After finishing the second season of the TV series "Arrow", I knew I would have to make a Deathstroke costume. While tempted by the concept art for Injustice, there were too few clear pictures of it, so I settled on the Arkham Origins version of Deathstroke.
Using mainly foam, this costume turned out to be far more flexible, comfortable and lighter than my previous fibreglass builds, and the simple dual colour paint job was both eye catching and quick to complete.
The build time was about 10 weeks (200 hours) and cost about £60 in parts. Some I'd already purchased for use with my other costumes, like the thermal top, and others I had plenty spare after finishing (glue gun sticks). Other inexpensive items I used, but already had were elastic and Velcro, although these are available at a low cost of around £1 a metre (I used about a metre of each). A rough breakdown of the material cost is as follows.
- £20 - 12x EVA foam tiles
- £10 - Tactical belt and pockets
- £10 - Thermal top with hood
- £5 - Gun holster
- £5 - 50x Glue gun sticks (11mm x 300mm)
- £5 - 5m brown cushion webbing
- £3 - Brown martial arts belt
- £3 - Black gloves
- £1 - Bronze rivets
With a completion time of around 200 hours, the time span was closer than I would have liked to the 300 hours my fibreglass Halo armour took, however, at least 50 hours of this costume was taken up in working out how to turn the armour sections into 2D nets, measuring the reference images, and drawing the designs onto foam. The lack of needing to resin or fibreglass the majority of the costume (Except for the mask) meant the building stage was significantly shorter, and could be done without having to make numerous trips outside to mix resin.
Credit to Tom Rose and Robert Mann for taking the first and second images respectively
Step 1: Tools
The main tool in your arsenal. A single side of the blade should see you through 1-2 sheets of EVA foam before it starts to snag and needs rotating or replacing, however, where it is necessary to cut horizontally through the foam to produce a thin layer just a few mm thick (Outlines for the abs, spine and shoulder pads), anything other than a fresh blade will have you sawing away at the foam like a mad doctor. A new blade will let you cut out these thin overlays with just a few sideways strokes.
I actually used a paint stripper, but a heat gun would have the same effect. Its purpose is to allow you to bend the foam to curve and even dome it (Press it firmly over a knee while it is hot), and retain its shape after cooling. It also helps to seal the foam so it doesn't act like a sponge when painting it.
Hot Glue Gun
The best way to attach foam sections to each other. If you have any small gaps between overlapping sections, glue can also be used to fill them.
This is actually made one out of an old soldering tip, a used blade and a pair of motherboard standoffs. It was great for two things; chamfering foam details that I'd already stuck down and were inconvenient to cut with a knife, and using as a spatula to melt and smooth out glue along "weld" lines. The soldering iron was relatively low powered, and the blade large enough to act as a heat sink, and dissipated heat very quickly, so it didn't cut as fast as a Stanley knife could, but it's worth considering getting a dedicated hot-knife tool if you can afford one.
Step 2: References
Without a definitive template, clear reference pictures from multiple angles are essential. Luckily, for Arkham Origins there is a high definition render of Deathstroke both textured and un-textured (Easier to determine edges and overlaps from cosmetic grooves), as well as close ups from various angles, giving a better insight into how the complex "rib" armour at his sides, or his gloves could be made.
For the majority of the armour, I determined the size of each individual section by scaling the CGI render to my height. Adding another 3cm to my height to account for the boots and mask, I scaled the image so that Deathstroke's front profile was 1850 pixels high (Using the middle of his feet as the base), allowing easy conversion to millimetres.
His character model is slim, but very broad shouldered, with a wide torso, so even though the arms and legs can be measured as they are, it will be necessary to adjust the torso/abdomen armour accordingly. I had a cloth tape measure on hand, which allowed me to get the right lengths for the overlapping "ribs" after subtracting the width of the front plating.
Step 3: Mask
The availability of 2D nets for Deathstroke's mask made Pepakura a good method to construct the mask. While the rest of the armour comprises of gently curved sections, the mask is essentially a dome with a sharp bend radius, which puts it beyond the scope of just heating and bending foam.
