Introduction: Gladiator Armor Build - Helmet

About: A self-taught costumer, hobbyist, and creature crafter.

This helmet is the first in a series of gladiator armor builds. This build was partially inspired by the book series The Valiant by Lesley Livingston, a story about a female gladiator. I had wanted to make an EVA foam build for awhile now, and after I read the book I knew it had to be a gladiator costume.

So if you want to learn how to make a gladiator inspired costume...



You Will Need -

  • Craft foam
  • Worbla*
  • Clay Foam Or Other Plume Material*
  • Paint
  • Scissors
  • Heat Gun
  • Paint Brushes
  • Markers
  • Wax Paper Or Other Heat Protective
  • Toothpicks
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Hot Glue Sticks

Optional Items You May Want...

  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Laptop
  • Someone To Use As A Head Model
  • Cotton Balls
  • Wavy Foam Slab
  • Floral Foam
  • Exacto Knife
  • Dremel Tool

*Note - For the Worbla and Clay Foam you may have to order them online, as the materials are a more exotic material than what is normally carried at craft stores.

Worbla is a thermoplastic material. Ooo big word. It basically means that when you heat it up you can mold it into any shape and when it cools it keeps that shape. Also, while it is hot it has the ability to self-adhere to other pieces of worbla. This is due to the glue within the material that is activated by the heat. Worbla is a professional costume maker material, and if you don't want to spend the money on it you can buy EVA foam instead of craft foam and use it. EVA foam is a specific foam type that is used for a lot of armor builds amongst the costume making world. If you use EVA foam you wouldn't need worbla, and you can see how to work with EVA foam in my upcoming shoulder armor tutorial. For now though, let's pretend that you choose to use the foaming worbla technique.

Foam Clay is also a material typically used when making costumes. It comes in a tub and you can mold it just like you would clay. After it's drying period the 'clay' has dried into a light weight foam.

Step 1: Research, Research, Research

This is an optional step, but I HIGHLY recommend it. I personally took hours of notes looking up different videos, tutorials, and information needed for my project. Even if you are building something with your own design it can still be helpful to have examples and tips from others.

Some things you may want to research are...

  • Design ideas
  • Tips and tricks
  • Building techniques
  • Examples of similar builds
  • Materials needed for your specific build
  • How to work with the different materials
  • Any other information related to what you're making

Step 2: Trash Model

Now that you have your plan you can start to build the general form. What I did was make a 'trash model'. This refers to using material you would normally throw away, such as paper or cardboard, to create a rough model or template of what you want to create. By doing this you can see if anything is off, needs fixed, or if your design is what you want. Using the 'trash model' technique really is a lifesaver if you mess up because you aren't messing up with your actual material, which sometimes can be very costly.

However, if you aren't wanting to spend the time building your own model you can go online where there are already pre-made templates you can purchase. This will save you time, but it may also cost you more money, and it is a general template; not specific to your individual project.

Step 3: Templating

After you have your 'trash model' or template done you can then cut it apart into flat sections. Taking these sections you would lay them overtop of your material you are wanting to cut out. In this case it is my craft foam.

Note:The color of the foam shouldn't matter as it will be inside of the helmet and you won't see it from the outside. But if having weird color foam bothers you, it is ok to use the same color foam.

After you have the templated sections laid out on your foam you will trace them out. I recommend a permanent marker as normal markers don't stay on, and pens/pencils run the risk of puncturing your foam. Once you have all the pieces traced out on the foam you will do the same thing for the worbla. However, when tracing on the worbla you want to leave an excess edge, about 1/2 inch, on the outside of your template. This is so when you apply the worbla to the foam you have room to bend it over the edge to help hold the worbla in place.

Note:Be careful how you are templating. If you are flipping templates around that could effect how they are put together, or you could end up with two of the same piece.

After you have everything traced on both foam and worbla you can cut it all out. Now at this point you will end up with a ton of different pieces that look more or less the same. It will be a huge help for you to label your pieces. I labeled them according to the different parts on your head; left front eye piece, right front eye piece, left side panel, back panel 1, etc. Also, because some of the pieces could be tiny, or because you simply don't want to write all that out, it helps to abbreviate. For example on left front eye piece, I abbreviated it LF eye and for back panel 1 I labeled it BP1.

Step 4: Attaching Worbla to Foam

Having all the pieces now cut and labled you can start the next step; attaching the worbla to the foam. Keep in mind that, as stated in the supplies section, worbla is a thermoplastic material. So for this you are going to want your heat gun. I personally didn't want to spend a bunch of money for a good heat gun, so I bought an embossing heat gun. Both work, but I like mine because it isn't temperamental and has two heat settings, as well as it is cheaper.

