General Kael At Last
In 2017 I submitted to enter C2E2's cosplay contest, Crown Champions of Cosplay, and was accepted. I took home a 2nd Place medal in the Armor category for my General Kael. Here is the comprehensive look on how I made the costume, as well as remaking the helmet a year later.
This was a dream project for me. I was a pretty nerdy kid, which explains why I'm a pretty nerdy adult. There wasn't a lot of fantasy growing up that wasn't a Conan the Barbarian style fantasy. Lots of fur bikinis and underwear, which I always thought was a bit ridiculous. When Willow came out, all the characters were wearing full armor, and they all looked great. But, of course, one character stood out.
As I grew older, and I started developing the skills to build such a costume, I knew it was only a matter of time before I tackled this project.
The most iconic part of this costume is, of course, the helmet and mask. So, it seemed like a good place to start.
I sculpted the mask with WED Clay on an Ed Head. As I hadn't made the helmet yet, I was sort of guessing on how wide it should be. More on that later. But, by sculpting it on the Ed Head, I was able to line up the eyes and mouth quite nicely.
I blocked out the teeth as part of the sculpt, but I knew what a pain in the neck it would be to mold and cast them as part of the mask. So, for finishing, the teeth were removed and I left little indents were the teeth were going to be. There aren't a lot of good pictures of the costume, so I was going back and forth on whether to add a texture to the mask. In the end, I added a little bit of texture, as I've never regretted adding detail.
After the sculpting was completed, I readied it for molding. First, by spraying it with Krylon Crystal Clear and then Dulling Spray. Then I made a rather pathetic mold wall. I didn't need a big wall since I was going to brush on the silicone.
So, a smart person would use a silicone known as Rebound, but I had Mold Star sitting on my shelf, and I thought I'd give it a try to avoid spending money. More on that later. The nice thing about silicone is how forgiving it is. If I didn't like how it was going all I had to do was peel it off after it cured. Unlike stone molds, clay usually survives silicone molds. So, I was wiling to gamble.
Mold Star is not recommended as a brush on silicone. As in, it's not a brush on silicone. Somehow, I pulled it off. My advice to you, however, is use Rebound! Once the silicone was set, I made a Plasti-Paste mother mold.
I didn't take pictures of the casting process for this mask, but I used Smooth Cast 325 dyed with So-Strong Black Tint. I did a combination of roto-casting the resin and as it was thickening I used a chip brush to smooth it out. There are other resins that are better for roto-casting, but 325 is a pretty universal resin that sets quickly, so it's my go-to resin. If I was casting a globe or something like that, 325 isn't good, as it would set too fast make an uneven casting.
I shaped the teeth out of Free Form Air, and as it was setting I sculpted it onto the mask. After the teeth cured, I was able to go in with a Dremel tool and add detail and texture. Looking at the reference photos, Kael's mask had quite a few cavities. I did my best to match each one.
I beefed up the lower jaw as well, and painted the whole thing black. With the teeth done, it was on to the helmet.
I didn't want to make a sculpt and mold, so I decided to fabricate the helmet. Most cosplayers use foam to make armor and helmets, and there's a lot of tutorials and patterns online. But, since this helmet was going to have a resin mask attached, and I was planning on having the visor moveable, I needed the helmet to be rigid as well.
I took a helmet I had that was pretty similar to the shape I was going for, and used it as a mold. I pressed in strips of Wonderflex plastic into it until I had a replica. On the inside of the Wonderflex helmet, I brushed in a layer of fiberglass. On the outside, I gave it a healthy dose of Free Form Air. Once the putty cured I sanded it smooth. Again, I was eyeballing the size, but I was able to use the mask to make sure it was the right size.
Now it was time to attach the mask to the helmet, as well as add the crest, ear plates, and hair. The ear plates were made of Wonderflex and re-enforced with fiberglass. Getting the exact shape was tricky, and getting the placement on the helmet was trickier. In the pictures here, they're way too forward. I eventually moved them back a bit.
To attach everything, I drilled quarter inch holes in helmet, mask, and ear plates. Inside the helmet I added a bolt anchor and used a one and a half inch bolt that fed through the holes and used washers and a crown cap to tighten everything together. I also glued the ear plates to the mask, so when raised they would move together.
The crest was made, again, from Wonderflex and studs were added.
Painting the mask was a little tricky. In some reference photos the mask looked white. In others, more yellow. This is probably due to the different lighting used on set, but there were also multiple helmets. And, the yellow could have been caused with age, depending on when the picture was taken. I settled on more white than yellow. But, as every good theatre person knows, you never actually go with true white. Always off white, because in photos true white will look like the mask is glowing. The mask is darker in real life than it appears in these photos.
