Monday, July 6, 2015

Group Project: Colonial Marines (Aliens)

Alternate title: What I Learned While Managing A Group Cosplay

A few weeks after Dragon Con 2014, I was talking with Adam Greene of Pixelbash Props about what the "cosplay community" really was, and how people connected - or didn't connect - outside of conventions. Specifically, we got on the subject of how Dragon Con can attract tens of thousands of people - many from the Atlanta area - and yet there doesn't seem to be any large group or gathering of cosplayers out in the real world. I assumed that either A.) there was an existing group / meetup and we weren't aware of it, or B.) it didn't exist. Being optimistic, I believed the second option and we created a monthly social event at Freeside, creatively called the Atlanta Cosplay Meetup.

After meeting for a few months and making a lot of new friends, we started talking about the possibility of doing a group cosplay. A project we could all work on together! I'd never done a large scale group project like that before and it seemed like a great challenge and a lot of fun. After some debate, we settled on what seems like an obvious choice - Colonial Marines from the Aliens franchise.

The plan was to break the costume down into manageable chunks and spread the work out amongst the group. We decided to use Pepakura for the majority of the armor segments, with some sections 3D printed to be molded and cast. There is an open door policy at the public events at Freeside, so we anticipated a lot of people who would come to learn who would have little or no experience using these techniques. It would take us a while to really form a core group of people who were apart of the project, but we quickly moved right into building.

In order to speed up the tedious pep process, we utilized Freeside's laser cutter and went with cardboard rather than card stock. This made it a lot easier to get the basic shapes down and assembled, which was good because at the start of this project, no one had ever used Pepakura before! The first few build sessions consisted of cutting out the cardboard pep pieces, gluing them together with hot glue, then coating them with fiberglass resin for strength. Once everyone got their hands dirty putting together the Pepakura pieces, the process went really quickly.

From here we applied bondo body filler to the surface of the parts to smooth them out and sculpt them into shape. This is by far the most tedious part of the build, and we spent most of our build days working the bondo into the correct shapes. The "bondo minions" made quick work of everything and the armor masters looked really great.

One of the machinists at Freeside helped by lathing up some grenades. We'll eventually mold these and pour cast copies.

Meanwhile, Adam was working on 3D printing the Pulse Rifle and some of the armor bits. The Pulse Rifle was taken from the Aliens: Colonial Marines game and put through a process (which I will detail more soon!) to increase the detail level. It was then sliced into sections to fit into the various 3D printers we have access to, and printed in parts. Once it was fully printed out, it was assembled and several work days spent cleaning up the print lines so it wouldn't look like a 3D printed gun.

We were also working on a couple Xeno costumes as well. Kevin was working on the Xeno head sculpt.

Valentin worked on a mechanism to make the Xeno tongue action work in a really dynamic way. The tongue mechanisms were laser cut out of acrylic with a few 3D printed bits, all driven by a geared DC motor and controlled by an Arduino.

Going back to the Marine armor, once we had our masters finished and ready, we were going to vacuum form several of them and slush cast others in resin. Molds were made of all of the parts, and for the vacuum forming we poured plaster into the molds to create the forming bucks. Here, Adam is working on pulling copies of a few parts of armor.

Other molds had Smooth Cast 65D resin slush cast in them in several coats, to create the armor bits. We had a few duds due to some incorrect resin measuring, but that's the price of learning!

Meanwhile we cleaned up the vacformed parts. We had to cut off the flashing and trim up the edges, and set them all aside to get ready for paint.

The Pulse Rifle was also molded up in probably the biggest 2 piece block mold I've ever seen. This was used to rotocast and back fill with expanding foam to create a light weight, rigid prop. We actually wound up taking the mold to MomoCon and did a live casting demo at the booth!


We were down to the wire building and painting armor. About a dozen of us worked in teams painting on base coats, then doing the camo patterns. Each set of armor consists of about 15 pieces and each had to be painted.

The last 2 days before the con, we got very little sleep! Here, Adam and Elliott passed out in the living room.

Wednesday came and went, and unfortunately we simply ran out of both time and steam. There were some issues with the Xeno head sculpt as well, causing it to crack before we could get it molded. Thankfully this was found before we spent the time (and materials!) molding it.

The good news is that MomoCon was a huge success. We had a lot of fun at our booth and we met a ton of people. We got to show off our work and Freeside, and introduce a lot of people to the idea of a hackerspace!

It was a really long weekend.

As it stands, the project is nearly complete. We need to fabricate a few more sets of armor and do some painting, then put everything together. We'll be together at Dragon Con, so be sure to check back for photos in September!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June Project Updates

With less than 70 days left to Dragon Con, I wanted to post up an update on my current works in progress before I don't have any free time!

