Introduction: Transformers Soundwave Costume

First off, I need to thank my wife for being patient with me as I transformed our apartment into an utter mess of cardboard pieces, stinking it up with burning glue and paint and long hours of me talking and obsessing over the smallest details of this costume. She is truly a champion and is worthy of a whole new level of praise for putting up with this. I’d also like to thank dannyeurena. Because he posted his method of building his costume, I was able to save so much time and expand on the ideas he presented. Thanks!

This year I wanted to making a really sick costume. I'm an artist and I wanted to push myself. I also didn't want to spend a lot of money on it either. After days of pondering what I wanted to be, I decided on Soundwave—not the latest crumpled soda can Soundwave from the Bay movies, the original toy/cartoon one. Hands down he was my favorite toy. He had a rocket launcher and came with his own army of minions. This robot was upper management. After some research of various depictions, and fabrications, I began building.

Step 1: Materials

The following list are materials that I used:

Building supplies
  • Cardboard (thick) Make sure it is rigid
  • Cardboard (thin)
  • Chipboard
  • 2” Packaging tube
  • Paper towel tube
  • (1) Metal ruler
  • (1) Triangle ruler
  • (1) Large matte knife with 6 blades
  • (1) Small x-acto knife with about 25 blades
  • (1) Pair of scissors
  • (1) Medium sized cutting board
  • (1) small tape measure
  • (1) Glue gun with (24) glue sticks (This is a MUST!)
  • Bandaids when you burn yourself with the glue gun
Painting supplies
  • (6) Rolls of packaging tape
  • (1) Roll of blue masking tape
  • (1) Construction helmet
  • (1) Can of spray primer
  • (1) Can of house paint (white)
  • (1) Can of spray glue
  • (2) Cans of blue spray paint
  • (2) Cans of silver spray paint
  • Various color acrylic paints (cheaper the better; blue, yellow, red, white, black, silver, gold)
  • Package of various sized brushes
  • Masking paper
  • (1) Cheap pair of shoes (or use your own they won’t be damaged)
  • (1) Backpack (won’t be damaged)
  • (1) Gumball container
  • (1) Reading light
  • (2) Glow sticks
  • (1) Yard of black stretchy fabric
  • (1) 1” strip of galvanized steel
  • (1) roll of adhesive cork
  • (1) Translucent yellow folder
  • Velcro (about a yard of it)
  • (3) yards of 1” nylon straps
  • Elastic waistband
  • (1) pair of hockey gloves
  • (1) small sheet of framing plexi (used to replace glass)
  • Access to print services that can print on 11x17 paper
  • Pop rivet gun with 1/8 rivets
  • (1) sheet of 1” vinyl letters
  • (7) plastic easter eggs

Step 2: Legs

For this part, I made a dummy leg so that I could adjust it and modify until I got it the way I wanted them. I walked around, I sat and made sure I could spend some time in them comfortably. Then I took that mold, cut it apart and used it as a die to make the legs I was going to use for the costume. This is where I used the various rulers to take measurements and to make sure all my right angles were spot on. To make corner bends in the cardboard, first cut the top layer with an x-acto knife, then use a pen and push the tip into the cut to roll the edges, fold and done.

Now that I have the legs built, I started to add in the little details such as the paper towel roll, peeling the first layer of cardboard to make vents, and using some of the plexi to make lights that will be lit by glowsticks. See Step 3

Once all the details are painted, I added the vinyl letters.

Step 3: Leg Lights

I wanted to make lights on this costume because I’m stupid for details. For the REC/BATT light, I took a small gumball container and a reading light I had. Combined with the red top of a seasoning container, I made a red battery powered fake LED light. For the light in the side-skirts of the legs, I made a removable tray that I can load with a glowstick. It’s not the greatest lighting effect, but it gets the job done and it’s cheap.

Step 4: Feet

These were pretty easy. Looked at the shape and cut them out. Used the cardboard tubes on the sides to keep the legs from dragging on the ground. Also they make a perfect pivot point for the ankles, and since it’s not closed on the other end, I can tilt my ankles with no problems. To reinforce them, the outside of the foot has the hole cut into it. There is another piece of cardboard on the inside that keeps it from moving further in and reinforces the foot. With reinforcement from the glue gun, they are not going anywhere. I also took foam and closed off the spare space around a shoe that I can easily slip on and off with little difficulty.

