Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cosplay: How I Replicated Nova's Helmet

When it comes to cosplay, I'm pretty much a novice. Yes, I've dressed up, but the most hardcore cosplayers make their own costumes from scratch. And you see, I can't sew to save my life.

But I wanted to make something this year, something that I could take pride in for making myself. So I decided I would make Nova's helmet myself, from scratch.

I can't sew, but by golly I'm an engineer. I can make a helmet! 

I wasn't sure it would work out. This was a pretty ambitious project for a novice cosplayer, but I think it turned out well. 

The first thing I did was search the web for how other people had made helmets, and I quickly found this tutorial, which explains step by step how to make a Mandalorian (aka Boba Fett) helmet. One of the many things I love about the cosplay community is how everyone shares their own tricks of the trade, and I am seriously indebted to that tutorial for how good my helmet turned out. 

The first thing I did was print out the helmet pattern, but instead of printing it out on regular paper, cutting it out and then tracing it on poster board, as the tutorial suggests, I instead just printed it directly on cardstock. I then cut it out and put it together with hot glue, leaving out the indents that would be necessary to make it a proper Mandalorian helmet. 
The pattern all put together!
This is a great base for any helmet, but obviously it doesn't have the star (which I fondly call the Starfish) that makes up the new Nova's helmet. And as opposed to the old Nova's helmet, the star isn't just a star taped on sort of after the fact. Sam's star curves along the lines of his helmet. So this presented a bit of a challenge.

After some thinking I decided to make outline of the star first in pipe cleaner. I hot-glued the pipe cleaner to the helmet so that it curved appropriately. I then traced the lines on the cardstock and hot-glued the cardstock onto the pipe cleaner. 
Progress Pipe Cleaner Shot

Front Shot of the completed star
Side Shot of the completed Star. Yes, I did have to cut those pipe cleaner tips down.
The next step was to cover the star with fiberglass. The tutorial tells you exactly what kind to use, and it's what I used. This, like all my materials, I was able to find at Walmart. I didn't have to go to any place fancy. 
Fiberglass Front Shot
Fiberglass Side Shot
Something that you can't see in the picture but I should mention is that one of the sides of my helmet (in fact the opposite side of the one shown in the side shot) ended up being a little flimsier than the rest of the helmet. The reason was I didn't mix enough hardener into the fiberglass, so it just ended up being structurally weaker. This was something that caused me problems for the entire rest of the process, and that side is still noticeably weaker. It holds up and can hold its own weight, but you can't put too much pressure on it. 

As you can see this is pretty rough. The tutorial recommends rough sanding it down, which I did, though perhaps not with the same diligence the person who wrote the tutorial did. I used a metal file and put a couple of days into it and then skipped ahead to the next step. Which was covering it in the next layer. 
Second Layer!
This is really rough and not smooth at all. The next step required smoothing it down to being basically perfectly smooth. This involved A CRAPTON OF SANDING. Seriously, there are no words to how much sanding it required. Hours and hours and hours and hours. I should have kept a log, but I worked on it about two hours a night ever night for weeks. 

First I did some rough sanding with the metal file.
You can't tell from the picture but this is the previously mentioned weaker side
Then I bought a medium grit sanding sponge (mainly because it was easier to hold and didn't fall apart as much as regular sanding paper) and set to work. For weeks. Seriously. Weeks.
After about 2 weeks of sanding
After about another two weeks. It's noticeably smoother.
At about this point I was getting really frustrated and about to hyperventilate. I didn't think I could ever finish it in time. It was mid-July and I knew I was going to be on travel for work most of August. And DragonCon is Labor Day weekend! 

I was really seriously worried it was never going to smooth out and get to finished status. 

One of the things I knew I needed to do was cut out the eyes and the mouth. To do that the tutorial recommended a Dremel, which I don't own. Luckily I mentioned it to one of my co-workers. He had been looking for an excuse to buy a Dremel. So he did. The last weekend of July I then went over to his place and he cut out the eyes and mouth. And then we figured we could smooth the rough edges with the Dremel as well.

