Dragon Con has become a “must go to” convention for my wife and I every year and we are driven to keep raising the bar with our costumes. This year (2013) we decided to do our costumes together and keep them a secret so that we could surprise all of our friends when we showed up! The two of us have been playing a lot of Skyrim together and really liked the idea of costuming as bad guys, so we settled on a pair of Draugr Deathlords.
In a bizarre twist of fate, my pal Harrison Krix from Volpin Props ended up building the very same set of armor for his wife Emily as I did for my wife (though his was the non-undead version). During the entire secret build, the two of us were comparing our processes on a 1 to 1 level daily. I’ll interject now and again with some notes on how the two of us approached the costumes differently!
Every ferocious baddie needs good weapons at their side and our Deathlords were no different. We picked what were some pretty common in-game weapons. While not really amazing stat-wise, the Ancient Nord Weapons look really badass! I wanted an axe and Brittany wanted a sword.
We settled on making them from poplar wood for most of the structural elements. The major pieces were cut out with a scroll saw and then wood glued together. My brother Rob did much of the grunt work on my axe and did a bunch of the detailing on the sword (yay minions!).
For the details, we had some acrylic plastic laser cut. The individual pieces were epoxied right onto the wood. This was crazy helpful and quick. If you haven’t tried getting something laser cut, give it a go at a place like Ponoko. Any gaps were filled in with spot putty and sanded down.
Shaping on the edges and handles were done mostly with a drum sander, belt sander, and Dremel. For adding details, especially on the hilt of the sword and handle of the axe, we opted for Apoxie Sculpt. This is a two part epoxy clay that is very nice to work with and cures super solid for sanding.
After some priming and sanding, the weapons got some good metallic base coat paint and then were weathered to look like they were in a crypt for a bajillion years!
Volpin Notes: Weapons
Harrison chose to go with his Steel Axe and Nightingale bow for Emily. He actually molded and cast the pieces for the axe (I have a kit of it myself, just begging to be finished), but the bow was built very similarly to our sword and axe using wood and Apoxie Sculpt.
Brittany did the lion’s share of the work on our helmets and she did an extraordinary job (my wife is AMAZING). Again we went with some ancient Nord buckets to keep our domes safe and scary looking.
She’s been doing a lot of things in Pepakura lately, so she wanted to try that out with the helmets, but with a twist. Instead of building them from cardstock, she transferred the design to 6mm EVA craft foam and super glued all of those pieces together.
Once the pieces were assembled, the paper pattern was peeled off and the helmet base was ready to go. At this point, Britt could test fit the helmets and make any adjustments pretty easily.
The horns provided a very unique challenge, but Britt found a really fantastic way to make Pepakura work for her yet again. She back filled the hollow foam horns with expanding foam and then peeled the foam off, leaving horn shaped pieces of foam.
Then she wrapped the horns in pieces of overlapping Worbla to simulate the animal horn shapes. The Worbla has a weird texture, so she also had to do a lot of sanding and priming to get it smooth.
Also our cats helped.
To reinforce and smooth out the helmet shapes, they were backed up and covered with fiberglass resin and cloth. This made them nice and rigid and ready for fairing.
The exterior of each helmet was covered with Bondo and sanded down several times to round out the form and remove the faceted look from the Pepakura. It was at this point that Brittany started to regret having taken on the task of helmet making since sanding is “the worst”. She soldiered on and really knocked out the perfect shapes.
With the forms figured out, Brittany wanted to really simulate that “hammered metal” look, so she went bonkers with a round grinding bit in the Dremel. She also glued down some plastic gem bits to look like rivets around the edges of the helms.
One of the helms had some scroll work on it, so she sculpted them using Apoxie Sculpt. Also, air ventilation “damage” holes were added to each helm.
With the horns ready and the helmets shaped out, it was time for them to become one! They were glued in place. For the taller horns we added t-nuts to each horn so that they could be bolted to the helmet and we could take them off for transport.
With all of the pieces built and assembled, these domes needed some paint! After a boatload of priming and sanding, they got made up all pretty like. I’ll go into the paint layers a bit more in the armor section.
Beer can drinkability test.
Lastly I added a pair of 3.2v white surface mount LEDs behind some blue acrylic discs to simulate the creepy blue glowing eyes of the draugr. We also added squishy foam on the inside so that it would fit perfectly on our noggins.
Volpin Notes: Helmets
Harrison built both of his helmets solid and then molded/cast them from a polyurethane plastic resin. This offered him the chance to make multiple copies. Other than that, the build processes were pretty similar.
I. Love. Foam. Seriously, whenever anyone asks me about how to make armor pieces, I immediately ask them how they feel about EVA foam floor mats. It’s cheap, durable, and versatile! The Draugr armor was no exception.
The trickiest part was coming up with appropriately sized templates that fit us perfectly. I have a plaster torso of myself that I drew the chest pieces onto so that I could figure the shape and size out almost perfectly, making sure to scale it up a little bit to account for the thickness of the foam.
