Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 - From Cosplayer to Hollywood Costume Maker

Rollercoaster of a year

2017 is coming to a close and even though I generally don't lump my experiences, memories and moments per year, 2017 has actually been a pretty wild one.

Rewind really quick to around 2009 when my friend Jp had gotten me to go to San Diego Comic Con with him while I was in college down there. I got my first glimpse at not only screen used costumes like Iron Man suits, but my first look at cosplayers making their own costumes. The summary of my life after that moment is I tried out making my own costumes, eventually joined Shawn Thorsson at Thorsson and Associates, helping him build some pretty expert talent level builds and kept going to conventions, teaching people what I had learned over my experiences and urging people to make cool shit of their own.
I still like to be on panels about costume making to urge people to give it a try

Moving to Los Angeles

In January of this year, I was beginning to pack all of my belongings. My family had moved out of my hometown area and I had been on my own for a bit and my long coming plan of moving to Los Angeles was finally coming to fruition. My buddy Phil who was moving out of his place in Santa Monica had found a spot in Culver City that would be the groundwork for Jp and I to move down there to do the really cliche 'chase your dreams' moment. Jp was aspiring to do some acting work which seems increasingly likely as by the end of 2017 I'm sure every actor and actress will have been accused of some kind of harassment, leaving only Jp available to work in the industry! Well, except Tom Hanks, I'm sure that dude is still as noble as we think.

I had put in notice to my graphic design job. A job which was fine by most standards, that paid well, was steady, fun and surrounded by good people but was overall a model of complacency. I wasn't really learning anything new, my art had stalled out or lacked in terms of skill progression and availability to try to learn new methods and have challenging projects. It eventually became very routine.

I got to paint things like this which was nice, but not what I loved

Ironically, I had always thought to myself I would be okay with routine. I figured as long as I was making a good living, was capable of my job and it was steady, that I would be fine. I found out pretty early on that in my head, I think I was capable of more, and it was bugging me that I wasn't trying to make more of myself.

For a long time, I really wanted to try to make costumes, props, things - whatever I could - for movies, film and anything else related to entertainment. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure which aspects of creation appealed to me most and frankly I'm still not sure I strictly find myself wanting to do just one part of the creative process.

Getting started in a new city

February rolled around and Jp and I moved to Los Angeles, with hopes of at least moving in the right direction towards our goals. After a few months of settling in, some odd jobs and a nearly daily worry of 'holy shit did I just ruin my life!?' we finally got a little footing. I had started working at a studio in Monterey Park that was being run by a former Legacy FX employee. I only spent 3 months there but learned a great deal in that time. Whether it was airbrushing tricks, latex mask making procedures and combinations or just general creative process information, I tried to absorb everything that came my way in my short time there. In between all of this, I managed to appear on a dating show, Love Connection, which is probably the most LA thing I've ever done. It was really embarrassing, go figure.

It was fun, but it's sure embarrassing to watch
First break

In August, a friend I had met on the set of Con Man awhile back, hit me up with a lead on a studio, Global Effects Inc. I immediately inquired within, and after a week or two of not hearing back, I got a call saying they'd like me to interview. When I first entered the studio, it was the first glimpse I had really had into a bigger production studio. Not only had they been around for decades, but they had the space, the tools and the crew I sort of imagined I would be working with if I had ever had enough talent to be there.

It blew my mind how many man hours went into each helmet
The studio primarily was known for working on space movies. Space suits were just kind of their thing. It tends to be a going trend. Ironhead Studios is one of the studios that is just the bees knees of design and talent. They've done work like the Tron Legacy helmets, Loki's horned helmet, Falcon's suit, Black Panther's suit, the list is incredibly impressive. Jose Fernandez, the owner of the company, is known as 'The Superhero guy'. Legacy FX does a lot of the Marvel costumes as well, but it's one of those things where it's just kind of what they're known to do, and they do it really fucking well.

