Monday, October 1, 2012

The Basics (Part 3): Proportions & Movement

I'm a little sore and a little tired from working at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but I'm still blogging, because I'm a man of dedication. Onward, fair gentles!

When creating a suit of sci-fi armor, especially one that will be worn for a long time (like at CONvergence, for example) it's important that the costume not only look good, but feel comfortable as well. To this end, it is especially important to take the movement of your body into consideration.

Take a moment and watch this video, courtesy of


Now, this is a fairly decent costume, but watch how the model moves. When I watch the video, I notice that his movements are stiff and unnatural. Part of this is that the costume is shaped wrong; parts of the costume, like the boots, shoulder pads and chest armor, are oversized, which makes for awkward movements. Another part is that the frame is made of plywood, which makes the outfit heavy and hard to move in. Finally, in an effort to make his suit easier to construct, most of the joints are constructed using simple 2-axis hinge joints.

In the case of costume's shape, the armor does need to be oversized a bit, not only to allow room for joints, frame and padding, but to also give the armor a more imposing and intimidating silhouette. If you design the costume tight to your body, unless you actually have the frame of a genetically-engineered super soldier, your costume will end up looking like this:

Which is not to say that this is a bad costume; it's actually very
well done, just a bit on the small side.
The key to making the costume oversized is to do it in a uniform fashion, so that no one part is too much larger than any other, which is one of the issues with the 'Black Crusade' costume in the video above. Not only will this make the costume easier to wear in general, it also helps to distribute the weight of the finished costume more evenly over the body, which will make it more comfortable. (More on that in a later post.)

As far as heavy plywood goes, I already covered materials in my last post, so let's go on to limb joints.

This was supposed to be da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man,' but I just couldn't help myself. :D
When it comes to creating articulated joints, one would think that it would be as simple as drilling holes and adding half-inch pins to create hinges. While this would be a simple and effective way to make a hinge, take a moment, stand up and move the major joints of your body: ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists. Really notice how they move. Go ahead, I'll wait.




Okay, done? Good. You'll notice that only four of the major joints of your body move in two axes like hinges, namely your elbows and your knees. The rest of your joints have the ability to move in three directions, meaning that they need a specialized hinge to be able to move comfortably. If one creates their costume using a majority of hinge joints, such as the 'Black Crusade' costume above, it will end up being awkward and uncomfortable. So, joint consideration is important.

Anyway, moving on...

Let's take a moment, you and I, to look at a graphic representation of an average human skeletal-muscular structure.

Or, in layman's terms, the inside of the human body.
Notice the proportions of the body. Anything look odd? No, of course not. This is what most people think of when and if they think of a human body. Note the well-proportioned shoulders, the length of the neck, and the size of the head in relation to the rest of the body. This is a well proportioned human. If we were to translate that into a mini figure of a typical human (i.e., Imperial Guardsman) it would look like this:

If we were to translate those proportions into a Space Marine mini, it would look like this:

Notice, please, that the typical human proportions have been maintained. This model (and other minis like it) are what I will be basing the majority of my costume on, because I have many of them in different poses, and I can easily get a close look at them for details' sake.

Now let's take a look at a few other examples of Space Marines:

What is the first thing that you notice when looking at these pictures? For me, it's the ridiculously outlandish proportions that stand out the most. In the context of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, this makes some sense; Space Marines are supposed to be genetically engineered super soldiers, and it makes sense that they would be out of proportion in comparison to a typical human body.

A nice visual comparison model.
But the problem, at least in my eyes, is that the oversized proportions that people are drawn to (such as in the three pictures above) make the Space Marines look less like power-armored soldiers and more like Storm Troopers in a fish bowl. Besides, if I were to attempt to make my costume to size and proportion, it would just look and feel like I was stuffed into a pair of shoes (and pants...and shirt...) that were 3 sizes too big.

I also think that styling my armor more on the minis, as opposed to the games or movies or fan art, is a more...ahem...pure expression of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and a more accurate one to boot.

I apologize for the hipster-ness of my last statement.

That's it for this post, friends. I'll be back next time with something very special!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Basics (Part 2): Materials

Yesterday was my birthday! I'm 26 now! Whoo! FWEE!

Yes, I'm a brony. Haters gon' hate.

Okay, that's enough celebration for now. Time to get back to it.

To my mind, it seems that the best way to make an effective and comfortable suit of sci-fi armor like this would be to create a wire-type framework and then cover that with some sort of rigid, solid sheet covering. So, with that in mind, let us examine the various materials in these two categories, starting with the frame.

1. Wood

Wood is easy to get ahold of and, with the right tools, it's fairly easy to work with. In fact, I've seen a few Space Marine costumes (like this one and that one) done well with wooden frames.

The problem with wood is that it's tough to work with in small spaces (like I have) and they create a lot of waste in the form of dust and chips, which tends to get EVERYWHERE. Wood also has a tendency to be heavy, and cutting curves is tougher than giving a ferret a shave. So I'll pass.

2. Steel

Steel is durable, easy to find, comes in many lengths, sizes and shapes, and (as long as you have a good rotary tool) it can be pretty easy to cut, grind down edges and drill holes. It can also be either welded or riveted to keep it secured.

