Tag Archives: Working Together

Level 2-3: Upgrade Player 2

2 Oct

Remember when I asked all of you to knock on some wood because Daniel kept saying that Eleanor Lamb‘s helmet and harness would be easy to build? Thank you to all of you that did because it must have been enough to keep Murphy from moving in or even squatting in the yard. We have some amazing pictures to show you but not a lot to describe because we’ve been there and done that and you’ve all been there and done that with us!

The last time you saw Eleanor Lamb’s helmet, I was reinforcing the frame in preparation for papier-mâché. Daniel had expressed some concern about applying papier-mâché to the plastic ball. He was worried that when we popped the ball would take the papier-mâché with it. His solution was to case it in Saran Wrap before beginning the tedious task of papier-mâché.

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet with Wrap Eleanor Lamb's Helmet Paper Mache StartEleanor Lamb's Helmet Paper Mache

Daniel applied two layers of papier-mâché and before we knew it, the time had come to pop the plastic ball. Of course we did wait until the papier-mâché had a chance to dry and set but I’ll never forget the way Daniel came around the couch with the helmet in his hands like a cake with candles and announced it was time to pop the ball!

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet Popping Ball

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet without Ball

Good bye ball.

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet

Hello wearable helmet!

Next, it was time to make the harness. I’m sure you all remember the nightmare that was building Subject Delta’s helmet. And while I anguished over the building and the taping and the cardboard strip cutting, I couldn’t sympathize with Daniel having to sit and stand still for upwards of four hours until it was my turn to be the model. Daniel worked for maybe two and a half hours on me but I was achy and grumpy and my legs kept sticking to the wooden stool we were using for me to perch on. In short, I was a wiggly model. I’m sure it was like trying to cut the hair of a toddler. But, to quote Daniel, we learned a lot from Subject Delta’s helmet, and it benefited this stage immensely.

Eleanor Lamb with Helmet Concept Art

Daniel taped the outline of the harness directly to me and then screwed one of our wooden circles into place.

Eleanor Lamb's Harness ring

This allowed us to really get the angle in place before trying to construct the rest of it. The only difficult section was the hump on the back of the harness. In case you can’t tell from my photos, I’m really small so there isn’t a whole lot of length to my back and shoulders for him to work with.

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet frame Eleanor Lamb's Helmet frame Eleanor Lamb's Helmet frame

But within a couple of hours of measuring, cutting and duct taping we had a completely constructed harness that looked a little something like this!

Eleanor Lamb's harness frame Eleanor Lamb's Harness front

Eleanor Lamb's harness back

Easy-peasy! The next step will be more papier-mâché and then, maybe if you wish real hard, we’ll be able to start working on something other than helmets and harnesses! — TCG

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Player 2: Press Start to Join

10 Sep

Frame for Eleanor Lamb Helmet

I don’t know about you all, but I could use a break from Subject Delta’s helmet. This week, we began work on Eleanor Lamb‘s helmet. Daniel kept saying that this shape was going to be a whole lot easier to execute and I kept telling him to stop saying that! But he doesn’t listen to me so everyone knock on some wood!

Eleanor Lamb's Helmet basic shape

First of all, we needed to get something to help us build the shape of her helmet and something to anchor it to; a bouncy-ball and a flat wooden ring. You’ll also notice a metal strainer in the picture. Coincidence? I think not! After we taped the ball onto the base we needed something to stabilize it while we worked and, wouldn’t you know it, that ball fits perfectly in our kitchen strainer. Don’t worry; it was clean.

Next, I went back to cutting cardboard strips. Have I mentioned how sick I am of cardboard strips? This time around was easier because we had the appropriate tools. I used a box cutter this time instead of the X-Acto Knife.  While the box cutter is anything but elegant, it gets the job done. It was easier to cut the long strips more quickly and the less time I have to spend cutting and bending cardboard strips, the better!

Next, we busted out the hot glue gun. The plan was to tuck the cardboard strips between the ball and the wooden ring and then glue the cardboard to the ring. Daniel was very insistent about this process while I, on the other hand, was afraid that we would puncture the ball with the edges of the cardboard. Oddly enough I wasn’t nearly as concerned about the hot, metal, plastic-melting tip of the glue gun that we would later aim at our only ball.

We positioned the first strip, me wincing as Daniel pushed on the ball and wedged the cardboard indelicately into place, and I moved in with the hot glue gun. But I had to stop. Because of the legs on the front of the glue gun I couldn’t get the tip close enough without having to blindly shove the glue gun into the seam. So we conducted the rarely attempted hot glue gun leg surgery. Now we could operate with full visibility.

Eleanor Lamb's helmet frameThis was nerve-wracking work; Daniel watching as I put the glue into the seam. Sometimes we stressed each other out by trying to direct the other. This became another exercise in communicating about something more than the task at hand, we had to take care to let the other know when our tone of voice was a hindrance instead of a help.