I actually interviewed at Ironhead before I even moved to LA. I was green. Too green to know any better. After a 45 minute talk with Jose himself, he stopped me in my tracks to tell me he likes the projects I've worked on, but that I'm really lacking in real experience and talent in the industry to join his crew. It wasn't heartbreaking or news to me. I was actually expecting it. Hell, I was thrilled to even get some face to face time with Jose to plead my case on why I'd maybe eventually be helpful to his studio. I look back now and realize just how much I didn't know back then when I presented my portfolio of projects and creations. Even now, I'm barely scratching the tip of the iceberg.

Global Effects gave me a shot at helping make some very nice, accurate and shiny space suits for two different movies. I was a little more in my element for awhile as I did some familiar work like fiberglassing, molding and casting and some light painting work. I eventually started crossing into new territory, things like casting in rubber, painting molds and casting into the paint and all sorts of stuff I honestly had never really touched on in my experiences.

Beginning to Notice the Differences

There is not too much that separates shop/studio workers and cosplayers. We all are making things, designing things, painting things, etc. I didn't quite grasp the biggest differences until working at Global. As you may expect, it's really just the magnitude that is different. With big movie budgets, come large crews, with the proper tools and deadlines keeping everyone on track. Honestly the best part of it though is having such a big crew that all knows a lot of talents, skills and tricks. Bring all those minds together, and you'll have more knowledge than you need to make something as perfect as it needs to be. It just, you know, costs a lot. For instance one of the space suits we made for a movie recently (Legally I don't think I can disclose the movie) ran about $100,000. The access to more specific vendors helps as well. We don't have to just go down to Joann's and hope they have what we need. Stuff like that.

I still have maintained my own projects while working at this studio. I've been able to implement everything I've learned so far into my projects and can already see the difference it's made. There's always room for improvements, but I'm just glad to be closer to being able to produce the kind of objects I think I'm capable of making.

I still throw on my Emile suit often, too. Sometimes for short films like the one being filmed here!

2017 in a nutshell

In less than a year, I had gone from amateur costume maker, to volunteer at a shop, to LA resident, to another small shop and eventually to Global Effects and even moonlighting at the studio that is responsible for a lot of Deadpool 2 costumes and props as well as the Teen Titans tv costumes. My end goal remains the same to be a permanent mainstay at either Legacy or Ironhead one day.

I am constantly reminded of how much I have to learn, my limitations, my areas I can improve on, and it can be really damning. I have more bad days than good lately. I second guess myself a lot. I fail a lot more. Work is less steady than my previous graphic design job. No day is the same and there is the constant fear of just not being good enough to make it to the real big times. I'm surrounded by people infinitely more experienced than me which is intimidating. My capabilities haven't caught up to my ambitions yet, and there is no clear path on how to get there. I never really know what I'm doing. I just show up, do the best I can, hope for the best and through some luck, some talent and no lack of effort, I'll hopefully get to where I want to go.

I do wish I could show more pictures of the stuff I've worked on, but as you may expect, Hollywood projects are blanketed my NDAs and tight lipped security.

Self reflection, looking to the future and why I even bother sharing all of this

I don't care about being impressive. It's kind of like trying to be the strongest guy at the gym - there is always someone stronger. Like most of art, everyone has their style, and I love to follow all sorts of prop makers that make an incredible range of perfect, finished projects. We're all different and there's no point in comparing yourself to others. We can all learn from each other. Even the elite in this industry benefit from sitting around a table of people and collaborating as opposed to thinking they know best.

I'm no longer bothered by failure. I've already slipped up, messed up and misjudged a multitude of projects and pieces. It's okay so long as I learn from it. In the end of this journey, all I want is to keep making stuff I'm proud of and take solace in knowing that even if it doesn't work out, I at least tried. Although I'm probably too stubborn to quit now or even later for that matter.

If I can inspire some people to give their ambitions a shot at becoming a reality, that would be pretty nice. There are a lot of people out there that think they don't have what it takes to do (insert anything here). Most people are terrified of trying. Most people don't know where to start. Even more people give up after their first try. Nothing happens overnight.

