Costume Commissions – How to Not Get Burned

Lately, social media has been swamped with the story of folks who were burned by a creator for hire. I won’t be weighing in on that case, or even mentioning the name, as I don’t like to use this blog for negativity and the information is already out there on dozens of sites. I am not writing this solely because of this particular Maker, but because I have seen an unsettling number of incidents, including friends being burned by less than honest Makers.

What I would like to do is address what you can do to protect yourself in costuming commissions and understand how the process works and what red flags to watch out for.  Many of the victims of scammers and bad businesspeople are first time commissioners, but even those well experienced in the process can get scammed. Thus, this guide is gonna go over everything, from the most basic tips to tips for the experienced, and even then you may get burned. The fact of the matter is that not every bad deal comes from a career scammer, sometimes well-respected and well-meaning makers can fail to deliver an item on time and/or to the client’s satisfaction. Hopefully this information will also help to figure out if someone was out to scam you from the beginning or just had something go wrong despite good intentions.

Vetting your Maker(s)

So, you wanna have something made, that’s great! Since materials and equipment is getting cheaper and more and more information is available about how to make stuff, there are literally thousands of costume, armor and prop makers out there now. How the heck do you choose? Whether you find them via their personal website, a facebook page, an RPF or coscom thread or elsewhere on the net, you mustn’t just throw your money at the first one you see. You must vet them!

No, I don’t mean take them for their distemper shots and heartworm preventative. Vetting is to verify the credibility of a Maker. You need to get a feeling of how likely they are to produce your commission to your desired quality by your deadline. Scammers count on the fact that many people don’t know how to properly vet a Maker, or get so caught up in the transaction that they completely forget to do so. Some scammers are good at hiding their prior bad deeds, and some actively try to obfuscate their dealings, so even if you do your very best to vet everyone, you may still get scammed. It’s terrible, but the best thing you can do at that point is deal with your own commission, either by refund or arranging alternate compensation, and then make your experience known! If they are on a forum or some place that allows feedback, post an account of what went down and why you are unsatisfied. Try to be objective and keep emotion out of it if you can, as that leads to personal attacks which make it very easy for the party in question to call your credibility into question and glaze over the actual issue. Also, as tempting as it is, it is usually pointless to post on the person in question’s webpage, facebook page or any other place where they have the administrative ability to delete posts. They are going to try to keep their face clean, so any place they can sweep it under the rug, they will. Stick to public forums or your own social media presence. And if you had a great experience with a Maker? Post those same places! It’ll help others find Makers worthy of trust and business.

So where do you look to vet? All of those places I just mentioned to post your experience! Often times just Google searching will get you some good information.

In general:

  • Public forums are the most likely to yield accurate accounts, especially when others can join the discussion, this keeps down agenda posts, as anyone with an agenda will be shut down by actual personal accounts.
  • Watch out for posts made by known friends of a Maker or shills. Scammers often post bogus good reviews. Short, vague reviews are definitely a red flag, especially if you can’t find the actual piece that was supposedly made. Costumers love to show off their purchases.
  • Look for good, high rez photos of previous work, with lots of angles. Makers that post the progression picks as a piece is created are also a plus. Look for quality in the construction, an obvious obsession over details and pride in the quality of work.
  • Look for  pictures from clients of their finished commission. There’s some amazing tricks Makers can do with photography to make a piece look better than it is, and never ever forget photoshop exists.
  • Forums like The RPF have feedback tools built in, and coscom has a whole subforum devoted to reviews. Ask for or find out the Maker’s handle in places like these.
  • If you do find a bad transaction or dissatisfied client, how did the Maker handle it? Don’t be ashamed to PM the client and ask if the Maker made it right. Did they ultimately deliver? Did they give a refund?
  • Watch out for those who seem to only deliver to “Important” people. Some Makers do not treat clients equally, and will quickly deliver a piece to a well respected forum member, well known costumer or professional commissions but take their sweet time or deliver a sub-par product to everyone else. Money is money, and yours should spend just as well as anyone’s.

