Monday, September 1, 2014

Shadowrun Dragonfall: Glory's cyber arms

Let me just start this by saying I did not handle this project well. What do I mean by that? I committed to doing a project that I had never done before, decided to work with materials I was unfamiliar with, and did not give myself the proper amount of time considering the previous two factors. I planned on finishing other commissions before starting this one, and because of some perfect storm events, I was left with roughly two weeks to finish these. If you get one thing from this post, know this: ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME TO FINISH SOMETHING. How long will something probably take you to make? Cool, go ahead and double that. But this is the cosplay world, and things happen. Crunching before a deadline is basically part of the job! So with that, this build was rushed and I had to make some compromises to get it done in time. Okay, enough intro! Let's dive into these suckers.

First, some background! My current adult real world day job is an artist at a video game studio called Harebrained Schemes. We made a game called Shadowrun Dragonfall! I was commissioned by one of my friends, and coworkers, to make the cybernetic/robotic arms you see on the character in the picture above. Her name is Glory and she's pretty rad. Because I was running VERY short on time, I opted to compromise and skew more towards what her in game textures and model looked like. I can't post those here, but I'll say that they are simpler (as the game has a pulled out camera and lots of things are typically low poly, meaning simpler looking). I really want to remake these someday and make what we see in this marketing material.

This is my shop buddy Bobby. He's pretty cool. Here he's making some cheap body casts of my friend's arm. We all wanted to keep initial costs down, so we opted for the user friendly life cast method of plastic wrap and duct tape that we filled with expanding foam. It's a cost effective method that will hold up for the duration of the project. If you're going to be making a lot of armor, or other things that require working from a cast, you might want to consider a method that will last a lot longer. It's a worth while investment.

Now we're entering into the scary crunch time as I explained in the intro. Since I was in the red zone of time to complete this build I opted to break out my long neglected extra large worbla sheets. I decided to do this because worbla is very easy to work with. You can cut it with regular scissors, heat it with a heat gun, form it into the shape you want and then it firms up into a quite rigid piece. I opted to double up each piece rather than folding it over foam. That was just my personal preference, if you want to conserve materials then you can fold the worbla over the foam. I doubled up the pieces as they were more rigid, while the worbla applied to foam is still flexible. Being flexible might still be appealing to you if you're making armor. I might try it with other pieces in the future to see which I like better. You can see the foam pattern piece at the top of the photo. That was an initial design Bobby did when we were first concepting and trying to match the picture. I traced that onto the worbla and then I sketched out more arm pieces on transfer paper. These designs were based on the in-game texture as I mentioned earlier.

Pictures will be skipping forward quite a bit as I was trying to focus on just getting these done. Here I was putting the arm bits on while the larger pieces were sitting on the arm casts. I would often go back to make sure each step I applied would still fit on the arm casts. Realistically, I didn't really NEED to do that as the upper arm pieces were rigid and weren't shifting or warping while I was applying the pieces, but with how little time I had every safety measure I could think of was used to avoid catastrophe. 

More pieces were added to the upper arms to match the texture sheets. I also assembled the main forearm pieces to start adding details.

The quickest solution I could think of to the "piping/wiring" bits on the arms was to use rubber tubing from the hardware store. The black sectioned tubing was chosen by the client. She liked the texture she gave and wanted them to be added. They didn't look too bad!

So here's where I'm going to plug a product. While watching and reading worbla discussions/tutorials, it seems a common solution to the texture it has is to cover it in wood filler. From what I've seen, this is a great solution! However, as we've talked about, I was running on no time. So what did I do? My shop buddy, Bobby, said it might be worth trying out the wood primer that he recommended to me while working on the Legend of Zelda sword. It's called Kilz and is actually a wood primer/sealer. Here's a link: Clicky, clicky!
What can be nice about this primer is that it goes on thick. I tested this out on a piece of worbla and gave it 3 coats of Kilz. The end result was a semi smooth surface! If I had more time, I very well could have just plain sanded the primer and not even hit the worbla but still getting a smooth surface! I know because I tried on the test piece. I don't think you'd necessarily have to do 3 coats, as that would be a lot of paint, but it's a nice solution and definitely convenient because it's fast! Here the upper arms got the Kilz treatment.

