June 30, 2013

Mr Freeze Part 4: The Armor I

This armor has been a bit of a journey.  Prototyping/development, building while trying out new materials, rebuilding in materials I know.  And now the structure is done, awaiting paint, detail, and finishing.  Here it is as it stands now, built of foam:

So how did we get here?  Let's go.

Cardboard Prototype / Pattern Development

Rather than jumping straight in with my chosen materials, I wanted to use cheap, cheap cardboard so I'd be able to make all the mistakes I needed to make.
This is how I finished my cardboard model.  The process I used to make this was very trial-and-error.  In short, I looked for flat areas on the design image (check back here) and tried to match them, panel by panel, in cardboard.  Some obvious interpretations were made since my body isn't quite the super-ideal comic-book-man body.  Each panel is symmetrical, so I cut them out on paper across a fold line before unfolding tracing onto the cardboard.  In the end I was left with this cardboard form as a  good 3d model and all the paper panel patterns to more easily make the real thing.  Cool.

Next came my biggest mistake, but I'm glad I took the time to make it.  I've been wanting to try building directly out of plastic and this seemed as good a time as any.  I found an ikea storage container that was about to be thrown out, and I went to work cutting out the patterns out of the plastic.
I really liked the texture of the plastic - slightly rough with structural ridges and lines throughout that I would work into the front, back, and shoulders.  So cool, I was fairly happy with this.  It seemed a little thin on me when I wore it, but I chose to move forward anyways.  So how to put it together without the tape?  Platic really doesn't glue very well.  My answer came in a horrible, painstaking, annoying process: rivets.  Once on there they look nice in a very steampunk kind of way, but it took nearly three days of work to put them all in there.  Oy.
Now for why this process was a bit of a failure and what I learned from it: bit's been a few years since I've worked with hard materials (plastic, wood, metal) - I've mostly been using foam and fabrics.  So I had forgotten how precise you need to be with them.  Precision is fine, I can do it, but my workshop is currently my bedroom and my precision tools are anything but at the moment.  So there were gaps.  Also, I needed something flexible, paintable, and plastic-stickable, so I found a kind of painter's caulk that fit the bill.  It worked ok.  The whole thing was mostly symmetrical.  Putting it on, I mostly liked the shape:
In this picture, you can see the neck seal piece I added on top.  In the end though, it just wasn't good enough.  I mean it would have been adequate, but I wanted it better than adequate.  So started again.  From the prototype.

Do-Over

I kept some parts and re-did others.  I reworked my prototype and redid more than half of my paper patterns.  Instead of using plastic this time, I used something I knew I had proper tools to use - and a more forgiving material overall - plastazote foam.  It's kind of like the type of foam that makes up camping mats or gym floor mats (EVA), but it's much lighter weight and more meant for prop making, millinery, etc.
Working with foam to make something like armor, a hat, or a puppet can be a huge topic in itself, but I'll be brief.  To have sharp corners out of a material with thickness like this one, you need to cut more-than or less-than 90deg corners.  On the picture on the left (which is simply pinned together for testing and fitting), each piece along the joins you see are cut inward so that the inside side of the piece is smaller than the outside.  I developed my patterns so that the paper pattern is the size out the outside shape (since it's the part that is seen) and each seam is labeled "30deg in" or "20deg out" so I know which way to cut the plastazote.  After pinning and testing the whole form, I used contact adhesive to glue the whole thing together.  Plastazote  works best with contact adhesive and, once glued together, forms an absolutely permanent bond.

One of the nicest things about working with foams you intend to paint or cover in fabric is that they are super, super easy forms to edit.  it's easy to cut away a section if it's too long and glue the rest back.  It's easy to make a slit and glue in a bit more.  It's easy to add on top of and it's easy to pin to test.  It bends, folds, and stretched wonderfully and will keep beautiful organic forms unless you force it not to.  Finally, you can carve, melt, or layer detail onto or into it when its done and make it look just fabulous.  Working with foam is just great.
In the end, starting from (almost) the beginning was annoying and discouraging, but I absolutely feel that it was the right decision.  The new form fits on me much better, builds a wider frame more in keeping with the comicy aesthetic, is lighter, and should paint better.  This is absolutely a learning process every time, so matter how many times I make things.  I'm glad to experiment with new techniques and materials, succeed or fail, and do better next time.

Next Time

I'm into making the body suit from Neoprene, and that's a bit of a saga.  In short, there's a fabric sale, odd paint choices, and some unfortunate cat paws.

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