Armor for the War God
If you read my trick-or-treat post then you’ll know that DreamHost throws quite excellent Halloween parties. Such excellent parties demand similarly excellent costumes. As such, when a coworker mentioned that she was putting together a Medusa costume one thing led to another and we got a group together as various figures from Greek mythology. I eventually settled on Ares – I don’t feel much affinity for the God of War, but I felt that I could have the most fun with his attributes for a costume.
This costume was pretty much my first foray into the world of propmaking as it has been recently explored and developed by cosplayers. As of this writing, the Philosopher’s Stone of cosplay is EVA foam – from this base material you can create props with nearly any shape, texture, color, and finish that you might want. This is the stuff that craft foam sheets at craft stores and those puzzle-piece floor mats that you see at gyms or pre-schools are made of.
I used the thin craft foam sheets from JoAnn for detailing and the thicker floor mat pieces for the bulk of the armor. I got my first floor mat from the above Amazon link, and that seemed to be the highest quality of the thicker EVA foam that I found. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty expensive at about $20 for 16 sq. ft. plus shipping, and the individual tiles are only 2’ by 2’ which means you’ve got a lot of less-useful scrap if you have several large pieces to cut. Home Depot also sells very similar tiles for the same price, but I found them to be of lower quality – the foam wasn’t as stiff and it had more voids in it.
Happily, Harbor Freight also sells EVA foam in both puzzle-tile form and in rolls for $10. The tile packs are the same 4 squares 2’ on a side, so they’re fully half the price of Amazon’s, and the rolls are single pieces 2’ wide by 6’ long. You only get 3⁄4 of the foam, but in that shape you’ve got a lot more room to cut larger pieces and pack your pattern in tighter, so less of the foam ends up wasted or in your scrap bin.
Building the Armor
I’m actually not going to go into a terrific amount of detail on the build itself for this costume. There are a lot of resources out there that do a better job than I will of teaching you how to do this. My primary inspiration and encouragement was Evil Ted Smith. Ted’s got a very good video series up on YouTube – I found it when looking up how to make a helmet, and conveniently enough those are his first couple of videos. Watch them here:
Now that you’re hooked I highly recommend watching his Tools of the Trade 2 video (below) and his various videos about specific techniques, how to get clean seams, and how to add detail. Once you want to get started on all this yourself, pick up some equipment from his Amazon link to kick back some appreciation.
I don’t have an air compressor, so spraying on latex was not really an option for me. I went with his third suggestion for sealing my foam pieces: Plasti Dip. This worked out pretty well for me. After I got my pieces all glued together and shaped the way I wanted them, I sealed them with one coat of Mod Podge and then put three thin coats of black Plasti Dip over that. This gave me a flexible and durable surface to paint over:
Since I wanted my armor to be mostly black anyway, I actually just left the Plasti Dip as my base and only did detail painting over top of that.
For each piece, applying masking tape around the detail pieces was probably the single most time-consuming step for me. I found that my masking tape had a lot of trouble sticking to the Plasti Dip unless I pressed it down with the back edge of a knife or something similar. However, when I did seal the tape down like that I was at much higher risk of pulling the Plasti Dip off of the underlying surface entirely and marring the finish when removing the tape.
This armor was based on the armor that Brad Pitt wore as Achilles in Troy. Achilles is a blessed warrior – literally. He is not the best because he’s trained the hardest, he’s the best because he has been blessed by the gods. The arrogance of Pitt’s performance captures that feeling masterfully, as does the armor he wears.
The purpose of armor is to protect your body – particularly those parts of your body that are most vulnerable to damage or that are most critical to your survival and your continued ability to fight. But what use does Achilles have for armor? He’s invincible. Armor would just get in the way. So he wears skimpy armor that hardly provides any real protection as a way to visually distinguish himself. I figured this was a good starting point for the God of War’s armor.
In terms of appearance, I tried to give the bracers and greaves a texture and finish approximating leather, and the helmet and chest armor the appearance of hammered metal. To do this I used a rounded stone bit on my dremel to texture the foam before applying the Plasti Dip. For leather I ran the tip of the tool in a series of lines do describe a grain pattern – they were mostly going the same direction, but by no means parallel. For metal I tapped the bit against the foam leaving small, overlapping divots. In both cases the result looked pretty lackluster until the Plasti Dip went on, and then they lookes pretty good. They were both quite subtle, but you can see them on close inspection.
Since the bracers and greaves were “leather”, I decided that functional armor might have metal strips riveted to them to provide real protection, using the leather more to hold the metal in place. I also decided to make these “metal” bits the decorative parts of these pieces – I started with a shape slightly smaller than the surface to be armored and then cut away sections to “save weight” like the cutouts on a bicycle sprocket. I cut these out of craft foam and glued them onto the base pieces after texturing and before heat-forming. Then I cut small circles of the craft foam and glued the on to be “rivets”.
For color, the detail parts got spray-painted gold while the rest was masked off, and then with the masking tape removed I dusted the entire piece with gold spray paint to give it a bit of a godly aura.
To attach the cape I glued magnets to some of the straps on the shoulders and matching magnets onto the cape itself. I tried to hold the paultrons (shoulder armor) on the same way, but that wasn’t nearly secure enough so I wound up attaching straps to the bottom of those and saftey-pinning them around the shoulder straps.