In short, keep doing what you love, and please, be silly and have fun while you're doing it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Barvo helmet

Well, many months later, the time has finally come - The 'Barvo' helmet has been delivered to its rightful recipient, Andy Dudynsky, or Bravo (Barvo, Bartzo, Bargo, Bramo, etc). For those of you who don't know, Andy used to be a pro gamer and had a very distinct look to him. Some redditors took that look and one day made a sketch of what that 'look' would be like as a Halo helmet.

To go one further, /u/PlainBen & /u/CtrlAltFyn even modeled this sketch into a great 3d helmet.

Now, Andy has done a lot of pretty great things for the Halo costuming community. In particular, our group has had the opportunities to be front row for Halo comic conventions, tour 343 studios, enjoy silly but awesome photoshoots and so forth. Andy helped set a lot of those up and has always made sure we were taken care of. We figured one of these days we should repay him for all he's done for us.

One day, members of our costuming group from Oregon, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Mission Viejo banded together and made a plan. We were going to find the redditor that modeled the helmet and see if he minded awfully if we used that model to make The Bravo Helmet.

/u/Plainben & /u/CtrlAltFyn graciously allowed us to use the model and Jeremie Sloan up in Oregon printed the helmet in sections. It was then sent to me and I began the next steps.

Assembling the helmet was pretty straight forward, find which pieces go together, and I used a plastic epoxy to adhere all the sections together.

As you can see, with all the striations and little grooves from where the pieces met up, there would need to be some smoothing and filling.

There was a long process of using bondo spot putty, bondo putty, filler primer and a lot of sand paper, filing and smoothing. It was at this point that I was going to need some help. I spent some days up at Shawn Thorsson's shop, of Thorsson & Associates, to get the helmet properly prepped, molded and cast. We did decide to use this project as a great video tutorial. I implore you keep an eye on Shawn Thorsson's facebook to see this thing being made in the form of informational videos! 

After we added in some details, some proper grooves, and other aesthetic features to finish the look, we ended up giving it a coat of pink, glossy primer.

After we got the prototype all set, it was time to start the molding process. Since we didn't want to use the 3d printed helmet as the final product, we figured we would mold the helmet so we could make more than one in case we broke one or needed to make changes. I won't go too far into detail into the molding process, but after Shawn considered the best way to mold the helmet, we decided to split the mold in half, down the front/back halfway point. This would mean the cast helmet would be able to be released from the mold without damaging the mold by not having any unecessary yanking, pulling and stretching.

The process is... slow. In order to pour rubber silicone over half the helmet, we had to build a platform that only showed half the helmet, and then we had to make a giant clay dam of sorts to keep all the silicone together and not let it pour out. The stuff takes a long time to cure, so having a clay bed to keep it all in one place is necessary.

Once one side was covered in pink silicone (We used Mold Max 30), we let it cure and the following day, the other side got the same treatment from Shawn. So now what we would have is a prototype helmet inside, with a giant pink rubber jacket that was in two halves. Now the rubber is pretty floppy on its own, so making casts of the helmet is tricky unless you have another, rigid jacket on the outside of the silicone. This is done in the form of a fiberglass shell. Again, I won't go too much into the details of the process, but the idea is just to have a hard shell to keep all the floppy rubber in shape.

This is the silicone mold with its fiberglass shell. The 'dimples' are to help make sure you are putting the fiberglass shell on the correct way, and prevents it from slipping out of place.

Now that the mold was done, we needed to get our prototype out of the mold. We took the fiberglass shell off (after adding a way to clamp the two halves back together) and peeled the pink silicone off of our prototype. That prototype had now served its purpose. 

So now we had an empty silicone mold, and it was time to try to make our first one! We mixed up some Smoothcast 65d and poured the liquid resin inside the mold. We used the rotocasting method to cover the inside of the silicone with a thin plastic shell. To make sure this helmet wasn't too thin, we added a few more batches of liquid resin to add some thickness to the whole thing. The trick here is to not add so much that the helmet is too heavy to wear, and not add enough to where a strong breeze would crack it.

Our first cast was a success!

We now had a hollow, plastic shell of a helmet. It needed a little clean up and a quick sanding to get it ready for painting.

After using paint primer, I went through the steps of painting in layers to get the color scheme. It involved a lot of meticulous masking tape work, and planning on how to paint the colors in a way that minimized the amount of taping needed.

