How It Was Made: Captain America Armor Variant
September 29, 2016
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After completing the last Captain America project, I’ve taken on a new version. This one is based on the one covered here, but has one major difference – it’s armored. I’m using the below artwork as reference, though this new piece is not ment to be any one version, but an original “mash-up” of some of the elements I like from the various sources. The kneeling reference is from the “Living Legend” TPB, the armored rendering is by Guy Bourraine Jr and I do not have a source on the line art. If anyone knows where this originates, please let me know and I’ll add a credit here.

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The base costume is very similar, with some color and torso style changes, and we’ll come to that soon. First, I needed to get started on the armor pieces. I’m mix-and-matching some of the templates from two other armor files that I have and working some of it up from scratch. The first thing I needed to come up with was the template for the chest. I began this in poster board.

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Once I had the basic shapes and proportions down, it was time to start cutting some foam. The base for all the armor will be 12mm (~1/2″) foam floor mats purchased from Lowe’s. I will also be using 2mm “foamie” sheets as well as 6mm craft foam sheets, both purchased at Michael’s.

Two things that I always like to do when making armor from foam:

1. Use the heat gun to pre-shape curved pieces. You can really cut down on the difficulty of gluing and get much cleaner seams if the pieces are already shaped. It’s easy to do and will save a lot of time and effort later in the process.

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2. Round off the edges. I use a drum sander attachment for my electric drill to round off and smooth the cut edges of the foam. This can help even out slightly uneven cuts and also gives the edges a nice finish. Once finished sanding, just run your heat gun around the edges to smooth and seal them. This pro-tip comes to you thanks to Bill Doran at Punished Props – check out his amazing books and the rest of his site.

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Here’s the chest piece assembled. The lines on the front are the placement lines for the detail pieces that will go on later.

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The details for the chest piece were cut from 2mm foam and contact cemented in place. The bevels are then carefully cut and peeled away. I created a place-holder star from a scrap of foam and tacked it on so that I could always see it in scale. The actual star will be a resin cast.

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Next, I assembled the backpack. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s based on the template for the Mass Effect N7 armor. However, this one will end up being given an much different treatment. I made the center first and added the star motif by cutting the star and circle out of 2mm foam and contact cementing all the layers together. The great things about making detail pieces like this out of 2mm foam are: it’s really easy to cut accurately and smoothly, even if you have 3 layers it shapes around curves really well and it coats and finishes very nicely.

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Once that was in place, I made the side “pods”. For the cut out piece in the pods, I thought it would look cool if they were flush at the center and then dipped down at the ends. When the whole thing is finished, I think this will give it a little more sculptural detail and interest and keep it from getting too angular and “stacked”.

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Here’s how the backpack looks up against the back.

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I went around in a few circles on attaching the pack and decided that I didn’t want it to be permanent and fused to the chest piece, but (since I really like the harness look on so many of the Cap versions – like the new movies and the Living Legend art) I wanted it to be a separate piece that’s held on by a harness. So, naturally, that needs a template. The template is simply made out of poster board at the right curves to fit over the chest.

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I am at a crossroads on how I want to do this. I’m torn between a more classic “leather” look like the one I recently made:

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Or creating this new one with a base of red faux that I just bought and making the inner band of the blue cordura. So, the blue all blends but there’s a pop of red stripes at the edges of the harness straps. Also, that leads to a decision on silver or black hardware… So many choices…

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But, that’s a bridge I can cross later. In the meantime, I wanted to draft out the shoulders. I did this one by hand with just some poster board and got the scale and shape I wanted. Here’s the base in the foam.

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I then decided to carry the “stealth” stripes motif out to the shoulders. However, I decided to do a more classic Commander Rogers star-and-circle motif rather than the flag and patch from the stealth suit. I made all the details for the shoulders out of the same 2mm and contact cement.

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So, here’s the upper armor so far:

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The jacket and torso for this version will also be getting a whole new treatment and I’ll be covering part of that next. As for the armor, next up is finishing all the detail application, sealing the seams and (if it’s not too cold) Plasti Dip and paint!

