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!