During the planning phase, I had wanted to use single strips of cardboard, reaching from one side of the ball over to the opposite but Daniel came up with a plan to give us a strong focal point at the top of the helmet and make those pesky cardboard strips more manageable. I have to admit, this is pretty cool and the pictures that go with it are also pretty cool. — Sara

If there’s one thing I learned from the construction process on my helmet; it’s that the skeleton is the most important aspect of the helmet! Get the foundation correct and the rest will fall into place all the more smoothly. Sara had the right idea with ‘continual strips’, but I convinced her that we only needed half strips. It was my belief that the other strips could be cut and made to meet the first strip in the middle. Sara would lay a strip of hot glue and I would smooth it with my finger, fusing the two pieces together. It turned into an awesome star shape!

Eleanor Lamb's helmet top frame

The result was better than expected and, once papier-mâchéd,  will give us a dome with a much smoother and much more consistent surface. And, since Sara doesn’t get a helmet to help with the pressure at the top of the structure, we wanted to reinforce it with a cardboard circle.

Eleanor Lamb Helmet frame

We bent it and worked it so that it was good and flexible and then glued it on.  We had a pretty complete frame but I was afraid if we papier-mâchéd directly onto the plastic of the ball, we would run into problems when we went to cut our potholes. — Daniel

My solution was this. Trace the shapes of the negative space between the cardboard strips, trace the stencil onto the card board and cut it out. Then I should have been able to glue the wedges of cardboard in between the strips and then we’d have a solid ball of cardboard that was safe to papier-mâché and cut. So I had Daniel rig up that light and I started working on the first section with printer paper.

Eleanor Lamb's helmet tracing Eleanor Lamb Helmet card board tracing Eleanor Lamb helmet cardboard cut out

Let’s analyze this step by step. Firstly, I should have used tracing paper instead of printer paper. Although I thought I had solved the translucency problem by back lighting the ball. Secondly, remember how I said that we had bought a cheap X-Acto Knife instead of splurging on a really good quality one? Well, that cheep, bendy X-Acto Knife cut the shape I needed but it cut at an angle so when I went to fit it in between the cardboard strips I had to trim it. This trimming resulted in our third point; all that space between the wedge and the cardboard strips for the hot glue to seep through and pop our only balloon.

At this point I stopped and did some math. There were 13 sections on the ball and each would require two stencils; a top and bottom. These two stencils would not be identical from section to section so each would have to be drafted and drawn. That’s 26 stencils for those of you counting. Now, if they worked perfectly I could probably whip them out in about 5 minutes a piece which would put me at 130 minutes or a little over two hours of work. But this calculation is based on everything being perfect the first try which, based on the first try documented in the pictures above, wasn’t going to happen.

Daniel and I stared at each other as we weighed our options. Would it be worth the time and possible frustration to proceed? Or should we take some other course of action? The only problem with taking alternate action was that neither of us knew what that would be.

Check back with us next week. Hopefully we’ll have this figured out by then! — TCG

Level 1-4: Final Save Point — Continue?

6 Aug

Camera - on helmet

Good news everyone; we got our supplies! We were waiting on pins and needles for the 5 mm thick craft foam to arrive so that we could begin work on the porthole. While the prospect of making sudden progress was exciting, we were both dreading the moment when we would cut the Subject Delta’s helmet and either make it or break it, so to speak.

In keeping with our practice of making prototypes before gluing or cutting, we set out to make a prototype of the porthole. For our first attempt, I did a free-handed sketch using grid on construction paper.

porthole hand drawnWhile Daniel was mightily impressed by my free-hand ovals, they weren’t as perfect as we wanted them to be. But they did not go to waste; no! We used them to figure out the rough dimensions that we needed and then plugged into Microsoft Paint. porthole computer

Much more exact, don’t you think? Based on these two templates, we cut our port-hole out of the 5 mm craft foam we had ordered from Hobby Lobby. It was surprisingly easy to cut through with the X-acto knife. However, we found that we needed to cut the entire shape out in one fell swoop rather than starting and stopping in order to adjust the foam; that’s a good way to get frayed edges buddy! I also wouldn’t recommend using scissors, you’ll wind up with lots of scraggly edges with this thicker foam.

Once we had the ovals cut from the foam, we needed to find a way to attach the bars that run across Subject Delta’s porthole. Daniel cut the dowel rods into the sizes we needed with his handy-dandy mini hacksaw and we laid it all out . We even added the rivets so we could begin to imagine it all together; also, we wanted to see if we’d left enough space for them.

porthole 1st try with back

The next hurdle was this; how do we hide the dowel rods? Do we cut them off so that they will sit, nestled nicely inside our foam ovals? No. We sandwich them in between. I’ll let Daniel tell you how we solved this problem with a little creativity and resourcefulness.  — Sara