OMIGOSH it worked so well! I should have done this from the beginning. 
After we hacked at it with the Dremel
I then took it home and did some more sanding with my medium grit sanding sponge. 
After a couple of hours of sanding.
You can see some of the fiberglass layer is exposed
I apparently failed to take pictures of the next couple of steps. But basically I put it even more hours of sanding and sanding and sanding. And then I decided that some of the dents weren't going to be smoothed out with sanding. So I went over the entire thing with the putty that's supposed to be used for filling holes. I looked for every hole, every weird dent and line and puttied the heck out of it. And then I sanded some more. The putty comes off super easy with sanding but it really helps smooth it all out. 

And then finally I was like "It's time to paint this baby."

So I went to Walmart and bought some paint. First I primed it!
Seriously, once I primed it I was like "WOW, this actually looks decent." And you know, it does. 

For the colors, I bought glossy paint. The tutorial recommended adding some wax based paint to make it seem metallic and then using semi-gloss paint. I skipped the wax based paint step, because I'm not making a Mandalorian helmet and Nova's helmet is basically just super shiny. 

First I went over the front with red, to get the star to the right glossy color. I chose a color called "banner red." It was either that or "cherry red" and I was worried cherry red might be too dark. I think it turned out ok.
Side Shot. As you can see I didn't go over the entire thing with red. Just the star area.
Now my next big concern was how to cover the rest with black without messing up the red. My solution? Cover the entire star with painters tape. Full disclosure up front, I probably should have waited a day or done this while it was less hot, because the painters tape did end up taking off some of the red and some of the gloss. But I still think it turned out acceptably. I'd go over it with another layer of red if I didn't think it would mess up the black. It's not perfect but it's good enough.
Gotta keep the star red!
Then I spray painted it with the glossy black. This pretty much took an entire can of spray paint. If you're going to try this, you might want to get two cans, just in case. 

Also I spray painted the inside black so if I'm holding and people see into it they don't see the white card stock. Instead the see the black inside of a helmet. 
WOO! Black!
After it was dry it was finally time to peel off the tape. I mentioned that this caused some problems but looking at the pictures, you really can't tell. 
Front view!
Side View!
I think it turned out pretty well, but I'm partial. 

I'm proud of myself considering this is my first foray into really making something for my cosplay. Clearly I believe in "go big or go home." But I figured it didn't hurt to try and I think it turned out pretty well.

The only thing I have left to do is to add some sort of cushion inside the helmet. Because the top of the inside is pretty much a hot glue mess. And I don't think it's going to be too comfortable for hours on end. 

Another concern I should mention here. Last year when I made my steampunk fascinator, I ended up tripping and dropping it as I exited Marta in Atlanta. It exploded into a million pieces. I then had to super glue it together. It looked alright, but it didn't operate like a clock should. I was so pissed. Seriously I got it all the way safely from Albuquerque to Atlanta and then dropped it in Marta. How could that not be frustrating?

That last thing I want is for that to happen to this helmet. So I'm going wrap it in a towel, put it in a bowling ball bag, and carry it on the plane. I'll let you know how that turns out for me.

But there it is! My Nova helmet! Lots of hours and money went into this. Materials alone cost over $75 and then the man hours I put in were ridiculous. So remember that when you consider doing this for yourself. Cosplay isn't cheap or easy, but it is worth it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cosplay: Why Nova?

Myself and @Auhim as Hogwarts students
There reaches a point in every year when a person has to make an important decision. Namely "What will I cosplay at next year's con?" For me, *that* con is DragonCon. Though there are other smaller, Albuquerque conventions I attend, DragonCon is the only one I dress up for. I've cosplayed for the past two DragonCons and of course I intend to cosplay for DragonCon 2013 as well.

So it was approximately last March when I was trying to figure out what new cosplay I wanted to add to my collection. I still had my Loki cosplay, my steampunk cosplay, and my Ravenclaw cosplay, but I like to add something new each year. And this year I wanted to do something that I would fit my skill set so I could make most of it myself. At least, that was the hope, as per usual. 

