Introduction: How I Made Garm, Krogan Battlemaster - and You Can Do It Too!
First Prize in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2016
Hello! Welcome to my insanity. My name is Matt, and I like to make costume props and armor - especially massive things that have a hard time fitting through doors. In this iteration, I decided it was time to get even more engrossed in my favorite video game series, Mass Effect, and make me a Krogan. Not just any Krogan though - there are a bunch of really great Wrex and Grunt cosplayers out there, so I wanted to be someone different from them but still recognizable from the game.
I opted for Garm, the Blood Pack Mercenaries leader on Omega. He was described as a "freak of nature", and as one of the biggest Krogan one of the squadmates had ever seen. I also really liked the design of the overall armor: massive sections of solid armor as opposed to the closer fitting, smaller feeling standard you typically saw the Krogan in throughout the game.
Whatever you decide to build though, have some fun with it. Pick something you can be excited with, and follow along with my build to help get you started with yours!
Step 1: Collect Your References
The first thing you want to do, as with any build, is collect as many reference pictures as you can. You can take direct screen captures from the game or movie, or you can scour the internet for ones that people have already uploaded. Get as many different angles as you can find - otherwise one side may not look quite right. Also, be sure to study up on the thing you are building. In my case, I learned that Krogan are between 7 and 7 1/2 feet tall, despite their appearance in cutscenes and in the game being seen as shorter. I ended up opting for the full 7 1/2 feet because, well, massive Krogan!
If you've got the skill to, you can use these references to make a pattern to build your costume. If you're like me, however, I'm still working on that skill and didn't have a lot of time when I first started it, so instead I managed to get a model directly from the game. Of course, as the model was made for a game, and not for wearing, I ended up having to take it into a 3D editor called Blender (after spending a week learning the program) to clean it up and make adjustments for me to be able to fit inside.
After I had the model fixed up, I exported it to a wonderful program called Pepakura Designer. It's an armor costumer's best friend. Honest. With the push of a button, you can turn a 3D object into a 2D pattern, print it out, cut out the pieces, then reassemble them in a physical, 3D object. Of course, when you first hit that button, all the pieces come out in a jumbled mess that need cleaning and organizing, and then when you print them out any larger pieces need their pages taped together so you can cut the whole thing out to trace onto your material. Naturally, once all my pieces were ready and printed, I still needed to do some further adjustments to some of the parts to help things fit better on me.
Step 2: Trace and Cut!
Now that you've got your patterns ready, it's time to transfer them to your material! You can use any material you like: lots of people use thermoplastics like Worbla, regular plastics like Sintra or PETG, and lots of people, like me, use closed-cell foam floor mats (affectionately referred to as "EVA" foam). It's super easy to use, even for beginners, and you don't need expensive equipment to make stuff with it. To put it into perspective: this *entire* build was cut by hand with an Xacto knife. At least the foam parts, I mean. ;)
If you've never worked with foam mats before, I highly recommend trying them out. They're lightweight, you can bend them to shape (or heat form them if they're being uncooperative or if you need a tight curve or something), and you can get them in large quantities for ridiculously cheap. Some even come with patterns on one side, which you can use to accent your piece.
What's really great is you can also cut them in different ways to achieve different effects, which we'll really get into later. The biggest thing that will help you right now is angled vs straight cuts. If you cut an edge straight up and down, the piece that attaches to it will be even. If you want a hard corner though, like you see above with the boots, try an angled cut. You can adjust the angle however steep you need, and even mix and match: cut one side straight and the other at an angle, and instead of a sharp 90 degree corner you'll have something closer to 45!
When gluing, all kinds of glues work - and each has their ups and downs. Originally I used to use superglue. Worked fine, nice bond, but it was brittle and hard and would break if too much bending happened - especially when walking. I also used hot glue at one point early on, but I had problems with the seams melting in the car or when I wore it. Nowadays I use contact cement, the stuff they use to glue soles to shoes and boots. If you're familiar with other foam fabricators, you might have heard of BARGE, a really great (and really expensive) contact cement that works amazingly. BARGE is what I used here. All you have to do is brush on 2 light coats on both pieces, let it sit and dry for ten or so minutes until it's tacky but doesn't come off with your finger, then press the two pieces together. Pretty much a permanent bond (though they do make BARGE remover if you need to fix your seam).