We practiced with cutting small divots into the 5 mm foam with the X-acto knife, but it wasn’t quite as easy as cutting into the Styrofoam; or as snowy. It was impossible in fact, to get the shape we wanted without tearing it up. So we had the great idea of melting it. What I really wish we had for the job was a wood burning tool, but alas, all we owned was a low-grade hot glue gun. We tried it out, using the heated metal tip. It melted the foam somewhat but not as adequately as I had hope. So I used the only other long, flat, metal device we had. Kids, don’t try this at home. I used the gas stove and a shish kabob skewer to MacGyver myself a melting tool. I turned the stove element on high, held the skewer over the flames until it got hot, but not too hot, and slowly pressed it into the foam until I created the desired divots in both sides of the two porthole pieces. Although the melting foam did not produce a large amount of smoke, it did produce fumes, so make sure you do this in a ventilated area; I just turned on fan over the stove in the kitchen. When I finished I had the perfect slots to insert the dowels into so that we could glue the two pieces together, sandwiching the dowel rods in between. — Daniel

porthole melted eva porthole with dowel

Once we had ironed the kinks out, the moment of truth had arrived. We had to cut the porthole. Tension was high, I kept shaking out my hands and Daniel kept taking these anxious deep breaths and swooshing it all out of his lungs. We spent a long time taping cut outs of our porthole and the lights; we wanted to make sure that we compensated for the shape of the helmet with the placement and scale of our accessories. We finally settled on a placement and Daniel took our papier-mâché baby into his lap with X-acto knife in hand. I sat back. The room was silent and the air was thick with nerves and the taste of fear. I picked up my book to distract myself. Daniel put the tip of the knife to the helmet and his fingers tightened, “You’re not going to watch and support me?” he asked looking up at me. I knew that he was just stalling.

“I don’t want to distract you,” I said. “And I’m so nervous!” He took another deep breath and his eyes focused on the helmet. I raised my book, pretending not to watch. He took a final shallow breath and held it as he applied pressure and the X-acto knife popped through the paper mache. He finally exhaled. It was done. — Sara

helmet cutting

The first cut had been made. There was no turning back now. I began cutting into the helmet following the line we had traced with our template. I cut slowly and methodically, in short sawing strokes so as not to tear or bend anything. Things were going smoothly until I hit the first of the underlying skeletal crossbars. I stopped and threw a quick, concerned glance at Sara who looked up from her book only briefly with a look of ‘you got this, but don’t expect me to help.’ I continued on for what seemed like a full hour and then I was back around to where I started. I made a couple of final saws and then the section ‘popped’ out of the helmet with a soft crack and there was now a big, gaping hole in our hard-earned masterpiece. — Daniel

Did all of our forward planning pay off? Would all of our blood, sweat and tears be paid back in full? Or will Sara have to strangle Daniel with a pliable piece of cardboard from the helmets frame because they have to start all over again?

Tune in next week for the Bioshocking conclusion to: The Cutting of the Subject Delta’s Helmet

— TGC

Level 1-3: Equip Accessories

30 Jul

Styrofoam Work

Since the wave of trials and tests and decisions made last week, we’ve hit another slow spot. We knew when we started that Subject Delta‘s helmet was going to be painfully intricate and we’d even anticipated taking extra time to prevent having to re-do all our hard work. What we didn’t plan on was extra shipping time for supplies. Both Daniel and myself had the whole weekend set aside and I was essentially frothing at the mouth to start putting some details on our frame, but all of this hinged on our receiving our supplies on Friday. In case you haven’t already pieced it together, we did not receive our supplies on Friday.

FRUSTRATION! BLINDING FRUSTRATION!

And so, we busied ourselves with something that we could do with out our 5 mm thick craft foam, the camera.

Subject Delta's Camera

This camera sits atop Subject Delta’s helmet and we wanted to make sure that it didn’t wind up looking too much like a fish fin or a mo-hawk. We also wanted to make sure that it didn’t add too much height to our already dangerously thin helmet. Since Daniel is neither broad nor beefy, the challenge has been to make this helmet appropriate for Daniel’s stature, rather than trying to force him into a fictitious character’s body, so we wanted to be very careful of the height versus the width of the helmet. We toyed with the idea of adding extra panels to the frame to help fill out the cylindrical helmet to the shoulder harness  to help it look more squat but after much fretting and wringing of hands we decided to embrace our artistic interpretation and, to steal from an acting teacher of mine, discover what Daniel would look like if he were to become Subject Delta.

We wandered through Michaels for a while and finally decided on a styrofoam block for the camera. We looked and looked and looked for something to serve as the camera’s lens but nothing looked right. things were getting tense. We had been at Michaels for about an hour, after we had both worked full days at work and nothing I was suggesting was working for Daniel and we were starting to get snippy. It was on this outing that we decided that any future shopping trips had to be done on the weekends, lest we murder each other. It’s hard to stay polite when you’re tired and nothing is working out. So we left with a single block of styrofoam. For this session’s work, I was busy cutting strips of 2 mm craft foam for the raised trim along Subject Delta’s helmet while Daniel got to carving.  — Sara

Camera - using the sawI love to carve styrofoam!!! I don’t know why, I just do! It’s like destroying and creating and making snow all at the same time. I sat down with our 2″ X 4″ X 12″ styrofoam block and got to crafting. We started by holding the block up to the helmet an tracing the crest of the helmet along one side of the block with a sharpie to get a good idea of how we needed to carve the styrofoam so that it could straddle the helmet just right. I used our trusty X-acto knife to carve out the initial section and sat it on the helmet, carved out a little more, sat it on the helmet again then carved out a little more and sat it on the helmet again. You get the idea; tedious but necessary. It was looking pretty good but needed something else. The hard hat we got has a bit of raised detailing on the top so I carved out a gorge into the curved section so that it would fit more snugly down over the helmet.