The main event this year is Vi. I feel like I've been working on her for months and months now, but the reality is that other projects got way in the way and had to put it on hold for a while. Thankfully I'm back in full swing now! The goggles are finished and ready. The legs are fully 3D printed and currently being cleaned up. The backpack and shoulder armor is being 3D printed at this time and will be finished in a few weeks. I've commissioned Katja Von Designs, the woman who made my Princess Peach dress last year, to make the jacket and corset.

My custom built 3D printer is very nearly finished. At this point I have everything I need, and I just need to machine some of the aluminum parts before it's ready to start being used. Finally!

In my spare time, I've been slowly chipping away at a handful of helmets I have from Shawn Thorrson - the Iron Man Mk 3, the War Machine, and the Iron Man Godkiller. I've had these for a while and I really should finish them and have them available to display!

I'm also trying to get a couple new Ultron 5 helmets out the door!

I also recently picked up an Ant-Man helmet from a friend and I'm trying to get that ready to wear to the Ant-Man premiere next month.

Very shortly I'll be starting on Furiosa's bionic arm for my friend Laura. As you can see, she's already really excited to get started!

A photo posted by Laura (@vauuughn) on

Someone asked me recently how I achieved the metal look in some of the things I've built, so I wanted to share that here. I use these three Rust-Oleum paints for the base of any grey / silver metallic paint job that I do:


The Aluminum is used as a base coat, and the Matte Nickel and Charcoal are applied in varying layers to give different looks. For example with the Gravity Gun, I alternated light coats of each color to give a worn metal look.

More soon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hiatus, Updates, and Works in Progress

Hello internet! Long time no chat.

I've been fairly quiet on here for some time now, and I'm very sorry about that. Things have been very busy for me the past several months and I feel like I am only just now able to start doing prop making seriously again.

Dragon Con was amazing and I loved building the new Ultron helmet. I'm very happy with how the sculpt and electronics came out with that, and it's given me a lot of ideas for some projects for the future.

This past November, I decided to join the board of directors at Freeside Atlanta, the hackerspace that I do my prop work out of. I've been a member since about mid 2013 and I have very much enjoyed the space and the community. There are a lot of awesome people there and I've loved meeting them and sharing knowledge an experience! I wanted to get more involved and do what I can to help the organization grow, and I've been involved in other communities in the past and knew I had experience and talent to bring to the table.

What I didn't expect was exactly how much of my time doing so would take up. Pretty much from the start I've had a lot of my already limited free time taken up with various tasks and projects in the shop itself. Instead of going to the space to work on projects, the space became my project. Not that I'm complaining - I've been enjoying the experience and I think I've helped accomplish some awesome things! - but learning to balance it has been tricky.

At Freeside I've been shepherding the 3D printers there and making sure they stay in working order. It's been a bit of a tall order, but the process has been a good learning experience! I've also started teaching classes on 3D printing and laser cutting, two of my favorite methods for building things. While this does take up a bit more of my free time, the upside is that I've essentially been able to build my 3D printer for free.

Oh yeah, I've also started to build my own personal 3D printer. It's a mish-mash of ideas from printers I like - the Prisa i3, the MendelMax 2, the LulzBot TAZ - all coming together to build a large area printer for prop making purposes. As of this post I have the chassis designed and assembled, and all but the last few bits purchased. I'm hoping to have it in operation by the end of March.

Until then, my prop work continues! I have a few irons in the fire right now, all of which are very exciting.

I am slowly plugging away at my Vi from League of Legends build. I'm using some new 3D modeling and printing techniques on her, we'll see how it goes. So far I'm very happy!

I've taken a very special commission that I don't want to spoil just yet. Let's just say it's definitely going to grab your attention!

Then lastly, I am working with the Atlanta Cosplay Meetup to build Colonial Marines and Xenos! We are meeting several times a month to build costumes and so far our builds have been going incredibly well.

I'm going to try and stay on top of this blog a bit better now that I am more regularly building things. Next post will likely be a build write-up!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Upgrading the Ultron 5 Helmet - Part 1

This blog post originally appeared on the blog for Freeside Atlanta, a hackerspace located in Atlanta, GA where I do the majority of my work.

My most recent major project was to upgrade a costume I built last year of the Marvel comic's character, Ultron. The costume owner wanted a new and improved helmet, made of cast resin and full of all sorts of lights. It was a big and ambitious project, and I was very excited to get started.

Here's how we got there.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pip-Boy 3000 (Fallout 3) Part 1 - From 3D model to completed prop

A month or so ago, I found this 3D printable Pip-Boy 3000 from the game Fallout 3 on Instructables. I've always been a fan of the Fallout series - nuclear apocalypse is my favorite kind of apocalypse scenario! - so I had it on the backburner to go ahead and try printing. When I began this project I was preparing to be attending Atlanta Mini Maker Faire as a presenter, and I wanted to have some simple-ish pieces to show off and pad out what my booth will have. And with that, I decided to go ahead and give this a shot.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fallout 3 or what a Pip-Boy actually is, it's essentially a wrist mounted computer that the player uses throughout the game. It's an incredibly iconic piece for anyone familiar with video game props. The modeler did a fantastic job and printing the pieces was very easy.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to address some really common issues that I see in the prop making community with 3D printing and prop building. I see a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the process calling 3D printing "cheating", or taking the fun out of building by not having to do any work, or complaining that people will one day soon be able to simply download and press a button to have their favorite props. Ignoring the fact that I don't see why that would ever be a bad thing, I want to show people what the actual printing process is like and how it is not the magic bullet that those unfamiliar with the process might think it is.