What to expect when you contact a maker:

So, you’ve saved up your hard earned cash and you are ready to approach some makers about creating your dream prop/costume.  You should be armed with a clear idea of what you want, not just the character or the outfit, but how you want to wear it, what materials, any special needs you have. Have as many references as possible for the maker. Tip #1: It is your responsibility to provide accurate and clear references and instructions for what you want. If you want anything to differ from your provided references, if you need the piece to collapse to fit into a suitcase, if you need pockets added to a skirt, if you want it lined, you need to make this clear when you first approach the maker. A Maker is in no way required to make a change to what you both agreed on when prices and timelines were set after the piece has been started. However, if something does need to change, whether it is from the client side or on the Maker’s side, discussion needs to occur as soon as possible. Often, Makers will discover while working on a piece that a technique or material originally planned for will not work in practice, a good Maker contacts the client immediately and discusses this with the client before moving forward with the change. If a maker waits until it is time to deliver to discuss the change with the client, they have not upheld their side of the deal and the client has every right to take issue or cancel their order.

You’ll also need to provide a clear deadline. Tip #2: Do not just list the day you’ll leave for the con/event as your due date! Many folks think this is a favor to the Maker by giving them a few more days to get done. It is not! Even the greatest of commissions will probably need a few days to try on and double check for problems. And if you have a question once you have it in your hand about how the heck this one strap is supposed to work, you want to be able to have the time to contact the maker and find out. Makers have lives too, and often a “real job”, so you want to give then at least 48 hours to reply. You also don’t want to depend solely on shipping days to be accurate, things happen, deliveries get delayed.  My rule of thumb is to list the due date at least a week before you’re going to need it. This means you’re gonna need to start shopping for Makers early, especially if you have your heart set on a high-demand Maker, who often book a year in advance. By having a due date earlier than you need it, you can also hopefully have a bit of insurance in case the Maker gets a bit behind due to poor time assessment or unforeseen circumstances like discovering a crucial supply is on backorder. The earlier you make your deadline, the better off you will be, and it will make those chaotic few weeks before the con a lot less stressful.

Once you have given this information to the Maker, they will quote you a price. Some makers give firm, set in stone quotes, while others give an expected quote, which may change as the project progresses. The second type will typically give a range, so that you don’t agree to a $200.00 expected cost only to be hit with a $3000.00 cost at the end. Tip #3: You get the quality you pay for. Matt Munson did a great little write up on the cost of custom commissions. If you want custom cast resin weapons, or custom tailored Victorian garb, it will carry a higher price tag than a bondo covered cardboard prop or a simplicity pattern in broadcloth. If the price is out of your range and you ask the Maker to cut corners to meet your budget, you are specifically asking for a lower quality item and forfeit some of your ability to complain later. Some Makers (myself included) will not cut corners to meet a budget and put out a less than stellar piece, as that still carries their name and reputation. Conversely, if you ask for a high quality prop and get a price quote that seems like an incredible steal, beware. This is Red Flag #1. A skilled and experienced Maker is going to value their time and reputation, and charges appropriately. An unskilled or inexperienced maker often undercuts themselves just to get some work and experience (I did it too in the beginning) and may fail to deliver the agreed upon quality on time despite never actively intending harm. A dishonest Maker will quote low and deliver a known inferior product or not deliver at all. How do you know if it was a well meaning newbie or an uncaring veteran? Newbies usually are concerned with how they are doing, they are trying to grow and do well, and will ask if it was to your liking, ask to see photos of it with the rest of your costume and talk about what they are proud of in it. A dishonest maker will typically answer any complaints with “well, you got what you paid for”, or that lots of other people they have sold the same thing to were perfectly happy.

Making the Payment

So, you’ve vetted the Maker, been clear with your expectations, set a reasonable deadline and agreed on a price, time to let go of your hard earned money and start the commission. Most Makers require money up front, and that is 100% reasonable. Nothing can be made without materials, and there is a huge risk for the Maker that they will spend months working and hundreds of  dollars in materials just to have a client decide they don’t want the piece later or cannot afford it. Every Maker who knows what they are doing will require a deposit. This usually covers materials and a bit extra as security to make sure the client has the money and is not going to walk out on the deal. The deposit amount varies drastically, but as an example from my shop, it is typically between 35-50% of the total expected cost. Very few Makers will require the full amount up front, unless the piece in question has a very low price point, for me, typically under $100.00. If a Maker does demand the full payment on an expensive commission up-front this is Red Flag #2. Now, a disclaimer here, this is not always a deal breaker, it is entirely in the Maker’s rights to do this, and it may not be a means to scam you. If the Maker has a good rep, you have vetted them well and there are no other red flags, this is probably not an issue, but it is still your right to refuse and move to another maker if this is uncomfortable to you, just try to not make a stink about it and step away from the transaction. However, if it occurs with other red flags and/or the Maker could not be well vetted, proceed at your own risk.

