Have you ever wondered how they made those super awesome, hyper-realistic looking space suits for movies like "Gravity" and "The Martian?" Are you interested in learning how to make something so incredibly true to life that NASA could potentially call you and ask you if you stole a suit from their astronauts? Do you have an unlimited budget and a team of highly skilled artisans and craftsmen at your beck and call?
If you answered yes, then this Instructable is NOT for you. Sorry.
HOWEVER, if you're interested in making a space suit for around $100 that looks like MacGuyver threw it together one night in a drunken rage, then this IS the Instructable for you!
I'm a (sometimes) costume designer for a little film production company called The Asylum. We make movies like Sharknado and Hansel vs Gretel and Jersey Shore Shark Attack. (Go ahead, laugh all you want, but when your lonely butt is on the couch on a Saturday night watching TV alone, odds are, you're watching one of our movies!)
Anyway, our budgets for these projects are small...really small...tiny...miniscule...which means we have to figure out creative ways to think and work outside the box.
So come along with me as I show you how to make a space suit that's good enough for an Asylum film (but will absolutely kill you if you ever actually decided to somehow try to wear it in space.)
Step 1: First Thing You Need Is Inspiration...
I started this project out by looking at a huge selection of space suits. I even got the chance to see some real equipment that a guy had in his private collection. That gave me an idea of where to start and what I wanted the suits to ultimately look like.
Results: They look AMAZING but are way out of my budget.
So then I started thinking about how to do them on an ultra low budget scale...
The first thing I needed was a helmet.
Step 2: Know Your Budget Is Low and Aim Lower...
I looked at a ton of helmets! From motorcycle to old vintage Army surplus stores but there wasn't anything out there that would work for what I had to spend. So then I looked at costume helmets and came across these novelty helmets. They look goofy but hey....I'm willing to work with goofy if it fits my budget! So I ordered 6.
When they came in I had a lot of fun playing with them but realized they needed a TON of work.
Time to start painting!
Step 3: Peel and Paint!
Before I could paint them I had to peel off the stickers that were on the helmets. Luckily for me, these helmets, although cheap, had really nice fabric American flags stuck to them. A little heat from a heat gun and they came right off.
I saved them to use again later.
Then I sprayed them all white using just regular old white spray paint. I prefer the Rustoleum plastic paint. It covered the bright orange and blue paint with just two coats and was easy to work with.
I also removed all the plastic face shields as they were blue and needed to be remolded in clear plastic. I found a guy who was willing to help out and mold me six new face shields.
While those were drying it was time to tackle some other important parts of the costume...
Step 4: Pad 'em Up!
Everyone knows part of what makes a space suit so cool is all the pads and extra stuff...so I started looking for affordable (cheap) ways to incorporate something into my costume that would resemble the chest packs being seen on more and more modern spacesuits in movies.
I ended up settling on some Bauer Hockey Pads. Not only were they what I needed as far as the look, at $25 on sale, I had to say yes.
I added in a few Army Surplus backpack padded belts and started stripping logos and painting them to look like they all belonged together.
Step 5: All the Way From England!
I knew I needed all white coveralls for this look but I didn't want to use the Tyvek suits because not only were they too lightweight, they were also really noisy. I needed fabric ones...but amazingly enough, the only ones I could order were from Dickies and were ONLY available in England!
I reached out to the company, begged and pleaded, and they rushed me six full suits.
I also picked up some cheap knee pads from Home Depot to paint grey.
Step 6: Oh, the Iron-y!
While the pads were in progress and the suits in transit, it was time to go back to the helmets.
I found (by accident) that the absolute BEST "space" fabric out there for my purposes was the same fabric they use to cover ironing boards in. It's silver-ish and has the right weight and look to it to look futuristic. Once my helmets were all spray painted, I made custom covers for them out of the fabric. I then used the same fabric flag stickers I'd peeled off them and put them back onto the back of the helmets for realism!
I also added in a ring of rubber pipe insulation to help make them comfortable to wear long term.