I don't like to cosplay as just anything. I like to cosplay as things I like. I love the aesthetic of steampunk, I love Harry Potter (in case you couldn't tell by our three part podcast on this subject),  and of course, I adore Loki. So what could I find this year that matched the same level of awesome as dressing up as my favorite supervillain?

Well, this was the year I started reading comics, so I looked there for my inspiration. My first thought was Batgirl, ala new 52, and I did some early sketches and design work to that effect. But the more I thought about it, the more and more I was drawn to Nova. 

Nova as depicted in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon
Who is Nova you ask? I was introduced to Nova via the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, which I watch regularly. (Don't judge me. Some of the greatest shows ever are cartoons, case and point Avatar: the Last Airbender). In the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Spider-Man is sort of a superhero-in-training for SHIELD, and part of his training is that he leads a superhero team of other teenaged superheros. Most of the other superheros take Spider-Man's leadership pretty well, but Nova is constantly challenging Peter. He doesn't have quite the same level of snarky quip power as Peter, but in general he's a pretty good foil for Spidey. And the more I watched the show, the more I loved him. 

So of course when the Marvel Now Nova comic came out, I started reading it. I picked it up on the second issue, which is not something I can say often. 

Nova in the comic isn't quite the same level of jerkface that Nova in the cartoon is, but I still enjoyed the character. And I love how the comic spent more time in space, and how Nova was being trained by the Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm a sucker for space and I currently adore the Guardians of the Galaxy, so of course I ate the comic up.

Richard Rider, the first human Nova
Longtime Nova fans know that Sam Alexander, the Nova of Marvel Now and the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, is not the original human Nova. That honor goes to Richard Rider, who is completely awesome by all accounts. A lot of people haven't quite taken to Sam because they miss Richard, and Sam's entire backstory seems to contradict Rider's. (I say seems because I'm pretty sure the creators are going to address the "Rider was the only human Nova" issue at some point.) But I knew nothing about Richard, only Sam.

And many of the reasons why I love Sam are the reasons why I love MG and YA fiction, the reasons why I love Ultimate Spider-Man and the Young Avengers. Sam's story is a coming-of-age story. It's the story about a boy discovering himself and his place in the universe. That's a classic story, and a story that I've always been drawn to. I mean it's the story that's the basic template for most epic fantasy! And you guys know I adore epic fantasy.

But one of the appeals of Nova, outside of Sam or Richard, is that Nova unlike Spider-Man is not a name given to any one person. Every Nova is part of the Nova Corps. Basically, Nova is Marvel's answer to the Green Lantern. So I could be me and be a Nova. I can be a girl and be a Nova. I can be Mandy and be a Nova. And that's a very appealing idea. I don't have to be anyone else. I can be me and be a superhero.

There is another less noble appeal as well. One of the things about being Loki last year was that there were a
Sam Alexander as depicted in the comics
ton of Loki's. The Avengers had come out the previous May and Avengers cosplays were a dime a dozen. Nova would be unique and ahead of the curve, because it was revealed around the time I was working on this cosplay, that the Nova Corps would play a part in the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie. And then only last week the first glimpses of the Nova Corps were revealed. (Though I hope desperately that the guys in those pictures are only grunt level Nova and that there are more awesome costumes for the Nova corps). So for once I'll be ahead of trend, and I'm pretty excited by that prospect.

One appeal of Nova was also the awesome helmet. I can't sew to save my life so when it comes to making costumes, there is a lot of searching the web and stores for different pieces to make the perfect conglomeration of awesomeness. But I'm an engineer and looking at the helmet I was like "yeah, I can make that."

And so I did. 

So why Nova? Because he's awesome, because I love him in the cartoon and the comics, and because he's got a sweet uniform. And because I can be me. 

Thursday I'll post about how I made the helmet. I chose to model my costume off of Sam Alexander in the comics, not in the TV show or Richard Rider, because I really like the pop of red on the black background. 

And then next week hopefully I'll post about how I put together the rest of the costume with the help of my friends. 