I decided to go ahead and get the armor pieces coated. Now, everyone has their own opinion about Plasti-Dip – and here’s mine:

First, I always use the brush on and never the rattle cans. In my opinion, the rattle cans are just too unpredictable and, even though they are the same product, the spray and brush on don’t really seem to behave the same way. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with the brush on, however.

Once you pop the can, it does have a somewhat limited shelf life. I would recommend that you always have several pieces prepped to coat all at once and set aside enough time to do multiple coats in one session. It cures pretty quickly (depending on the weather) and, if you’re coating 3 or 4 pieces at the same time, by the time you’ve done them all, it’ll be time to go back and start again on another coat. I always also keep a little bowl of Naphtha nearby. This way, you can add some to the PD and stir it if it starts to set up an get gummy in the tray and you can also dip your brush in the Naphtha and brush it lightly over the pieces as they cure to smooth out any little clumps or blobs.

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If it gets thick in the can, it’s not completely useless, but it is trickier to use and may not end up as nice as a ‘fresh’ can. You can thin it down with Naphtha and stir it with a chopstick or small paint stirrer. Just be sure to get it thinned evenly or it will go on clumpy.

The brushes I use come in a 3-pack at Lowe’s for about $8. You don’t want cheap ones that will shed bristles into the coats and you don’t want pricey ones because you’re (well I do anyway) pretty much going to burn a brush in each coating session – another reason it’s good to to a lot of pieces all at once. You also want to make sure that the brush glides smoothly at all times. If you feel any pull on the brush while coating, dip it into the Naphtha to keep things from getting gummy.

Here’s what it looks like after two thin coats on foam that was only pre-sealed with a heat gun.

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A glass-smooth texture is pretty difficult with PD, but I like the pieces to have a little texture. I like to weather my pieces with the paint job and the slight texture takes the paint better (in my opinion). Here’s a detail shot of my Old Republic armor chest. This was finished using this same method, then painted, scarred with a dremel, Mod Podged, painted and coated with DuraClear (more on Mod Podge and DuraClear later).

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Of course, if you want to get really crazy with it, you can check out this site, which sells professional paint sprayer kits that are made for PD. For real!

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Here are the backpack and shoulder at this point. I need to work on the seams and some gaps (more on that later) and add another couple of coats of PD. So far, so good.

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I also began on the new version of the jacket. This one will have silver biceps and blue forearms. I used up most of my work time yesterday with coating, so this sleeve is not finished and is only pinned up the to jacket, but you can get the idea.

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Here’s a quick image of the new jacket so far with the armor added on.

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The next thing to work on was the torso. I like the style of the Bourraine torso and the way it goes with the armor.

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However, I wanted the stripes to be more prominent, so I began with a muslin blank of the torso and drew on the lines that I wanted and marked them by color.

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The muslin blank was then cut apart to create the pattern for the new torso and I began cutting the pieces.

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To keep with the armored style, I decided to use red faux leather, the silver from the sleeves and some blue metallic vinyl that I had left over from a Nova Prime project a couple of years ago. I began at the front and worked my way from top to bottom assembling the stripes. Once the front was complete, I finished the back.

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After the torso was built, it was lined with muslin, the spandex top (that fits under the jacket), the bottom edging and zipper were installed.

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Here are some images of the torso with the jacket and then with the armor chest added for a look at how it’s all coming together so far.

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The harness straps for the backpack came next. After some consideration, I decided to change the template from a solid backed harness to two separate, shaped straps that will clip onto the backpack.

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I spent a lot of time deliberating on the accessories for this one – whether to go with all brown (like the last project) or use the red and blue for all of the ‘leather’ pieces. I decided on the latter. The harness straps will have a red base with blue accents and silver hardware. Like most of the harnesses I make, I used headliner foam to give it some thickness and padding. So, the first step was to cut the pieces from the foam and then cover them with the red. I use Super 77 quite a lot while working on projects like these to tack pieces together wile working with them. Once the foam pieces were tacked down to the red faux leather, I cut them out and finished the edges.