Camera - cardboard stencilOnce we got the general curve right I used a little fine-toothed hand saw to lop off the front and back at the desired lengths and then sawed some of the top to get the height. I sawed an angle slopping off the back of the camera to transition into the back of the helmet, but something was still off.  The front of the camera unit did not seem to adhere to the contour of the helmet, so rather that trying to figure out what shape to cut to bridge the gap we lay the styrofoam piece we had on its side and, with some cardboard, we traced the shape including the missing piece. Long story short; we didn’t end up with a usable piece, but we did end up with a great template for our next try. And the moral of the story? Always buy extra pieces. — Daniel

Camera - with lenseThe second time around we just traced the template onto the styrofoam and Daniel got to sawing. When he finished we had a pretty awesome looking camera. And that lens? That’s an empty Ben Nye makeup container. We had an empty red makeup container that Daniel cleaned out. Best of all? It was free! Hooray for college makeup class! But as I looked at the reference pictures, it seemed to me that the edges needed to be rounded.

While we were at Michaels, I picked up a flyer titled, “Tips & Techniques for Crafting with Styrofoam.” On it, I learned that styrofoam works like sandpaper on other pieces of styrofoam. I had no idea! Neither did Daniel. I had to convince him to give it a try. He doubted that we would be able to get a smooth rounded look because the styrofoam was too delicate for sanding but once I read the flyer to him and gave him a demo he got to sanding and will you just look at these results?

camera - post sandingAnd we know how much you all love the Daniel action shot!

Camera - on helmet

We’d like to apologize for the tardiness of this week’s update, but we feel like we have a great excuse. Those supplies that we were waiting on arrived yesterday and we’ve been building after work both yesterday and today. We’re going to have some really really exciting updates to make in the coming weeks, be sure to check it out!

As always, thank you so much for reading! We’ve moved the e-mail subscription button over to the right side of the page in case you’ve been meaning to subscribe and get too busy to scroll past all those past posts. And so, we leave you with an adorable picture of our cat, Electra. Daniel made her a pair of bat wings out of craft foam and she modeled them so nicely! — TCG

Electra Bat Kitty

Game Paused – Sort Inventory

23 Jul

Working AwayA wise man once said, “He who wishes to go far must tread carefully.” Now,  just in case you’re trying to Goggle that quote, I’ll come clean; it’s not a real quote. But it does make a good opening for this week’s slightly less exciting post. Subject Delta’s helmet was finally coming together and we were beyond pleased with it. I would sometimes catch Daniel just standing in front of it, running his fingers over the papier-mâché whispering sweet nothings to it like you would to a budding flower, or maybe a baby. We knew that the time had come to move into the next phase which would involve adding layers to and eventually making cuts into our hard-earned helmet. Frankly, we were terrified. The thought of making a single cut that could result in having to scrap it again and start over gives me hives. Which is why we’ve decided to take a little time and plan and test and try out some techniques before doing a darn thing to that beautiful piece of work.

It was strange not having a firm, physical grasp for the next step. I felt like we were hovering in this unspecific we-need-to-do-something-ness that didn’t have any real direction. So we sat down with a piece of paper and a couple of our reference pictures and got to making a list of layers.

  1. Wingnuts
  2. Rivets
  3. 2 mm Craft Foam – for the lining around the harness
  4. 5 mm Craft Foam – for the porthole
  5. Dowel Rod – for the porthole
  6. Push Lights
  7. Rope Light – for the porthole
  8. Grommets – for the air tubes
  9. Handles – for the back of the helmet

It appeared like a little hunting and gathering was in our future. But the first order of business was getting our hands on some spray resin to seal the layers of the helmet and papier-mâché so that it would all appear to be of the same material. Daniel had some experience using it on craft models and was confident that this was the stuff we needed. However, did you know that it’s illegal to purchase spray paint or tinted resin in Chicago city limits? Because we sure didn’t! Turns out that we’re going to have to make a special trip to the suburbs when it comes time to purchase our bronze spray paint to color the helmet. Luckily, what we needed was available to us, it just took a bit of hunting. I’ll let Daniel tell you a little bit more about them. — Sara

Resin Sprays

Some of the products I had in mind, that would serve our purposes, were: Plasti Dip, spray on fiberglass and spray resins. I’ve worked with all of them before on various little projects here and there growing up. The trouble with Plasti Dip is that while it gives you a nice sealed rubber surface it tends to peel. Spray on fiberglass can be very tricky to work with. It’s heavy and messy, especially when sanding as it gets everywhere and is itchy. Spray on resins though, are light and can be applied in multiple layers to create a hard, sealed shell.

What we have pictured are the two options available to us in the spray on resin category.

Contestant #1, pictured on the left, is Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. It is primarily used for woodwork such as flooring, molding and doors. It’s used to seal in the woodwork after staining or painting and it dries to a nice hard shell that can be sanded.