Finally, faux wolf hair was added to the mask, and the helmet was painted black and the aventail was added. The aventail was made from leather, and the rings were blackened mild steel. The whole thing was glued on with contact cement, and studs were used to nail it on, giving it extra hold.
To finish the helmet I added padding, silver accents on the brow and cheeks, and eventually added the horse hair plumes (not pictured). At the time, I was really happy with it. More on that later.
Of course, while I was working on the helmet, the rest of the costume was also underway. The next trickiest part was the chest armor. After staring at the reference photos, I decided the armor was hardened from the waist up, and the only the skirt part was soft, presumably so the actor could easily sit on his horse. The cuirass was most likely hardened leather, with the scales riveted on. But, for my purposes, I went with Wonderflex re-enforced with fiberglass. I used a breastplate I owned to form the plastic. It was important to me that the chest had a proper bell curve to it. That is, not just curving horizontally, but vertically as well. I divided it into three sections; left, right, and middle. I glued them in place, the fiberglassed them together to make sure it was one solid piece.
While that was happening, I also began work on the crest. I fabricated the main shape with a piece of wood cut in a circle, then used plastic tubing to make the primary design. I then sculpted the clover and snakes out of Monster clay, and made quick silicone molds of them so I could have four of each. Once that was done, I attached them to my board, added studs, and sculpted other details with clay. I then made another silicone mold of the whole thing, as well as the flower ornament (which was also sculpted clay).
Once I had my molds, I cast them in Smooth Cast 325. The resin sets in ten minutes, but it doesn't fully cure for twelve hours. This is really only noticeable with thin castings, which is exactly what I had. This gave me the opportunity to pull the crest and flower out of the molds a little early, when they were like a heavy rubber. I then taped them to my breast plate so that they would set with the same bell curve I had already established.
To paint the armor, I started with a base coat of black. To get the iron metal affect, I did a light spray of Hammered Metallic, Silver, then Hammered again. I stand a few feet away so I get a fine mist. I also dry brush browns for a rusting affect. The crest and flower got a lot more silver, and I also gave them a black wash and brown dry brush as well. They were riveted onto to chest plate to make sure they would never fall off or come loose.
Next, I built the skirt out of faux leather with a felt lining. It was slipped in between the sections of the chest, so it was behind the middle and in front of the side panels. Then, I glued it to the sides and screwed it in the middle. The screws also held the front studs in place.
After that, I began lacing on the leather scales. Once I got to the chest, I had to drill holes where the lace would go. I used doubled up waxed leather lace for its strength. Buckles were added, and a back vest made of faux leather and felt was fabricated to complete the chest. As the character has a cape, I wasn't worried about making a detailed back plate.
All the rest of the armor, the pauldrons, greaves, and gauntlet, were made from Wonderflex re-enforced with fiberglass and painted the same way to get that rusted iron look. I know there was some kind of detail on Kael's greaves, but until I get a clear picture of what it is, I'm going to leave it blank. To this day, I've only seen fuzzy screen-caps.
At my work we have $4000 Juki sewing machines. At my house I have the cheapest sewing machine Walmart had to offer in 1998. I rarely use it, and I'm stunned it still works. Luckily, the soft goods on General Kael are simple. For the pants, I went with a Norse pattern found online, made from a heavy twill cotton. Basically, make two big tubes and stuff them into two small tubes; add a diamond shaped gusset for the groin and a drawstring for the waist and you're done.
The cape a version Roman Sagum style, which was a half circle that I made from felt. Felt is a great product, in my opinion, for theatre cloaks because it looks like wool, but is only $5 per yard. On the flat edge, find the center, then mark two points nine inches to the left and right of the center. Stitch these two points together. Your head goes through the hole. This style makes a big bundle of fabric right behind your head, but it was obvious to me in the reference photos that's what Kael had.
The sword was fabricated from wood, with the raised area from Wonderflex. The hilt was fabricated from ABS plastic. The pommel was a Styrofoam ball covered in Free Form Air. After painting, I wrapped the handle in leather. I intentionally made it big to be intimidating, but after it was all said and done, it was a little too big. Oh well.
Here are the submission photos I sent to Crown Champions of Cosplay. Obviously, they got me in. But, after looking at the completed costume, there were a few notes I wanted to take care of, and I only had a few weeks to do it.
I re-made my epaulettes on the shoulder armor to be straighter. But, I decided I would go back to the curved ones.
The chain mail needed to be darker, so I decided a quick spray would do the trick.
I decided the cape was to short, and it needed aging. After reviewing more reference photos, I decided that maybe the rectangular version of the Sagum was used. That would be easy enough.
