My Costume From Dream to Reality: I am Master Chief!
How do you write how-to directions for a 1 year build process? Well, you really don’t. The first step is making the commitment that no matter what, you will put in the work to do the process the right way, and not just rush to finish by a certain deadline. I missed Halloween last year by 2 days, but my costume was done right, and in the end, that makes it worth it.
So, my favorite video game to play with friends was always Halo 3. Halo 3 was right in the dawn of true online gaming, but we always enjoyed playing through the story time and again. Well, years before starting my actual build, I found that people do actually sell sets of armor that are based on the main character in the game, Master Chief. I was probably a sophomore in high school at the time, and didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money needed to buy such a costume, so I let it go for a few years. Well, I started looking into it again some time later, about 2 years ago now, and I really started paying attention to the details of the suits. The one undeniable thing that I kept seeing was that the suits that could be bought looked nothing like what we see in the game. None of them even came close. Then I started doing some more research, and I found that there is a way to make a set of armor like this, but it takes an extremely long time to do. I figured my own time is free, so why not give it a shot?
The process involves taking 3D models of the piece you want to create, and inserting them into a special computer program that makes a printable template, so that you can cut out hundreds of little shapes, glue them all together in the right order, and you have your base shape for the piece. This is called pepakura. The key here is that you actually have to fit the armor, and the armor has to fit you. What I mean by that is that you can’t just scale each part up and down until they fit you, you actually have to have the correct proportions to be able to wear any given suit. Master Chief is a soldier that has been trained since he was around 5 years old and is in top physical shape. To be Master Chief, you also have to be in top physical shape or else the costume simply won’t look right even if the armor plates themselves are the best and most detailed plates ever made.
Then, you have to scale the files to fit you specifically. Most people don’t fit the 7’2″ shoes of Master Chief, so the parts need scaled down to maintain wearability as well as mobility. Part of the reason my costume looks the way it does is that I got the scale just right. I think I went through 3 chest-plates, 3 helmets, 2 sets of arms, and 3 thighs before I had all of my scales right. Also, certain considerations have to be made when thinking about actually getting into the armor. For example, a properly scaled chest piece will not fit over your shoulders, so it has to separate somewhere and be put on in 2 pieces.
So, after 3 months of spending all of my free time making each piece of armor out of heavy card stock (so it doesn’t warp and deform like normal paper would). I had a whole suit made from paper. The next step is to use fiberglass resin to coat the pieces both inside and out, and then actually layer fiberglass cloth on the inside of the parts to give the armor its strength. For me, that took 2 gallons of fiberglass resin, and about 50 square yards of fiberglass. Certain parts like the thighs and codpiece need at least 2 full layers of fiberglass to give them the needed strength for sitting in the suit.
At this point, the suit is hard enough to wear, but not all of the details are right yet. When making the pieces from paper cutouts, it’s impossible to get the curves and smooth, rounded areas just right. You have to use a product called bondo, which is used to fill in holes in a car body. You apply bondo in a very specific way to each part where it is supposed to be smooth. Each area takes around 3-5 applications of bondo to get it perfectly smooth. This would also be the stage where any details not in the paper shells would be added to the suit.
Next up is paint. Again, nothing is just “that” simple. You have to coat each piece with primer, let it cure, then coat it with the proper green color, then more curing, and then some areas need coated with a black color, which also needs to cure. Once all of that is done, you’ve got a nice, new looking suit that looks nothing like what a battle worn suit from a super soldier would look like. So, you’ve got to weather the suit. For me, this was achieved by using a flat black paint, applying it to certain areas and then quickly wiping it off to create the desired pattern. Once you’ve weathered the whole suit, and allowed the black weathering to cure, you can proceed to clear coat each piece.
Now you have a suit that’s totally painted, but there’s still a few more steps before it’s perfect. Master Chief’s armor has several illuminated ports all over it that generate an energy shield in the game. So, those holes have to be cut out, then an acrylic window put behind each hole, and finally an led to illuminate it. My suit has 11 individual battery packs just to power the leds. And at this point, your suit is pretty much complete cosmetically. So it’s time to wear it right? Well, not really.
From here, you have to add straps and padding into each piece so that it’s comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time, and so that the pieces all stay where they’re supposed to when you walk around and pose in the suit. This process usually takes another few days, and is usually tweaked several times before it’s perfect.
For me, the shoulders, shins, thighs, and codpiece all have straps that hold everything in the proper place, while everything else has padding that keeps it in place.
I threw in a voice amplifier and a cooling fan as well as easily accessible helmet lights so they can be turned on and off for pictures. Well, that’s pretty much it, my journey to becoming Master Chief. I hope you enjoyed reading it!