Other pieces, like the thighs, were much easier to test and modify before we added any sort of details.
I designed and cut out the templates from cardboard so that they could easily be traced onto the foam floor mats. For mirrored pieces, I could just flip the template over for the other side.
All of the scroll work was done with thinner 2mm and 6mm EVA craft foam. A lot of this was trial and error to get it just right. Whenever I could, I used contact cement to attach the foam pieces.
For most of the scroll work, I eventually settled on a process where I laid out the design on paper and then transferred it to the foam by poking holes in the paper through to the foam. Then I cut long strips of 2mm foam and tacked them down with super glue in the pattern of the scroll work.
Once we had all of the scroll and detail pieces added to the armor bits, we went over every square inch with a sphere shaped grinding bit in the Dremel to give it all a “hammered” texture, much like the helmets. This took forever and a day, but I am super pleased with the results.
Then every piece of armor got a single coat of SmoothOn’s Epsilon epoxy resin. It’s designed to cover foam and worked really well for this project. Since we didn’t need a smooth finish, we only gave them a single coat, sanded them, and primed them for paint.
Britt had some gems on her chest that she sculpted from an air drying clay and painted up with nail polish.
Both sets of armor had a bunch of metal ring things repeated multiple times, so I sculpted one, molded it, and cast a bunch from cold cast aluminum plastic.
For my shoes, I built them on top of an old pair of Vans. The foam was secured using more of that wonderful contact cement.
Paint for the armor was as follows:
Base coat of bronze metallic spray paint
Light brushing of silver acrylic paint along the high parts of the hammered texture
Clear matte spray paint to seal it in
Olive drab thinned enamel wash, airbrushed on and then wiped off the high spots with a cloth and paint thinner
Spotty enamel rust colored wash in select areas, also wiped off of high spots.
Clear matte spray paint to seal THAT in.
Black/brown acrylic weathering pass to dirty it all up, especially the deeper areas around the scroll work.
Another pass of silver acrylic on the high points to bring them back, especially on edges and around “damaged” areas.
Clear matte spray paint to finish it off
“Leather” areas were hand brushed acrylic
We also built in “cell phone pockets” into our hip armor. Yay functionality!
All of the rivets on the armor were decorative furniture tacks. I roughed up their finish in my power drill before hot gluing them into the armor.
Several parts of the armor for each of us had fur on them, so we got some fake fur, cut it up, and either glued or stitched it to the various parts on the armor. For my shoulder part, I put squishy foam under it to bulk it out a bit.
All of the chainmail pieces are actual aluminum rings that Brittany ordered from the Ring Lord and then wove together herself. She got rust colored anodized aluminum rings and then weathered them with sand paper once they were put together.
Attaching the chainmail to the foam proved to be a bit tricky. We ended up hot gluing D-rings to the foam and hooking the rings right to them.
Volpin Notes: Armor
This is where Harrison and I deviated from each other a lot in the build process. In fact, we were building them at nearly the same time and kept tossing messages back and forth to compare techniques.
He ended up making most of Emily’s armor from Worbla instead of foam and laser cut most of his scroll work since he has a laser cutter (I will be getting one of my own post-haste). The other major difference in our two techniques was how it was finished. I Dremeled the texture in while Harrison opted for a hammered metal paint to achieve a rough texture. They were both successful, but I’m glad I made ours look super beat up since we’re supposed to be creepy undead creatures and Emily was going for more of the “hero of Skyrim” look.
Harrison also added a “real” rust texture to Emily’s armor (detailed in this tutorial here). I really like the look and feel of this finish, but was strapped for time and materials by the time I got to finishing our armor and just went with good old fashioned paint.
To really sell the undead look, Brittany and I decided to try and airbrush some full body “morphsuits”, face and all. We picked a medium gray color, because we figured that wherever our “skin” was peeking through would, at the very least, not look human. We took some reference photos in the full armor so we knew where to paint. The cloth parts on the armor were made from a green linen and a faux leather cloth. Most of mine is just hot glued together because screw sewing.
Fortunately for me, I have an identical twin brother who happened to be visiting at the time of the suit painting, so I had him put it on and I just airbrushed it right over him. I used a paint called Createx opaque in mostly blacks and whites. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best airbrusher and this was my first time using a double action brush, but I’m still pretty pleased with the results.
This happened too.
I wasn’t super impressed with my output on the faces, so I went over them again with a normal brush.
Don’t worry, it totally washes off.
Volpin Notes: Bodysuits
The Krixes didn’t go undead so they had no need for bodysuits. I imagine they both went commando under there. You know, to be accurate to the source material.
With the body suits all painted, we were off to the races! This was one of the most fun and emotionally satisfying costume builds I have ever done. It was amplified by the inclusion of my wife and brother (plus his awesome wife Jaimi) in the build process. Thanks you guys! =)