Once the deposit amount has been agreed on, you’ll need a way to pay. Most makers use a payment service such as Paypal. As a third-party service, this offer some protection. However, they do charge a fee for payment, which is borne by the seller. Most Makers are going to include this fee in their quote or assume their own responsibility for it, if they do not state so, feel free to ask. You can find a breakdown of Paypal’s fees here.

However, there is a way to use Paypal that has no fees, this is to “send money to friends and family”. If a Maker asks you to use this option, beware! This is Red Flag #3! Paypal offers buyer protection, a 48 day window in which you, the buyer, can open up a dispute and potentially get a refund. This dispute will push to the seller, and be reviewed by Paypal. The seller has a chance to settle the dispute, either by delivering the product or at least communicating with you and coming to an agreement. However, this protection only applies to payments for goods and services. If you use the pay to friends and family option, you forfeit any protection. Now, 48 days is a lot shorter than the production time for most custom commissions, but by then you should have a good idea of the direction the project is going. If you have serious concerns that you have voiced to the Maker and not gotten an acceptable response from them, open that dispute before the 48 day cutoff! Now, don’t just open the dispute after sending no word of your concerns, use it when no other outlet has given you the peace of mind you need.

What about other payment options? You can pay via check, which offers some protection as you can contact your bank if the commission goes south and you are scammed. I have also heard of Makers who accept hidden cash and money orders, This is Red flag #4! Neither of these options offer -any- protection.

Are there any ways to further protect yourself? Documentation, documentation, documentation. Tip #4: Save all e-mails/PMs between you and the Maker, make sure all terms are spelled out clearly. You can even ask that the maker send you a physical invoice via mail. This doesn’t need to be extravagant, but at least a basic description of the piece in question, the agreed price, how you paid, the appropriate dates and a signature from the Maker. This may help if you need to bring it to your bank. These still may not help get your money back, but it will provide proof of bad deeds that you can post to discourage others from doing business with an untrustworthy Maker.

Production Time

So, You’ve paid. Now you wait. Custom stuff takes quite a while. During production, you should get periodic e-mails or PMs on the status of the piece or to ask questions and clear design decisions. You may also see posts on the Maker’s site as they work on your piece, progress photos or discussions on what techniques they’re using. Makers vary in how often they touch base, and it can also vary according to what other work is going on in their workshop. E-mail takes time away from working on your piece, but it is still a part of the process, and if you contact them, you should get a reasonable reply. Nothing makes a customer worry like lack of communication (trust me on this). Makers often have many things in the shop at once as well, so don’t immediately freak out if it’s been a bit since your last update and you see them post another commission in progress on their facebook page, yours may be just out of shot, also being worked on. However, if you ever feel like you’re not getting the communication you need, ask for it! It never hurts to send an e-mail saying you are excitedly waiting for more updates. If you’ve sent gentle requests before and still gotten no reply, be more firm. If communication refuses to move, state that you are no longer satisfied with the service, and are considering a refund. If you’re still in the 48 day protection window on Paypal, this is a viable reason to open a dispute.  Just keep at them if they refuse to contact you, and post on those public places if the communication lapse becomes too great, again being objective in your criticism.

Receiving Your Commission

The piece is done! Now is the time to pay the shipping and verify your address, especially if using Paypal. Be sure to ask how the piece will be packaged, since the last thing you want is for it to be damaged in shipping, and I -highly- recommend shipping insurance. Now is the time to pay the final payment as well, which you can also request an invoice for. The Maker should send you an update when it is shipped and provide a tracking number if the service provides one.

When the package arrives, make sure to check it for obvious damage. If anything seems out of sorts, if there are dents in cardboard, water damage, loose tape or if it looks like it has been opened, get your camera before opening it! You’ll need to take photos of the unboxing if you want that shipping insurance to do anything. Take photos of the outside of the box and every step of opening, including very clear photos of any damage to your pieces. You can contact your Maker and let them know, but ultimately you will need to bring this up with the shipping carrier. Their website should provide a number to call or an online form. Be sure to have your tracking number, unboxing photos, and any invoices you have.

