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.


  1. Pretty cool Mandy. I once started making the IronMan helmet with a friend using the same process but we gave up on the sanding step. It seems like it will never end!

    -Juan Cruz

    1. It definitely seems like it will never end! I shortcut it some with the dremel. But there was still hours of mindless drilling. I passed the time by listening to podcasts and books on tape. It made it more pleasant. :)

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