However, bending steel, even small, thin steel, requires everything from an acetylene torch to a hammer and anvil. These are tools found in a blacksmith's shop, not my home workspace. Steel is also very heavy and tiring, especially if it's going to be built into something that will be worn for long periods. Definitely not an ideal material.

3. Aluminum

Aluminum is fairly easy to find (yes, that's right; any well-stocked Lowes or Home Depot should have some, you just gotta look for it) and, like steel, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. With the right tool, it can be cut, drilled and riveted fairly easily, and it is also very light and malleable.

The biggest problem with aluminum is that it can't really be welded or brazed without really specialized equipment. Sure, you could get by with a propane torch and aluminum wire, but that's squirrely to control and the results can be messy unless you have some practice. Plus, making smooth curves with aluminum can be a pain.

4. Plastic

Ah, plastic. Light, durable, easy to work with with, and responds well to many adhesives, so you don't need to worry about rivets or other things like that. It makes smooth curves with very few tools, and can be made even more flexible by heating it with a hair dryer.

The only real problem that I find with plastic is that I can't find it anywhere. Oh, sure, I can find plastic electrical conduit and pi-shaped plastic channeling, but nowhere am I able to find flat, uniform strips, about 1/2 inch wide by 1/8 inch thick, which is what I really want. If anyone knows of a good place to find plastic strips like that, please leave a comment down below!

Well, that's about it for the frame. Now, onto the covering.

1. Cardboard

Corrugated cardboard seems to be the easiest to get ahold of, and the cheapest. (seriously, any restaurant, retail store, hardware store, grocery store, etc. has tons of cardboard, and they'd most likely be willing to let you take their excess off their hands for next to nothing.) It can be cut with scissors, glued with white glue, and painted very easily. In fact, I've seen at least one decent suit of armor made with cardboard:

The problem that I can see is fairly evident in the picture: it is darn near impossible to make curves in cardboard. As good a job as he did on that armor, it's very blocky and angular, which contradicts the traditional Space Marine's curved frame. Also, cardboard produces a lot of waste, and is so flimsy, it falls apart in a steady rainstorm. I'm not expecting to wander around much, but I'd still like to make something that can last a decent amount of time. Next.

2. P-U Foam

In this case, no, p-u does not mean that this foam smells funny. P-U Foam is a polyurethane foam used in cushions, play mats, car seats, and other soft and squishy applications. Depending on the type of foam you get (i.e., the type pictured above) you can actually heat it up with a heat gun from the hardware store and then shape the foam into curves and such. Once it cools, the foam will retain the shape that you sculpted it to. This means that, if you're patient enough with it, you can sculpt smooth, tight curves and some really elaborate stuff. These guys over at Backyard FX have a great tutorial on making sci-fi armor out of the stuff, as well as some other cool movie effects tutorials. Go ahead and check them out, but hurry back!

Anyway, like I was saying, this type of foam is very light, and responds well to various adhesives. This foam is not good for getting into tight spaces, it takes a lot of patience and practice to make anything good, and the finished product has a tendency to be kind of flimsy. I'll probably use this stuff to line the inside of the armor, but not on the outside.

3. Insulation Foam

This type of foam can be found in many larger hardware and construction stores. It comes in big sheets and in various thicknesses, and it also behaves much differently than the P-U Foam above. It is dense, rigid, and flaky. It can be cut easily and molded easily as well. Much of the Warhammer 40K terrain that you see at gaming clubs...

Like this... made from insulation foam.

The problem with this type of foam is that it is well suited for relatively flat applications. It doesn't take to a heat gun well, which means it can't be shaped; in order to make something like armor, sheets of foam need to be stacked, glued together and then carved. This can get expensive, and creates an insane amount of waste. Plus, insulation foam reacts negatively and violently to spray paint, which means that it needs to be sealed with urethane before it can be painted. Too much work for me.

4. Duct Tape

No. Just no.

Okay, yes, fine, it's smooth, and it covers well, but it just looks like everything was made of...well, duct tape. And I'm not making this to go to prom.


5. Heat Shrink Plastic

This type of plastic is mainly used to skin R/C Airplanes. One side is covered in a heat-reactive adhesive, which means that all you need to affix it to the frame is a hobby iron and a heat gun to shrink the plastic to a taut shape. It is extremely light and comes in many different colors and finishes, from clear, to metallic to glossy.

However, this type of covering is incredibly susceptible to damage and puncture, and is also rather expensive, especially to cover something as large as a suit of armor. We can do better.

6. Fiberglass

Although it can be a touch on the heavy side and a bit messy to work with, fiberglass can be shaped, molded, sanded and painted very easily. it is rigid and durable, and if it does happen to buckle, it can easily be repaired and repainted. It can also be easily found at auto body stores and larger hardware stores. All things considered, this would be my preferred covering choice.

So, that's it for the frame and the covering. Although, there is one other material that I kinda want to touch on...

1. Paper

Yes, you read that correctly. Paper.