The arms in the marketing material seem to have a rounded top, so I tried adding some foam tubing at the top to reproduce this effect. This ended up looking too bulbous and wonky for my liking so I scrapped it and moved forward without trying to make them rounded.

Details on the forearms! All of these were double worbla. I looked at the texture sheets, and freehanded the shapes of the pieces on transfer paper. I then traced those pieces onto worbla. In order to save time, I just turned the transfer paper upside down to get a reflected piece that would go on the opposite arm.

It's all comin' together!

More tubing was added to the forearm section and apoxie sculpt was added to both pieces in order to make recessed bolt/"plug" areas.

The base coat on everything was a matte black and then a lighter coat of metallic black was sprayed over that. It gave a kind of faded black metallic look. The original intent was to use my airbrush to do all of this so I could use a metalizing lacquer, but I just needed to get it done and this method wasn't so bad.

After all of that paint was applied, I dry-brushed silver weathering on everything. It's a bit Giger-ish in contrast, but hey I'm an Alien fan, so why not?

The shoulder pieces were initially formed over my friend's shoulders, but I also used my own at times just to make sure everything was fitting. The bolts were done in apoxie sculpt and the large plug-like object on the corner are small plastic buckets that I lying around the shop. When time is running out, get creative!

At this point the convention was about a day away. I needed to really hurry, so I opted for a simple robotic hand method. The finger bits are all pvc, the inner and outer finger bits, with elastic running along the top and fishing wire running along the bottom. All of those run through a perpendicular pvc pipe and end at key rings that my friend can place her fingers through to move the fingers. The worbla was formed around my own hands. Quite conveniently, my friend and I have almost the exact same hand size! Such a happy coincidence. I formed the worbla around my hand, which means it was still hot when I did that. I do not recommend doing this. I had no hand casts made, but I would recommend making those for doing anything requiring things to go over hands.

The same paint treatment was applied to the hands!

All the pieces laid out! I used thicker foam for the forearms to make sure they fit snug around my friend's arms. The upper arms used 6mm craft foam. Everything fit snug, and only the shoulder pieces needed adjusting at 2 different points in the day. Not bad considering she wore these for about 9 hours!

And here is a shot of the completed costume! The gentleman in the picture is the creator and writer of Glory. As I said before, I want to remake this build if I ever have the time in the future. I want to make more complete (i.e. one piece) sections of each part. I also want mold and cast the pieces out of a much lighter weight material. Each piece wasn't too heavy, but considering she had these on her arms all day the weight added up and ended up feeling really heavy. Still though, I feel alright about where everything ended up considering how quickly it all came together. Thanks for reading! Until next time, cheers!

Custom build: Legend of Zelda Inspired Sword (Part 1)

This build is about the Legend of Zelda-inspired sword that goes with the shield from the previous post! Same rules apply, the description would basically be the same. So let's get started, shall we?

So this is already a few steps into the process, but I again drew up blue prints of the sword first. After doing that, I cut out the main blade and traced that onto pieces of poplar wood. I used this after seeing how Harrison Krix (Volpin Props) assembled some of his swords. I won't be molding or casting either the sword or shield (as of right now anyway, this is a one-off unless I get requests/orders otherwise), so I want both to be fairly light. After cutting the shapes out on my band saw I routed out an area for a threaded steel rod to go. This will serve as reinforcement in both the blade and handle. It also helps to have something to apply epoxy to for gluing purposes rather than just gluing ends together.

"Gee, ya think? Ya think that maybe I should use these clamps that I use everyday, at every opportunity?" Gluin' and clampin'.

The blade got some belt sander treatment and then was placed on the blue prints to make sure everything checked out. So far so good!

This picture skipped some steps, but I cut the "wings" of the sword out of the same foam that I used for the shield and were sanded down the belt sander, my rotary tool, and hand sanding. The handle was pvc, and the decorative top piece was cut with the rotary tool as well.

