Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Valkyria Chronicle 3 cosplay - Imca's "Var" and Tutorial

The weapon shown is called the Var, it is used by Valkyria Chronicles 3's Imca, who is a tomboyish looking girl with tsundere traits and is the ace of the "Nameless" squadron. Yes, thus why she has this massive gun sword that is taller than her in height. In animu terms, this gun sword can either be held one hand on each of the smaller handles, with a trigger on the white handle that activates a grenade rifle round or the weapon can be held as a two handed sword from the longer handle. I won't be having the two handed sword wielding functional due to weight reasons but if someone managed to rebuild this and replace the wooden blade with a lighter material then it could work. So for statistics, this weapon took me about a whole month to work on. I spent 20 days mostly planning and working on the front end as that would determine the entire size and outcome of the rest of the weapon then 10 days on the rest splitting each day between different parts and then attaching them together. Here is how the weapon turned out in the end, these pics were taken after Anime North 2012 including its damages:

Before we begin what you're seeing here might be something you'd say gad dayuuum this guy must be some experienced cosplayer but I will be absolutely honest with you that this was my very first weapon I worked on in cosplaying. I'm not trying to brag and say I was born to make huge epic weapons but I'm trying to prove a point saying that it is possible for anyone who is new to cosplay and weapon prop making to make something like this. I did not have any previous experience in vinyl and foam and my only experience was making crappy Fate/stay Gilgamesh armor using thin foam, coating it with mod podge and then spray painting it. You don't need thousands of tools either but I'll go into that later. I won't be going off for hours on how exactly I built this piece by piece but I will explain the various basic steps and difficulties i had with making this. It wasn't an easy task and I can admit that If I hadn't taken proper drawings, measurements and thoughts then this prop would've broke down fast.

The first thing that came to mind when making the weapon was how to make a 1:1 scale weapon from very little resources. After having seen the 3rd Valkyria art book recently, I probably could've fixed this up a bit more but In all honesty it's just a matter of using whatever references you can find, your eyes, and trial and error. You won't get a dead on 1:1 scale of this bad boy directly from the series but you can at least get something similar and importantly something to your liking. The trick to making something like this is also planning it out well, don't just attempt to build it all at once and that it's just consisting of one rectangular piece and adding on pieces to that for detail, I mean some people have and you can do that but I wouldn't advise it. It's ideal to cut it down into separate parts and build each part then put them together, why you might ask? well basically because if you make an error on one of the parts you can simply scrap that and rebuild it or make small changes to that piece alone. If you have already glued everything together to one giant piece then all of a sudden you realize something isn't working out then get ready to rage quit then cry like a little bitch, become depressed forever, and start back at one cause it won't be easy fixing that. But If you are hardcore in exact measurements and got all the extra goods and gizmos to make it flawless then go ahead and prove me wrong.

I will be re-posting my previous posts which is how I planned out how to start on the weapon and the how I started on building it. Materials list will be including and such

Part 1: Materials List and the Master plan

To begin with the project I decided to first work on the weapon as it would be the highlight of the cosplay. I searched up the net for as many Imca reference pics and luckily there was already detailed concept artwork on the var. Using the images found I decided to make a 2D draft of the weapon to get an idea of how large I wanted the weapon to be so I threw everything into SolidWorks which is an engineering design program I use in my course and made a simple 1:1 scale draft.

SolidWorks isn't necessary but definitely helpful.

Now that I got the 2D draft up to scale I got it printed out thanks to my sister who got her college to do it for cheap. Other local print shops were charging me like 60 bucks for poster quality when I only needed a simple paper print to use as template. Now to actually start working on making the Var, I went out and picked up some supplies in which I'll list in detail below and specifically where I get them. You do not have to use a computer program or cut out template to start on this as I only used the template for making my front barrel piece which will be shown further below. Afterwards I made every other individual piece by eye and trial and error. You can just make an assumption on the first piece and scale the rest to your likings. For exact dimensions on my front barrel, it turned out to be 27½ inches long, 6 inches high, and 4¼ inches wide.

