A Trooper’s Point of View – Building a TIE Fighter Pilot

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Last year at this time I had a crazy idea pop in my head that just a mere two months before Celebration Anaheim I wanted to make a new 501st costume.  I really wanted to bring some kind of Legion costume to the convention and I didn’t want the hassle of flying with my armor.  So I decided to make something that was entirely soft goods that could be folded up and put in my suitcase.

I decided to make a Reserve Pilot/Imperial Crewman costume.  Basically, it’s a black jumpsuit, boots, belt and gloves.  It’s called a Reserve Pilot, because you have all the costume bits of a TIE Pilot without the helmet or hard armor.

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Now, two months is not in any way shape or form a realistic time frame to research, source, plan and build any kind of Legion approvable costume, especially not when you are also trying to finalize a cross country trip.  Somehow I managed to get it done.  I premiered my Reserve Pilot at Celebration and had a blast.  It’s nice to have a costume I can sit down in.

Fast forward to today, and I am finally working on my full and proper TIE Pilot outfit.  I ordered the armor and patiently waited a month for it to arrive.  The happiest day in any trooper’s life is the day that the Big, Brown Box shows up on your doorstep.  It’s also the most intimidating time of the process.  I laid out all the pieces to make sure everything was there, and then began to scratch my head and realize that I had no idea what I was doing.

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Researching your costume is important.  Let me say that again.  Researching your costume is important.  Especially with armor.  Once you cut that plastic it’s very hard to go back and correct a mistake.  Most everything is fixable, but you may end up doubling or tripling the amount of work you need to do for one piece.  Measure twice, measure again, check your sources, measure one more time, then cut.  Most armor makers send things out in a rough cut form.  The pieces have been cut down to the point that they will fit in the box.  It’s up to you to then trim them down to size.  This is where the research comes into play.  The various Legion detachment sites are a great tool for research, as well as any of the traveling costume exhibits.

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Cutting armor is actually easier than you may think.  Most armor is made out of a plastic like ABS or HIPS.  These cut pretty well with an exacto knife, lexan plastic shears or a dremel.  I prefer to use the exacto knife or shears primarily.  A dremel is a great tool and I highly recommend having one if you are working on these type of costumes, but for a lot of the cutting and trimming, I feel like it’s overkill.  Plus the smell of melting plastic is awful and it makes a HUGE mess.  With an exacto knife you don’t need to cut all the way through the plastic, simply score the plastic, and then you can bend and snap the piece off.  It makes for a fairly clean cut.  Regardless of the method, you end up with a lot of excess plastic, it’s helpful to keep these.  The excess pieces can be useful for fixing things or making plates to attach snaps to.

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Once you have your pieces roughly cut you may need an idea of how the different pieces will fit together, I have found that blue painter’s tape is a great option.  It’s not so sticky that it will leave a residue.

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This is where I am at now, spending my evenings on the couch watching TV and trimming out armor.  Slowly but surely it is starting to take shape.  One of our larger trooping events is coming up at the end of April and my goal is to have the armor be wearable, not necessarily approved yet by that time.  Deadlines are important, but it’s also helpful to make sure they are realistic deadlines.

Next month I should have completed pieces and will be going over fitting and wearing the armor.

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