3D Printing a Star Wars Clone Trooper
Humble Beginnings, Part 1
Back in Fall of 2017 I decided it would be a good idea to 3D print a Clone Commando Helmet from the Star Wars Republic Commando game from 2005. This is the exceedingly image-heavy story of what ended up turning into one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done in my life.
Since we operate on an annual cycle of going to Emerald City Comic Con, taking a few months off, and then getting back to work, I kind of took my time figuring out what I wanted to go as for ECCC 2018, and had a lot of work stuff going on at the time. After the helmet started to come together, though, I got to thinking… how hard could it be to print the rest of the armor?
Some Assembly Required…
I decided that I was going to go all in and do it! Unfortunately, by the time I had figured out where I was getting my files from, it was already February… with the convention about a month away. Poor planning aside, I decided to press forward with a hotend upgrade for my Rostock Max to handle the increased volume and speed I would need to work at, and purchased my printing material.
I started off with enlisting @quiddity_cosplay to help me conduct a full 3D scan of my body. This was accomplished through software called Autodesk ReCap, which works through a technique called photogrammetry – basically stitching a bunch of photos together and creating a 3d model based off of computed reference points.
With one “avatar” created, I made another one using another piece of software called Armorsmith Designer which allows you to create a more generic model of yourself using standard measurements. Using these two programs allowed me to do quick sizing through loading the .STL files into Armorsmith, and then comparing against my real scan. Since I did not have a Kinect at the time, I was not able to do a real infrared scan – so Armorsmith ended up being the more useful of the two…but I’ve already picked up a spare Kinect to do it the “right way” next time I do this.
(Un)luckily, at this point I got laid off, which actually ended up being really helpful to the whole process. I was able to start dedicating entire days to working on this project that was starting to consume my life. I started with the upper torso, modeling and sizing the chest and back out, and doing some greebles (minor props) as I had spare printer capacity. After about a day of solid printing I thoroughly trashed our garage.
One of the common misconceptions I think people have about 3D printing when it comes to cosplay is that they can just click “print” and all of their stuff is ready to paint. This is technically true, I guess, but not many of us have $20,000 printers that can knock this stuff out in one go! That also being said, I think one of the biggest advantages someone who is 3D printing over someone working with EVA Foam will be that a properly calibrated printer is dimensionally accurate, can replicate pieces perfectly, and can produce some very clean geometry.
About another day into printing and I was already trying to delegate smaller prints to the Printrbot Simple Metal due to its slower print speed. This led to some parts getting done out of order…but my collection nonetheless steadily grew.
While I was working on all that, my T-Visor for my helmet came in from t-visor.com! These guys are cool because there are a bunch of pre-tinted pre-cut plexiglass patterns you can purchase. I picked up the Clone Commando to match my helmet and was able to hot glue it in place within a few minutes.
At this point in the build I was applying XTC-3D epoxy to my prints to smooth out the layer lines, spray painting with automotive primer for that little extra filling, and then sanding the hell out of the surface to try and get a smooth finish. Automotive Bondo also came in handy for filling in the seams on prop joins, and extra large cracks between joined armor pieces.
With most of the surface defects smoothed out, I then proceeded to painting. Now, if you were moving slowly and taking your time unlike me, you’d probably be able to get away with a really cool mirror finish on your armor, or a nice plasteel sci-fi look to your armor. I, however, was in an absolute rush to get this out the door, and figured that since my helmet didn’t “match” the armor of my clone, that I should go for a “battlefield pickup” look and opted to go more battle hardened. This ended up really working well for my character, and helped me conceal some of the shortcomings I had as a first-timer to these materials.
I started each piece off with a dark base-coat of spray-on primer. This is to help with the layer adhesions of future coats of paint. After getting all of my pieces, and clearing out the local Fred Meyer, I proceeded to start each piece of armor off with a smooth nickel satin finish. This metal layer gave me something to damage my subsequent layers to, giving a really cool shine through effect as later paint wore down. To get the battle effects, between layers of paint I sprinkled coarse, wet, salt chips on the armor, and used little dashes of liquid latex to simulate deep cuts.