A clean helmet is no fun. No one wants to think that Bravo does all his heroic deeds without breaking a sweat so I added some weathering to the helmet to make it look battle used. This was mostly done with some black wash paint, silver and dark grey/black model paint and some nifty brushes/brush strokes.

Next thing was to give it a signature Halo style visor. I brought the helmet down to Mission Viejo to our buddy Jose at Armory Props and had him install one of his signature LED lit visors.

It was just about finished! Just one last thing...

It glows!

Shawn made a few of his own variants that turned out great. I'm actually a huge fan of the chief colored one!

We were graciously invited to the Halo Championships in LA this past weekend where we had collaborated with some 343 members to get this helmet presented to Bravo. After the championship ended, we had the opportunity to finally give Bravo his surprise gift.

I was sporting my Emile suit for the presentation, which, I must admit, is hard to see/hear out of. Bravo soon joined our ranks of not being able to see or hear when he tried the helmet on. It soon became apparent to him why he always saw us running into walls and people when we're in costume.

You may have seen the video already posted of our presentation, but this one we took shows a little more of the introduction and aftermath.

So to sum up, thank you /u/PlainBen & /u/CtrlAltFyn for helping me get a hold of the 3d files you guys so skillfully created, thank you Jeremie for printing the helmet, thank you hugely, Shawn Thorsson, for helping me prep, mold and cast the helmet, thank you Jose for helping us get this helmet an amazing visor and oh yeah -

Thanks for all you do, Bravo!

- Starside Armory

Shawn Thorsson of Thorsson and Assosciates handled the video documentation of the prep, mold and cast steps and will be publishing them in the near future it sounds like so keep an eye out for that as well if you want to see this thing get made and learn how we did it even more so!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evolution of a simple design and learning to art

There is something myself, and probably my D-walker building brother, have in common. Neither of us were really trained as artists. My mother was a painter. A great one at that. She never pushed art on us though.

Left to our own devices - we doodled endlessly. Neither my brother or I ever took it seriously it seemed. We had made characters, whole worlds, built cardboard replications of this stuff - but we never pursued schooling in the field of design, art, painting, etc.

Through college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer. I had always viewed arts and craft as a hobby of mine. I was young and a little aimless in some ways. My first foray into art as something other than a hobby was after I had moved back home and my friend had mentioned there was an artist position on the marketing team for Whole Foods. I was a bit puzzled to say the least that carrots needed an artist, but nevertheless, I needed a job.

I was pretty straightforward with the marketing team/interview panel. I have no formal art training and I am a doodler by nature but at least artistically inclined it seemed. Graciously, the team gave me a chance and hired me as a part time artist for them.

Holy shit was I bad. I know everyone's first work is bad, but damn, I was 5th Underworld movie bad. The job revolved around graphic design and using paint pens to create meaningful art, representation and intrigue to the company. The only problem is - I hate color. I was just god awful at color. There's no easy way to put it - I just didn't understand how it worked. I would look at a picture, a costume, a painting - and not understand how the colors were made. It turns out - you just add brown to everything. Just kidding, but anyway, my early attempts at 'art' displays were just so awful.

I know most people are embarrassed to show their 'bad' art. But if you're anything like me who thinks they can keep improving, well it's all shit then, isn't it? 

I mean, it doesn't even make sense? Does it? It's so scatterbrained

I've learned a great deal of humility, acceptance and overall ambivalence to my art. I know I'm not the best. No one really is, right? It's subjective and we're our own harshest critics, so I've finally become comfortable with sharing it all.

Something I like to do is encourage people to try. It can be daunting when the majority of work that is published is refined, polished and professional looking. Hopefully by bridging the gaps of my early work to my current work - you'll see that we all sucked at one point and feel more comfortable giving it a try.

So here I am, raising eyebrows at my job, as they begin to question my friend with things like 'You said he's an artist...right?'

I panic. On the one hand, I haven't mislead them by explaining I'm some color bending wizard. I am simply someone trying to learn a new medium and apply it in a helpful way to my job. Luckily, they stick with me and I begin to practice and practice. I started to get better at blending colors, layouts, minimizing clutter and attempting to paint things I'm awful at, like faces.