In order to create the "click and lock" system most space suits have between the helmet and the chest pack, I used Gemma type bucket lids. I actually cut out the center of the top ring, creating a massive donut that fit right around the base of the helmets. I then used my Dremel to remove all the screw threads between the two pieces so instead of screwing together, you could just drop the helmet into the chest pack ring and it would sit there. In order to make them stick together, I embedded ultra strong rare earth magnets onto both pieces so they would "click" when locked together. An added and unexpected bonus: I alternated the polarity of the magnets around the helmet so if you misaligned it to the neck ring when you put it on, it would automatically "spin" and lock into the proper position. I wish we'd gotten that on camera!
To help sell the authenticity of the look....aw hell, who am I fooling. "Authenticity." Sheesh. Okay...to make these look more...I don't know...something, we also added worm screw pipe clamps to the neck rings.
In these photos the neck ring connectors are silver. I used AC Duct tape to cover them. They were switched to red later in production per the producers.
I also used the silver fabric to make longer gauntlets on canvas work gloves that I'd purchased. I liked the thick leather and canvas gloves because not only did they look good, they were a bitch to do anything in...which made everything you were trying to do slow...and space like!
Oh, and the clear face shields came in and looked great! To help hide the fact they were just plastic and to give the helmets a bit of flash as well as make them easier for the actors to open when wearing bulky gloves, I edged all the face guards with chrome door edging.
Step 7: The Suits Arrive and a First Trial Run
When the suits got here I was so happy! They looked great! Time to play dress up!
Hey, when you put this much work into it, you have to try things on to see how it's coming along.
It looked....okay...at this point, but it's clear there was still a lot of work to do.
Step 8: Back to the Chest Packs!
Now that the helmets were essentially done, it was time to start putting it all together with the chest packs.
I used RV Waste water pipes (clean) and PVC pipe coupling that I spray painted red and blue to attach the hoses to the chest packs. I also used grey paint to cover the shoulder pads and attached white frog lights to them using zip ties.
Using velcro, I attached blue and grey hydration bags to the back of each of the hockey pads and used them to help hide the ends of the hoses.
The grey chest plates in the center of each pack is actually just a plastic sprinkler system timer cover.
Step 9: It's Starting to Look a Little More Like Space!
I ended up taking my white suits and lightly dying them grey. It's a trick they do a lot for production called "Teching." If you leave them bright white, it interferes with the way the camera sees them, resulting in "blow out." It's when you get that weird "glow" on screen. The grey was just enough to keep the camera's happy and light enough to still loo white on screen.
Oh, and the boots were nothing more than just surplus white snow boots that I ordered online and painted the bottoms grey. Super easy.
Now to send everything to Florida and see how they fit the actors and stunt team!
Step 10: Our First Stunt Test!
Once we got to Florida where we were shooting, it was time to see how these things looked on film. We rigged up one of our stunt team and he put the suit through the paces. A few minor adjustments later and we were ready for camera!
Step 11: ...and Roll Camera!
Here are some shots I took while we were working with my suit, as well as some stills from the final film. Ian is one of the nicest guys I've ever met and I have to give him major credit for not only wearing the suit (3 of them eventually) but crawling through a massive fake shark gut at the same time.
The suit was so bloody by the end that when it dried, it would stand up on its own. Nasty.
Step 12: If You Haven't Seen the Movie...
Shameless plug. Go watch it. Have fun doing it. It's clearly not a serious piece of cinematic history that's going to change your world views on anything important (except maybe shark conservation), but it is a great way to spend a few hours laughing. I'd encourage alcohol as well.
If nothing else, turn this Instructable into a drinking game.
Ever time you spot a pipe clamp on screen, take a shot.
Every time a knee pad falls off (stupid things), take a shot.
Every time you see...well, you get the idea.
Have fun and if nothing else, I hope I've inspired you all to make your own ultra low budget space suits for fun this Halloween.
Oh, and final tally on price? Not counting labor, each suit came out to about $150.