I love Magneto’s look in X-Men: First Class, so much so that I’ve decided to do his costume for Halloween this year. I chose to tackle the biggest challenge first – his iconic and super sweet helmet. Part 1 covers my build of the master sculpt, and the forthcoming Part 2 will document my making of the mold and the casting of the final helmet. This is the first prop I’ve done that involves mold making and casting, and also the first time I’ve actually documented one of my costume builds…hope you enjoy!
The tricky thing about Magneto’s helmet is that you can see the wearer’s face, so scale is a big issue…if the helmet is a little too big or small, it’ll be noticeable. Symmetry is also a huge challenge with a prop like this, and so for these two reasons I decided to go high tech. I scanned my head into the computer and used Maya to model the helmet using every bit of reference I could get my hands on. My plan was to use TechShop’s CNC router to cut the base volume of my helmet using a toolpath that I generated from my 3D model. So if I got the scale wrong on my first try (which I did) I could try again. It also ensures that the finished sculpt will be 100% symmetrical.
The CNC router I’m using can only make relief cuts in the vertical axis, so that meant splitting the helmet model in half and routing the two sides separately. I removed all the trim detail from my model, cut it in half and added a sprue so that the part wouldn’t become loose in the machine after it was finished with the job.
Here’s one of the foam blanks that will become one half of the helmet. It’s made from several pieces of foam insulation board glued together with carpenters glue.
In order to hold the foam blanks in place while the router is cutting, I built a jig using 0.5” mdf and pegboard fastened together with brass screws. The router has a vacuum table that will suck the jig onto the table top, and the pegboard’s perforations will allow the vacuum to suck the blank into the jig. Hopefully this means the material will be kept nice and stable while the router does its work.
A blank in the jig. I made six blanks to insure myself against mistakes, and of course I ended up using every last one of them!
The loaded jig in the machine and ready for cutting!
Here the router is half way through its roughing pass removing all the excess foam.
Roughing pass done!
On to the finishing pass. It’s mesmerizing watching this thing work.
I can’t believe I sat watching this thing for the entire hour and a half it took to do this part.
Two finished helmet halves on their sprues.
Halves glued together and sprues removed.
The stepping left by the machine is very apparent on the back of the dome. Lots of work ahead of me…
Here I’ve roughly sanded the entire helmet to get rid of the stepping left by the router.
I also couldn’t help mocking up the trim with paper. I won’t actually be adding the trim until much later, but since it really affects the look of the helmet, I wanted to do a test to make sure I was happy with it. The helmet looked good to me compared to my reference, so time to move on to the next stage.
Insulation foam is great for shaping, but it won’t do for the final surface of the sculpt. It’s porous, easily damaged, and worst of all, reacts badly to stuff like super glue, body filler and modeling putty…all of which I’ll be using to finish the helmet. So I’ve covered the entire helmet in polyurethane resin to form a hard outer shell that I can sand and fill and resand to my heart’s content.
I scuffed the helmet with some 60 grit sandpaper, primed it and started sanding. You can see how uneven the helmet surface is after the application of the resin.
I had lots of little hills and valleys, so after sanding down all of the hills…
…I filled in the valleys with bondo.
After a good sanding, another shot of primer. Looking better. The process of sanding, filling, and sanding again, slowly working my way up through finer grit sandpaper, took me a couple of days until I had a smooth and even shape.
I couldn’t start working on the trim until the base was shaped and smooth - if I noticed a problem after I had applied the trim, it would be way more difficult for me to fix. So I made sure I was happy with it before I started messing with the trim. Here I’m again mocking up all the trim with paper so I can have a template when I move on to styrene.
The trim is cut from 1.5 mm styrene sheet, here the left half is applied to the helmet. I freaking love super glue.
On a side note, I cut all the pieces before applying any to the base, that way I could pair them up with each other back-to-back to ensure they were symmetrical. Some areas like the nose guard were too difficult to bend a piece of styrene around, those will be filled later with body filler.
First pass filling, puttying and sanding the edges. The pinkish stuff is the bondo and the green is modeler’s putty, which I swear by for use in smaller detail areas. It sets up a lot faster than bondo so it’s not suitable for large areas, but it goes on so smoothly and sands really well!
After sanding the entire helmet, I gave the whole thing a shot of gray primer, and while you can’t really see them in the photo, the areas that need work are very apparent. The tips of the V above the eyes are flat and don’t catch light the way I want, so those require sanding. I need to fill the gap left between the styrene and the base with putty just about everywhere and sand that down. And most importantly, the bevels around the eyes still need to be added.
Big leap here…I was lazy and didn’t take any process photos. The sculpt is about 95% complete. The trim is integrated with the helmet base and the bevels are IP, but looking okay so far. The interior of the helmet is going to be left rough, since once I make casts that area will be cut out anyways. Just a little more shaping and filling on the bevels and it’ll be ready for a final wet sand before mold making.
A couple more shots of the near finished sculpt...
Stay tuned for pt. 2, mold making and casting!