Operation Qan[T]: Part 1

Same stuff, different year. Kind of. Anime Expo is just two weeks away at this point and we just barely got started on this year’s armor. As usual, it’s mainly a two-man job – with some extra help sprinkled around here and there.

Ironically I can never remember when we start building each year – I assume it’s usually around the same time (previous year’s build logs aren’t super reliable because I upload one post per every several day’s worth of work) but because of school I think we’re starting later than usual this time. We always feel rushed but I’m pretty sure we’ve always given ourselves around a month of work time in the past – this time that’s right about halved, so we have to hope extra hard this year that we make it on time.

So this year we’re finally dabbling into the Anno Domini era of Gundam. We actually talked about doing Exia before during Year One, but laughed it off due to the complexity of the suit’s curves and somewhat complicated armor design. Fast forward four years and we’re actually taking on its successor suit – the 00 Qan[T].

Full disclosure though: Quanta wasn’t our initial choice. We were pretty set on doing the Wing Gundam TV Version this year because the wings would be sick and it would garner us plenty of nostalgia points, but we then realized that 2017 was Gundam 00’s ten-year anniversary. We couldn’t possibly walk into the Expo in two weeks where the Gundam fandom and industry leaders will be celebrating the series’ big year without the proper suit, right?

We’re so much more civilized this year. I can’t believe we worked on the garage floor for the past four years. The table is actually made up of about six smaller tables and then covered with cardboard to act as a cutting board. It works miracles.

Jumping right into it, starting with our old friend Ben.

Wrapped in metal and bound with duct tape. It’s okay, he likes it rough.

I should mention that this actually isn’t the same Ben from last year – the previous one was only found after we brought the new one home and he was gouged apart and missing eyes anyway.

We made the first three armors out of nothing more than cardboard, duct tape, and solemn prayer. Last year was the first time we flirted with EVA foam, and given that it turned out pretty nice, we’re inclined to do it again.

The foam itself is nothing more than foam garage flooring found at Pep Boys – one roll can last us about half the suit at $20 per roll.

And the magic stuff that holds it all together is known as contact cement. We didn’t use it as much as we should have for last year’s armor because we had trouble with the cement drying out because it was never capped. That problem was remedied early on this year with the creation of some poor-man’s glue pots.

All credit for this ingenious idea goes to our usual online YouTube cosplay sensei Evil Ted. I learned how to work with foam and make helmets from him, and now he’s even helped us create tools for the trade.

One mason jar, a brush, some epoxy hot glue, and you’re set. All these materials can be had from the Dollar Tree for less than $5. Cut a hole for the brush in the mason jar cap and stick it through.

Hot glue it in place so the brush is about three fourths into the pot. We’ll be filling this with contact cement, and apparently hot glue usually isn’t enough to hold the brush in place because the cement fumes tend to eat away at it and cause it to disintegrate.

This is usually when you cover it with epoxy to make sure the hot glue is protected, but we ran out of that so I just made do with leftover drywall filler instead. I’m not actually sure if this will hold up but we made two jars and at least one of them was done properly with epoxy so we’ll be okay either way. Fill a quarter of the jar with liquid cement and every time we’re not using the brush it’ll be mostly airtight, preventing the problem we had last year of the cement constantly drying out.

I took it upon myself to spearhead the helmet creation, just as I did last year. The method remains the exact same – I had to rewatch Evil Ted’s tutorial on helmet making to jot my memory of how I did it last year though.

Helmet halves done. We know from last year that the base helmet would be too small to fit over my partner’s head, since the mannequin head (Ben) that we used as a mold to make this is undersized.

As such, to make it fit I just added a strip of foam down the middle and attached the two original halves to that – an easy no-fuss way to expand.

While I’m doing that my partner’s already cranking out the torso. He made a good amount of the suit in a digital 3D modeling program beforehand, and then made mockups out of cardboard before finally transferring the designs to their final foam form.

Grind for bevels.