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Next, I pinned one of the straps to the armor on the form, held up the backpack and marked where the rest of the pieces needed to go.

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I knew that the backpack was going to clip onto the straps, but I wanted to fill in the space with blue so that the red was only on the edges. I decided to use the blue vinyl from the torso for this back area to pull everything together. I cut these pieces based on the test fit, tacked them with Super 77 and stitched them down.

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I had black plastic pieces for all the hardware, but decided I wanted them to be silver to match the torso and (once painted) the stripes and star motifs on the armor. I rinsed them all in acetone to strip off the surface, primed them with plastic primer and painted them with automotive paint to attempt to get the best adhesion possible.

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I didn’t end up using the d-rings on the harness, but they might find their way onto one of the other pieces. With these pieces ready to go, it was time to make the cordura straps that will hold everything together. I wanted to reinforce these straps but not add bulk, so I lined them with white cordura. I cut the white, tacked it onto the back of the blue, cut the blue out and used the Super 77 to tack the edges under while I added the hardware and stitched them all down.

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Once the backpack is finished and painted, the clips can be attached to it that will hold the whole backpack together.

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Here’s how the whole thing looks on the armor.

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I began testing concepts for the gloves. I had an idea on what I wanted for the gloves and decided to run a test to see how it would turn out. I’ll go ahead and say that these will not be the final gloves (and I’ll go into why later in the process), but I wanted to post how these gloves were made.

I knew I wanted to combine the red faux leather and the navy spandex. First, I wanted to keep all the fabrics cohesive throughout the project and, second, I needed to make sure I had a sufficient amount of flexibility to move. I began, as most gloves begin, with the thumb.

I traced the general thumb pattern onto the spandex and then traced it onto the red faux leather. I then cut the red to the pattern I wanted, lightly misted it with Super 77 to keep it in place and stitched it down.

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I then trimmed the blue away, cut the piece to the original pattern and stitched it. Here’s how it turned out.

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Next, I did the same process with the hand. Once the hand section was assembled, I stitched the thumb in. Here are pics of the glove flat and pinned over my hand at this point.

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Now, here’s the really fun part: the fourchettes. Fourchettes are the little strips between the fingers that provide depth as well as width. This is where lots of practice comes into this process and where most people get very frustrated.

Here’s my short-version process:

  1. I cut a 3/4″ strip for the fourchettes the length of the fabric (with stretch across – narrow – not lengthwise).
  2. Start at the upper part of the glove and go finger-by-finger and trim the strip as you go. Cut more when needed.
  3. Go slow. You are using a 1/8″ (at most) seam allowance so walk your machine when you need more control.
  4. The most challenging parts are at the fingertip (easing in the top fingertip and the end of the fourchette) and the ends of the fingers (near the knuckles). Practice easing these tight curves and edges. Stretch fabrics are easier to manipulate that non (yeah, so the red was a lot of fun for this).
  5. When you’re ready to stitch the underside of the glove, pin at the fingertips and the ends (near the knuckles) and make sure you pin the ends near the knuckles accurately or you’ll get a lot of twist in the fingers.

That’s a very broad-strokes description, but it really does just take practice. The more you make gloves, the better and faster you’ll get – and the more you’ll develop the process that works best for you.

So, here’s a pic of the fourchettes sewn to the top of the glove and some pics of the glove sewn together on my hand and on the form with the costume.

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As I mentioned above, I’m not going to use these as the finals. I’m not completely happy with the shape of the fingers and the fit. It seems a bit too slim and ‘isotoner’ and I want to develop a more tactical-style glove. I have a pair of motocross gloves that I might deconstruct and use to pattern a new version. I do know that I don’t want the fingerless version from the movie, but full gloves. Plus, the gauntlets will cover them almost to the knuckle, so I need to make sure they don’t look too flimsy from the knuckle down.

