Over the past few years, I have been fascinated by this Halo armor project by Michael aka Vrogy. The piece that first caught my eye was his M6G pistol made of foam. He’s been posting to the MAKE Flickr pool for quite a while, allowing us to see what he’s up to as the projects evolve. Recently, we’ve had an email exchange where he has shared some of the process and techniques that he is employing on this masterful personal project. He has also been posting updates for the work on his blog.

There are a few others who have been down this road, though most people in the hobby tend to take the easy way out, either with low-detail suits and props which are quick to build, or recasting statues to build armor. A few have gone all the way to full suits, but mostly by hand-sculpting everything – which probably works out to the same amount of hours.

Check it out after the break for details on his software and prototyping techniques.

3dHelmetModel.jpg

I’ve been using SolidWorks since I got a free copy back in 2001, and recently switched to CInema 4D for modeling slightly more complex and more organic, freeform models. Solidworks still rules for more rigidly geometric parts, but I mainly use C4D these days, for its flexibility. Supporting each I’ve used various image manipulation programs to keep track of reference images and video- VLC, in-OS picture viewers, as well as online stuff like Flickr and simple HTML galleries. From there I’ve used several different programs to generate code that moves the CNC machines around- early on it was MeshCAM for my homebrew MDF-framed router, and lately Vectric’s Cut3D on a ShopBot at a TechShop. If it’s a 2D shape I’m working on, I’ll sometimes take an image into Coreldraw or Photoshop and trace it, then adjust and export the vectors for laser or plasma. So…LOTS of different software.

CrossedSplasers.jpg

Materials have been 2″ thick insulation foam, which is a flavor of expanded polystyrene, to medium density fiberboard, which is basically sawdust and binders, and occasionally CNC lasered and plasma’d plastic, cardboard, and steel. I’ve also been playing with billet aluminum lately on a large bridgeport-sized metal-milling CNC- I found a local scrapyard that has huge 5″X5″ 6061-T6 extrusion for around 1$/pound.

TestFit.jpg

Dimensions are usually well-defined from books and literature put out by gaming companies, or estimated based on average human sizes. For weapons, I’ll sometimes print out a side-view of the 3d model bit by bit on letter-sized sheets, tape them together, glue them to cardboard, cut out the silhouette, and heft it around. If it doesn’t fit at the “proper” scale, I can resize it up or down, and reprint pretty easily.

Sometimes I can find 3D models online which were originally built for pepakura. The latest version of Pepakura allows the exporting of 3d models from .PDO files- the files which Pepakura loads and prints out with normally, so I can have something rudimentary to work with. Most of the time 3D modelers are ecstatic to have me actually cutting out their files, but every once in a while I encounter some guy who won’t give me permission to use his models, so I just remodel whatever it is from scratch…but that’s pretty rare.

3dModel.jpg

Machining parts is incredibly complex.. I’ve learned it gradually over the years- I was building miniature combat robots in high school and I’ve since worked professionally in CNC machining and fabrication. Mostly, making props is a challenge because you work under a completely different set of goals than, for example, building parts for robotics. Form first dictates whole new sets of materials and a whole new mindset for construction.

The ShopBot was pretty easy to use- though I’ve also build my own CNC systems and troubleshoot/maintain/operate about 7 on a daily basis, so I’m probably not the average ShopBot user. My only complaint is that the software leaves something to be desired, though it is better than any other CNC software I’ve ever used. Mainly it’d be nice if they added some options for touchup or ‘pencil’ finishing, and maybe more intelligent Z-level roughing algorithms- features which exist separately in other CAM programs.. but not with the simple UI and built-in cutting previews that Cut3D/Partworks3D offers.

I usually get simple responses from folks- “Wow, Awesome!”, etc. Occasionally I’ll encounter someone who asks a few more in-depth questions about my construction techniques, but for the most part people assume it’s far above their head. I wish there were more curious people out there.

I’m working at TechShop Durham, and I’m also working at TechShop Durham. :D The 7 machines I mentioned are a metal milling CNC(MHP S-0 Hydrapath), a ShopBot, an Epilog 45W CO2 laser, a CNC vinyl cutting machine, a 4’X12′ CNC plasma table, a CNC embroidery machine, and a Dimension 1200SST 3D printer.

VrogyModeling.jpg

Usually people costuming the same universe tend to congregate at conventions- so far the biggest group was 20ish people with halo costumes at DragonCon in Atlanta, this past September. I was also ready for Halloween way ahead of time. There’s not a lot of costuming meetups, swapfests, armor-ins, etc – but I do work with a few local people and friends, we suited up three folks and carpooled to DragonCon. Next is probably the Starcraft marine armor.

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My vacuum forming process is identical to that described at TK560. Lately I’ve switched materials from .060″ high-impact polystyrene to 1/16″ ABS for color and cost- it’s black, and 20$ per sheet vs. 60$- but that’s about it. Molds were cut on the shopbot out of MDF, coated in wood glue, and tooling marks removed by hand sanding. A few raised details were added in lasercut styrene.

Thanks Vrogy! It is always great to hear how people go about doing amazing projects like yours.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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