-EVA Foam rolls/sheets. I have some experience with foam as my last costume, Gilgamesh of Fate Stay Night, was made purely of it. I used to buy the $9 rolls at Micheal's Craft Store that came in about 50x30in or something like that and were incredibly thin but instead I found a better and (possibly) cheaper foam roll. Wall-Mart and Sears sell Best-Step Anti-Fatigue Foam Floor that are 46x93in EVA foam rolls and are lot thicker than the other rolls. These rolls cost about $20-30 but I only found myself needing 1-2 compared to buying multiple amounts of the other roll that were not as thick and stable. In the end it all depends on your wallet and what you're making cause it still worked out fine for my Gilgamesh.

-Heat Gun. This is what I use for bending my foam parts to hold for curve and such. It's not a mandatory tool but will make work much easier in some cases. They are incredibly cheap also, you can pick them up at local tool stores for $19.99 or less.

-Cutting Tools. This is straight forward. You're likely going to need some scissors and exacto/x-acto/utility knife to cut foam and other sorts. I have a variety of saws also but won't really need that for the foam.

-Sand paper/Grind Tools. Need this for smoothing the foam for flat and even surfaces. Using the template will pretty much reduce the need of excessive sanding but you'll still need to sand down curved parts and mistakes. Use whatever grit paper that won't destroy your foam and having a rotary grinder or dremel is nice too.

-Hot Glue Gun/Glue Sticks. I bought a good pack of 50 large sticks including a large glue gun. I prefer a larger glue gun because the smaller gun doesn't melt the glue fast enough for me to work on a large scale project. The more watts the gun, the better and faster the progress will go.

-Adhesives. I did end up getting contact cement, super glue and 3M super 77 as after researching a lot, many have said 3M super 77 works well for foam + vinyl but I will confirm from experience that it only lasts maybe a day or two before the vinyl starts to peel off. You can push the vinyl back down but it will constantly re-peel itself after awhile. Contact cement works better but you have to buy the right one or else it might not work as well as you think (weldwood brand is what most suggest but I couldn't find any of that locally). Although this could just be what kind of vinyl I'm using or the type and brand of adhesives so experiment if you have to. In my case, I had to use a mix of 3M super 77 or contact cement with hot glue gun to attach the vinyl flaps to the back of the foam piece with hot glue. this would make it so the flaps would be more secured and the spray adhesives would hold the visible ends nicely. By all means, avoid using hot glue gun entirely to attach vinyl to foam as hot glue will make bumps appear on the vinyl so that is why you only use hot glue on vinyl for the non visible parts such as flaps. 

-Measuring Tools. This should be self explanatory.

-Tape. Preferably duct tape, lots and lots of duct tape.

The handle end of the Var
Middle of Var
The front end of the Var
That is approximately how long the Var is going to be.
Mainly what I'm using to build the Var.
Heat Gun and Glue Gun

Part 2: How I started on making the weapon
So I did start with working on the barrel end of the Var which is probably the hardest part to start with the weapon but will make it easier for me to scale the rest.
Nothing too great but at least I'm getting somewhere xD.
I have to fix the inside and then start adding vinyl.

Using the paper template, I cut out the specific parts I needed for the barrel out of foam and then went ahead to do the other side and so on. Even though I only had a template of one orientation, my SolidWorks drawing was able to help me make all additional pieces to create the angled parts and such. I cut the holes using an x-acto knife and smoothed them out with a dremel. I layered the inside of the foam with cardboard as it supports the foam to be more hard, and flat. I also layered the other pieces that I felt were a bit bendy and then glued everything together with a hot glue gun. This is currently where i'm standing at right now but it gets a little difficult here since I have to work on the inside of the barrel before finishing up touches and moving on the next part.