If the package arrives safe and sound, examine it well. Make sure it meets your agreed upon specifications. Try it on if it’s appropriate. If there are any issues, photograph them and contact the Maker to see if there are ways to remedy the issue. Sometimes a Maker will have you send the piece back and do major fixes, other times it may be something the customer can do. A good Maker eats the cost for this if they are at fault, either refunding the cost of materials for the customer to do the fix or the shipping to do in-shop fixes. If the Maker is not at fault, and the client misunderstood something or expected something without actively stating it in the original agreement, they may still offer to help work it out, but they aren’t required to, be sure to thank them.

If the Maker provides a product that is not acceptable according to the agreed upon terms, you can ask for a full refund and send the piece back, ask for a partial refund and keep the piece or choose to not press the matter, depending on the severity. The Maker may deny refunds all together, negotiate an alternative solution or accept your terms. Keep their response in mind when it comes to your review of their service.In the case of a Maker refusing a refund, use whatever financial repercussion you have available,  either by speaking to your bank or opening a Paypal dispute.

No matter what the outcome, write a review in a publicly accessible space about your experience, good or bad! The absolute best way to help keep good Makers in business and bad Makers out is to let the world know what your experience was like! The more information about our dealings we can put out there, the more likely customers will be able to find and support Makers worth supporting, and protect our investments into our hobby.

 

Disclaimer

Everyone screws up sometimes. I most certainly have, which has given me good insight to the frustrations of a bad commissioning experience. In the four years I have been doing this,I have stumbled occasionally. I took on too many orders to fulfill while not realizing how much time my other obligations like university took. I have lapsed in communication. I have even once completely forgot that a deadline was coming up on a piece, even though it was in my commission log. In each case I have done my best to own up to the mistake or failing and work with my clients to remedy the situation, and most importantly learn from it and not let it happen again. I have included comments about inexperienced Makers in this for that purpose as well, hoping that if you see that sort of behavior, you can better handle the situation from the client side as well. Hopefully the inexperienced will keep their good intentions and become better Makers, and those with ill intent will have fewer victims to feed on, and if someone has good intentions and just can’t seem to learn, it may be best for them that they not get more business to drive them into a hole.

Loki Scepter v 2.0 – Step by Step

At long last it’s time to post this bad boy. I decided shortly after the first attempt at this piece that I could create something more accurate and easier to assemble with a bit more prototyping work and better molds. This continues from the process I used to create version 1.0 of the scepter.

04 - m5g3uwkFirstly, some of the issues I had with the first design. The bigges issue in the form was that the angle where the shaft met the head was much too acute and the assembly point there was crappy and not flush. Secondly, the backplate on the head where I hid the battery slot was the wrong shape, has a hard to use mold and, again, needed better assembly posts. The head also had an unnecessary detail which appeared on the spear length, but not the scepter. Finally, I wasn’t happy with the strength of the LED in the gem or the weathering of the gem.


01 - 848oSNgWhere I started. I first ran casts from the 1.0 molds, which were done in a tin cure silicone and, sadly, had already started to deform. You can see here how lines are uneven, there’s obvious ridges where the mold seams no longer match and there’s divots and hills on the surface. I ultimately decided to take the original prototype, assemble it fully with the blades and cast it as one piece. I had originally intended to cast the gold parts with cold cast powder as well as the silver, which was the reason for the multiple molds. However, I didn’t like the finish of the gold as a cold cast and the post-cast assembly of blades to head was weaker than it could have been had I just cast it all as one. So one piece was just the way to go here.


05 - fmDP4IsI also needed a better assembly point for where the shaft fits into the back of the head. I trimmed down the shaft cast I got from the 1.0 mold to match the lines of the back of the head. I then inserted a pvc pipe buck and filled the gaps with bondo.


06 - qDW2n0TThe pipe fits the slot in the head perfectly, and the shaft lines match perfectly flush with the curves of the head. This was the most time consuming part of the whole re-build before the molding honestly.