Here's a close up of the handle. The end piece was constructed at a later time and was made with a pvc pipe end cap with apoxie sculpt as the pieces that pointed out.

This picture is actually landscape on my computer, but uploading it here made it vertical. I'm not really sure why. In any case, both sides of the wings have inlaid details. I achieved these by carving about .25-.5 inches out of both sides of the foam and then making the details out of apoxie sculpt. In this picture, the blue prints are on the cutting mat, then I placed wax paper on top of that. This let me sculpt the details on top of the blue prints and match the sizes accordingly. As the clay dried I was able to remove it from the wax paper with minimal tearing of the paper and only a small amount sticking to the clay which wasn't too difficult to remove.

The original goal was to turn the middle piece on my lathe. Unfortunately, it's an old lathe and is missing the back piece that holds your material against the rotating bits. So while I was searching for that part, I decided to go ahead and make this piece out of layered mdf which I sanded down and rounded off with my rotary tool.

Testing sizes and placement to make sure everything will fit together. Not too shabby! ... So far...

Gotta love when things start working out and coming together. The details on the sword were made out of foam here, but will be replaced with plastic later (lesson learned from the shield ordeal).

I placed painter's tape on my drill to mark how far into the middle part to drill. The tape matched the length of the exposed threaded rod so I would know how far to drill. This was done for both the blade and the handle of the sword.

Assembled and primed! Getting closer to the end!

Custom build: Legend of Zelda Inspired Shield (Part 1)

For this build, I was commissioned to build a sword and shield that might exist in the Legend of Zelda universe, but that didn't necessarily already exist. I'll split the two builds up into different write-ups so as to not have a SUPER long post. This is just a "part 1", if you will, as both are currently waiting for the go ahead to start the painting process. When that stage as done, I'll create new blog posts to cover my process for that. With all of that, here we go!

First up, I drew up some blue prints for the shield. I traced that onto some 1.5 inch insulation foam. The foam will serve as a majority of the inner body of the shield. This will be epoxied to mdf. Using these will help reduce the overall weight which is important since it will be carried around for several hours at a time.

Why stay cooped up in the shop when it's so nice outside? Moved the belt sander outside to enjoy some sun and warm weather while working. The shield was cut out using both my band saw and scroll saw. And yes, I used the belt sander to bevel and curve the edges of the shield. It takes patience and being careful, but it worked!

Gettin' those smooth sides and sharp top edges! Coming along nicely so far... So far...

So deadlines started to approach rapidly during this project and I started to forget about taking pictures of each step. I'll try and fill in the gaps with descriptions which you can feel free to skip if you'd like.
At this stage, I traced out the inner details onto craft foam and then epoxied that onto the main body. It was fine initially, but moving forward I plan on using some kind of plastic for the details. The foam ended up not being strong enough during some of the steps and created dips that had to be filled in later. Doing that cost a LOT of time that could have been used doing other things. Results may vary, though.

The foam was layered to add depth and detail. This was planned in the blue prints.

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT STEP FOR ANYONE WORKING WITH NEW MATERIALS. Sorry for the caps, but this point has been brought up by many people and especially the pros, so DO IT. If you're working with materials you have never worked with before, test that material with small pieces of anything you'll be applying it to. The resin used here is Smooth-On's Epsilon resin which was designed for foam, but you should still test. The time spent testing will always trump the time spent having to remake things. I'm glad to report everything checked out fine with these (as I expected).

*resin bath* I'm ready for my close-up! 

Wait, uneven areas?? DON'T LOOK AT ME! DON'T LOOK AT ME! No worries, some bondo will be what does ya right!

Now we're getting into the serious sanding stages. Prime, sand, putty/bondo, sand, repeat. I only went up to 400 grit sand paper here; enough to get a nice smooth edge, but no need to get it crazy smooth (it is a shield after all).

Missed a spot. Missed another spot. And there. And there. And there...

A little bit better... Time to repeat!

I added a raised lip of mdf as well as grooves along the back to make it look like planked wood.

Almost done! Next up I added a handle for the wearer to hold on to. The final addition will be a leather strap to go around the forearm and that will be it!