Oh, and, of course, I needed to remake the mask.
Yep. Remember how I guessed at how wide it should be? Well, looking at the photos, it was obvious to me that the mask was too big. It was apish, and made me look small. I'm 6'1" wearing 4" platform boots, but the oversized mask makes the whole thing look like I'm a short guy. I couldn't believe this mask I was so proud of, I now hated enough to try and remake it before the contest.
I did these comparison photos and you can see what I'm talking about, The sword is ridiculously big, but I would have to let that go, for now. His chainmail is darker, the cape has more fabric, and the mask is smaller and longer in the face, with sharper angles. There was nothing terribly egregious about what I had accomplished, but I knew I could do better.
I decided that the helmet portion of the head gear was still good enough, so I only really needed to remake that mask part. I would also remake the ear plates and crest, leaving the first mask completely intact, just in case something went wrong or I ran out of time. The first mask was now a back-up.
One big advantage that I had the second time around, was that I had acquired a stone face form used in prosthetic make-up creations. I was able to get a much more accurate size in the sculpt. This time, I paid more attention to the angles and the details, such as the visible upper teeth and the shorter nose.
And, of course, this time I sprung for the Rebound silicone. I was out of the Mold Star anyway, but, what a difference. It's much easier to apply and control. It goes on several layers at a time, the thinnest being the first to capture all the detail. As you progress, use Thi-vex thickener to make the silicone less runny. In the end, you'll want enough layers to smooth and fill out as many undercuts as possible. This helps the mother mold come off easier.
After trimming the excess silicone away I made another Plasti-Paste mother mold. This time I made it a two-part mold to make it easier to remove the casting. Build a clay wall down the center of the mask. Apply the Plasti-Paste to one side. Once it cures, remove the clay wall and apply the second half. Don't forget to use mold release! I then drilled holes and used bolts to tighten the mother mold together when casting the new mask. Once the resin sets, I'll be able to unscrew the bolts and easily remove both molds.
Once the new mold was complete, I cast the new mask the same way I did before. It took a few layers of resin. You don't want to try and do it all in one shot, because your chance of an uneven casting goes up. The more material there is, the faster it sets. So, by going one or two ounces at a time, you'll have more of an opportunity to get in all nooks and crannies, and reduce your chance of air bubbles.
I after pulling it out of the mold, I allowed the mask to fully set around the helmet. While that was happening, I sculpted the teeth once again out of Free Form Air, only this time I let them fully cure. Once cured, I sanded and textured them with a Dremel tool.
After everything was set, I used the Dremel tool to carve out a channel on the lower jaw. Then, I filled it in with Free Form Air, and before that set, I placed each tooth in. This new tactic allowed me to get space in between each tooth like the real mask. It added a great deal more definition. I also noticed the right cheek was a little flat, so that got a little extra putty as well. It's amazing what you notice right away in your casting that you didn't notice after staring at your sculpt for hours.
To paint the helmet, I followed the same strategy. First, I spray painted it white, but I didn't concern myself about getting it completely white. Leaving the shadows around the teeth adds depth. I then airbrushed it with browns and grays. Afterwards, I gave it a clear coat. To create the silver accents, I put metal powder in the mold and did a very thin layer of resin. Then, I cut out the brow, cheek, and teeth segments and glued them on.
I remade the ear plates and crest, and applied them. I had enough of the faux wolf hair left over to cover the new mask. The end result was a much leaner, more angular mask.
I also completed the new Sagum cape, which was a 110" x 60" rectangle. This time I made it out of hopsack linen with a cotton lining. I think the texture is a lot closer to the film used cape. Kael's cape looked to have frayed edges, and some Sagums had intentionally frayed edges, too. So, I stitched three inches in on the 60" sides, then went to town with my rolling cutter, careful not to break the stitch line so the cape wouldn't eventually fray apart. After trying it on, it became obvious to me that the rectangle pattern is correct.
I also sprayed the chain mail. I made the chain mail specifically to taper at the wrists so they would tuck into my gauntlets easily. As you can see, the sleeves were stitched to a gambeson.
It was a quick few weeks, but I think it was well worth it. The helmet looked much better, much more proportional to the rest of the costume. I was also amazed at how much better the cape looked, too. I felt a lot more confident in going into C2E2, but I also knew the costume wasn't going to win anything. As I put it, it's a "Standard Definition" costume. When Willow came out, HD was still a ways off, so there just wasn't a need to add lots of tiny details like they do now-a-days. I knew that most of the costumes I was going up against had a lot of bells and whistles that Kael simply didn't have. But winning Crown Champions of Cosplay was never the point. The point was I loved this character and this
costume since I was nine years old.