Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Construction!

"The Construction!"?  I think the "The" is superfluous.  Like in "The Pink Floyd".  Ah well, too late to change it now.  What with t'Interwebs being as permanent as stone, and all.


The collar was complete and the helmet was complete.  This was goodness.  But one very important question still remained:  How the bloody hell was I going to wear the thing?

I ultimately decided that wearing the encounter suit as an extreme shoulder pad would be impractical.  For starters I wanted to be able to leave the costume to show off my interior, "angel" costume.  I also wanted to be able to leave the encounter suit so I could drink, dance, pee, talk to people - crazy stuff like that.  So I needed some way to be able to take the encounter suit off easily and quickly, in such a way that I wouldn't have to find somewhere to rest it where it wouldn't get sat on or trod on or whatever.

The solution I came to was to make the encounter suit a free-standing structure all of its own.  When I wanted to "wear" it I would duck inside, slip my head up into the helmet (which would - if you recall, and you should - be attached to the collar by fabric) and then just lift the suit up enough to be able to wander around.  Admittedly this turned the whole project into less of a fancy dress costume and more of an interactive sculpture, but it seemed to be the easiest way to get the job done.

The other requirement I had was that I'd be able to remove the legs without too much hassle, so that I'd be able to fit the thing in my car.  (I only have a Puma - it can carry a surprising amount inside, but there's no way it'd take a fully-constructed Vorlon encounter suit.)  This was clearly not the lowest-maintenance costume I'd ever had.

With all these things in mind, I decided that I'd build the structure in two parts.  The first part would support the collar and assorted paraphernalia, and keep it at a suitable, appropriate angle.  (In the end I opted for something close to 45 degrees.  Examination of the footage from Babylon 5 showed that Kosh seemed to wear his collar differently depending on the situation.  So again I just went with what looked good.)

Continuing my one-man domination of the hula market

This was fairly simple.  Too simple, it would later transpire.  But it basically worked - the cardboard tubes were gaffer-taped into place like nothing's ever been gaffer-taped into place before, and the hula hoop served to both support it, and be something to which I could attach the legs.  If there's one thing I learned on this project, it's that hula hoops can be very versatile construction materials.

The other thing that I learned was that if I did this all over again I'd use something sturdier.  Like aluminium tubing.  And use nails or screws to hold it all together, and not just tape.  But as I've used as an excuse many times before, time was not on my side.

For the legs, then, I simply picked up some clothes line stands from Tesco, which just so happened to clip onto the support hoop nicely.

John Christopher would be proud

Although the photo there shows a tripod configuration (because, as we all know, a tripod arrangement provides the most stable base) I eventually went four a four-legged arrangement, mainly for reasons of practicality.

When I put it all together, it ended up looking something like this:

Yes, we were up before 0930.  Shocking.

I'll admit that it doesn't look massively stable and sturdy, but... er... it wasn't.  But it sufficed, and it was lightweight enough - which was really the best I could hope for.

You'll also notice that I had to add additional supports to the legs.  These were required to stop the legs from swinging around wildly.  Again, if I were building this properly that wouldn't have been an issue.  But I wasn't, so it was.  And that was my cheap-arse solution.

Somehow slightly less impressinve once
you know what's actually inside

With me standing inside and wearing the helmet you can probably get a better idea of how the whole thing's going to work.  Confident that we were definitely on the right track now, we proceeded to the next stage - attaching the "curtains".

For the curtains we'd managed to find some pretty awesome fabric from Fabricland in Southampton (great shop for materials, not exactly the most inspired website - I apologies for your eyes if you followed that link).  It was lightweight, brown, and had a hint of gold speckling.  I thought I was going to have to settle for something that'd be close enough, but this stuff really was perfect.

Given the positioning of the legs and the fact that I was going to have Kosh's "voice lights" hanging down the front, I'd decided that I would exit the encounter suit through the rear.  Therefore when hanging the fabric from the collar we put the join at the back, but with enough overlap that it wouldn't show, even when I was walking.

"We are all hobos"

With the curtains in place, I knew that it was all going to work - from an aesthetic point of view, if not a structural one.  Whilst this looked good, when we actually attached the curtains for real we hung the fabric out a little wider, just to give a little more width and not hug the legs too much.

And yes, once we'd attached the fabric we did indeed almost immediately take it all off again.  Not because I'm a sadist (well...), but because the costume needed painting and I didn't want to get paint on the lovely fabric.  The point of hanging the fabric before painting was to ensure that it would all work, and that we wouldn't need to make any structural changes.  I wanted to get all of that done and out of the way before adding the fine detail.

Taking a different tack with the collar

Finally we attached the cloth collar to the inside of the encounter suit collar.  This was fairly easy, if a little fiddly - it was quite easy to make a collar with a hole in the middle that I could just poke my head through.  We didn't bother attaching the helmet at this stage - we were pretty confident that would just work (and, thankfully, it did).

Happy with our progress...  We took it all apart again, ready for painting.  Which meant all the fabric and the legs came off.  A pain, but necessary - and it was better to do it this way.

One big change that we had to make before the final assembly was the supporting hula hoop.  I'd purposefully arranged the encounter suit collar at such an angle that it would just about go through a single-width door.  I knew that I'd never make it through forwards, and was confident that most major doors at the venue for the SFX Weekender would be double doors.  But it needed to be able to pass through single doors when it needed to - when, for example, leaving our chalet on the site.

However, as you might be able to tell from the top photo on this entry, the rear of the hula hoop stuck out too much.  This was, of course, a major problem.  Ultimately I ended up sawing off the protruding section, and then re-attaching it the other way around with heavy-duty staples and gaffer tape.  This resulted in the ring not being as stable as it had been (unsurprisingly), and subsequently the legs not being as reliable.  Again there was probably a better way of doing this, but I was out of time and money.

Speaking of heavy-duty staples, they saw a lot of use in the final construction.  Whilst hanging the fabric here we'd just used drawing pins, since we knew this wasn't going to be permament.  When hanging the fabric for real, we once again used drawing pins to position it correctly, before stapling the material all in place with heavy duty staples and removing the fabric.  This worked fine for the curtains, but with all the taking-on and taking-off of the helmet the collar fabric ended up working itself loose over the course of the evening.  When I repair the costume I think I'll also use some glue to keep the material in place.  That or use longer-legged staples.  (Due to a restriction in the staple gun that I borrowed to do this I was restricted to staples that were at most 6mm in height - 12mm or more would have it all a lot more secure, I think.)

But I was now happy with the structure of the encounter suit, so it was time to start on the details!

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