Contestant #2, pictured on the right, is Zinsser Bull’s Eye Shellac. It’s pure shellac in the form of spray. This is used mainly for craft projects to seal in paint or to seal in layers of material such as a scrapbook page. This one also dries into a hard shell but is not as ideal for sanding, which is okay because it usually has a smoother finished surface to begin with. — Daniel

So, with accessories and adhesives and finishing materials in hand, it was time to do some testing.

Round One – Adhesive Battle. FIGHT!

Contact Adhesive vs. Elmer’s Glue All

Prior to starting the work on Subject Delta’s helmet, we did a lot of research on Eva foam. This included reading over blog tutorials and watching YouTube videos and the thing that I came away with was knowing that we had to have a contact adhesive if we wanted to glue together craft foam. Besides, the more toxic something is the stronger it should be, right? — Sara

True, contact adhesives are generally stronger, but from what I’ve experienced, they are also more toxic and more corrosive  in nature. I had a feeling that it would melt the delicate Eva foam and from working with wood glues and Elmer’s glues I knew that they often do the job nicely when all you really need them to do is to stick two objects together long enough to seal them together. — Daniel

Elmers Glue Test Contact Adhesive Test

Winner: Daniel!

Even after following the directions on the tube which included roughing the edges a little and waiting for the glue to become “tacky” before putting the foam and cardboard together, the edges bowed up. This might have been taken as just a lesson to use the adhesive more liberally had the Elmer’s not turned out so easily and beautifully.

Test Set - Unfinished

Round Two – Finishing Battle. FIGHT!

We prepared a set of samples to test the two different finishing sprays on. We were looking to fill in minor blemishes like cracks and creases and we were looking to see what would happen with the porous foam. To prepare the foam, we sealed two samples with the same mixture of Elmer’s Glue-All and water we used to papier-mâché the helmet; this is done to prevent the chemicals of the resin sprays from eating away at it. Starting on the top left and working clockwise we have: sealed foam with seam, sealed foam on papier-mâché, unsealed foam on papier-mâché and unsealed foam with seam.

This is what unsealed foam looks like in the light.

This is what unsealed foam looks like in the light.

This is what the sealed foam looks like in the light.

When working with any sort of product that is sprayed on, always make sure to work outside or somewhere with excellent ventilation. The fumes can get pretty heavy, even when working on such small samples we could see it hanging in the air. We tested the sprays on a set of sealed and unsealed samples, layering on a total six coats. And, completely unintentionally, we were banking on opposite products for the win.

I had worked with brush-on shellac before and had found them effective at creating a nice, hard, sealed shell; but one that was uneven and far from smooth. This gave me some apprehensions going into testing. To be honest though, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with a spray-on polyurethane but from the can’s description of “self-leveling,” I figured I had this round in the bag.  — Daniel

The idea of something creating a hard shell that we could paint sounded like gold, especially since the helmet is supposed to look like it is made out of metal. I could tell as I sprayed it that it was coming out thick and really coating the samples. Honestly, there weren’t a lot of technical reasons behind my rooting for the shellac, it just seemed to be doing what it said on the can. — Sara

Winner: Sara!

Shellac Unsealed Foam Test

Sample 1

Shellac Sealed Foam Test

Sample 2

Both the sealed and the unsealed foam are smooth and the edges, where the foam meets the cardboard and papier-mâché, are sealed nicely into one piece. If you were to slap a coat of paint on either of these it would look like one uniform material. And, based on this test, we may not even have to seal the foam as the unsealed foam in Sample 2 appears a bit smoother than the sealed foam in Sample 1.

Poly Unsealed Foam Test

Sample 3

Poly Sealed Foam Test

Sample 4

These are the polyurethane tests. Sample 3 is unsealed and Sample 4 is sealed. If you’ll look along the bottom of Sample 3, you can see that there are still gaps between the foam and the base and the imperfections from the papier-mâché are still quite clear. In Sample 4, the seam where the foam was glued together is still clearly there as is a definite ridge between the base and the foam.

Even though we feel like we’re inching along at this point, there is value in taking time to properly test out products and techniques that are new. Measure twice, cut once. This is a legitimate saying that we’re taking to heart and, hopefully, it will keep us from sliding backwards. — Sara

Do you have a story about a time you wished that you had “measured twice?” Or maybe when you’ve tested out a new technique – how did it turn out? Why not share it with us in the comment box below?

Thanks for stopping by this week!! — TCG

Level 1-2: Press Start to Replay?

16 Jul

It was a long and frustrating weekend.

Subject Delta Helmet Reference

That being said, we started with a couple of fantastic finds that got us really stoked: the jumpsuit and the boots for Subject Delta. We were going to buy me some new clothes and just happened by this store called Uniforms To You and Daniel said, let’s go take a look and I was feeling particularly adventurous because I was about to get some new clothing so I said why not. And here’s what we found.. on sale.

Subject Delta's Boots Subject Delta's Jumpsuit

The boots were normally $45 and we got them for $30. They are designed to go over another pair of shoes so they fit perfectly over Daniel’s Chucks so he’s going to be able to wear some comfy shoes and, let’s face it, those buckles look awesome; slap a little bronze paint over those buckles and we’re almost ready to go! I even had him walk around, first with an affected walk, trying to emulate Subject Delta’s movements, and then I asked him to try to walk normally. Those suckers gave him a character perfect walk without him even trying! Anything to make his time in the get up easier, right?

