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Sculpting Baroness Armor

Twi'lek Pam

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I usually budget an hour or two each night for answering costuming e-mail's and pm's, but tonight I decided to set the mail aside for a while (sorry to everyone waiting for a response!) and do something else for a change. I've been wanting to type up a tutorial for how I made my Baroness armor for quite a while... so tonight I'm going to work on that instead!



For the sake of keeping things streamlined, I'm going to focus on the front half of the armor. I made the back half of the armor in exactly the same way, going back and forth between the two pieces as I progressed.



First, I had to select the version of her armor that I wanted to make. The Baroness has had dozens of different body armor styles over the years, but this comic version is my favorite, so it's the style I chose.





I started out with a body cast. If you can make a solid, full-torso body cast, I highly recommend it. I know that it's cheaper and easier to make a partial cast that only covers the area that you're going to sculpt the armor over, but things always seem to work out much better when you have the complete torso area. With a full torso, you can do a much better job of judging sizes and fit, the overall look, and it's also much easier to make sure that everything is proportional.


Normally I use oil based clay for my sculptures, but the Baroness armor was a last-minute project that I decided to finish in time for WonderCon. Since I was in a hurry, I decided to use water based clay instead. Water based clay is a lot softer than oil clay, so you can smooth large areas a lot faster. The downside is that water based clay doesn't hold sharp lines very well, but I could fix that problem when I got to the hard master stage.



I spread the clay in even layers over the entire armor area, and then extended the clay out beyond that point a bit further. This allowed me to make sure that the edges of the armor would be the same thickness as the rest of the armor. The clay edges always tend to thin out, so it's better to leave extra that can be trimmed away later. I also added the shoulder straps. These would not be cast, but I put them in to help me figure out where the placement would be later on. The clay is fairly thick, about 1 cm. The armor itself won't be that thick, but the extra space allows for clothing and a bit of breathing room underneath once the final armor piece is cast. Once the clay was evenly spread to the right thickness, I used a damp sponge and a rubber kidney tool to smooth it all flat.






The next task was to start planning the lines of the armor. To find the vertical center line in the front, I used a piece of string that I ran in a straight line from the belly button up to the center hollow of the throat. Since I spent a fair amount of time making sure that the body cast sits level when I made it, I was able to use a ruler to make the horizontal lines go evenly around the body cast. The strings are lightly pressed into the clay. It holds them well, and when they're removed they leave a line that can be used as a guide. Once the strings were in place, I lightly sketched in the other details. When everything looked right, I began trimming away the excess clay around the outside edges and sculpted in the tiered lines.










Oil clay has the advantage of being a non-drying clay. Water based clay, however, does dry out. I had to keep a spray bottle of water on hand at all times when I was working on the armor sculpt. In addition to lightly spraying the clay each time it began to dry, I also had to cover it with plastic bags each time I was through working for the night. Before I went to work the next morning, I stopped by to uncover the clay and give it another spray of water just to make sure it remained soft and easy to work with.





(Yeah, I know... it looks like a wet t-shirt. You were thinking it, too.)



The next step was to make a waste mold. Normally, when I make a waste mold from a sculpture, I take the time to make a well-planned and carefully sculpted retaining wall all around the sculpture. Retaining walls help ensure that the plaster waste mold will cover everything evenly and will have the proper thickness. They also make sure that the edges of the mold are thick and strong, and less likely to chip. Retaining walls are essential to making a really good waste mold. But, like I said earlier, I was in a HUGE rush to get this armor finished in time for the con. So I had to cut corners, and I made the plaster waste mold without any retaining walls. It came out fairly well, but it would have been much better if I'd had time to make the walls.


First, I used Vaseline to cover all of the areas of my body cast that were next to the clay sculpture. The plaster used for the waste mold will not stick to the wet clay, but it can lock onto the ultracal body cast, so it was important to use the Vaseline as a mold release.


Then, I covered the front of my armor with a thick layer of plaster. This is called the waste mold. I attempted to cover everything with about 2 or 3 cm of plaster, as evenly as I could get it. You don't want it to be toooo thick, but you also don't want it to be so thin that it will crack easily when you pull it off the sculpture. Remember, plaster kicks surprisingly fast, so don't mix up a huge batch at once. You'll loose most of it in your bucket before you get a chance to spread it onto your sculpture.







I hadn't planned on showing the back side of the armor, but this image is good for a laugh. This reminds me of the body proportions that were used in the Dave the Barbarian cartoon.... huuuge upper torso, teeeeeny tiny waist!

(It's a trick of the camera angle; I'm not THAT badly deformed!)






After giving the plaster plenty of time to set up, I gently pulled it off of the body cast and clay sculpture. The clay was still in good shape, so I sprayed it with water and covered it back up in case anything went wrong. That way I could start again if I found myself in need of a new waste mold. I then repeated the waste mold process on the back side of the armor.






Once the waste molds were complete, I cleaned out any last traces of clay and then sealed each piece with a heavy coat of mirror glaze. This is a high quality wax used by mold makers. Automotive wax can also be used, but I've found that I get better results with the mirror glaze, so I'm happy to stick with that.