What you are going to do is place wax paper or a protective cover over your work space, and get your heat gun ready. Personally I used my high setting, but for different guns the heat difference could be an issue. If the gun is too hot it can burn and bubble your worbla. If it is too cold it won't heat up the worbla enough to mold. Try experimenting on scrap pieces to find the temperature that works with your gun.

Once you have your gun and workspace set you are ready to heat the worbla. Place your gun a good height from the worbla (again, the height depends on your gun and temperature) and systematically heat the flat piece of worbla. As you are heating you will notice that the worbla turns slightly shiny. This is due to the glue within the material being activated. That shiney also helps you tell what area you have heated and what is left to heat. Once you have it heated evenly it should have the texture and consistency of a fruit roll up. Take your still warm piece of worbla and lay it squarely overtop of the identical piece of foam you cut out earlier. Apply an even amount of pressure and the glue in the worbla will help fuse it to the foam. Once it is pressed onto the foam you may have to heat up the edges again so you can fold the excess around the edges of the foam. By doing this you are making sure that the worbla cannot slip off the foam. Once it has cooled you should have worbla encased pieces.

Step 5: Putting the Pieces Together & Detailing

Now that you have the worbla encased pieces you are ready to put it all together. You should heat up the edges of two pieces that you are wanting to put together. Once they are shiney and hot you can the press two edges together. The glue within the worbla will help adhere them and once it has cooled it will keep its shape. You may want to Dremel or sand the edges down to help make the helmet look smoother. The Dremel tool is like a mini, hand-held sander. You can see the Dremel tool in the second picture.

Note:During this you will want to periodically heat up the pieces and curve them to the shape you want the helmet to be, such as curving.

Repeat that process to eventually get your full helmet shape!

Now that you have your helmet shape you can add details; such as waves, scales, and spikes. To get your detailing pieces I made a paper trash model of the details. Doing the trash model helped me realize that I had made my pieces bigger than I needed, so I cut it down to size. Having the pattern down I traced it onto the worbla. Then I heated up that piece and stuck it to the sides of the helmet.
For the front pieces of detailing I wanted them to be more pronounced and 'pop out' of the helmet shape. So I repeated the trash model, but when I went to trace it out I traced it out on both foam and worbla. Then I heated up the worbla of the helmet and when it was shiney I pressed the foam onto it. Once it had cooled I reheated the edges and the piece of worbla I had just cut out. Then I draped the piece over the foam on the helmet. This created the effect that the worbla was 'popping out'. For each project you will have to adapt the different techniques and designs to what you are wanting.

Step 6: Base Painting & Antiquing It

Note: Because of time I was rushed so I kinda 'cheated' and used a spray paint and primer. You won't want to use this as it isn't flexible and tends to crack if moved. Also, when you go to prime the helmet you will want to use flexbond or something similar. That is because flexbond has more 'give' and is more durable. But again, because of time, I cheated and that has led to numerous touch ups on the paint job.

With the base done you are ready to paint. Due to my situation I used a spray paint and primer, applying a base silver coat. This takes about two-four or five coats depending on what type of paint you use, how thickly you apply it, and the conditions you are painting in. Now, having the base coat done I used painters tape to hide the parts that I wanted to keep silver. Then it was back outside to spray black on the details. Once all that was done I had to hand-paint the small red details. I highly recommend using a flexible sealer coat over the entire project as some of the acrylic hand painted parts have a tendency to peel up really easy.

Note:DON"T TOUCH THE SEALING COAT WHILE IT IS DRYING!!! Or else you will have to not only repaint the sealing coat, but the paint underneath it. Lesson learned.

Now can we just take a moment of silence for all the bug who died in the painting progress... Those bugs seemed hell-bent on running into and wrecking my paint, forcing me to repaint whole coats at a time.

Now that you have it all pretty and painted you can 'antique' it. This is a painting technique where you apply paint to make something look old or antique. If you aren't wanting to have a battle or older look you can skip this step. To start you need black acrylic paint and water. You will mix the paint with the water to get a runnier, less potent paint. Depending on the consistency of your paint depends on your water mixing amount. I personally had a really thin black and was mainly adding water to dilute the color. Once you have your mixture you will also need cotton balls. You will have a cotton ball soaked up with paint and you will drag it across the surface, leaving your paint mix on the surface. Then take a clean cotton ball and dab off the paint. You repeat the painting on and dabbing off until you have the antiqued look you are going for. Depending on how dark you are wanting to antique the project you can mess around with the paint water mixture and how much you are dabbing off.