Our other friend came through again this year with the essential power tools, including the dremel which is invaluable in grinding away foam to create consistent beveled edges.

Poor man’s glue pot is already earning its worth.

When making largely indistinct pieces of foam that all need to come together in a very specific way to make a complex object, labeling is a necessity.

Those nips look like they poke out pretty far, but trust they’ll be reigned in by day’s end.

Ironing out the foam fitment against a chest plate made out of cardboard.

Good assistance when I’m busy trying to make the helmet happen.

Because I’m making the whole thing from scratch without any previous prep work (my partner can work faster because he drew out most of his stuff digitally and in cardboard form already), I need to eyeball templates out of printer paper before committing to foam.

Obscene amount of measuring, cutting, and professional eyeballing to get these ear pieces out as templates.

For some reason I found myself thinning the foam down a lot, even though it’s the same thickness as last year. Normally we’d use the dremel for that but it takes too much time and gets too messy, so I just go in with a sharp blade and cut most of my pieces in half to make them thinner and thus fit better.

It doesn’t look pretty and sometimes I end up cutting into the side that actually shows, but for the most part this means I won’t have the foam’s inherent thickness to deal with when making my pieces.

Bevels like these are also usually made with the dremel, but I found that I can save the mess by just going at it with a sharp enough blade. It only works for bevels that aren’t meant to be seen of course – it’s definitely not a clean result, but for pieces that need to be mated at 45 degree angles it does the job.

A nice extra resource this year is the addition of 100 cheap hobby blades – came off of Amazon for sub $10, I believe. They’re sharp as hell new, but dull fairly quickly. Not a significant drawback though – with this many we’re basically guaranteed to have prime blades at all times throughout the project.

After studying Quanta’s head design for one too many hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that its actually designed so the rear of the head is wider than the front. As such I had to split my helmet and insert a gradually widening strip to make this design feature happen.

Rough outline of the cheeks and ear sections thrown on.

I’m not really sure how I’m going to make those ear sections flush on the helmet – they’re supposed to jut out pretty far on the actual suit.

Partner’s already got most of the front of the chest ironed out.

Stand-in GN Drive is made out of some duct tape and the contact cement canister.

Somewhere along the way our fan went super sayan via scrap foam bits.

Our power tool buddy also supplied us with the obnoxiously loud and terrifying belt sander. While useful for grinding away the diamond garage pattern on the backs of some foam pieces that we need smooth on both sides, the actual technique of doing so comes down to a fine art. I don’t have the patience for it but my buddy seems to do it pretty well.

Those big fin pieces on the sides of the abdomen are meant to fold inwards towards my partner’s body later on, so it looks a bit jank right now.

Cutting out the Quanta’s long bunny ears for the helmet. I’m not about to just slap these on the helmet like this though – anyone looking at the suit from the back would see the garage floor pattern on the inside of the ears.

So I made another set and cut them to half size as I described above, then cemented it all together to create pieces with two smooth sides. The problem is that I underestimated the difficulty of cutting the texture off of pieces this large, so I’m left with gigantic mountains and divets that now have to be filled in with drywall filler and sanded down.

They ended up looking alright. Once it’s primed and painted it should all match up fairly smoothly.

Filling in some bits on the cheeks.

Moving onto the helmet Mohawk. There was really no way to figure out the nuances of that curve other than by drawing and cutting out an arbitrary curve on paper and slowly chipping at it until I had the right shape.

Drew the shape I wanted on paper and transferred it to foam, then proceeded to bevel the edges so it would fit on the helmet at an angle, as the mohawk meets in the top center.

Contact cement applied to the helmet and the mohawk pieces – once they’ve mostly dried I just need to mash it all together and it should look presentable.

It took some screwing around but I finally got it on there evenly. At first some slight deviations in the foam shape caused the whole thing to be canted to one side, prompting me to cut apart the contact cement that had previously already set. Not a clean job.

As I’m still toiling over the helmet, my partner has moved on to the arms, starting with the biceps.