Pepakura and fibreglass can be combined to produce a highly detailed, rigid structure. As detailed tutorials already exist, a brief overview of the process is as follows: Start by searching the internet and downloading a Pepakura (.pdo) file which can be opened using Pepakura Viewer (Free software) and viewed as both a 2D and 3D model. Alter the size if required, then print off the 2D net onto 160gsm A4 card. Cut out the shapes from the sheets (This mask took up 5 pages of A4), score along the fold lines, fix together with a fast acting glue, then strengthen with resin and fibreglass before smoothing with Isopon and painting. I did not include the fibreglass or resin in the material list because this part can be made from foam instead, using the printed design as a template, although card is easier to work with for fine details. Starter fibreglass kits are available for about £10 from Halfords.
I did not have any orange spray paint, so I used watered down acrylic (1:2 paint/water ratio) to reduce viscosity and prevent brush strokes showing up. Using a high speed multi tool to create scratches and painting them with silver acrylic was effective at creating realistic wear.
Step 4: Body Armour
EVA foam floor tiles are great for custom armour. They can be heated and bent, are flexible enough to wear comfortably, they're strong, and hot glue creates really strong joins between edges and layered sections.
They are available from eBay and places like Halfords for about £20 (For a pack of 12 tiles sized 60x60cm). You'll need about 9-10 tiles for this costume providing you arrange the cut-outs to minimise waste: Roughly 75% of the foam ended up in the actual costume. Depending on where you shop, you may find them as 8mm thick sheets, or 12mm. The latter are more rigid, but less easily domed, and will inevitably be heavier. I'd recommend the 8mm sheets for armour designed to conform to your body.
Using the rescaled reference image, measure the heights of each piece of armour, and transfer the design onto something large like a sheet of newspaper. I began with the ankle and shin armour, which was easier to measure, but things like thigh, torso and abdomen sections should be measured based on your own body using a cloth tape. It is not necessary to get the dimensions perfect, in fact, just measuring the height and approximate width should be sufficient, before free handing the angles and lengths of other sides. Fold the newspaper in half to get symmetrical patterns where relevant, and flip the sheet over when tracing out pieces for your other leg / arm.
To create the raised edges on the abdomen and shoulders, rest the Stanley knife on the table adjacent to the foam sheet you want the edges to go on, and cut several mm from the smooth side. This may take several strokes because it's hard to apply pressure when the blade is horizontal, but once you have cut in about 15mm, cut down from above to release the thin layer, then stick it to the other side with hot glue. Unless the piece is perfectly mirrored, it is unlikely to align exactly, but the flexibility of the foam will help you match the edges by either stretching or compressing it.
Details can be engraved with either a hot knife or a sharp Stanley knife.
Step 5: Neck Seal
The neck seal is one of the few parts of the costume that I felt required a template based on my actual body rather than measurements from concept art. I used duct tape to cover most of my neck and shoulders (Be careful not to make it so tight as to restrict your breathing) then carefully peeled the front flap away from my skin and cut it open.
I then cut this into 4 sections that would fold almost entirely flat, and transferred the patterns to paper so that I could fold them in half and trim them to produce completely symmetrical sections. These were then pinned to EVA foam sheets and traced around so that the designs could be cut from foam as previously shown. The higher degree of shaping needed for these meant that they had to be bent prior to gluing it: The high temperatures of the heat gun would melt the glue and allow the pieces to separate again.
Step 6: Painting
If you have time, use a 50/50 mix of water and PVA to prime the foam with several layers of glue. Otherwise, go straight into mixing paint, water and PVA glue in equal parts to hand paint the foam. If necessary, dilute the mix with more water until blush strokes can no longer be seen. It may take 3-5 layers until the colour of the foam is sufficiently hidden. I painted the grey first, then gave the entire armour a light coat of dark silver, before painting the orange details on. Use a slightly damp wad of kitchen towel to use a watered down mix of black acrylic paint as a "grime wash" on the orange sections.
