Operation Meteor: Part 6

So, uh, this one is clearly long overdue. Like last year with our Quanta armor, I didn’t have time during the final few days of building and the subsequent rush of the actual convention to churn out the final build log chronicling our last leg of the journey that led to the full Wing suit. We worked until 7am the morning of the actual Expo last year, and told ourselves we would finish a day early this year to prevent the sleep deprivation that resulted before from finishing so late, but obviously schedules are made to be broken.

We left off last time having just started the white Plasti-dipping process. To add some depth and variety to the armor’s colors this year, my partner suggested that we shade it with his airbrush. Given that the Plasti-dip layer was solid white enough to act as the base layer of paint, we simply pre-shaded black on that, followed up by whatever color the piece actually has to be.

My partner’s airbrush had some difficulties at first, compounded given the cheap dollar-store paint we were running through it at the beginning, but it eventually stabilized and became reliable enough that we got most of the suit pre-shaded in good time.

The rattlecan collection that will be going into making this armor pop. To hide some surface blemishes a bit better, we opted to go with a matte final finish this year instead of gloss.

First test with color over a pre-shaded back skirt unit. The shading doesn’t pop nearly as much here, given the darker hue of the blue paint, but it should stand out much more with lighter colors like white and yellow.

Much heavier shading apparent here. The effect is shaping up to be unique and breaks up the large panels nicely – at such a large scale with little carved detail per armor panel, the shading makes up the difference and makes things more interesting to look at.

Helm masked to paint the v-fins yellow.

Getting some weird texturing on the foam of the v-fin – can’t tell if this was from the Plasti-Dip, paint, or otherwise.

For small imperfections like those, we opted to try using Kwik Seal (our seam-filling cauk) as a surface glaze to smooth out the top.

That’s a Gundam head.

Arms masked for different colors.

Some juxtapositions to see what parts look like with shading before and after paint.

Chest orb painted clear green

Rifle dipped black, painted gunmetal, masked, and finally finished in smoke gray for that ultimate 90’s Gundam Wing effect.

So, uh, I think I mentioned last time that the legs were in pretty bad shape. Seams, uneven textures, mountains of Bondo mating with Kwik Seal, you name it. It ultimately bugged me enough to just tear them apart and rebuild them from scratch – a large part of my motivation came from, again, this armor participating in the Masquerade competition. Settling for less was no way to make an impression to the judges.

Thankfully, rebuilding these legs would really be as easy as cutting the old ones apart and flattening their parts out to create fresh patterns to build from. The originals were built from a rough shape, then constantly modified and cut to their final forms. This resulted in a damn good looking shape, but at the cost of lots of seams and generally messy construction finish.

The calves were some of the messier pieces, being built from two halves so it had a nasty seam running down each face. The rebuilt versions still have a slit up top where it’ll come together to give the piece its convex shape, but this is infinitely preferable to the preceding attempt.

When crafting these new units, I was careful to ensure that almost every single seam where foam joined foam would actually be in the place of an actual panel line from the kit. This way I won’t have to worry about getting seamless connections – they’re meant to show.

A slight drawback is being unable to recreate that nice curve in the shin area as it dips in the middle and flares out at the bottom. I’m pretty sure the only way to get that look is to cut into the front of the shins and introduce the curve as a separate piece, but I was more concerned about keeping the legs completely seam-free than I was about keeping a look that would only be apparent from side angles.

Backpack unit finished, complete with an opening center panel so we can always check on the status of the actuator and wing arms, should something go wrong.

Finally dipping the last parts – the wing assembly.

And this is where it all goes horribly wrong. While flipping the wings over to Plasti-Dip the reverse side, one of the metal arms snapped along the pivot point rail.

Actually probably the worst thing that could happen when we’re so close to our deadline.

Given that, there was no time to panic – we immediately set to work cutting the section of broken metal off from the rest that was secured to the wing – there was no way we could pull the entire bar from the wing since it was already too attached to the rest of the assembly.

A new rail section was cut out, exactly as we had done before.

To get this new section on the old piece of bar that now stuck out of the wing, we hit it with the one-two rivet/zip tie combo. It isn’t going anywhere (we hope).

Both wings back in functioning order within a few hours. I like to think we used up all of our bad juju here with the wings breaking before con, so we’re now safe from any catastrophic failures during the Expo.

For our Masquerade performance, we needed a beam saber. The logical thing to do would be to get a custom Force FX style saber, from custom saber shops like SaberForge and the like. Those things are cheap if you just want a basic hilt and a blade that lit up without any of the fancy designs or sound effects (which is what we’re after), but unfortunately with such a close deadline we couldn’t get anything from them in time (everything we ordered was slated to arrive after the Expo). Obviously though, we didn’t want to spend the $130+ on an official Star Wars Force FX lightsaber, so we stepped down to the next best thing – a $50 saber from the Disney Store. These are better than the flip-out cheap sabers you find at WalMart and Toys R Us, but not as long or as realistically detailed as the top-of-the-line Force FX stuff.

We could’ve just run the saber as it was, since we’re only using it for the on-stage Masquerade performance where most people won’t even be able to tell that the hilt is actually Luke Skywalker’s, but decided to go the extra mile to take it apart and attempt to create our own Gundam saber hilt for it instead.

And that’s where it all went wrong. For some inexplicable reason parts of the saber like the lights just stopped functioning after we freed the wiring from its plastic shell. We checked all the connections and they were all solid, but still things just didn’t work. Putting it back together and pretending none of this happened wasn’t an option now, so our only hope was to go in and tear it apart further to try to get this thing back in working order.

The LEDs that made up the saber blade were contained inside three layers of clear tube, all meant to diffuse the light for a smoother blade.