All of that said, this is what costume design is all about – concepts, testing, building, back-to-one, building, back-to-one, and so forth.

I was able to have a test fitting today and try the whole thing (s0 far) on the person who will be wearing it. Overall, it was very good. There are a few things that I want to tweak and some adjustments that need to be made – mostly with the armor – but I’m very pleased with the progress so far. Here are some pictures from the fitting.

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All of the upper body armor pieces are complete! Now it’s time to start working on paint. With all of the pieces coated, I began by priming and using the silver accent color for the base coat. The blue I’m using is DupliColor Patriot Blue and is very dark. I wanted to give it a bright base coat.

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After a solid silver cover, the pieces were masked off and the blue was sprayed on. Here are pictures of the chest and one shoulder on the form (all I could get out of that one can of blue paint).

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I ordered and received another can of blue for the other shoulder and the backpack. However, in a strange turn of events, the paint did not dry with an even finish. Even though all of the pieces were treated, primed and undercoat with the same products and at the same time, these last two pieces dried with flat patches and don’t have the smooth metallic finish of the others.

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I decided to work the uneven finish on the paint in to the weathering of the finished armor since I’m planning to apply scratches and damage to the finished armor.

In the meantime, I wanted to finish the strapping and connections for all the armor pieces. The chest closes on the sides with industrial velcro tabs, the shoulders attach with nylon webbing and small slide-lock buckles and the buckles were added to the backpack that attach it to the harness straps. Here’s what all of the pieces look like on the suit.

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While it looks fine on the form, after consideration (and another test fit), I decided that it’s too bulky and the wear-ability is close to nil. I decided to go in a different direction with the ‘armor’ pieces and make them much more streamlined by not making them out of foam, but basing them more on some of my other recent projects like Daredevil, Punisher and Batman.

I began the new armor chest by making a new base pattern and building the foundation in the navy cordura backed with headliner foam. The bottom edge, center top and armholes were finished with binding.

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I then made another copy of the base in muslin and sketched out the new details. This was then cut apart and used to build up the armor segments on the chest.

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In a similar fashion to the Punisher vest, the pieces were cut from 2mm craft foam, covered with cordura and stitched down.

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There are also details that incorporate the metallic blue and red faux leather from the torso to pull the whole thing together. Here are images of the chest so far.

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The next piece to add was the collar on the new chest. I liked the AoU collar with the split in the front and the red chevrons on the side, so I went with that style.

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Once that was attached a made a backplate with craft foam and cordura. This will be sewn down on one side, velcro on the other and will cover the zipper in the back.

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With the chest finished except for some detailing, I decided to get the shoulders underway. I used the pattern for the tactical Batman for the basic shoulder bells. These were also lined with headliner to give them a good amount of structure. I then created an edging piece by covering craft foam with the red faux leather and sewing the main shoulder bell to it.

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Straps were created to hold the shoulders to the biceps by using the same silver fabric on the sleeves and headliner foam. The fabric was backed with the foam and then ribbing was stitched down for some added detail.

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The straps were attached to the front of the shoulder bells. The shoulders will attach to the inner jacket and extend from under the chest piece. Once I get a final fitting, the straps will be attached to the backs of the shoulders. There will also be an molded insignia detail on the shoulders (I’ll cover that later).

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At this point, I’m pretty much at a stop on the upper body until I get a few more supplies in and the mold for the shoulders run, so I moved on the gauntlets.

I like the style of gauntlets from the Avengers costume, and decided I want to play around with this version.

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I began by making a paper template and sketching out the details. Then, I made the base structure out of headliner and craft foam. The craft foam in the center section is 6mm while the sides are 2mm. It’s not east to see in the image, but the 6mm pieces are beveled to make molding the fabric and sewing the detail lines easier.

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I like the later versions of the MCU costumes for pulling the brown elements into the accessories. While I want to do that as well, I also want the brown to be more of an accent and not base for the pieces. So, this gauntlet base was then covered with cordura that was sprayed with Super 77.