Looks good, eh? Until you notice that the left-most piece is smaller and less wide than its counterpart on the right side. But it’s all within tolerable error margins, right?

In fairness I actually wouldn’t really notice that sort of thing once the whole thing is put together, as it is here.

I should point out now that my partner insisted on using the Master Grade model as the basis for this suit, rather than the High Grade kits we’ve traditionally based our armor off of. Neither of us own any version of the Quanta either, compounding the problem when we’re trying to build a suit we don’t have a physical model of to use as reference, unlike last year when we each owned a HG Barbatos and thus could reference the suit design extremely finely.

This really just means that our suit proportions will be a little more stylized to be in line with the Master Grade’s look, and also significantly more detailed than the clean look of the High Grade kit. Granted, we do have a much easier time inscribing panel lines to get a more detailed look with our suit because the foam makes this process very simple – just cut the lines you desire, heat the foam up, and it’ll automatically expand for some nice clean panel line-esque valleys.

Filling out more of the mohawk up front.

It took a while trying to figure out what a good length for the v-fin would be. On one hand, a gigantic super-long and oversized fin would just be cool and make the helmet really stand out. On the other, it could possibly distort the look of the suit as a whole and make the upper body look disproportionate, so I tried to find a fair middle ground between too short and too long.

Think this is it.

Cut a valley in the back of the fin because it’s supposed to bend down a bit on the kit. I usually do this for foam that needs to bend by cutting a line and then expanding it via dremel, grinding it out until we get a valley that will allow the piece to bend.

And the front looks mostly smooth.

First test-fit, with a hastily mocked-up faceplate that isn’t meant to be final. Somehow the shape just looks off; I couldn’t quite place it but I was hoping with more of the details flushed out like the secondary v-fins it would begin to look more Quanta-esque.

Those aforementioned secondary fins would be standalone pieces that will be visible from all angles, meaning I needed them to be smooth on both sides. Thankfully my partner is a maestro with the belt sander and was willing to grind the diamond patterns off the backs for me.

The one on the left is after a good grinding on the belt sander and the right is the original smooth foam surface. Nearly imperceptible, right?

The ears also fan outwards on the actual suit much more than they do on my helmet, so I had to add some spacers to try to push them out.

The back of the head was also a bit of a mess with the spacers and ears getting attached in whatever way would kind of make them work, so I sliced up some thin blanking strips that would go over that stuff and keep it cleaner. The left side is the original mess, the right side has been hidden with the strips.

I then determined that another problem would be the cheeks – they just looked too short based on the first test fit, so I took the original ones off and crafted a larger and longer version to see if it would complete the look better.

Secondary fins on and longer cheeks attached. I think from a three-fourths view it’s really starting to come together now.

Another test-fit. The longer cheeks certainly helped the look, but the facemask is still a very rough draft. That will have to be shortened.

It looks like we had the facemask sitting too low too – the proper Quanta look has the eye strip much narrower.

Attempting to design a smaller one.

The smaller one ended up being too small. It’s really hard to gauge how the face would work on a human because the Quanta’s face is super sunken-in, and we can’t exactly punch my partner until his nose caves backwards into his head to achieve that look. As such, the only approach is to build the cheeks outwards and minimize the facemask, but in this case it looks like I made it a tad too small.

New strategy: modify the original large facemask and shrink it a tad, while making the chin opening larger to make the mouth area look smaller.

Also helped that I took the dremel to the entire backside to make the plate as thin as possible so it would sit flush against the wearer’s face.

This bit on the back of the mohawk suffers from caving in because I cut the foam so thin that it can barely hold its shape.

Solution: stick a foam support pole inside to push it out. That opening will be covered by a clear green piece anyway.

Last part is to craft the chin. For such a small bit, it’s deceptively time-consuming, due to its various sides. Had to be careful to build it with as few seams as possible.

Ultimately though, we’re still going to get seams on the suit no matter how careful we are, and the DryDex wall filler we’ve been using since last year tends to crack and chip when the foam bends, so we needed a filler that would hold itself together better. Enter Kwik Seal – on recommendation, as usual, from Evil Ted.