Step 3: Platforms, Version 1
When building a large suit, it's important to get proportions right. Sometimes this means having to stand on risers, platforms, or stilts so that it's more comfortable for you to walk or move (or stand for long periods of time while tons of people swarm you for photos). In my case, I had a bunch of thicker floor mats just sitting around, so I stacked 8 of them up, cut them down to fit into the boots, then glued them in. The great thing about the height the stack gave me is my shoes fit in nice and snug by friction alone, so I didn't have to strap them in or take them off to get in and out.
Of course, I didn't find out until later that this method would cause more harm than good, despite being able to walk around with nice, squishy platforms that were light and easy to walk in. More on that later. For now, the other great thing this did was finally give me a chance to line up the parts where I wanted so that I could rig up how I would actually be wearing the thing.
Step 4: Building a Frame
When making a gigantic creature, robot, monster, whatever, it's important to figure out a way to actually wear it all like you intend. An inner framework is a great way to attach it to yourself, and also acts as a support for large pieces, which would eventually warp or squish otherwise. You can use anything you want, including more foam, though I suggest something sturdier like PVC pipes or aluminum tubes. PVC pipes are what I prefer to use, since they're lightweight, cheap, and you can heat form them if you're careful.
For the Krogan, I used PVC pipes, a couple small pieces of wood (because I ran out of pipes and I had those on hand), and an old frame from a camping backpack I had used on a previous build. It all fit snug, and put the torso right where I wanted it to be. If you do use PVC, make sure to glue it all up so that the frame doesn't fall apart in the middle of you wearing it!
Step 5: Adding Details and the First Test Fit (of Many)
You can add details at literally any point in this process, and you can use a wide variety of materials. I used insulation tubing to fill the large gaps I had left in the foam to simulate the ones in the reference photos. I also frequently build up with craft foam or thinner floor mats layered on the main parts, to give depth and add detail. You can even offset the seam with the regular pattern pieces, giving it a layered, stepped look.
The *most* important thing though, since you're planning on wearing it, is to test the fit as much as possible. You need to make sure it moves and poses like you want, and fits like it's supposed to. If you can walk around in it for an extended period, it'll give you an idea of how long you can wear it before you need to get out of it, as well as any other limitations you might not have thought of - like whether or not you can go to the bathroom in it, sit down, or even if you can fit it in your minivan to get it to where you need to be.
An optional, but fun, thing to do is add articulation to the fingers. There are many ways to do this, depending on what you have available. I've seen awesome 3D printed finger manipulators, or, like I did, simple one-way mechanisms made of a tube of something. For mine, I used more of the insulation tubing from before, glued it in, cut a V on the inside of where I wanted it to bend, then tied fishing wire inside which was attached to a simple 3D printed ring I could pull to bend the fingers.
Step 6: Time for the Head!
If your giant thing is entirely an organic creature, this step may help you the most. In my case, as the Krogan is covered in armor, and the only organic part that is showing is his head.
Be ready when you get to this step, as it will test the limits of your skills with working with foam. Angled cuts, curved bits, and all sorts of weird bends and tight corners will happen everywhere. You may even have to pull out a more advanced trick: undercuts. Undercuts are a great way to use a large piece of foam and add corners and hard curves to it without actually creating a seam. If you cut a large V on the back, but not all the way through, you can glue the two edges together and have a nice, strong, crisp corner. If you cut a line most of the way through the back, you can bend it the other way and have an inside, or valley, fold. Using a mixture of these can have really great results!
I also wanted to eventually make the mouth articulate when I speak, so I left that slit open. It would also need to serve as my eye slit, since it was right at eye level. This is something else you need to plan for: how to see out of your costume!