The suit was normally around $150 and we got it for $73!! Holy crap right?! It adds all the bulk we want so he’s not going to have to mess with any sort of padding to help making him look larger than life. He was surprised how breathable it was, but then it is actually meant to be worked in so I guess that’s just a plus of finding something functional over a straight up costume piece. What great luck!

Since we were so close to making Subject Delta’s helmet the first time around, we just knew that we could whip it up on a dedicated Saturday. The plan was to make the frame in the morning,  papier-mâché in the evening and have our helmet completed and ready to go by dinner time. Easy as pie. Right?

Have you ever actually made a pie?

We cut our strips of card board again as well as a million strips of duct tape in advance. Daniel put on the coveralls and the newly stripped construction helmet, gave me a kiss and a word of encouragement and then we went to work. We decided that he should stand so that his sitting posture wouldn’t affect the shape of the frame. We had an actual tape measure as well as chalk so I could mark his suit up – I felt like a pro with my tape measure around my neck , bobbing and weaving around my subject. What we didn’t take into account was the humidity and how this practical suit would absorb his sweat. Duct tape may be darn close to perfect in any situation, but it will not stay stuck to a damp cloth surface nor will it stay stuck to the surface of another strip of duct tape.

3 1/2 hours into the session and Daniel’s feet hurt, his back hurt, he was hot and I was freaking out because nothing was staying stuck. I would have to go back and try to push the tape and cardboard back together each time I stepped away to grab another piece of tape. He needed me to hurry and nothing, I repeat, nothing was sticking. NOTHING. I’ve never been so frustrated. At one point he said to me, “Just hurry up and finish, I have to sit down.” To which I snapped, “I’m trying!”

He finally got to sit and he pulled the helmet off and I watched, angrily, as 4 hours of work  sloughed to pieces in his hands. I was disgusted and Daniel was in pain and we were both disgusted.

failed Subject Delta helmet

We ate a very sad lunch, watched a movie. And then we took another stab at it. Bad decision. I had a full on melt down during which Daniel said “Maybe we should be doing this right now.” To which I said, “I’m really sorry,” and retreated to the bedroom to read some comics and wallow in my shame.

The next day Daniel didn’t mention the helmet. After breakfast I looked at him and said, “I need to get that helmet done today.” He asked if I was sure, and I was. We went and purchased some plastic packing tape. It’s sole purpose is to stick to card board right?!

This time he sat and we didn’t talk a lot. It was all business. It took us 3 1/2 hours. Would you like to see how it turned out?

Subject Delta Helmet Success Profile Subject Delta Helmet Success Front

Looks pretty awesome with that jump suit huh? And later that night, Daniel papier-mâchéd.  — Sara

Shortly after we completed work on the new and improved frame, our friend Wyatt stopped by. So we took a couple-hours break in which we watched the second half of Despicable Me and grilled some red hots to snack on with potato salad. Yum!

Fed and rested we were itching to begin the papier-mâché on this new frame to see if we truly did as well as we thought. We cut up yet another Red Eye into 1″ wide strips, mixed our glue and set to work. Sara and I started off alternating. She would lay a strip while I held the helmet steady and then I would lay a strip while she held it for me. After only a couple of turns in this way, I asked Sara if she would mind letting me take the reins since I was unable to help with the frame. She was hesitant, maybe a little grumpy at first but I told her that she’d done all the building and that I really wanted to contribute. So she lounged on the couch and watched TV while I worked, giving me a bird’s-eye-view bit of direction here and there and when I asked for her thoughts on a particular section.

With the first helmet we layered the papier-mâché onto the frame a little too heavily and ‘painted it on’ with too much glue.  The result was that the paper clung to the frame creating subtle valleys and crests and amplifying mistakes.  My focus this time around was to let the paper do the work; to lay it on the frame in a way that it would follow the natural contour of the helmet and, where needed, bridge the gaps over any defects. As I started I was using longer strips about 6″ long, but the further up the helmet I worked, the shorter I found the strips needed to in order to follow the various shapes of the helmet without creating folds or crinkles. I went from 6″ longs strips on the harness to 3″ and 4″ strips around the transition from the harness to the shoulder/neck junction, to 1″ and 2″ strips around the brim of the helmet and finally 1/2″ patches to conform to the rounded crest. As I worked I also made sure to alternate between horizontal and vertical placements where needed. The more I applied the more we could see just how amazing and improved the overall shape was!

After about 2 hours of sculpting and scrutinizing the initial layer was complete. It was time to call it quits for the night and clean up; but the finished product for the day left us feeling accomplished and very hopeful.

Subject Delta helmet mache2 Subject Delta helmet extended mache1

Sara, still feeling the sting from the previous day, freaked out about the right side of the harness. I thought it was good enough. We argued back and forth about whether or not it was even possible to put extensions on the harness, I was stressed that we would ruin the amazing work we’d already done. But she bent me to her will, like she did those cardboard strips and look how it turned out in the picture on the left.