Step 5: Arms & Hands

Not everything goes to plan. The first version I built was more for movement at the expense looks. It was a detached shoulder that after testing out, would look horrible. So with the help of dannyeurena and his Optimus Prime costume, attaching the shoulders to the body was the way to go. I rebuilt the arms with a new hinge that is less visible—one made of 1 inch galvanized steel that is pop riveted together. The sheet metal forms a “Z” so that it locks into the arm and forearm and is pop riveted into the cardboard with a washer. Painting was the same. For the extenders that pop the hands out on the outside of the forearm, I used more of the peeled off cardboard technique. For the hands, I bought a pair of used hockey gloves off Ebay.

Step 6: Missile Launcher

I cut out six inch circles and wrapped them in chipboard. You can get chipboard at any print shop. (it’s the same stuff on the back of notepads) I glued seven plastic easter eggs tops on the front and painted to cover up the seams. Because my shoulders are not nearly as wide as the toy, I had to angle out the arm that connects the missile launcher to the body and make a support block that rests over the right shoulder.

Step 7: Body (Lower)

I first sketched out the design of the body. I needed it to telescope so that I could have more maneuverability. Once I flushed out all my ideas, I built the lower torso and designed the upper around it. For the lower torso, I started to add in the details such as the buttons and the hips. I also fashioned it with suspender style straps and can move up and down freely from the body. The backside of it also slides up and down independently so that I can sit down comfortably and stand without my backside exposed.

Step 8: Upper Legs

Upper legs are pretty simple. I cut them to shape, and on the inside, sewed stretchy fabric so that they can adjust to my legs, whether bent or straight. To get the fabric attached to the cardboard, I sewed it to the front then to a strip of cardboard that was glue gunned to the inside of the back of the leg. To wear them, I slide my leg in and they have an adjustable velcro strap that attaches to a belt to stay in place.

Step 9: Head

I took a construction helmet and started adding on details. This is where I use the thinner cardboard. The first attempt I didn’t like how high I angled the crown. I was too focused on keeping it small and tight to my face, that I overlooked the crown. I later went back and adjusted it to my liking. Additionally, I added in more details like the circles on the crown (chipboard) and the vents. Once primed and painted, I cut a translucent yellow folder for my visor and some painted details for the finishing touches.

Step 10: Body (Upper) & Shoulders

I had a difficult time getting into the body, period. I know that the shoulders attached would make it even more problematic. I designed the shoulders to slide into place through a channel to make getting into the body easier. Additionally, I put a channel in the chest piece so that I could slide a plexiglass sheet with the picture of a tape on it, much like a picture frame. For me, it didn’t look the way I wanted it to. So I cut the chest piece back about an inch and a half, and decided to cut the whole body into two pieces making it easier to get on and off. I also incorporated a backpack to help keep the body from moving around on me since wearing it, it would constantly slide back To keep the two halves together, the channel made by the shoulder pieces served to keep the costume closed. I also made four velcro tabs on the inside so that it could sandwich together. Additionally, the missile launcher also helps to keep the two halves together. The costume has a storage compartment in the back for the backpack to hide in, since I didn’t want to destroy it. Once painted, I printed out the tape graphic and spray glued it to the chest. The logo was spray glued to the inside of the plexi.

Step 11: Painting Methods

I tried all sorts of methods to cover the seams of the cardboard. I tried spray glue and wrapping paper to cover seams, sanding the packaging tape seams, but none of these methods worked right. What I found to work and be reasonably fast was to first cover all the edges in packaging tape. Then use the spray primer on the tape. Once this is dry, use house paint to help conceal the edges of the tape. The paint gives it a texture that helps to conceal it. I used a standard paint roller to give it an even texture. I gave it two coats. Once all of these are dry, I applied a base coat of blue, and let that dry. Then I applied the silver. Afterwards, I used the masking tape and acrylic paints to add in all the decal effects. To save money, I cut the blue masking tape into little strips with my x-acto and ruler, since for stenciling, you don’t need that much. the less the better. It’s less likely to pull up and of your other painted details.

Step 12: Cooling

Of all the cardboard costumes I've seen, very few people address just how hot it can get wearing one of these. Cardboard is an excellent insulator. This can work in your favor or against you. To make it work for you, finding a way to keep the temperature inside the costume cool is crucial, and not as hard as it might seem. A little goes a long way. To keep the temperature inside manageable, I used chemical ice packs. They not only get instantly cool, but you can avoid the condensation mess, and because you are in a insulated box, the cooler temperatures go a long way. In addition to the chemical ice packs, I have two personal battery fans that are fastened with velcro on the inside of the costume. The cold air from the ice pack would get recirculated into the costume through the fans. The ice pack cost $4, and I got the fans from for $12 a piece.

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