07 - 809HmAwAnd here you can see the newly assembled head. The reason the extra piece is still here is that I did not want to have two head molds. I’m still finishing up the full spear version, and this way I can use one mold for both lengths, and simply cut off the part for the scepter. After this, both pieces were given a healthy dose of line checking, spot filling and smoothing to prep them for molding.


08 - YQL4mtKThe pre-mold prototypes as they disassemble, along with the old version of the backplate cover. I later decided to re-prototype and mold this, more on that later. The ruler is a standard 18″.


09 - B3cCuwvAnd a bonus look at how the spear length breaks down. It has since then also gotten an assembly buck like the scepter length. This is how you fit a 6+ foot spear into a suitcase.


10 - TmJcKq7Mold time! This time around I decided to make a 2 part box mold. At first I naively made the mold in a gatorboard box, not realizing just how heavy the bugger would be once full of silicone and resin. We live and learn. First I set up the prototype in plastalina clay with an overabundance of registration keys and just the right number of flow channels fortunately. Next box mold I will make my dam walls wider, these can have trouble locking.


11 - gqK2foPAfter I poured silicone in the first side, I flipped it over and carefully removed the clay while leaving the prototype. Then slathered the already set silicone in sealant and poured the second side. Not bad for my first box mold!


12 - HpHSx0fFor the staff, I still went with a glove mold (something I’ll be changing soon) but with better registration keys for the mother mold. This has been alright for a few runs, but in the future I’ll be re-doing this as a box mold as well. It’s a nightmare to get this to set up right, and required 25 very carefully placed sewing pins to seal up. Leaking resin has already killed one mother mold.


13 - 9uofDR9A shot of the box mold box! This was built in pine, and has a cap that is screwed in place each pour, to ensure sealing and support as I pour. The box mold weight 22 pounds when full of resin. You can also see here the mother mold that was destroyed by a leaking pour on the shaft and its replacement.


14 - TLvp5yIDespite problems, the casts of the new shaft are nice and clean.


15 - Vp60ZTyAs are the head casts! The flashing is manageable and the cold cast is very clean. This was a quick 10 second polish to test the cold cast aluminum.


20 - Lqr2aeuBut, much resin had to die for this learning process. I had many leaks in both molds before I got the process down. Only two of these heads and three of the shafts were workable.


19 - ylB7GqmBut the trial and error was worth it. Here is one of these good cast sets next to the prototypes.


18 - MOEFJokTrimming the extraneous part takes very little time as well, and not having to epoxy ever blade into the head saves a load of time and makes for a much more stable prop.


17 - 5HKaeSdThe shaft now sits at a much better angle and makes for a much more stable assembly. With solid resin at the assembly buck, the connection point is solid and doesn’t have to be babied nearly as much as v 1.0.


22 - cvWEDuD

After trimming flashing and smoothing out any imperfections in the casts, the blades were masked off and the rest got several coats of primer and then several gold coats. I also cast up all of the additional hardware that attaches near the gem. These are now ready to be polished and weathered.


23 - tO0BEGe

The old backplate turned out to be the wrong shape and was a pain to cast to boot, so I whipped up a new prototype. I cut out a piece of sintra into the new shape, rounded the edged and gave the leading edge a bit of a lip and molded that as a flat mold. I then ran a resin cast, and once the resin had hardened up to a solid but still pliable state, pulled it out of the mold. I took one of the crappier head casts and filled the battery void with clay as a base for shaping these. The resin was taped down around this with painters tape and allowed to completely finish hardening. The longer lower points of this new backplate create tension that holds the plate onto the head on their own. To keep the plate on in the right place longitudinally, I made a quick post in epoxie sculpt which fits into a hole inside the battery void. To change the batteries, just slide the backplate back about a centimeter and pull it upwards, then slide forward to reveal the battery void. The assembly screw attaching shaft to head is also hidden here.


24 - M207eJm

In v 1.0, I used one 3mm standard LED. This time around I opted for a 5mm superflux 4 chip LED. These are much brighter and diffuse light to a much wider angle. I embedded one of these bad boys directly into the clear resin as I cast the gem.


25 - WgcFvgh

And here’s how much brighter this is in the new, unweathered gems. You also get a glimpse of how I keep track of orders that involve lots of different parts and steps to complete.


26 - GYVWKFVAnd here is the gem after some simple weathering with acrylic paint and several coats of protective polyurethane. It looks like a nebula.