I'm really looking forward to showing off this cosplay at DragonCon this year.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seven Things?

My awesome CP (critique partner) Jamie did this "seven things her readers don't know about her" thing and tagged me in it, indicating I should probably do it too. So here I am, giving it a shot.

One would think this wouldn't be too hard. But I've been blogging for over four years now. So if you're a long time reader, some of these may be known to you. But some of them may be a surprise. 

1. I took piano lessons from age 5 to 14 and would have continued if not for the fact that piano lessons cost money and really there wasn't much more left for me to learn. I really love playing the piano, but I consider myself skilled rather than talented, meaning I can pick up almost any song given enough time. But I will have to practice it over and over and over and over and over and over again. Usually line by line. Just ask my little sister. It annoys her, a lot.

2. I wasn't just in marching band; I LOVED marching band. In fact, I loved marching more than I loved playing the clarinet, and certainly more than I loved concert band (though in concert band I played the bass clarinet which was pretty cool). My junior year in HS marching band I was section leader for the clarinets, and my senior year I was Woodwind Captain, pretty much the highest Woodwind rank outside of drum major. I did not try out for drum major or have any desire to be one, because drum majors don't march. Why on earth would I want a job that doesn't involve marching!?! I marched the first year of college at Georgia Tech, but then dropped out. Not because I liked marching any less, but because the GT marching band is more like a giant frat than a marching band, and I couldn't handle the fratness of it all.
Me and My Little Sis in High School Marching Band

The 2005 GT Clarinet Section

3. I've moved at least 16 times in my life. (It's possible there are moves I'm forgetting about.) This DOES NOT count dorms but rather every time my family has up and moved all of our belongings from one place of residence to another. To top it all off, I was born while my family was moving. They were moving from Corpus Christi, Texas to Sunnyvale, CA and they stopped in El Paso, Texas and had me. So though I was born in El Paso, I never lived there. I didn't even live in Texas until I was in the second grade. 

Also despite what movies and YA books will tell you, I loved moving as a kid and teen. It was like this huge grand adventure, a chance to re-invent yourself. And these days being anywhere longer than two years tends to feel stifling. I am a nomad at heart.

4. My Borg designation is 3 of 4. Meaning like Ender Wiggin, I am third. Unlike Ender Wiggin, I have a little sister.
My Borg Collective, circa 1990
I'm the one with the blonde hair.
My Borg Collective, circa 2012
Strangely, my hair is almost in the exact same style.

5. I have been inside the space shuttle. I have sat in the commander's seat. Be jealous.
Me in the Commander's Chair of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Everyone who works in the shuttle has to wear those stylish bunny suits, unless they're in an astronaut suit of course.
6. I have never been to New York City. Someday I hope to fix this, but alas, that day is not today.

7.  I've been a Bridesmaid 5 times. 
Wedding #1: My Older Sis's Wedding. I was Maid of Honor.
So basically, this is my Borg Collective Wedding Style

Wedding #2: Meredith's Wedding!
I literally cried through the entire ceremony.

Wedding #3: Patti's Wedding!
In which I gave a speech that I'm not sure the groom will ever forgive me for.
Wedding #4: My amazingly awesome best friend's wedding.
In which we are super gangsta, and I was Maid of Honor

Wedding #5:
In which my two best Rocket Scientist friends (Luke and Sarah) got married to each other.
Their children will be scary smart, stunningly beautiful, and will undoubtedly take over the world.
I'm just warning you so you can prepare for it now.
I'm really not sure what being a Bridesmaid 5 times means for my romantic life. They say 3 times a bridesmaid never a bride, but no one has sayings for five times a bridesmaid!

And a bonus number eight:

8. Despite being a Rocket Scientist, I have never in my entire life wanted to be an astronaut. I've dreamed since I was 10 of being a scientist and engineer, the person who made the path for other people to go to space. I've always been fascinated by the planets and the stars--by the study of them. But I've never wanted to go there myself. I have a scientific spirit, not an exploring one. Others can go rough the wilds. Give me a lab.