This stuff fills in just like putty, but dries as a more rubber-like compound, meaning it’ll flex with the foam and won’t crack. The downside is that it can’t really be sanded, but as long as we spread it smooth and even that shouldn’t be a necessity.

Built a blanking plate into the facemask so the chin could attach to it.

Final helmet fit. I think it works. Eyes and clear green parts will come later.

Arms look short at the moment because the wrist guard is supposed to be a separate add-on. Canonically the Quanta was actually designed that way in order to offer it superior movement when wielding its sword, compared to older Gundams that didn’t have as much human-like articulation.

Looking swole.

Rough test of the head and torso together.

Of course the sides of the torso and the back still need to be filled out in order for the full effect, but so far so good.

The abomination that my partner calls the thighs that he mocked up with cardboard. It’s missing a few pieces but this is basically what I have to go off of now that I’m transferring the design into foam.

My buddy actually taught be a more efficient way to create the grooved valleys for the underside of pieces that need to bend – I mentioned above that I was just scoring a line and taking out the material with the dremel. Turns out it would’ve made my life way easier if I just scored two lines in a v-shape down the piece and pulled out the strip, making a clean valley that would allow the piece to bend. Good tips.

I decided to make some edits to my partner’s original cardboard thigh templates since those were rather oversimplified. I ended up screwing up hardcore when I forgot to extend one of the sides of the thigh though, meaning they ended up uneven so I had to remake the entire section all over again.

The piece on top is the piece I screwed up on; it all lines up on the right side but the left is a half-inch shorter, as seen with the correct part sticking out below. This means the entire thing had to be scrapped and a new one made with the half-inch added.

The Master Grade kit of Quanta has some parts of its leg inner frame showing on its thighs (I believe the High Grade doesn’t feature this detail) so of course we have to replicate it here. I started by ironing out the shape on paper, and cutting it out to make a stencil I could trace onto the foam.

The inner details were freehanded; all the little boxes and whatnot aren’t actually precise. It’ll all be painted black or gray later anyway, so it shouldn’t matter much.

Then we scribe all those details in with a knife, take it to a heat gun, and voila look at all those crisp panel lines. These are the luxuries only foam can afford.

Built the front of the thighs out, now just needs the top filled in.

I realized here after most of the thighs were done that I could make the designs even more accurate by cutting a slope into the lower thigh, instead of having it flat as shown on the one on the right.

That slope would then allow the piece that protrudes from the bottom of the thigh and meets the knee to mount at its proper angle.

Confirmed the most complicated thighs we’ve ever had to make. Usually it’s just four rectangles wrapped around with some ornamentation; this time we had dips, raises, and crazy tips coming off the design.

While I made those my partner was cranking out the shoulders.

Started with a basic shape.

Snap your fingers and all the details fall right into place.

The foam is bendy, but that bend in the front face of the shoulder is deliberate – a very subtle body line accurate to the suit.

While we were out grabbing supplies the day before, we happened to make a pit stop at the local Goodwill store to see if we could stumble upon any inspiration.

Turns out we got much better than we bargained for – this clear glass…thing (we don’t actually know what its original purpose could’ve been – it’s certainly not a regular bowl and it has threads at the bottom so we guess it might’ve been for a lighting fixture?) happens to be the perfect size and shape to serve as a mold for our eventual GN Drive and accompanying condenser pieces.

We’ll go into that process in greater detail later, but for a dollar at Goodwill this was a pretty solid find that could prove to be invaluable to the build.

It’s actually the perfect size for the center chest condenser! But of course we’re not actually going to use it in the suit – being glass it’s way too heavy.

It seems like we’re faster than last year – probably due in large part to our familiarity with the material now that we’ve worked with it before. This covers the first three build days – the goal is to go from zero to Gundam in a little over two weeks. So far it seems like we’ll be alright.


Read on the rest of the build:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

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