17 hours in and this is what we’ve got.

Subject Delta helmet Success

Not too shabby. — Daniel

We hope you enjoyed our new format and the progress pictures! Have you ever had what felt like a crushing defeat when working on a cosplay of your own? Why not share your phoenix story with us in the comments section below?

See you next Tuesday! — TCG

Level 1-2 : Upgrade Helmet

9 Jul

Subject Delta Helmet

Now that we had a skeleton, a darn good looking skeleton, we needed to fill it in. Daniel’s first idea was to use chicken wire around the cardboard frame in order to get the shape and stability. That idea didn’t last long. The thought of wrestling with pointy wires with a pair of pliers didn’t seem very appealing when we realized that neither of us knew when we’d had our last tetanus shots.

Papier-mâché won the day.

With papier-mâché, the tools and ingredients were easy to come by, didn’t cost a lot and, when applied in enough layers, would give us all the shape and stability we would need. The skill level needed to work with papier-mâché is perfect for beginners and the feeling of peeling dried Elmer’s glue off the fingers is just plain awesome. Don’t pretend that you didn’t “accidentally” get glue on your fingers when you were a kid just so you could try to peel it off in one long piece.

We mixed 8 oz. of Elmer’s Glue-All with 4 oz. of water in a plastic bowl. Depending on how sticky the glue you want to use is, you might need a touch more water. We were working with a 2 : 1 ratio. Don’t feel like you have to be super precise with your measurements here; two bottles of Elmer’s glue is 8 oz. so we just dumped them in the bowl and then filled one of the empty bottles with water. Don’t worry about being exact; it’s just glue.

We cut several Red Eyes into strips. You can use plain-Jane newspapers if you want, but the Blackhawks were in the process of winning the Stanley Cup and our daily free newspaper, the Red Eye, was filled with stories of their victories so we thought it would be fitting to cover our helmet in their awesomeness. Go Hawks!

We then grabbed a couple of foam brushes and went to work.

Daniel: The shape of Subject Delta’s helmet is so unique. We had to always keep the shape in mind and be conscious of where the cylindrical shape of the helmet would meet the arch of the shoulders. It was like trying to papier-mâché two different shapes together but make them look like one solid piece.

We started at the base on the front and the back with thick, shorter horizontal strips and worked our way up. Then, when had to switch to longer, thinner vertical strips and work around the curve of the head.

Working together, at the same time made the process move along very quickly but it made the need for communication even greater. We had to take many breaks where we would step back and map out our next path.Even though the cardboard skeleton gave us a fantastic foundation, we had to be careful to fill in the holes and maintain shape. Take, for instance, the back of the frame.

Reinforced Helmet - Back

There’s not a lot of spaces to help support wet newspaper strips between the middle support bar and those side bars that connected the helmet to the shoulder piece. We found ourselves really wishing that we’d added more support strips just for the purpose of stringing strips of papier-mâché together.

We spent an hour and a half on this step of the process. With the frame filled in, it was beginning to look more and more like Subject Delta and we were getting more and more excited until we were finished.

Daniel got really quiet and then went to the kitchen. He came back with a skewer, which was the only thing we had on hand that was long enough to saw through the layers of cardboard and papier-mâché, and cut out a rough eye hole. Here’s what it looked like.

Front of Helmet

Front of Helmet

Back of Helmet

Back of Helmet

How disappointing. But we thought, maybe it will look better if Daniel puts it on..

1st paper mache3

The shape of the construction helmet was still too pronounced and it gave the helmet a pointed top. There is also a very prominent ring above the eye hole where the helmet meets the first cardboard ring. We also didn’t take into account that, as we mached, the curve would get filled in and be less prominent; we needed to have extended the shoulder pieces further out to account for that. You’ll also see that the front of the breast-plate looks more squared off than it should. Certainly nothing like our reference:

Subject Delta Helmet Reference

Well. Back to the drawing board. At least we have nine whole months to get it right.

Sara: I think it was because we only worked an hour and a half on this step but I wasn’t too upset at all. It definitely sucked but at least we could see where we needed to make changes.  It should be no problem at all to whip up another frame and get it mached and ready to go!

Daniel: As I was cutting the finished frame away from the helmet, I tried not to think too much about it or I would get angry. I knew that it wouldn’t work, that we could do better so I had to get it over with. I knew that the longer I stared at how poorly it came together, the angrier I would be.

Sara: I had no idea you were so upset.

Daniel: I was very upset.

How do you deal when you’ve been working on a process which requires multiple steps only to find out after all your hard work that you need to start over? Why not share in our comments section below?

7 and 1/2 hours in, and we were having to start again from scratch.

Regardless of how upset he was, he posed for this picture, which we will leave you with until next week.

Oh well. Maybe next time!

Oh well. Maybe next time!

Level 1-1 : Acquire Helmet

2 Jul

We knew that we had to start with the helmet for Subject Delta.