28 - gN1p4gq

Speaking of weathering, here is the difference it makes. I used cheapo acrylic paint in brown and black for this. The blades have a strange, acid etched look in the film, so I used a spray bottle filled with a mix of black paint and rubbing alcohol to achieve that. The gold areas got a typical combination of washes and sponge dabbing in black and brown. The whole piece was then given several coats of polyurethane clear coat.


LokiNew-01 And the final result. I know this prop like it’s my child at this point. I could likely blind-sculpt it in clay. It is the first of my works that will have a place of pride on my wall, and I can’t help but feel good when I look at it.

This familiarity and pride made Captain America: The Winter Soldier even better for me. Do stay for the mid-credits scene.


Tutorial – Armor with Eva Foam and Strech Vinyl

Today I want to show off a little technique I’ve been using for one of my commissions. The client has asked me to create a set of Megaman Starforce armor that is lightweight and flexible. I racked my brain a great deal on this, and had a lot of trial and error in developing this technique, but I feel I now have it to the point I can share the method.

Lots of folks in the costuming community make use of EVA foam (foamies, craft foam, yoga mats, ect. Proper name Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate foam) to make armor, props, jewelry and all sorts of bits for their costumes. I’ve seen everything from angel wings to N7 armor to LOTR armor made from the stuff. It’s economical, easy to cut, heat formable and very lightweight. However, I’ve found that it’s a real pain to paint, and the finish will never really be smooth enough to pass for high gloss plastic or metal (though careful weathering can help trick the eye in the case of metal).

The solution? Build the structures you need in EVA foam, and cover the foam in stretch pvc fabric!

Vinyl fabric is very durable, resists just about anything you throw at it (only second to wig fiber in chemical resistance in the costuming world) and comes in a decent variety of colors nowadays. I get mine from primarily spandex vendors, so the fabric itself is 2 or 4 way stretch spandex with a thin, flexible layer of pvc. There are even passable gold and silver pvc spandex fabrics available; I have used both, silver in Ed’s Automail, and Gold for a few recent comic commissions, both work fine for non-weathered metallics. I personally get my fabrics from Spandex World (free swatches!) but friends also swear by Spandex House. I should also note that this method will work with any stretch fabric coating on the foam, so don’t be afraid to try it with other types of spandex and knits.

So, without further ado, on to how this is done.

You’ll Need:

  • Foam! I prefer to use 3mm thickness craft foam in complimentary colors to the finished piece, but under an opaque covering it doesn’t matter what color foam you use.
  • Stretch Fabric. Stretch PVC, spandex, ect.
  • Contact Cement. I use Super Glue Brand Contact cement, it comes in a yellow and purple tube, but any contact cement that lists vinyl or rubber as an acceptable surface will work.
  • Cotton Swabs, lots of cotton swabs.
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Hobby blade or scissors for the EVA foam. I prefer using a hobby blade as it doesn’t crush the cut edge like scissors, which gives a better bonding edge to work with.

First, you’ll need to cut your EVA foam into the shapes you’ll need. In this tutorial, I am constructing the backpack for my client’s Megaman  costume. Once you have your foam pieces cut out, take the time to make sure they fit properly, as this is  the last time you’ll want to cut the base forms at all. They need to be exactly what you need before applying the fabric. Once you have your foam pieces, lay them out onto the back side of your fabric, with the foam piece’s back side facing you. Now, cut out your fabric with some extra to work with on the outside. I usually leave anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 an inch extra when I work with 3mm foam, for thicker foam, leave more fabric.

Next, cover your workspace with something you don’t care too much about. If you are working on a wooden table with varnish, cover it up! The contact cement’s fumes will melt varnish (trust me, I now have a bit on our dining table to resurface). Now, you’ll want a bit of scrap card or paper to put under your tube of contact cement (this stuff is messy coming out) and your cotton swabs to apply it with.I also recommend keeping a very clean workspace here, this stuff has the potential to get messy

Now, keeping your EVA foam from moving around on the fabric, start applying the contact cement, via cotton swab, to the cut edge of the EVA foam and on the fabric next to it. With a little practice, you can do the two at the same time. You’ll want to make sure the cement doesn’t get under the EVA foam and onto what will be the “face” of the piece, as the cement can make the vinyl warp and you’ll end up with ripples and wrinkles. I usually use one hand to hold the foam in place and one to apply the cement.