The next step was to make a hard master of the armor. (No, not an Arashikage hard master... a bondo and fiberglass hard master!)


Before beginning this step, put on a respirator that is rated for working with chemicals. The vapors created by bondo and fiberglass are hazardous, and no costuming project is worth risking your health for.


To make a hard master, the inside of the mold was first coated with a layer of bondo. I thinned the bondo with fiberglass resin so that it would spread easily, and then mixed in the appropriate amounts of bondo and fiberglass catalyst. A chip brush was used to spread the bondo around the armor area, working out any air bubbles and making sure that everything was evenly coated. The thinned bondo tends to run down into the low areas of the mold, so it was just a matter of brushing it back to the high points for a few minutes until it began to harden. If your bondo begins to hit the cottage cheese stage, leave it alone!


Once the bondo was set, I gave it a backing of fiberglass so that it wouldn't break. I prefer to use fiberglass cloth. It's so much neater and easier to work with than the scattered fibers of fiberglass mat.


Notice how thin the waste mold is up at the top right corner of this picture. If I had put a retaining wall around the sculpture, that area would have been covered a lot better, and I could have worked on it without living in fear that the corner was going to break off at any moment!






To remove the hard master from the waste mold, just take a hammer, hold everything over a trash can, and give an edge of the waste mold a good whack. Plaster breaks easily, and it should shatter right off of the hard master. Don't bother with trying to save the plaster... it's called a "waste" mold for a good reason!


This is how the hard master looked when it came out of the waste mold. Notice that the edges are quite rough. This is the downside of sculpting the armor in soft, water based clay. Every little bump and nudge moves the clay around, so by the time I'd managed to get the waste mold finished, my sharp lines had been quite thoroughly messed up.









I next began the task of sanding the hard master smooth. Always make sure to wear a respirator when sanding bondo. The fine particles can damage your lungs, and again, no costume is worth risking your health. The nice thing about bondo is that it turns pale when you sand it. As you sand, it is very easy to see any low points because they remain darker than the rest. If a spot is very low, it can be filled with more bondo. If the indentations are shallow, the surrounding areas can be sanded down to match them.







Blue painter's tape was a useful tool to help me get the lines straight again. I used small files and folded pieces of sandpaper to return every edge to a sharp, straight line.






In this picture, the front of the armor was complete, and I was partially finished with the back piece.






When both of the armor pieces were fully sanded, it was time to make a silicone mold. I spread a trash bag over the table, and began to paint layers of Smooth-On's Rebound 25 over the armor. Rebound is quite thick and sticky, so you have to make sure you don't trap air bubbles in any of the corners. The rubber will run off the hard master if you paint it on too thick, so it's better to paint thin layers which will resist gravity better. The rebound that runs or drips off the armor can easily be picked up with your chip brush and painted back over the top again. Smooth-On recommends about 4 layers of rubber, though I prefer to use a bit more. A stronger mold will hold its shape better under repeated use.





Allow the rubber to cure fully, and then peel the armor pieces off of the trash bag. The rubber will not stick to the plastic at all. The next step is to trim away the excess rubber. Using scissors, cut away any "stalactites" and any rubber that spread too far away from the hard master. Don't cut the excess rubber all of the way up to the edge of the hard master. Leave a rim around the outside edge. It helps to have that there when you're casting your armor later on.


Do NOT peel the rubber off of the hard master yet! Just trim away the excess rubber, and then build a strong support mold over the top of the rubber. While plaster can be used for this, I do not recommend it. Plaster breaks too easily. The support shell should be made of a strong material such as ultracal, fiberglass, or a rigid plastic compound.


Unfortunately, by the time I got to this point of the project I was seriously running out of time.... so I stopped taking pictures. I finished the mold three days before the con, I cast the armor in fiberglass two days before the con, Scott managed to get everything sanded and painted for me the day before we left, and the decal was attached about five minutes before I packed the armor for our trip to San Francisco. I always swear that we're not going to do any more last-minute projects.... but we always end up doing them, anyway!


I still have the mold, so next time I get it out, I'll take photos of the support shell and add them to this tutorial. I used ultracal for the shell, and since I was concerned that the shell might lock onto the front armor piece, I made that shell in two halves. The back armor shell is a single piece.







Pam :-)

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Guest Daritha

They should have used THIS armor in the movie (as Marina Sirtis once said: I was so happy when they gave me a uniform cause - in Hollywood - you don't have a brain when you have a cleavage).


Want to say: I like your costume a lot more than the "official" one in the present movie. It looks marvelous!

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Guest Anonymous
Great tutorial! I've been comtemplating making Imperial Knight armour, and this tutorial gives me a clear idea of what's involved.


Your Baroness costume is fabulous!


Thank you so much for posting this. :D

Ditto! And I must say thank you once again as I'll be referring to this plenty for my Azlyn Rae armor (and IK if Azlyn proves to be an experience I want to live through again!).


And you totally look like her! :twisted:

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