Subject Delta Helmet Reference

We could tell just by looking – and also from the scores of frustrated cosplayers out there that we researched – that this would be the most challenging part of the costume to create. Since we didn’t have access to a full shop or a previously stocked up tool chest, we knew that we would have to rely on study, ingenuity and adaptation. We had hoped that, from our research, we could avoid the pitfalls that other’s warned us about from their own experiences and sail right through.

We planned to start with a construction helmet. This would allow for at least some comfort and support for Daniel as he tromps around in the costume. Hopefully some of the pressure would be spread across the helmet’s support system rather than resting on the peak of his head.

I was worried about his comfort and safety. I know that he probably runs the risk of overheating and I didn’t want to compound that with a splitting headache. I had even suggested some sort of support system that would run from the helmet to rest on his shoulders so that he could relax his neck and let the brace do all the work. But Daniel talked me out of it.  – Sara

While I appreciated my wife’s concern, I talked her out of it because we didn’t have the means to construct it in a way that would be as supportive as she wanted it to be. I didn’t want to add more complexities to a project that was already going to be so intricate. – Daniel

We picked up a helmet from one of our local hardware stores – GO LOCAL BUSINESS – then we commenced. Most construction helmets, if they are truly up to code, will have a bill. We looked high and low and couldn’t find something with a shorter bill than this:

Helmet Before Cutting     From other models we had seen, it looked like others that had used a construction helmet as a base had left the bill intact; this resulted in a  porthole that stuck too far out away from the helmet itself.  Which deviated from the over all look. So Daniel cut it.

Taking a drill with a 5/32" size drill bit he prepared it for cutting.

Helmet After the Cutting

Using a 5/32″ drill bit, he drilled holes along the base of the bill. This would allow him to saw through it more easily with a hand saw. Let’s hear it for low tech solutions!

When his Dad gave him that hand drill for Christmas, I had no idea what it would be good for other than taking up closet space. – Sara

Way to go Dad! – Daniel

Next, we planned to do a frame out of cardboard and duct tape. We didn’t have the jumpsuit yet, but we knew that it would add bulk so Daniel put on his bulky, down-filled coat and we got to it on a Thursday evening after work.

We didn’t have a tape measure, but we assumed that we could use ribbon on the spool to mark onto the cardboard where to cut. We could always shape later if the measurements weren’t perfect, right?

We had purchased a cheap X-Acto knife which, in the end worked fine, but the removable blades bent easily. In hindsight, if you don’t have supplies, you should take an extra week of savings to purchase good, quality tools. While you might feel like it’s breaking the bank and delaying the project, you’ll thank yourself when the process is easier to execute.

Our first night totaled 3 hours of work and nothing but a base to show for it. Daniel was sweating and tired and our attempts to link the helmet to the shoulder piece was proving difficult.

End of the 1st NightWe called it a night.

We were confident that, if we just had more uninterrupted time to work, we could nail it.

I felt very scrutinized because I knew that Daniel really wanted to be doing the cutting and the taping but he couldn’t. I really felt a lot of pressure to do it right. I made sure that I expressed this to Daniel as we worked because I knew that it wasn’t his intention to make me nervous but I wanted to avoid any sort of stress-filled outbursts on my part. It’s the curse of being a perfectionist. – Sara

It’s true. I use to tinker around and do stuff like this a lot as a kid growing up so. I wanted to be more actively involved. However, the helmet needed to be built directly onto my frame to get the proportions right. I couldn’t build it on myself. In truth, Sara was doing a phenomenal job. It was coming together quite nicely but she would get frustrated and rush herself. I knew it was important to have a good foundation for the frame so that every layer that followed would stay true to the form. – Daniel

The following Saturday, we slapped the base onto Daniel’s shoulders, he took a seat on a stool and Sara got to snipping, bending and taping. There was some back and forth on the positions of a few support pieces and there was frustration in trying to get the work to stay put on Daniel’s chest and shoulders but, over all, it was smooth sailing and we were very, very pleased with the results. The trickiest part was trying to get the curve from the helmet to where it meets at the shoulders and keeping the rings around Daniel’s face uniform and even, especially since Daniel couldn’t really move.

1st Attempt Side View 1st Attempt Back View

It wasn’t until I got those front and back support strips that linked the head piece to the base harness that I really started to see it. I remember getting really excited and kind of dancing around. Poor Daniel couldn’t see a thing so I had to keep taking pictures and showing it to him. – Sara

The shape of the helmet was starting to look pretty spot on and it had that great slope down the sides of the neck to the shoulders that gives Subject Delta’s helmet that distinct look. It felt really cool when Sara showed me a picture and I could see it coming together so well. – Daniel

We carefully took the helmet off of him and put it on our makeshift stand. A mannequin would have been nice, but since we didn’t have one we made do with a lamp stand. Then Daniel finally got to get his hands dirty – he reinforced everything with more duct tape and he was ready for his photo shoot.

Reinforced Helmet - Back Reinforced Helmet - Front

Helmet Frame

We spent 4 hours on this second building day. So with 6 hours total under our belts we were enthused and confident that we could pull this off. Do you remember how you felt after your first cosplay build? Why not share it with us below in the comment section?

Be sure to check back next week for our next update!