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I then used my original template to trace out the edging and detail lines in the brown faux leather. This was sewn down using a teflon zipper foot and the edges were trimmed, wrapped to the back and glued down.

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The inner forearm piece was made using a piece of the brown faux leather detailed with red cordura. It is held in place with two strips of elastic. Red cordura straps and silver buckles were added to the outer gauntlet and it straps on top of the lower piece.

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The gloves that I’ll be using arrived and here’s a quick look at them together with the gauntlets at this point. These will be color corrected and have hand guards that cover them (similar to the latest MCU suits). I said earlier on that I was going to build the gloves but that was when I was planning to do everything in red and blue to match. Since I’m going with the brown, I decided to save myself a bit of time and worry and source the gloves instead.

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Having had some other supplies delivered along with the gloves, I decided to take a break from the gauntlets to test out the shoulder emblem and get the helmet going.

The emblem for the shoulders is going to be the Avengers “A” emblem at a larger scale the the ones I’ve made for the AoU suits. As it happens, one of my regular suppliers included an Avengers ornament in a recent shipment and it was the perfect size for this project. He was nice enough to give me permission to do a one-time recast of his piece for this project.

Here is a picture of the two molds side by side for scale.

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I’m using Amazing Casting Resin for these. It’s a craft-quality resin but I like it for small widgets like this for two main reasons:

  • It’s very lightweight and doesn’t weigh down garment pieces or flop around
  • I can pull it before it’s completely cured and get complex curves out of the pieces

The latter is what I’ve done for these. I poured the resin, let it cure about 90% and then carefully de-molded it and taped it down to the shoulder of a mannequin arm to harden. When it was fully cured, it retained the curve of the shoulder.

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It just needs to be cleaned up, sanded and painted. Here’s what the raw piece looks like against the shoulder.

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The helmet is being built out of 6mm craft foam. I checked out a few Pepakura templates, but opted to create my own pattern from scratch rather than try to adapt an existing template.

I turned to my trusty Ed Head to help me out. I covered him in plastic wrap and then masking tape.

Here’s a tip when working with something that needs to get into small details – like the brows and bridge of the nose: it’s easy to really get into those areas if you lightly spray your head form with spray adhesive and then press the plastic down onto it. This way, the plastic adheres to the form and keeps the shape while applying the tape.

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Once he was covered. I drew on the basic shapes for the helmet.

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I then cut the tape apart and transferred the pieces to poster board.

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These were then cut from foam and assembled. I pre-formed the sides and top pieces with a heat gun and then, working from the sides to the middle, glued the pieces together with contact cement.

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Once the base of the helmet was assembled, I used the heat gun to add some subtle shaping to the brows and temples and added the nose piece.

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Once the base was assembled, I used a sanding drum on my dremel to round all the edges. Then came the detailing. I began detailing on the sides. First, I added thin strips of 2mm foam to cover the seams on the sides of the head above the eyes. I then used the flat template from the side to create a new template for the side detail and wings.

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These pieces were cut from 2mm foam and, working back to front, were carefully applied to the base with contact cement.

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The top detail section was created and applied the same way and then the wings and signature “A” were added as an additional layer.

2mm foam is pretty easy mold around curves if you work section by section and take it slow. On the top piece here, I cut it flat and then drew a line down the center on the underside (which is slightly visible in the image on the left). I then applied the contact cement to only the front to just above the vents. I lined up the center line on the detail piece to the center seam on the helmet and laid it down only in the center. I was then able to press and mold the foam around the top of the helmet curve. After I had it started in the front, I applied the cement to the rest of the pieces and, slowly, laid it down matching the center lines and then carefully smoothing and molding the foam over the top.

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The last of the main pieces to add to the helmet were the ears. I cut these from 6mm foam, traced out the detail lines I wanted and then sliced them in with an xacto knife and used the heat gun to open the cuts and slightly curve the pieces to fit the contour of the helmet.