While I was out, I got some Vinyl fabric which I will be using to overlay on top of the foam. Vinyl is beneficial as it will usually come in the solid color you are looking for (NOT ALWAYS THE CASE), not be damaged by weather conditions, and provide a smooth look depending on the texture. Its a lot less tedious than doing the traditional multiple layers of coating and then painting but the disadvantages are that they are quite limited in selection and unmerciful to your wallet. You tend to be a lot more careful with vinyl since wasted pieces are kicks to the face. I also tend to resort to finding my vinyl fabric locally rather than online since the pricing isn't all that "cheaper" as I thought it would be and the shipping costs tend to be overkill especially for Canadians. Anyways here they are:

Dark grey which will be the main color of my weapon
and some of my clothing parts. Even though the foam
comes in a grey that is slightly lighter than this,
leaving the foam for color would create an unclean
look. This dark grey costs about $6.99 per yard (`A`)

Royal blue vinyl, the main color of Imca's armor and
on half the parts of the var. It was difficult finding vinyl
with this kind of blue and especially a flat and solid
look so I was in good fortune finding this at one of the fabric
shops downtown. $11.00 per yard but worth it since other
places were selling blues I didn't need and at
$15-25 per yard ┐('`)┌

Black vinyl for the armor,clothing parts and
a few spots on the var. Got this at $10.00 a
meter at fabric land as black vinyls tend to be more
expensive due to it being a popular color, so this
is actually a good find. Black is easy to find but
not always in a smooth and flat look.  
Since they only sell vinyls in either per yard or meter, its always good to buy more than what you actually need rather than less to cut it off cheap. Also when you use vinyl, try to Tetris as much of the fabric as possible so you don't leave big gaps that waste the vinyl. Most importantly try to be consistent with the vinyls as having multiple vinyls and all different looks and textures will effect your costume greatly.

Part 3: Frame and Mechanics 

Before starting to work on the other parts you should also consider what uses you want it to have and its frame. This is what matters the most because if the prop doesn't have good frame and mechanics then it's going to break down fast. The frame of the weapon should be something of light material but can hold the entire thing together without snapping with small amount of force applied, I used a wooden frame in the inside because the weapon is long so people are bound to accidentally bump into it and yes they have bumped into mine at AN2012.
This was my front end of the Var. As shown I added a
foam piece with cardboard in between the 2 pieces and
attached strongly to both the sides. The frame piece of
wood sits on the bottom half with the cardboard and was
glued to it. For the reason that when the frame wood is
lifted it picks up the front end of the weapon from the
foam instead of dragging it from the top part attached
with glue.

Using a long piece of thin wood as frame for connecting the
other pieces and making the weapon durable. The two pieces
on the floor are the middle part of the weapon I was working
on after finishing the front end. Although you are using a
frame, make sure you prioritize your steps and what you want.
More wood was attached to the end of the frame wood to make
the other handle and the long handle that isn't used. For the 2
pieces on the floor, the cardboard has a slit which
 lets the frame sit inside.

By mechanics I mean handles, dynamic parts and extra cool functions to completely swag out your prop for people to go ape shiet crazy for. The handles are important as they will be the only things making it able to hold properly in your hands. I made my handles out of wood so I could nail or screw them to attach to other wooden parts that can be screwed on to the frame which holds the entire weapon. You can also screw from the bottom of the frame or use miniature "L" brackets (clamps) to secure both ends.

Made 2 openings but covered one with
vinyl.The smaller opening is for the
handle and theother is a small storage
 compartment i made for keeping my
wallet or camera since I didn't want to
have them in my pocket.

The storage compartment which can
be removed but has stubs at the bottom
 to prevent it from easily removing
itself if turned over and such. I made
 the compartment slightly tight so it
wasn't able to slip out and required
using your hands to pull it out or push
it back in.

Sticking a piece of wood through
the vinyl and adding some support
underneath to make it stay.The
wood also goes past through the
 opening and will sit on the
frame of wood.

Attaching the handle which is made
out of wood to the piece of wood sticking
 out and then adding vinyl to the handle
 to make it not so ghetto.

Lastly added the extra foam to cover
the woodand make it look clean. This
would then sit on the frame of wood
and be screwed from underneath the
frame tomake the handle completely
attached with the entire weapon. Having
 the storage compartment made it easy
 for me to removeand fix the
inside of the handle if needed so.