Known as papercraft or pepakura, it is the art of folding large sheets of stiff paper into various shapes, kinda like large-scale origami. There are many armor diagrams out there, from Halo, to Mass Effect, to, yes, Space Marine and Imperial Guard, and it is very popular with some cosplayers. If you're patient enough and talented enough, you can make some very impressive things.

Add urethane resin, sand it smooth, and you have a very serviceable helmet.
But I don't like papercraft, for a couple of reasons. Number one, you need a specialized printer, like an architect's drafting printer, to print out the designs at a scale big enough to be wearable. And I don't have a drafting printer.

Besides, the best thing I can do with paper is...well...


So, there you have it. If anyone has any other ideas on materials, feel free to leave a comment down below!

Until next time, Brothers!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Basics (Part 1): What and Why?

Ok, before we just jump right into this fantastic fabricating feature, I'm sure that many of you have many questions. So, in order to alleviate your initial curiosity, I shall answer a few of those questions now.

1. What is Warhammer 40,000?

In 1987, inspired by the success of their tabletop warfare game 'Warhammer Fantasy Battle,' Games Workshop released a Sci-Fi tabletop game sharing many of the same attributes as Warhammer Fantasy Battle, titled Warhammer 40,000.

Set in the 41st Millennium, Warhammer 40,000 (a.k.a. Warhammer 40K) pits the totalitarian Imperium of Man against a host of interstellar races, from the savage and bloodthirsty Orks, to the graceful and ancient Eldar, to the massive swarms of the Tyranids.

Warhammer 40K has been growing in popularity since its release, not only on the tabletop, but in other media as well. In 2009, Games Workshop released a 70-minute CGI movie, 'Ultramarines,' which, besides being the first feature-length movie based on the 40K universe, used revolutionary facial-mapping technology to render more realistic characters. (More about the Ultramarines movie can be found here.) The Dawn of War computer games brought the tabletop to the computer screen in a large scale RTS game franchise. The sequel franchise, Dawn of War II (such a creative name, don't you think?) narrowed the game from larger-scale battles down to squad-based combat. With the recent release of Space Marine, a third-person shooter, the focus of the games was narrowed even further, to that of a single Space Marine. Speaking of which...

2. What is a Space Marine?

Within the Imperium of Man, there are two main military forces. The first is the Imperial Guard.

The Imperial Guard makes up the bulk of the Empire's military might. Ordinary citizens are conscripted, trained, equipped and sent to distant battlefields. Some live. Most don't. Such is the fate of the Imperial Guard.

And then there are the most iconic figures of the Warhammer 40K universe: the Space Marines.

Few in number, Space Marines are genetically modified and enhanced super-soldiers. Clad in suits of power armor and wielding weapons of unimaginable destruction, they bring the Emperor's wrath to the enemies of Man wherever they may threaten the Imperium.

Much as I would love to go into more detail about Space Marines, I don't really have the time or the data storage space. If you want to read more about Space Marines and the Warhammer 40,000 universe in general, you can check it out right here.

(An interesting side note: while many games and movies, such as Starcraft, Halo and Gears of War have adapted the 'power armored space marine' concept, Warhammer 40K's Space Marines did it first. Anyway, moving on...)

3. Why in the world are you doing this?

Because I can.


Okay, so that's not entirely true (well, it's partially true, but there is actually another reason for this whole exercise.)

This is the main reason:

CONvergence is a general sci-fi convention held each July in Bloomington, Minnesota. And I've never been.

I've only been to one other small 'convention' (ReCon. Check it out) and that was really just a day of playing various games in an American Legion Basement. Fun, but not really a conventional, con-badges, rent-a-hotel-room, TV-star-question-and-answer-period convention. 

So, I want to go to CONvergence. But I'm not about to go in street clothes. What kind of sci-fi nerd would I be if I did that? 

I've wanted to build a set of Space Marine armor for a while, and I specifically wanted to build a set for CONvergence 2013. But when I heard that the theme for 2013 was 'British Invasion,' it was just too perfect to pass up.

4. You do realize that, by doing this, you'll pretty much guarantee that you'll never have a girlfriend again?

...Moving on...

5. Why a year?

Well, as I said, CONvergence happens every July, so I want to have the suit finished before July 1st. Now, this is a massive project, and I have a small work space, so I need the extra time. 

Besides, in between now and then, there is one small event that I have to attend to...

6. What are you planning on making this out of?

Ah, now that is one heck of a question. It's so much of a question, that I'm not going to answer it. Not yet, at least. It'll have to wait for its own post.

Until the next post, I leave you with these words:

The Emperor protects. Though, a loaded Bolter never hurts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Journey Begins...

Hello to you, the curious, the adventurous, and the friendly, and welcome to, what I have called, 'The Path of the Initiate.' In this blog, I will document my year-long endeavor of creating a wearable suit of Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Space Marine armor!

This blog is intended to be a mix of How-To, Work In Progress, and (for lack of a better classification) Expedition Journal. I've been building models and props and costumes for a number of years now, but I've never tackled anything on this scale before.

This blog will update with a moderate degree of regularity (at least a couple of times a month) so, keep following, and walk with me on...The Path of the Initiate.