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At this point, it was time to give the whole thing one last heat-seal with the gun and give it a couple of coats of Plasti-Dip.

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While the helmet coatings cured, I decided to test out a collar idea. Using the pep files for the Iron Man neck, I cut out several of the sections and tested them in 2mm foam.

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All four segments were too tall to wear well, so I left off the top. I then spray mounted the foam to the blue cordura and cut the pieces with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Using a zipper foot, I stitched each segment together matching the edges of the foam backings. The seam allowances were then folded over to each side and stitched down.

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The collar still needs a closure in the back and I’m not sure it’s going to make the final cut, but I’ll see what it looks like when all the other pieces are assembled.

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With the collar together, I moved back to the helmet. I used some flexible caulking to refine some of the edges a bit and hide some seams. Once that was set, I gave it a couple more coats of Plasti-Dip, masked off the inside and put a base coat of navy blue on the whole thing.

The base coat was then covered with metallic blue and the helmet was masked off for the silver accents to be painted.

The next steps on the helmet are detail painting (including aging/weathering) and the chin straps. In the meantime, I got started on the boots.

I found a pair of boots online that I liked for style and decided that they would be the inspiration for this project.

I sketched out some basic paper templates based on these boots and then transferred the front to a tracing paper template to begin cutting the pieces.

I cut the foundation piece out of 2mm craft foam and worked from the center out. I created a pad for the center section with headliner foam. I then layered a piece of red faux leather on top of that and added detail stitching.

Next, I covered the upper/side area with brown. Then, another layer of 2mm foam covered with red cordura created the top layer.

I used some scraps of Swedish tracing paper to sketch out a rough template for the upper. I haven’t yet found the boot that I’ll actually use (it will be brown, not black) so the one in these images is one I had to hand just for drafting. Anyway, I made the upper by covering 2mm foam with red faux leather. Once I have the actual boots all of these components will be attached together to fit.

I then turned to the backs. These will work in a similar fashion to the inner parts of the gauntlets – they will form the calf and have elastic in the front. The shin guard will then strap over them to make a complete boot shaft. The backs are made of brown faux leather lined in black for stiffness and accented with a red cordura stripe over the center back seam.

The last major component of the boots to attend to was the knees. I created a template for the knees and constructed them using the same methods as the rest of the boots. The main knee pads were made of foam covered with red cordura. I then added a shaped brown section (also backed with foam) to the bottom of the knees.

The knees were then stitched to the shin guards as well as the straps and buckles (just as they were on the gauntlets). Here are the boots at this point.

The back knee pads are still to come. In the meantime, I decided to get the harness together. I used my templates for the AoU straps and created the base straps using 2mm EVA foam and covering it with faux leather. I then added a red cordura (also backed with 2mm foam) detail to the upper strap. The two connect under the arms with the same silver side-release buckles that were used on the gauntlets and boots.

I decided to use a back piece that had already been playing around with as the base for the ‘back pack’ that the straps would attach to. This piece was simply a piece of 2mm foam covered with cordura. The straps were fitted and then sewn down.

The next step was to create the detail piece that would go over this base. To do this, I traced out the shape and created a template on tracking paper with all the details that I wanted. I used a piece of 2mm foam as the foundation. The first piece to go on was the star.

Cutting the center circle from the metallic blue vinyl, I tacked a 2mm cut out of the star to the center and then mounted them to the foundation. The star detail was stitched in using a teflon zipper foot. I then tacked down all of the other details and made the cover out of cordura with the circle that surrounds the star.

The inside edge of the circle was finished and the cover was mounted to the foundation. All of the detail lines were then sewn down with a zipper foot and the edges turned under and sewn down.

I then added some grommet details and glued the piece to the back of the harness as well as adding some blue details and hardware to the upper straps.

Here’s the completed harness on the costume.

Next up: the belt gets underway, the new helmet is added and the final details are added.

Stay tuned!