formed into eyelid actuators, and I planned on mounting foam to the wire for the eyelid skin. The metal structure also had brass tubing attached in order to route the control lines. The tubing was bent with gentle curves, and the control lines (nylon fishing line) were attached to the eye and eyelid, providing eye motion and blink controls. Finally, some more wire was shaped in order to provide an outer protective structure and foam was again cut into shapes that would form that part of the head.
Finally I covered one of the balls in Spackle in order to smooth out the foam's pitted surface, and sanded it down until it was a smooth ball. Then I painted it, and the paint screwed up the surface leaving it with a bumpy texture.
The eyes took weeks to make. Each design decision made sense at the time, and I would spend hours fitting parts together to make them work. And by the time it was all done, I hated the result. You can see how it looks in the picture above. The eyes are too big, I don't like the look of the eyeball, the shape of the head is wrong, there are too many degrees of freedom in the eye movement, and overall it just looks like a cartoon character.
So, I took a break to rethink the design. I also watched more tutorial videos looking for another approach. The vacuum forming class which I posted about was a part of this rethinking.
That's where I'll leave this catch-up entry and discuss my new efforts in a separate post.