The silver dry brushing process only requires a single pass, and does not need the paint to be diluted or mixed with PVA. Add it to the edges first, with greater emphasis on the corners. When the paint on the brush has almost run out, start brushing it across the grooves and indentations on the inside of pieces. This makes it harder to accidentally paint silver on the areas you don't want. I usually try to use dry brushing conservatively, with it showing up mostly on corners and protruding edges, but with this design it helped emphasise edges and grooves by adding it almost everywhere that wasn't a flat surface. Gradually fading out from grooves gives the illusion that they are darker than the surrounding paint.
Step 7: Attachments
Tactical belts and pouches are widely available on eBay and from airsoft or paintball suppliers, and are usually designed to fit on 4-5cm wide belts.
I initially made a shoulder loop from scratch using faux leather fabric, and clothes line to prevent stretching, but it was too thin in the middle, so I bought a long karate belt for about £3 and put rivets in it by making a hole with a small screwdriver, poking the rivet through, cutting the excess length off the rivet with a pair of pliers, squeezing it to make it round again, then capping it off with the other half of the rivet. I fashioned a square ring from left over metal rods and sewed that to the other end so the other end of the belt could be looped through and back on itself. I only used enough rivets to cover my front and back, which totalled about 50 (With 6cm spacing along the belt).
I found that padded webbing looked very similar to the leather details and straps, so I used that rather than standard webbing or stitching leather strips. I tacked them into place with hot glue, but anything other than direct foam-to-foam doesn't adhere well, so they required stitching in place. On the opposite side, two strips of thin webbing acted as guides for the elastic straps that held the torso together. Whenever it was necessary to attach Velcro or elastic to the foam, I would instead sew them to a strip of foam that I had cut laterally, then glue that to the actual foam piece. This prevents them from peeling off, but avoids stitches showing through on the other side.
For the gloves, I traced around my hands and cut the shape out from orange plastic, removing several mm between each section to aid movement. After heating and bending the plating, I glued them to the gloves, and gave them a light coat of black spray paint to darken them to the same colour as the rest of the armour (Not shown in photos). I put them on and took them off several times over the course of a recent comic con, and lost 5 of the plates. I'd recommend finding a pair of "hard knuckled" gloves and painting the knuckles by hand instead: This greatly reduces the workload and would be more durable than scratch made gloves.
The shotgun shells were real (but empty) shells I found near a public footpath behind a nearby farm. Some were a bit rusty, although a light sanding with fine grit sandpaper removed the worst of it. I used the faux leather fabric to create a small series of six loops to hold them in, and attached the other two using thin string and hot glue.
Step 8: Finishing
I gave everything a light coat of clear lacquer to protect the paint, and tested it all for size. While I used webbing and Velcro for the majority of pieces, elastic is essential for the kneecaps and abdomen, as these need to stretch as you bend down and breathe respectively.
The paint is pretty durable, but after attending the October 2014 London MCM Expo, the paint had become wrinkled in places; mostly from being scompressed in storage on the way down to London. Other than that, I feel it turned out rather well. It's comfy, eye catching, and uses materials and techniques familiar to most people.
Step 9: Bonus Step: Extended Tutorial on Forearm Armour
The forearms are comprised of 2-3 overlapping layers, with the grey sections forming the outermost layers, and the orange lying underneath the top half. The orange section makes use of two score lines on the inside to achieve sharper bends, and is bevelled on each side to help it merge with the outer layers (Prevents sharp edges inside).
The two black rectangles were cut out, sunk in, and re-glued to avoid making any un-necessary cuts.
The sketches for the right forearm shown in the first image are approximations of the original dimensions, since they change when bent or heated, so they serve as a rough outline, The lettering system I used isn't strictly designed to show where 2 points meet, but does show how far around the wrist each part should be, for example: Points labelled "A" will be on the left side of your right arm as it is held out infront of you, points "C" will be underneath, points "D" will be on the right side and point "H" is at the top. The 3 sections on the lower page of sketches all join up edge to edge to form a complete circle, although I fitted the underarm and orange sections together first to test the fit on my arm.