That is just showing where the piece
would be sitting after the middle part
was completed and then attach to the
wooden frame from the bottom.

 As for the other handles such as the two at the end, I just attached blocks of wood on the top and bottom side of the frame at the very end then attached wooden dowels much similar to the process shown above.
Attaching wooden handles to the end of the frame.
You can see from the previous picture that there wasn't
 a pop out part at the top but that part is a wood piece
attached to the frame and then handle to that wood piece.
 Same with the bottom longer handle as it is attached to a
wooden piece which that piece is attached to the bottom part
 of the frame. Sounds confusing but its just making sure they
 all connect wood wise. Then adding foam and
vinyl as cover and details.

So that concludes making the frames and mechanics which pretty much makes the entire weapon now holdable by 2 hands from the 2 smaller handles. All that is left to do are basic shape constructions with foam, adding the vinyl to them and then putting it all together to its appropriate spot. I won't show the step by step of making each and every individual part as I felt some of the parts I made weren't as clean or satisfactory but most of the parts are really simple to make and just require a short bit of time and dedication. I ended up attaching the pieces with super glue.

Part of the end handle which was probably a bit confusing
to make at first but worked out later. The top part has a
hole where the handle would go through and then its glued
from the inside. the long handle would be attached to the
large hole but with additional foam support and such.
The canister attached to the left side of
the var. Just stacking shapes then attaching
it with 2 extra foam supports at the top and
bottom made to look like brackets.

The construction of the ammo drums in foam
one of the circular sides is bigger than the other
so it was a little complicated making the cylinder.
You could just make them equal but sometimes those
extra small details get to me.
This is the piece that holds the ammo drum
and attaches to the Var.

Adding vinyl to the foam and then putting the
cylinder together. I kinda messed up the vinyl
job having those pointy parts on that circular
foam piece but that was due to not really knowing
how to foam the circular parts which
was really getting on my nerves.

Both the attachments and the drum rolls being put
together, all that is left is to add details.

The two ammo drums complete with extras and details, I left out brackets since I was somewhat lazy and wanted to rush to the next parts. The more nicer looking ammo drum would be the one attached to the left side of the Var since that side is more visible while the other side is partially hidden between my leg and the Var. A little unprofessional but seeing as I was timed each day to finish one part, I had to make some sacrifices.

I left the bottom part of the Var opened so that I could attach the blade to the wooden frame. Since the blade is really huge, it would be ideal to make it out of something light such as pink foam you find at home depot but I chose to make my blade out of wood for the reason that the blade sticks out past the front end of the cannon and if someone bumped into it then it could easily snap and would be non repairable at the convention. If you're really careful then you can try it but I just rather be safe than sorry because the weapon is what made my costume really. Using wood makes it durable and stiff but will make it heavy to carry around and apply more tension force towards the handles making it possible for the handles to unscrew themselves and become loose if not take proper precautions on. AN doesn't exactly have a weight limit at weapon check so other conventions may differ. My Var weighed about 20 lbs. Anyways once you got your blade done then attach it to the bottom of the frame with either miniature "L" brackets and screws or whatever adhesives if you're using light material. Then just add foam to cover the openings at the bottom and you're pretty much almost done.

I honestly did try to add in the extra small details such as the patterns on the handle but because I made it out of vinyl and decided to wrap it around the handle, some parts would stick out and then as you hold the handle some of the patterns would come apart. I didn't have time to make the whole wrap with fabric so I took it off and left it blank.

This was supposed to wrap around the white handles but it
didn't work out well so I had to scrap this.

Now that everything is pretty much made and set to be attached together it all just comes down to your accuracy in attaching parts and making it symmetrical to the other side. I attached almost everything with super glue as that would hold the best to the point that you'd have to rip the parts for it to come off and it would have to tear the vinyl from the foam. You can choose to add or leave out extra details, it's all up to you to how satisfied you are with your weapon and how creative you are too but do take note that with more extra details means that you will also be taking more extra maintenance with your prop as things are bound to happen to annoy you at the convention.

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