Typically for most of my builds which incorporate 3D printing - which is basically all of them, to some degree - I do the majority of 3D modeling on my own. Either modeling something from scratch, or rebuilding an existing low resolution model that was ripped from a game, or fixing up some existing models out there. Normally this process can take several weeks depending on the complexity of the prop. But this Pip-Boy is the first thing I've printed where I literally just downloaded the files and started printing.

Regardless of the genesis of the files, once you have them you have to run them through a process to generate the tool paths for your 3D printer. From there you load the file it spits out in your printer, and off to the races you go.

This is a piece from my Ultron 5 build; it's not related to the Pip-Boy print, but it's one of the better mid-print photos I have.

A few hours later, you get this. Here is 1 piece out of 15 that is pulled straight off the printer with zero clean up work done it it. Far from a "press print and have a prop" scenario.

Click for larger!

The "spider webbing" that you see in the middle is caused by the printer's print head oozing out plastic while it moves around from one end of the prop to the other. It looks super gross, but you can clean it up with maybe 5 minutes of sanding. You're also seeing the "raft", which is a thin gridwork layer that the actual object gets printed onto. While printing with a raft is not necessarily required, I've found that I am able to get consistently better prints when using one. The downside is that you have to cut and sand off the remnants of it, but it's a small price for making a better quality print. You'll also need to sand down all of the surfaces to get rid of the visible print lines that the printer leaves. Here is the back half of the Pip-Boy (printed in 3 interlocking pieces) in various stages of cleanup.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

At this point in the process I've spent about 12 hours of work cleaning up, and around 30 hours of 3D printing. I have the 6 pieces for the front and back half all printed and are currently being cleaned and smoothed up before bonding them together. I also need to use some spot putting to fill in some areas where I got a little over zealous with sanding and poked through the printed surface.

The next step in the process is joining all of our pieces together, or at least the biggest ones that need to be joined. For this model, the largest sections are the front and back halves, each printed in 3 prints. The reason these had to be split up is because most extrusion 3D printers can't accommodate a 10" tall object, and the ones that can may have troubles with warping or lifting. Any sort of these problems is really bad news for a print since it means you wasted print time and print material.

This model has nicely designed tabs that align the 2 parts, so after some minor cleanup, the two join together very smoothly. I use regular ole cyanoacrylate to join the two inner faces, putting glue on the inside of the tab slots, and around the face of the joining halves.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

I let that cure for a few minutes and the two parts are inseparable. There is a little bit of spot filling to be done, since one half may have had the edge rounded slightly while sanding the print lines down, but that's fairly short work.

In addition to manually sanding down surfaces, I also give the pieces a quick brushing in acetone. Acetone is a solvent that reacts very well with the ABS parts, melting and smoothing them down in to a more uniform shape. It's also interesting how the acetone reacted with the ABS surfaces based on whether it was sanded down or fresh with print lines. The deep black, very reflective areas were the fresh ABS and the other areas are where it was sanded down prior to washing.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

Now that I've finished the main body, I'm moving on to the screen and cover. These parts are quite a bit more detailed, and were a real pain to clean up. You can see where where I'm gluing together the 6 or 7 pieces that make up the upper part of the cover and it was a real chore. You can also see on the one side where the raft hasn't been perfectly cleaned off yet either.

Click for larger!

When working with the LED holder that goes on front, I was unhappy with the print quality with it because it has a number of overhanging parts. I decided to go ahead and print a new one on one of the 3D printers that Freeside Atlanta has. It's a giant homebrew printer and the prints that come out of it are way better than what I was seeing before on the Cube 3D printer.

Click for larger!

This part will need to be acetone washed, but thankfully the print is nice enough that I won't need to do much work on it after. Yay for round parts!

As far as the rest of the pieces, now 3 large parts total, they're being primered and will be getting the usual sand-and-fill.

Click for larger!

Click for larger!

This brings me to the current state of the Pip-Boy. I gave everything a quick hit of paint before AMMF to display it, but over the next week or two I'll be finishing everything up completely and making everything look nice. One of the guys at Freeside calls me a perfectionist because I am worrying about smoothing out and filling in the gaps on the inside even though "nobody will see it". Amateur! The next installment will cover the molding and casting process.

If you are interested in a pre-order for a casting, check out the listing on my Etsy store.

Thanks for reading!