Step 7: Attaching the Arms and Head, and More Test Fits
Yet another thing to plan for is how many pieces need to come apart - not just for transport, but to put it on and take it off. In my case, I opted to fully attach the arms to the torso. In the references there are two more of those pipe things coming out of the back of the arm holes, which attach to the bicep piece and the elbow quite conveniently. This made it super easy for me to gauge where they would need to sit, and even easier for my arms to go into and manipulate. Your build may be different! You may need to extend your frame to attach each part to or hang them from. Be ready and plan for things like that early on!
As with all costumes, every time you add something new it's always a good idea to do another test fit. In this case, I wanted to verify that the arms were where I needed them, as well as sit the head in so I knew where it would have to be for me to wear it. This is how I found out I'd be looking through the mouth.
The head needed a frame as well, which needed to sit on my head so it could move as I did. The test fit gave me the height level, so I grabbed a cheap hard hat and epoxied some more PVC pipes onto it. That didn't stay very well (which is why it's good to test first if you can), so I ended up using more of the thick foam and BARGE cement. Then I could test fit it on my head, which worked perfectly. Once again though, your needs may be different! Test things out where possible, make sure it fits and moves like you want it to before you finalize it wherever possible.
Step 8: Paint the Body!
Now that your costume is all assembled, it's time for the most exciting part: painting it! This really can be the most exciting part for lots of people, especially me. Now, there are many different ways to paint the floor mats. You can use the gigantic Sharpie markers straight to the foam, you can use spray paint, acrylic paint, latex paint, all kinds. An important step though is to seal the foam first. A lot of people pass over the entire thing with a heat gun, which slightly melts and closes off the outer layer of foam so the colors don't sink in. I personally use Plasti Dip in the spray variety - it's the same stuff they use to coat the handles of your hand tools. Three to six nice coats of it seals the foam perfectly for you to paint on - though try not to spray it on too thick. You'll get drips, and if you put blue painter's tape onto it the thick spots can pull off on you.
You can also use white PVA glue, which is what I used for the Krogan. I didn't want to spend $100 on paint (which is easily what I did for the Thresher Maw), but I was gifted a bottle of white glue from a friend. There was just enough to cover every paintable surface. Then, I got a couple quarts of home interior/exterior latex paint, which I hand painted onto everything. The fun part here is to experiment! Before you paint your costume, be sure to test the process out on some scrap foam to make sure it's going to work like you want. I ended up painting everything red, then a light, randomized dusting of a lighter red, a darker red, and a metallic black, to give it a grungy, used look. Then I painted the black parts, a bit sloppily (on purpose) to look like tribal markings. Technically the black parts in the references are inset sections, but I didn't have near the amount of craft foam I would need for that. Adapting them into tribal markings I think was a great way to adapt the overall look.
For decals, you can get them done in vinyl, or go the super cheap route and make your own stencil! I printed out the symbol, then cut it out with an Xacto Knife, taped it to the shoulders, then dabbed the white on with a sponge. When I took it off, the Blood Pack symbol appeared!
Oh - don't forget to test it out again! ;)
Step 9: Paint the Head!
Just like with the rest, it's always good to test out your painting process before you actually do it on your piece. In the case of the Krogan, I started with a primer (after the white glue of course), then painted the face with an ivory and dusted it with a light brown. This gave it a fleshy sort of tone, which I accented with an extremely light dusting of a darker brown on top. Then I taped off the face and painted the crest red. The wrinkles were hand painted with acrylics.
The eyes I casted in resin, then primed, and painted yellow. I hand painted the black bits, with some speckling to make it more than just a yellow ball with a black line.
If you're resourceful, you can add an eye mechanism to make it move and/or blink. This adds some realism to the build. I opted out of it, since at this point I was out of time to finish. You may have the time though, so don't be afraid to experiment!
