Some Notes on Building & Painting Atomic Wonder Woman’s Armor/Props:
(I hesitate to call it a tutorial, because I didn’t have a ton of time to stop and take pictures while I was building the costume, but hopefully my somewhat rambling notes should give interested parties some insight into our process. If I’m not clear or you have any other questions, please feel free to ask)
If you’re just interested in seeing this costume up close and personal, I’ll have be wearing AWW at NYCC this year and pax east next year. You can also check out our facebook page for more details/pics/etc.
A note on materials: We were lucky enough to have pretty flexible budget for this costume, so we did splurge a bit on materials. I get that not everyone has that luxury, but most of the materials I’m using, you can probably get a similar look with cheaper materials.
Hair dryer- An incredibly important tool when working with any kind of thermoplastic (wonderflex, worbla, fosshape, friendly plastic, etc)
Wonderflex- I used wonderflex (actually two layers of wonderflex sandwiched over craft foam. this gives it a nice heft) for the bulk of the armor (stop sign, breast plate sign), I know everyone is currently gaga for Worbla atm (and I did use some, which I’ll get to later), but wonderflex is still a really great material and should get some love. The major difference between the two is that wonderflex has a fabric-like backing which makes it stronger but not as flexible. It is more suited to heavier armor and for making any attachment loops (which are important- because you need to remember how you’re going to attach your armor to your body). The stop sign armor has four attachment loops made of wonderflex on the back, which the leather straps go through to secure the armor. Another point in favor of wonderflex is it costs about half as much as worbla per giant sheet (and a giant sheet goes a long way), so if you’re trying to be cost effective, it’s definitely worth considering.
Worbla- I used worbla for the license plate armor (the top bit, the bottom bit is actual aluminum from the hardware store) because it required more detail work. Since worbla lacks the fabric backing, it’s a lot stretchier and can do more fine detail things (it’s also slightly finickier about heat application).
Veggie Tanned leather - I used veg tanned leather for the breast plate because I needed to case (wet mold) it to a boob mold for the bra cups. If you can afford to work with veg tanned leather (and aren’t a vegan), I highly recommend it. It’s a pretty forgiving material once you get the hang of it, and it does lend a nice realism to a costume to make it out of the material the concept artist meant it to be made out of.
Acrylic EVERYTHING : And by this I mean, acrylic gesso, paint, frisket (liquid masking fluid), and varnish. Wonderflex and Worbla (and other things like pvc and foam) all need to be primed with something and I’ve found that acrylic gesso works best for me. Typically I do 3-4 thinner layers because I don’t like having to sand things, but you really have to play it by ear- if you can still see the base material underneath, you probably need more gesso. Acrylic gesso is fairly cheap too (as with all art paints, there are levels, and you can go with one of the cheaper gessos b/c you’re not actually priming canvas). I’m also a huge fan of acrylic paints because they’re opaque (so if you mess up, you can just paint over with the color you wanted) and they mix well, as well as being fairly reasonably priced. I’m a bit of a painting nerd/snob though, so sometimes if I want a certain color you can’t get by mixing, I’ll shell out for a slightly higher level paint color. You can usually get away with the “student” level paints though (except for metallic paints, which are usually the next level up). Acrylic varnish comes in a variety of sheens- from high gloss to matte (and you can mix layers to get an in between effect). We usually have a low gloss (satin) and a high gloss varnish around, which works for most projects. It’s also important to use acrylic brushes (it’ll just work better for you all around).
Leather stain (red), leather paints (optional), leather varnish, needles/thread/awl: Obviously you need to stain your leather (you can also use straight up leather paints, but I like the way stain looks). You can also use acrylic paints on leather (see they’re so versatile!) which is what I used for the caution tape bits of the boob armor. It’s important to follow all the directions that come with your leather stain (like removing excess stain and working in well ventilated areas). And again, it’s important to seal your work (because you don’t want the leather dye staining other parts of your costume)- we use ecoflo leather varnish (but there’s a huge range of options, use what you like) in a mid gloss. I like to apply both the stain and the varnish with these cotton balls on sticks (they sell them in bags at the tandy leather factory) but you can also just use an old cloth and rub it in.
Obviously you will also need leather tools for working the leather (at least a nice awl, a pair of hand sewing needles and it’s really nice to have a groover. I also usually have a spray bottle filled with water, so I can just spritz the leather as I go), and thread (I like to use sinew best, but waxed thread also works fine. I used both for this project- the sinew for all of the structural sewing, and then I used white waxed thread to make the iconic “football” stitches you can see in the top image).