Finally, your helmet is made, painted, and detailed! The end is in sight! All that is left is the plume, so continue on your journey of the wonderous helmet making!

Step 7: Plume Making

Now that the helmet is done you are ready to make the plume. This is where you will use your foam clay. However, there are tutorials on YouTube where they use a variety of different items for the plume, including pre-made plumes to broom brushes. But for this project I choose foam clay because of its' ability to let me mold it into whatever I want.

Note:When preparing your surface to roll the foam clay on I would recommend using wax paper. This helps keep your surface clean, as well as giving the foam clay less to stick to.

So, taking your tub of foam clay, you will want to roll out 'spikes'. Do this by taking a chunk of foam clay and rolling it into a neat ball. (size of the chunk depends on how big and thick you are wanting the spike to be) Then place the ball on your table and using your palm and forefingers roll it methodically until you get a spike shape. Once the spike is the shape and thickness you want, set is aside and repeat the process for the others. At this point you should have four-ish wet spikes. I found that it would be easier to glue multiple spikes in the helmet at a time than gluing in one by one. So, taking your spikes place them lined up next to each other and drive a toothpick through the bases of the spikes. This creates 'tuffs' of spikes. Take these tuffs and place them on your wavy foam to dry. If you would like the spikes to wave around or pop out like I did you can place toothpicks strategically so that they either hold up or push down the different spikes. The toothpicks help create those waves in the spikes while they dry. Now all you have to do is repeat that entire progress over, and over, and over, and over! Blarg.

The drying period for the spikes depends on your thickness and size. Larger spikes can take longer while smaller can take less. For me my largest spikes took one-two weeks to dry, while my smaller ones took 2-4 days.

Once everything has dried you are set to move on and start painting your spikes!

Step 8: Painting the Spikes

Once you have your spikes made and dried you are ready to paint! But first you will want to label your spikes. The problem is when you go to paint, you paint right over it and then you don't know what is what. After numerous ideas and failures I finally came up with something that worked. You cut a thin number or cut in the base to help you know what number of plume you are on. That way when you paint over it you still see the cut.

Now you have it numbered and are actually ready to paint. I took a toothpick and stuck it in the base of a spike tuff and then stuck that pick into the floral foam. That way the spikes are held down when you go to spray paint them. As with the helmet I used a spray paint and primer. Also, as with the helmet, I highly recommend using flexbond! This is due to the fact that when fully painted, the spikes become extremely brittle and tend to break off easily. Where as if you use flexbond, it allows the spikes to retain their natural flexibility and shouldn't be as breakable.

Once the spikes have dried you are ready to antique them using the same steps as shown in the Base Painting & Antiquing It section.

Step 9: Gluing in the Plume

After all the painting and antiquing are done on the tuffs you are ready to glue them into your plume box. Using your hot glue gun you will apply a generous amount of glue to the base of the spikes as well as coat the inside of the plume box. Press the plume tuffs into the box and hold it until the glue cools. Be sure to put the tuffs in the box in the order that you labeled them, or it will come out weird. Keep repeating the process of gluing in the spikes until the entire plume is in.

Now that the plume is glued in there is one last thing to do to it. This is an optional step, but it makes your project look much more finished and professional. You are going to paint the glue at the bases of the spikes black. This helps hide the glue as well as gives the plume a more finished look.

Vola! A finished plume fit for the finest gladiator!

Note: Because I used a spray paint and primer and the spikes are really brittle they tended to break extremely easily. When this happens you must fix the spikes. To do this you apply a small amount of hot glue to either end of the break and press them together. The glue will bubble out the sides and if you are using the glue gun on a low setting you can just take your fingers and rub the excess off. If your gun doesn't have a low setting you can wait a little until the glue is cool enough to touch before wiping it off. Once that is done you will have a little line where the break was. You can rub a little bit of black paint over it to blend it in with the other antiqued parts of the plume, and it will be hardly noticeable unless you were looking for a breakpoint or you knew it was there. Just another good thing about antiquing; it helps hide mistakes.

Step 10: Finishing

Now by this time the helmet is almost done. You may want to preform some touch-ups on parts that you may have missed earlier. You can also marker or carefully burn your initials, symbol, or information into the foam on the inside of the helmet.

Congratulations! You know have an awesome looking helmet to challenge even the best of gladiators!

If you ever make this project or something similar please show me as I love seeing others, and getting inspiration too! If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or if something was unclear please feel free to contact me or comment.

Thanks for viewing! Keep creating!

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