Now, the piece needs to have 3-5 minutes to set up. Contact cement will stick if you just put the two surfaces together immediately, but not very well. You leave the cement exposed to air until it becomes just tacky, then you can press the surfaces together and get a very tough bond. If you have a tight curve or sharp angle, now is the time to cut some slits in the fabric to allow proper give. I find you really only need them on inner curves and angles, but here are a few for demonstration purposes. Cut to within a hair of the foam edge.

Now, once notches are in where necessary, and the cement is tacky, you can fold the edge of the fabric up to touch the cut edge of the foam. The bond will be instant, so be careful as you go. I find the best way to do this is hold the foam down with one hand, and slide your finger underneath the fabric edge, pressing against the foam through the fabric. Try to not stretch the fabric as you do this as well, or the final piece may end up with wrinkles.

After you bond the edges, give them a few more minutes to fully set up before dealing with the excess fabric. Use a nice, sharp set of scissors for the best results. You’ll want to angle your scissors so that one blade is resting on top of the back of the foam, parallel. Trim off the excess fabric, getting as close to the foam as possible without shearing bits of it off.

Continue all around the piece, and nip off any folds of fabric from corners. You should end up with a very neat back edge:

Now flip over your piece, and check that the front is nice and smooth.

Shiny! And it can do this:

Bendy! This stuff can be bent, twisted and crushed to a reasonable degree and will return to its form easily while still staying shiny and smooth. Now, repeat this process for all of your pieces and assemble as you see fit. I personally like building an inner structure out of more foam to attach the pieces to. You -can- bond the surface of the vinyl to the eva foam backing of your pieces, but it is not as strong as bonding foam to backing fabric or foam to foam. To bond the foam to foam, you can use contact cement again, or, since it won’t show anyways, hot glue. I don’t prefer hot glue in places where it might seep out or warp materials, but in places no one will see anyways, well, it’s certainly quicker than the cement.

Here you can see the support structure I made for the backpack and all of the associated pieces I have skinned in vinyl. Admittedly, black EVA foam may not have been the best for a photo tutorial.

And here we have all of the pieces assembled together. Weighs about 3 ounces!

Hopefully this will be helpful to folks wanting an inexpensive and flexible option for high gloss armors. Please feel free to post any question in the comments section!

 

Ed’s Automail Arm – Step by Step

 

By request, here’s the step by step process of how I made Ed’s Automail. There will be a few gaps in the photos, as I wasn’t doing the best job of chronicling this build. I’ll try my best to fill in the image gaps with adequate words.

Since there was no way to meet with my client and make a mold of his arm, I got several dozen measurements from my client and stitched a plush replica of his arm in muslin. I also made several paper mockups at this stage of major parts and mailed copies to my client to hold to the appropriate areas on his arm and hands and take photos so I could verify fit and scaling before moving to making the pieces in woderflex.

 

To make the end caps for the fingers, I coated a it of PVC pipe the same diameter as my client’s largest finger with bondo and began shaping the cap.

 

The pipe was cut off and the bottom sanded. You can see here how tiny my hands are compared to my client. I have very small hands, so the plush arm/hand double was vital to making this automail. After I sanded the piece carefully, it got several clearcoats and went under silicone. I then cast five copies using black tinted resin with Smooth On’s cast magic powder in Silver Bullet.

 

For certain areas, I wanted to use silver metallic stretch vinyl in order to minimize how much this automail would restrict my client’s movement. Here is the cold cast resin finger cap next to the vinyl, the finish really is very similar.

 

After getting the confirmation that my paper mockups were the correct size, I started the somewhat tedious process of cutting out all of the pieces. Each piece was numbered to keep them straight, I ultimately had to cut out two dozen pieces in Wonderflex and keep straight probably three dozen resin castings, so numbering was vital. Each Wonderflex piece was double thickness, one layer was just going to be way too flimsy. Once cut, the layered were joined with some mild heat from the heat gun. The folks over at The Engineer Guy are my favorite source for Wonderflex.