Eventually, we decided to throw the original blade lights out altogether, since if we were going to build our own saber from scratch at this point, we might as well go for a proper length blade. This led to a purchase of some LED strips from the local auto store meant for car applications (think: underglow or underdash lighting).

For the blade cover, the idea was to have the thinner diffuser tube slide part-way into the exterior tube, forming a longer blade overall but with a seam around the middle, similar to how the cheap Wal-Mart sabers work.

Our own custom hilt was built from PVC pipe – all the switch/light wiring and power source would be shoved inside the cylinder. The battery that powered the lights was actually a tad too large to fit perfectly, so cuts had to be made to make it work.

The saber hilt is now certainly much more Gundam than Star Wars, but the blade still isn’t quite cutting it. We were having quite a few problems diffusing multiple “hotspots” where the LEDs on the strip would bunch up and be right up against the inside of the blade cylinder. Furthermore, this beam saber is one-directional – the LED strips we bought only emit light one way, meaning if we turned the saber around you wouldn’t be able to see the blade light.

So, even after all this work and money spent, it was really for naught – we decided to scrap the whole thing rather than run it during Masquerade and embarrass ourselves in front of a crowd. The Days 1 & 2 coverage of Anime Expo has details of how we ended up ordering a genuine Luke Skywalker Force FX lightsaber at the last minute (blessed be Amazon Prime and their 2-day shipping) and used that for the show instead – something we should’ve just done from the get-go instead of sinking nearly $100 into this failed endeavor.

Continuing on the subject of lighting – we lit Qan[T]’s chest orb last year, so we knew it could be done and already had an idea of how to wire everything up efficiently for Wing’s “search eye” orb.

We originally also wanted to have a second set of red LEDs in the chest that would turn on during our Masquerade performance when the Gundam took damage, but for some reason they turned out super dim – you could barely see them if it wasn’t pitch black out. Without time to order a new set of LEDs or troubleshoot different wiring for this, we decided to just drop it altogether.

Our building/painting ethic is kind of backwards – we like to assemble and finalize parts completely before paint, rather than painting certain pieces in their respective colors before assembly. Doing so would minimize the amount of masking needed when doing multiple colors on one unit, like this gigantic torso/skirt/shoulders unit that’s just one piece.

It’s a special kind of Hell, having to mask certain sections, paint, then mask those freshly painted sections in order to do the next color around it. If we’re doing one gigantic torso/skirt/shoulder unit again next year, I need to remind myself to glue those pieces together at the very end (though that becomes impractical when we need these pieces glued together for test fits before paint).

Shield masked for red.

The newly assembled legs are a million times cleaner than their predecessors, but are suffering slightly from the weird texturing that I encounter occasionally when using matte coat on my model kits. Some light sanding and re-spray managed to correct this.

The helmet eyes will be done using the same metallic green mesh overlaid on sunglasses lenses that we used for Qan[T] last year.

Because the helmet is a tight fit as it was without the lenses in place, I decided to forsake the thick foam eye bezel in favor of a thinner bit cut out of plastic sheeting.

Masking the wings for paint was a similarly unpleasant experience as the torso unit, though made worse because everything is stupidly gigantic and difficult to handle (the trauma of breaking a frame bar again was also always with us every time we touched these things).

My partner then went in with his airbrush to post-shade all the yellow parts on the suit (including of course the gigantic wing sections) in orange.

Inner-frame bits masked and painted oil-rubbed bronze (gunmetal).

Backpack painted.

Flip switch wired to control the up/down of the actuator and wings, installed to the sideskirt so the wearer could activate it at will. Quick connect butt plugs were used in the wiring so we could easily disconnect the wiring to allow for de-suiting, since the switch is attached to the front torso unit while the actuator itself is in the backpack.

Exposed shoes were wrapped in black fabric to conceal them while the armor is worn.

Finally getting to the last bits of strapping as we prepared for the final pre-con suit-up. The lower legs are, of course, being suspended from the thighs as usual. We do this to ensure the lower legs don’t “spin” around and are always aligned with the thighs, which will in turn be suspended at the wearer’s waist, guaranteeing that nothing will be out of forward alignment when worn.

The thigh units turned out to be too tight a fit, so we ended up cutting the inside panels in half and introducing elastic, so it would open and flex outwards when worn.

One final strap adjustment we wanted to add was a buckle that ran from the X-shaped torso straps that hung the backpack/wing assembly to my partner’s body to his belt. This would pull the X-straps down and away from his neck, alleviating the choke that was a side effect of having such a heavy backpack unit as it pulled down on his chest. The downside is that transferring that stress to the buckle that ran to the center of his belt meant that he had a perpetual groin wedgie while wearing this.

FInally all together. This is the first time we’ve seen the pieces and entire suit together in color – and it’s so gloriously 90’s Gundam.

As good a job as we think we did on the proportions though, it became immediately clear that this was one of our least comfortable suits to be in. The wing assembly is absurdly heavy thanks to the actuator assembly and uh, giant wings, but at least it didn’t threaten to torque the entire chest sideways the way Quanta’s shield did.

Chest confirmed lit. We don’t have any fancy light-up lettering in here as we did last year, since Wing’s orb is literally just that – a big green orb – so we had some trouble figuring out proper diffusion for the light inside. The battery pack that powers the light will of course be shoved in the chest cavity later – it’s not going to just hang out of the vents forever.

And the wings confirmed do go up. So this was it – as finished as it was going to get, until we went in and added some modifications and fixes during the Expo. We had about two and a half (optimistically pushing three) hours of sleep between calling this thing done and getting up to head over to the Expo – cosplay is a strenuous hobby kids.

 

Read on the rest of the build here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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