At this point, March had rolled around, and I had begun test fitting pieces, doing detailing, and figuring out how I was going to get them attached to my body. At this point in time, I had no better idea than to take a lycra bodysuit and sew velcro patches onto it. This ended up being a terrible idea because the total weight of the armor is around 10 pounds and pulls on the bodysuit, making moving extremely uncomfortable. However, I wouldn’t find this out until the con, because this was about as deep into a real suit up as I got…
To complete the midsection of my armor, I hastily glued some PVC sheets together and attached them to the back of the gut-plate. This gave me a “decent” midsection that I didn’t have to fully 3D print.
Hard Work Pays Off!
In about a month I went from a single helmet to a mostly finished mismatched Clone Trooper build!
I learned a lot about the things I did not like about my armor, things I did not like about how my printer worked, and things I did not like about having to do a lot of this work in the Winter. Definitely one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had – it really helped me get to know myself during a difficult time in my life, and gave me a chance to work with tools I would have otherwise never worked with!
Despite all the shortcomings, and the insane amount of stress I put on myself during the process of making the first edition of the Clone, I learned SO MUCH! With this in mind, I was going to break my rule of not repeating main costumes at ECCC and dive back in for round 2!
Humble Beginnings, Part 2
Since I hate both free time and money, I decided I was going to go back to the drawing board on a couple key components…
- The E3Dv6 hotend for the Rostock Max was using a now-dated HE280 control board, which used inferior autoleveling for the glass bed. I decided to upgrade to a SE300 hotend as part of a kit to upgrade the Rostock Max to version 3.2. This included a 32 bit Duet controller and .90 degree stepper motors. This alone increased the print quality I was able to consistently put out by an order of magnitude. What makes Delta-style 3D printers like the Rostock Max really shine is the sheer speed they can operate, reaching 80-90mm/s print speed with little quality loss.
- I hated the “split armor” that separated the fronts and backs of the armor pieces. Specifically the biceps and the thighs, mostly due to their propensity to pinch your flab and make movement very uncomfortable.
- The kama (Star Wars for kilt) on the original costume was comically short and did not look at all how I wanted it to.
- The midsection did not look that good and the ab plate had a tendency to move around, which would stick the codpiece out comically far. This also prevented the use of a belt.
- The paint scheme looked bad and I wanted to give it some more flare while also retaining the safety net of having it look battleworn.
- A finally, I wanted to change how the whole armor mounted to me. I wanted a harness style system that I had read about on the 501st forums.
With all these in mind, I started out, one by one, and began Phase 2 in September 2018.
I started with test prints of a Republic Commando DC-15s Pistol and DC-17m Blaster Rifle. While eventually did not end up having time to use these, they were fun exercises in high detail prints in PETG filament.
I had also begun working on determining what armor pieces I could refurbish, what parts I needed to scrap, and what parts I could just straight up re-use. I ended up having to remake about half of the costume, thus invalidating half of the photos I’ve posted previously in this novel.
I grinded the compads off of the forearms, and attempted to join them together using bondo, but decided it would be faster to just reprint them with a small removable notch modeled in them so I can get my thumbs in and out.
The thighs were also completely redone. As were the biceps, knees, and elbows!
I got lucky with the shins, they were precisely 2 inches too high from all across the bottom edge. I was able to take a dremel and slice it off.
I also refurbished the belt greebles to make a real belt!
At this point, things were moving pretty quickly. With lessons learned from last Winter, I was able to get a much cleaner paintjob on all the parts. I ended up spending a significant amount of time sanding the chest pieces all the way down to the plastic to reshape the pecs a little bit, and re-epoxied to get a better finish on it.
As time progressed I got a bit more adventurous with my coloring scheme. I did some research around on different types of clone units, and their particular scheme, and ended up coming up with a combination of a recon and Coruscant guard color markings…
At this point the armor was ready to begin fitment, and I began work on my harness system.
Leveraging PVC sheets again, I decided to save some time and use the 3D printed ab plate as an inlay against the sheet, which allowed me to nicely line up the natural edges of the PVC with the edges of the print.
After some lengthy weathering…and some unpictured sewing of a new kama, I present to you the latest iteration of the Clone Commando…
And after a long week’s con…I was ready to go home!
With PAX West just around the corner, I’m excited to get to show off the build again, and meet people who are into expressing their creativity and skills through costuming, and also get to talk shop about printing. Unpictured are some changes I’ve made to the internal reinforcement of the body, a voice amplifier built into the helmet, and a re-designed kama that should flow a little more elegantly!
Thank you for taking the time to wade through this, I look forward to update number three!