 

Once the pieces were layered, it was time to form them. I recruited pretty much every wine bottle, storage jar and tin can I could find to get the right curve forms, and even used my own thigh for the upper arm plates, as it turns out it was the perfect size (Shows how tiny I am that my thigh is the same thickness as an average man’s biceps). I used painters tape to keep the wonderflex in place while it cools. Wonderflex is a very useful material because, once you have applied heat, it remains pliable for about two minutes afterwards, meaning when you handle it, it’s no longer scalding hot. This is a huge advantage for anyone who has had to deal with heat forming styrene, which is only pliable while hot, lots of burned fingers!

 

Here is where I start having gaps in photos, as I got to the point where each piece was at a different stage in the process. Here we see the upper arm plates heat formed and hit with 2-3 coats of primer, which was then sanded. Wonderflex has a slightly pebbled surface on the presentation side, but a few coats of sandable primer usually handles the texture. Another trick for smoothing the surface is to use the back of a spoon  to burnish the surface while the Wonderflex is still pliable from heating.

 

You can also see the elbow piece and some of the cold cast resin pieces. They’ll be used to fill out all of the screws, studs, pivots, knuckle covers and any other little circle bit needed to embellish the finished piece. The elbow piece is also wonderflex, but has had additional buildup with Bondo to create the rounded  form.

 

I also ordered some colored plastic tubing and heat shielding to add in the armpit area to replicate thewiring and tubing. The large screw top there is actually a cast from the mold for my gold circles for my Lightning’s coat, with the notch scored in with the dremel.

 

Here I started assembling the hand plate and started working the finger sections. These are just stretch vinyl cylinders, since if I had cast these in resin or used Wonderflex, my client wouldn’t have been able to fully bend his fingers.

 

A glove will hold all of the pieces in place and hide the client’s skin. It’s sewn in basic black spandex. The paint I used for the silver is Valspar’s metallic silver. It’s not a chrome-like finish, but is far more durable than most of the high quality silver glosses I use, which I felt was very important since this piece would rub on itself and bits of the costume all day. Another advantage is that this paint has a much more forgiving humidity and temperature tolerance, which was an absolute lifesaver in southeast Georgia in June and July!

 

For the large forearm plate, I needed to thicken the wonderflex substantially. So, I cut a lower layer in wonderflex, then cut filler layers with the three dents cut out in EVA foam. This was easy to cut, lightweight and could hold up to the heat-forming of the wonderflex. The blue strips all-over the board are the notches I cut out. I then layers another layer of wonderflex over the base and foam, then pressed in the trenches so that the top layer of wonderflex bonded with the base layer, rounded the edges and flattened the outer form. This is the plate in an early form, after this would come a lot of extra filling and sanding.

 

The piece starting to come together! As you can see, some places required extra puttying and sanding, but on the whole the wonderflex didn’t require too much extra work.

 

Here’s a shot of the plate as I was puttying and sanding it, the pink is bondo, while the grey is Krylon sand-able primer. To get into the trenches I used a combination of sanding sponges, emery boards and standard sandpaper.

 

The hand was finished up with a sewn vinyl half glove. The T-shaped fastener is EVA foam covered in stretch vinyl, and I attached it with heavy duty thread sewing the T to the half glove. The stitches and knots are hidden nicely under the little resin studs. I also attached the finished arm plate to a strip of stretch vinyl for the underside of the forearm. The whole forearm closes with velcro hidden under the plate.

 

Here you can see the full arm underside, and the elbow attachment. The elbow also has a strip of stretch vinyl which will give more comfort when my client bends his elbow. The upper arm was also finished with a sewn vinyl cover.

 

The complete hand, the only hard parts are on the fingertips, back of the hand and the resin disk on the side of the thumb. This will give my client maximum use of his hand. I also took these final photos before realizing I had forgotten to add the studs to the arm plate, Whoops!! I made sure the studs were attached before it went to the client however.

 

For the shoulder area, I connected the major pivot points with a few real studs, then added all of the extra studs using my resin replicas. I also epoxied in the tubing and heat shielding. The spandex glove pulls all the way up over the shoulder and has a strap that wraps across the chest to keep everything in place.

 

This was a really interesting piece to work on. It used several materials I rarely get to use, but have always loved working with. I can’t guarantee it’ll help with your alchemy or survive a disagreement with your teacher, but at least you should look cool with it. Hopefully this rather messy write-up will help others hoping to tackle the project. I gotta say I have even more respect for Winry after making this!