The blank space was for a price!
Eventually, I became pretty well acclimated to my pens to the point where I was confident I could make almost anything I could think up. I began to buy my own chalk pens and boards and make my own art at home.This job lasted nearly 5 years before I realized I could only go so far with painting for a grocery store. I have since left that job and moved to LA to pursue better opportunities. That's a story for a different time though.

During my tenure at this job, I had retained my sketching ways. I was constantly being inspired by video games such as Halo and Devil May Cry and also movies like District 9. I had a certain affinity for angelic creatures as well as samurai and regal sort of glamorously shiny looks. I had one day sketched a culmination of those into something.

The earliest sketch I have of this design
I was immediately obsessed with the design. I loved the idea of a shiny, essentially faceless, intricate creature. I began drawing it over and over, trying to smooth out and finalize areas like how I would like the shoulders to look, the head to look, etc. I tried simplifying areas, complicating others, redrawing from different angles, all that jazz. The problem was - I was still very bad at proportions, sensical orientation, HANDS, feet, joints, all that stuff that we might not realize is incredibly hard to replicate on paper.
Another early rendition
There were certain aspects I liked and wanted to keep throughout my permutations. I liked the idea that the grey, semi-scaley undersuit had these channels of lights that either would glow, pulse, or flutter in a linear way. I liked the idea of the armor being gold-ish. I liked the contrast of gold and blue. I tried my hand at using my paint pens to make the creature one day.

Somewhere along the way, I began to grow fond of tan sketch books. I picked up a set of copic pens, some paint pens and some watercolor. I learn a lot from watching how other artists do things, and my friend Juli had a pattern of doing sketches with hints of color and shading to compliment her sketch. I began to try to adapt some of those ideas into my work, with varying degrees of success as I tried to work out my own style.
One of my first tan paper sketches with some color
I liked the idea that the creature's wings weren't exactly tangible. It could summon them into existence in a blinking flash of light and when it would flap its wings, a shockwave of this same light would be left behind as a remnant shadow of spent energy. I think I got the concept from watching Chronicles of Riddick... when the Lord Marshall would move about, he would leave behind a shadow of himself and it would slowly follow suit. Kind of like that.
I didn't realize my monitor was so fucked up and that green looked blue on the monitor... soo
I tried my hand at digitally sketching him out to sort of help get it down using a different medium. It's amazing what changes when you go from pencil to paint to digital, and vice versa. I tried simplifying some of the areas and show more undersuit as the bulkiness of the previous designs didn't really make sense in a 'practical' sense. Not that that has ever stopped me before..

Starting to use watercolor for the blue
I had always subconsciously decided that the creature's face wasn't a face but rather a helmet. I wanted to put a face to the person inside instead. The only reason I hadn't done it before is I was still very bad at drawing faces. Without any real art training, I just didn't know where to start. I had watched all sorts of youtube timelapses of art being made so I could see how people drew faces, proportions, limbs, anything that I had problems with. Beyond that, it was just tons of practice. Like I've said before - I was bad. I was SO bad. I couldn't get the orientation right. Before, when I had done paintings, I would trace a face of a photograph or do a very simple, non realistic face. Drawing it with fine pencils as opposed to blobs of color proved to be harder. I couldn't use a dab of slightly darker pale paint to illustrate the subtle face shadings. Not to mention, with no face to go off of, I had no idea where to start creating a face from scratch.

It just...didn't look right
I liked the idea of spiral earrings, a semi headband looking braid and flowing golden/blonde hair. To match the blue lighting of the suit, I imagined her with blue eyes. I drew her over and over, constantly looking at other people's work to find out just how they drew faces so effortlessly.
 Left to right. Sketch - Pen - Minor shading/lighting - Watercolor
To keep in line with the idea that I'd love for people to be able to look at what I've done with no training and realize that they can do it too if they just stick with it - I began trying to take note of how my pictures looked during my doodling stages. I would like to make a habit of going even further and taking pictures of how I just sort of begin with scribbling shapes on paper to represent things like shoulders, face, arms, hands, and chest to sort of begin with proportions.