Step 10: Camouflage, and Final Details
One thing that can make or break a large costume is whether or not you can see the inner workings - or the performer. Big open parts need something to tie in the rest, in order to cover up frames, straps, and you. You can do this any number of ways; in my case, I used a few yards of black fabric. It was thin, which allowed it to breathe and not add extra heat, but worked well in covering the large open areas in the costume. I used it for behind the head, around the hips, all over the arms (making sure to leave room for total movement), and the insides of the fingers to cover the tubing. This really sealed in the effect.
This is also the best time to make sure all the final details you may have missed are there, like weathering, the last bit of strapping, things like that. I printed out a bunch of Krogan sized rivets, which I glued in place all over the suit.
Step 11: The End!!! or Is It?
Paint dry, details done, camouflaged, everything done! You're done! Well, not exactly. Now it's time for another test fit, to make sure everything still works and looks the way you want it to. It's also a great time to take size comparison shots, like the one with my little 3-year-old toddler you've seen throughout. Even hunkered down I tower over him in this thing.
Walk around, pose, stretch, and take pictures of all angles so you can look at it after and make sure everything works. If it doesn't make adjustments as needed. If it does, great! Walk around a while longer just to make sure. Once it's how you want it, and after the testing, you're all set!
You may notice, though, that these pics don't match the picture at the beginning. Why is that? Well, in this case I was out of time to do this build the justice it deserved, and needed to finish. There was a convention I was going to a few days from this, and I wanted to make sure the paint had time to set so that it didn't stink up the place. This was adequate for what I needed, but not at the level of detail I wanted.
Step 12: Upgrades! Platforms Version 2
After walking around the convention floor a few times, I knew I was going to need some upgrades. First up was the platforms. While the foam was nice and squishy, I had zero ankle and calf support and could only walk around for an hour tops before having to take a 2 hour break. The foam also slipped and slid all over the cement floors of the convention center. I needed something more stable, which is something you're definitely going to want to think about.
Check out other Instructables here or costuming forums for ideas to improve what you've made. In my case, I went and checked out the Warhammer costuming forums, studied several varieties of their stilts and platforms, and settled on one that I thought would work for me. I got a couple 2x4s, cut a couple pieces for the length/width, then chiseled out a chunk on each so they could sandwich flat together in a cross shape. Then I cut out the board for the shoe, measured the remaining distance inside the boot, and cut enough pieces to fit. All of these I screwed together, shaping the corners to fit inside the boot.
Once all that was set, I picked up a cheap pair of slip-on shoes from WalMart, then cut a couple holes in the top so that I could screw them down onto the wood. The screws I covered with a foam insole, both for walking comfort and to keep me from walking on the screws all day.
Lastly I glued on some no-slip shelf liners, which would keep me from sliding everywhere. Then I glued the entire thing into the boot, and painted the wood black on the edges to blend it into the boot better (since it stuck out a bit more than the foam did).
These platforms are *tons* better than the foam, but come with their own problems. They walk better, they're more solid so I can do deeper poses, and they don't slip, but they're easily 10 pounds apiece. So, what I made up for in being able to move around more safely, I lost in weight. My calves were burning something fierce by the end of the day. Leg day was not skipped! XD I'll have to revisit this, remove some weight or at least make it easier to deal with. 'Tis a future fix.
Step 13: Upgrading the Head - Details
Now we're getting to the fun part! If your build is something organic, this is one of the coolest ways I've found to add wrinkles, scarring, bumps, all sorts of things. I learned it from the "How to Make a Dinosaur" instructional series by Ted Haines on www.stanwinstonschool.com. Extremely effective, totally worth the watch. You'll need:
- Upholstery foam, various thicknesses
- Spray Glue (I used Loctite, but 3M 74 Spray is tons better)
- Nylon (pantyhose) or Spandex
- Balloon Latex (to seal - I used white glue again)
First, I taped off the crest and eyes, which I didn't want any glue to get on. Then, I used the previously painted wrinkles as a template to make each piece that I needed, cut each out, sprayed the glue over the spot it was going and the piece I cut, let it sit just like the contact cement, and pressed the piece down flat. The trick here is to use an angle cut on each of the edges. The depth of the angle determines how prominent the bump between them becomes and how tight the wrinkle is, and it also blends the edge into the foam.
