Over the past few years, 3D printing has been increasingly recognized as an excellent tool for completing that one cosplay outfit for a special Con. Good luck getting your hands on that specific sword, those throwing stars or even that helmet without it. In many cases, a 3D printed accessory is the perfect addition to any costume, but some makers – like prop specialist Bindi Smalls – take things a bit further. For her fantastic cosplay of Gwen, the Grand Marshall from the forthcoming Embers of War game, she harnessed the making power of eleven 3D printers for a combined 1700 hours of print time.
If Bindi looks familiar, that might be because you’ve seen her at Cons before. A dedicated prop maker and cosplayer, Bindi Smalls became a firm believer in the power of 3D printing three years ago. Since then, most of her amazing cosplays have relied on 3D printed accessories. Few projects, however, required as much 3D printing as her new Grand Marshall Gwen cosplay.
Remarkably, it’s based on a game that isn’t even out yet. Embers of War is a highly anticipated action-packed, sci-fi tower defense game, featuring countless power customization options for players. Developed by Dark Rift Entertainment, its currently a huge hit at the ongoing PAX 2016 convention in Boston. As if Dark Rift’s booth wasn’t appealing enough already, Bindi was asked to make this life-sized suit as an eye catcher.
What’s more, she did so in just a month. “It seemed like an impossible deadline, but we made it & I'm super happy with the result,” she says. Now that sounds like an impossible project; most of those show-stealing 3D printed Iron Man or Batman costumes take at least a year to make using just a single 3D printer. But through GeekFabLab in Colorado, Bindi harnessed the power of a massive eleven 3D printers to complete the project – which were running for a total of 1700 3D printing hours.
This mind-blowing project obviously requires a solid 3D printing farm. As Bindi explained, they relied on nine LulzBot TAZ 3D printers, one LuzBot Mini, and a Form 2 3D printer. To make the project as efficient as possible and reduce the need for reprints as much as they could, they only used eSun PLA filament. “We prefer PLA versus ABS because ABS tends to warp when printing such large parts. Plus, PLA printed with 6 perimeters and 20-40% infill is EXTREMELY strong,” she revealed.
This 3D printing farm actually grew up naturally over the last three years, Bindi revealed. Starting with a single LulzBot TAZ 1 3D printer bought with their own money, the GeekFabLab’s capacity continued to expand as demands for services and 3D printed props continued to grow. Five 3D printers were even brought in for this project. “After 3 years, here we are, with 11 printers,” she says. “All the printers used, (except one) we bought used/refurbished. This helped us cut down on the cost quite a bit.”
But this cosplay is impressive for more than just its tight deadline. As Embers of War isn’t even out yet, Bindi had very little data to base her design on. “I was provided the in-game assets (3D models) for the character. They're relatively low-poly, meaning they don't have the same amount of detail as what I'd like to print in the end,” she says. This meant quite a lot of work went into creating more detailed parts, which were all realized in Blender software.
But Bindi did have one big advantage. As it happens, she let herself be 3D scanned by Shapify at CES last year, and she has been using that scan as a base for every 3D printed costume since then. “If you want to 3D print your own armor/props, I highly recommend getting a 3D scan of yourself. You can even use a Microsoft Kinect to make one!,” she says. Using that accurate file, Bindi was able to realize perfectly scaled armor pieces, each limited in size by the 3D printer’s 12" x 11" x 10" build volume.
All in all, she ended up with about 80 different pieces, which were all 3D printed with the farm. But with so many parts, processing is the real challenge. Firstly, all the parts needed to be sanded extensively, while layer gaps needed to be filled. “I used wall spackle between the layers, and then sand it all down,” Bindi says. After sanding, a first coat of filler primer is added. This was again sanded down, only to be sprayed again. That process continues again and again with different sandpaper grit levels, until a desired result is achieved – which usually takes about five coats of primer. “This is the most time consuming part of the process,” she admitted.
Once everything is sanded smooth, a base coat of paint is added, followed by a darker coat. “I used mineral spirits to rub away the darker coat, revealing the bright coat underneath. I really like this method of weathering, it appears much more natural and there are no brush strokes!” Bindi says. To glue everything in place, Barge Cement was used and left to set for up to 48 hours.
Using a dress form, all the parts were systematically assembled with straps and clips to form a wearable whole. “First I sew all the straps on to the clips. Then, I put foam inside the parts where the straps will hold, hot glue the straps in place, and reinforce that with hot glue over all the edges,” Bindi reveals. Only the boots required a bit more work, and feature a flat steel bar structure inside. “The bars are relatively thin, but strong enough to hold every piece in place even when I'm wearing them,” Bindi says. It ensures rigidity, though it does make the boots quite heavy.
It’s absolutely crazy to think that this whole suit was made in just one month, but the results are truly spectacular. It was one of Bindi’s biggest projects so far, and it really showcases her making talent. If you’re interested, you can still catch the Embers of War booth at PAX in Boston until Sunday.