I started my build with the cowl using some oil based clay over a plaster bust of myself.
Up until now, I have really only been blocking out the rough sculpt, but as I got closer to happy with the finish of the cowl have been doing some work smoothing out the surface, with sculpting rakes, filling and patching.
I thought before I finish off the surface, I should try the cowl on. So I brushed 10 coats of latex over the sculpt and when it dried, I was able to peel it off and try it on for the first time… Thats where I hit a snag.
The lifecast of me that I used for the cowl, was taken when I was a teenager. Because I didn’t know anyone who could do a life cast at the time, I did it on myself. I cast the two front halves vertically one at a time, then I did the back in one piece, then I used plaster and a lot of scraping and rasping, to “glue” the three pieces together and I ended up with a pretty good life cast (if I do say so myself). I have a small head (that’s why I cannot buy a cowl), hence the reason I decided to build my own. Although I have used this life cast for many special effects prosthetics and masks over the years, this is the first time I have made such a tight fitting mask from it. Soooooooo… with a combination of my face changing over the last 20 years and latex shrinking when it dries, although I thought I had compensated for these factors, by making the sculpt relatively thick all over, it seems that I didn’t allow enough. The cowl feels like a comfortable fit when it’s on, and it actually looks pretty good (although it is white for this test), the problem is that it is too tight across the forehead and where is stretches tight, it loses the detail of the brow and frown lines.
All is not lost though, what I will now do to fix it, is bulk out the top and rear of the sculpt, which should take pressure off the front, bringing back the detail again for the finished product.
The lesson in this is what my woodwork teacher used to say when I was 12 years old “A mock-up prevents a muckup!”. Wise words Mr. McNaughton, wise words indeed! So back to the sculpture, I started bulking out the top and the back in another layer of clay.
Time for another test cowl. This time I brushed over black latex in 10 coats.
A reminder that this cowl was just latex brushed OVER my cowl sculpt, so there is no detail or anything, it was just to test for size.
So after trying on my second test cowl, I learned that it was still a bit too small and I also got some better images of the cowl from the movie and started really looking hard at ONLY photos from the real suit. The big thing I have found while making this suit is that so many photos of other fan-built suits are totally wrong, so from this point on, I will only rely of real photos and my own templates etc.
So this is the final sculpt. I have not concentrated too much on the perfect surface as I am going to sand down the final fibreglass master and cast that.
Brushing on the silicone
The First layer of silicone completed (print coat)
Several thickedned layers more and some silicone keys at the bottom.
The back plaster shell (mother mould) in place
The first half of the front part of the mother mould
The final piece of the mother mould
Suspended in a 20L pail, I mixed up some fumed silica in to some fibreglass resin to thicken it a lot and made a mud coat to swill round the mould. This creates (hopefully) a perfect surface reproduction in the final piece.
Then on the second layer I put down chopped strand fibreglass mat.
The moment of truth, did it work? Hellz yeah it worked!
Now the bit I hate starts, the sanding. I have spent so much time sanding and it feels like a never ending job, but it is coming along. I love it when you can get to the priming stage because then you really get to see what it looks like. But for now, it’s sanding and patience.
It is now getting much smoother and becoming more opaque, so you can see it’s shapes much better than when it first comes out of the mould. Still more sanding though.
After sanding to get the surface smooth it is time to fill the blemishes with builders filler.
I also used filler to get the smooth rounded transition where the ears meet the head. I used a permanent marker with sandpaper wrapped around it to get this curve and make it consistant.
Now the bit I love, a coat of primer! This is the coolest part because it is when you get to really see how uniform the piece is, but it shows up every mark and blemish, so it can also be disheartening seeing how much more work you need to do. But I only plan on doing this once, so I will spend the time and get it perfect.
Time now to fix a symmetry issue with one ear. I marked out where the line should be and it took me a long time to figure out what had gone wrong, but once I did, it was actually a very simple fix with a change of a couple of angles and a bit of bulking up of the outside of the left ear.
A lot more filling, plus a little bit of Dremel grinding on the temples to really get a sharp line. The left ear is reshaped and bulked out and some of the major blemishes filled.
Some more coarse sanding of this filler
Some fine sanding of the filler. Plus some work on the middle of the frown. This was another detail which I had wrong in my sculpt and have sculpted in using filler.
And another coat of primer just to bring it back to a workable surface. There is still tons more work to be done, although it may not be obvious on the photos here, there are a lot of minor blemishes to deal to, plus the temples.
Errors in the back marked out in pencil
Power file and sanding to correct the back.
Final inspection for blemishes and errors marked out in pencil
I have tinkered away on my cowl fibreglass master for months. Every now and then I think “yep, that’s perfect” then I spot something that I am unhappy with and start hacking in to it again. The other day was just such a day, I thought are those ears a bit small? So I photoshopped a pic of Bale in his cowl over a pic of my cowl and indeed the ears on mine were too short by about 1cm, so out with the filler
A Bit of sanding
So that’s it, I moulding it before I change my mind, stand back!
First layer of silicone (beauty coat)
Some silicone mixed with some thixotropic additive to make a paste to fill the undercuts
Another layer of silicone and then the back of my mother mould (a matrix mould)
A coat of vaseline on the exposed plaster to stop the next piece sticking
The mother mould removed and it’s time to remove the silicone skin from the master. This is much harder than you would expect. It needs to be stretched and manipulated off the master, but if you go too thin, it will cause you some more problems in the next step, so I used 4 layers of STMPRO X50 Silicone and I would not sugest going thinner or thicker.
I stuck the pieces of the matrix mould back together with some more Ultracal
Flipped the silicone negative inside out and brushed it with Vaseline as a mould release. This helps get in to the little nooks and crannies
I assembled the silicone back in the Ultracal jacket and brushed the top edges with Vaseline
Clips hold the top edge in place while I pour in some runny silicone and rolled it around to get rid of any air bubbles.
Silicone dry and I poured in some expanding soft polyurethane foam to fill the void
This foam is flexible enough to remove from the void
Then peel out the silicone positive.
And there you have it a silicone positive with a soft foam core. Next time I would make this positive silicone layer much thicker, this would give more rigid support for the next steps. You almost can’t go too thick on this layer as you could always pry it out.
The silicone positive ready to mould and staked on a base board with a post glued in to it
I brushed some ultracal under the bottom edge, chin and nose
Then proceeded to apply a thin layer of ultracal to the whole thing. I only went for a thin layer because I don’t want the weight of the Ultracal to distort the mould.
I waited for the ultracal to almost set before applying the second thicker layer of Ultracal
Once dry, I removed the foam core, removed the silicone positive and allowed the plaster to thoroughly dry. Then filled it with liquid latex. Now we play the waiting game…
The cowl is out of the mould, trimmed, plasti-dipped and ready to wear. I am very happy with the look, but it is actually still a bit small once I put my mesh hood on underneath. So I will go back to my fibreglass master and make a few alterations, but this is wearable in the meantime. The big lesson is to remember to make your cowl at least 10% bigger than you need it, to allow for latex shrinkage. Also, if it’s slightly too big you can pad the inside with foam, but if you make it slightly too small, there is nothing you can do.