As an added detail, you can spray glue onto an edge, then roll it onto itself to create a skin fold. This works great for eyebrows and gum lines. Another bonus is the foam tends to bend and twist as you place it, creating natural wrinkles and bumps with ease. It's great!
Since the foam head already had many of the details I needed, all I had to add to was the eyes (which totally made him The Krogan Bandito) and the neck. Once all that was finished, I stretched the pantyhose all over everything, using the same spray glue to attach it. This also worked really well in adding natural wrinkles, scars, bumps, all sorts of details. You can use spandex as well, which also works great for covering any openings in the neck if you make an articulating mouth (which at this point I decided wouldn't be happening). It creates a jowl really wonderfully, and a stretchy bit of flesh for around the mouth edges. Just glue up the edges of the spandex, leaving the middle free to dangle and stretch, then use the cobwebby texture of the 74 Spray to add all sorts of fun details to it!
Step 14: Upgrading the Head - Painting
Since the upholstery foam is an "open cell" foam, as opposed to the floor mats, anything you try to paint it with will soak right up. You definitely need to seal it first, preferably with balloon latex. That's expensive though, so I opted for more white glue, which worked fine but created a more solid shell around it where the latex would be a softer, rubbery feel. Either way, you won't lose the detail you got with the foam or the nylon. From there, you can paint it like you would anything else: prime, paint, detail. Don't forget to experiment and practice on scraps first!
I was out of primer at this point, but I did have some Plasti Dip left which worked great to cover everything. Then I used the same ivory color I did the last time, and pulled out my airbrush. I painted a black into the wrinkles and around the eyes, just to accent them. Then I went crazy with a tan color, leaving some ivory barely showing in higher spots and trying to blend edges. Lastly I used a darker brown that was translucent and darkened the outer edges of the face and a bit of touch up over the wrinkles to blend them.
For a final bit of detail, I grabbed a randomly patterned fishnet pantyhose from a local party store, stretched it over the brow under the crest and around the chin, and took a sponge with more of the darker brown over it to add the faint darker scale accent pattern from the references.
Experiment with this! You can make all sorts of fun paint patterns with fishnets and other pattern masks and, like the decal from earlier, totally make your own!
Step 15: Upgrading the Head - Fans and Final Details
One other problem I had, despite how open the costume was, was heat. There was little to no airflow in the head, while the body was open enough to allow for some circulation. So, I bought a pair of computer fans that are powered via USB, a couple portable cell phone chargers, and installed them all into the head. The fans themselves are attached to the hard hat, the switch and cables glued to the side wall of the head to not obstruct the view, and the batteries wrapped with velcro and sit under my chin. I would have put them on the side as well, but they're kinda heavy and would throw off the balance, making the head sit askew. Another thing to watch out for! Keeping the balance even makes it easier to walk around in and control.
As a last bit of detail, I 3D printed some teeth, to really finish off the look. Apparently Krogan are omnivores! It's the little things like this that complete the look and add that last bit of realism that you might have been missing.
Step 16: The End!!!! (For Realsies, I Promise)
One last thing: test it again! Test test test! I'm not kidding, test these things out as often as you can, to make sure you know what to expect when you wear it for real. And to get shots of it before you spend all day at a convention and can't hold your arms up any longer. It's totally worth scaring your neighbors just to make sure your gigantic costume works the way you intended, all those steps ago when you were looking up references.
I hope this helps you guys take the plunge to make something big. If you don't think you're ready for something this large, you can still adapt these methods to make something more "you" sized. You can totally use the methods to make anything you want. Of course, if this was too much information all at once and you aren't sure even where to begin, I've got a couple eBooks available to help you get started with foam, or prop making in general! I've got all kinds of write-ups and things on my website you can peruse to get a better grasp of how to use this foam thing that everyone keeps talking about.
Hope you enjoyed! Now get out there and make something!
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