I've started to narrow down how she looks. A little bit. I'm still learning every day how to art better. In every manner of the word. Lighting, proportions, limbs, facial structure/composition, shading. I don't need to be perfect at any of it, I just want to make some cool shit. I don't even know what I intend to do with the character if I ever really flesh out all the little details and get it right. I just know that I learned from the great artist, Aaron Beck, that Creative Procrastination is a surefire way to keep yourself engaged creatively and who knows, maybe you'll make something that is worthwhile.

So wait, what was the point of all this?

I just want everyone to keep in mind how I know how daunting some skills and talents can be. Just remember that I've learned everything I've done from trying it, asking about it and enjoying every step of the process and learning.

Oh, and every now and again, you're going to struggle to get pen to paper and create something. I solve this by playing drinking games in an elevator with your friends. It really clears the mind.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

D-Walker Africa gallery and improvements to be made

Before I box up DW and either sell him or ship him, I had to take some actual pictures.  Until this shoot I had only worn it on one day of Honolulu Comic Con.  It's cumbersome in all directions, and feels heavier after suspending it for only a few minutes - pretty much the worst class of costume there is.  There are some things I would change about it, which I have written about below.

First, here are some quick cellphone shots at a land development in west Oahu.

I thought this future condo site looked pretty close to the savanna parts of the Africa theater. 

Modeling is not really my thing.  I could have at least borrowed some binoculars for this, but I didn't think of it until the moment you see here.

 Most of these shots are chosen to show off D-Walker's legs while trying to minimize how awkward the dangling hobbit legs look.

I wore a Snake arm kit because I may as well right?  I only have enough costume for OG Venom Snake though, not that old one-eyed demon.

Speaking of the rider costume, as is tradition, I threw together the balaclava the day before this outing.  I thought I had misplaced the balaclava from my Warlock costume, but I had recently found it in a logical place while packing for my upcoming move.  I cut some simple shapes out of a reusable bag and hot-glued them to the balaclava.  It was the only suitable material I could find around the house, and it's flimsy enough that sewing would not be worth the effort.  You can even see that I used the bag handles as the side straps, which - to my surprise - keeps all slack out of the top of the balaclava.  It's not a superbly made or long lasting costume piece, but it was free and got the job done.  My favorite.

 The rider has zero buttocks volume, but believe me, all the implants I made looked much worse.

The armor panel hides the transition in the rider's body, but it still looks hilariously disproportionate.  If I rebuilt the legs I would use a more sculpted material like gardening foam instead of the felt sheets I had.  There is a fine line between the legs looking flat and looking too fat or oddly shaped.  They also needed to be as flat as possible to not interfere with the armor panels.  

The leg armor area is a little narrow compared to the width of the body.  I think I could have just stood with a wider stance to make it look better.  Also the boots are large, and too securely attached to the foot pegs - a little slack would have let them rotate with the calf more naturally. 

I replaced the main shoulder bracket with a shorter version, bringing the arm closer to the body by 1".   The new shoulder is better balanced and better looking.

I should have taken some more video of the head moving, and doing idle animations and stuff.  Oh well, the photo shoot was meant more for archiving than showing off.

Falling forward is the worst thing you could do here.  

A simple stand can be made to display this costume.  The footpeg pipe that connects the belt to the bottom of the frame could be replaced with a skeletal pair of legs made of PVC or ABS.  They would have to be very rigid and have extended feet to balance the 26-pound body.  You would then help the skeletal legs into the pants and shoes I wore... or you could remove the armor panels from the pants and dress the stand up to be proper D-Walker legs.  If no one wants to buy it, I'll definitely make the stand and post him up in the foyer.

D-Walker will be up on the Starside Armory Etsy store for a couple months - as soon as I figure out the shipping costs, which will have an influence on the base price.  If I weren't moving across the ocean I probably wouldn't sell it, but I like to pack light.  It was a challenging and rewarding project that I am quite proud of, and that has sparked an interest in robotic art.

Here is the Etsy link.

Thank you for reading, bye!