PVC sheet/Pink insulation foam- this is what Josh made the chainsaw & the chainsaw teeth/body of the chainsaw out of. I’m only including it here b/c I’m going to discuss how I went about painting it. If you’re interested in the build, you can read his notes here .I’ll probably also repost these notes on our website later this week.
Paper towels and ratty old brushes you don’t mind abusing.
A few notes on building:
AWW’s armor isn’t super complex as far as shapes go. Josh helped me pattern the stop sign armor and we pretty much just used my forearms to pattern the license plate armor. We just use cardboard as the “muslin” for patterning armor, nothing fancy. The leather armor was a little more annoying, but once we figured out how the boob cups worked, it came together pretty nicely. The leather armor is all hand stitched using a modified baseball stitch and then it was wet molded to a boob mold I made out of half a styrofoam ball and some clay.
The straps were also just cut from leather and then stained brown. We used chicago screws to attach the bottle caps and the buttons are just attached by brute-forcing the pin part through the leather. The buttons are actually all justice league buttons (and a “darkseid needs a hug” button), which we though was a fun touch.
I included some of the more major battle damage into the build of the armor- simply by having slightly more excess on the thermoplastic layers over the craft foam and then cutting it away. For the license plates, I cut out the “w”s and the “1”s out of one layer of worbla and attached them how I wanted. Then Josh went over all of the letters/numbers with the soldering gun to make them raised up (this is also how we did some of the battle damage on the chainsaw and the knee pad). He also went around the edge to make it have a raised edge the way a license plate would. The bottom half the license plate gauntlets are aluminum sheets cut down to size. They’re attached to leather straps via chicago screws.
The bottom edge of the stop sign is actually just two layers of wonderflex (no craft foam). I wanted to give it slightly more weight than just wonderflex alone, but since it appears thinner in the concept art, I didn’t want it as thick as the rest. I also used this method on the raised area of the spike plate for the gloves.The spikes are just little cones of wonderflex.
For all the bits that were supposed to have originally been street signs (and therefore made of metal), I first painted them a dull metallic silver. I achieved the shade of silver that I wanted by mixing in different colors of paint until I got what I wanted (this is basic color theory- the colors that we see or expect to see are actually made up of lots of colors we would never guess are in there. If you want props with depth, mix in color). I painted all of the “metal” props silver on both sides (a couple of coats). Once that was dry, I went over them with the liquid frisket and masked out areas that I wanted to stay silver and then let that dry (it works best if you let it dry 24 hours). And then I painted over with the base colors I wanted each thing to be. Again, it’s important to note that I didn’t just use out of the tube colors for anything, even basic colors like “red” or yellow (the yellow had to be slightly metallic, so I mixed it with gold and a little bit of red) and none of the whites are actually a true white.
Once I had a few layers down and everything was looking new and pretty, it was time for weathering. I have a couple of methods for weathering- I like mixing browns/reds/blacks and then dabbing a paper towel (or a ratty brush) in the paint and rubbing it on the armor. Then I go back over with the color I want it to be and rub it again. This is a good way to give something a vaguely dirty look (you can also achieve a brushed metal look by using a semi transparent metallic paint and going over your weathering- which is what I did on the chainsaw). I also used the dry brush with some reds/browns to make it look like rust/blood .Usually before applying too much weathering, I remove the frisket (you can just rub it off with your fingers). This should reveal the silver underneath and you can work that into your weathering process.
I also painted the back of the stop sign armor (because bits would be visible in photos) and did some minimal weathering. As far as weathering goes, it’s always good to research real objects that you’re trying to emulate and how they age over time. Since all her armor is made of street signs/license plates, I just looked at old street signs and looked at how they erode over time/where they take the most amount of wear. Google image search is your friend!
Once you’re absolutely all done with your painting, you can varnish! You can go a little crazy on varnish, since it’s going to help seal in your paint job and all your hard work. Again, think about what your material is supposed to be- is it a shiny metal (like a chainsaw blade), or is it a little more matte (like a stop sign)?
The socks I made from a pair of rugby socks and a pair of normal socks that I frankensteined together with the serger (after determining the correct placement for the stripes). The rugby socks I had to order from the UK b/c apparently americans don’t believe in yellow and blue horizontally striped socks.
The knee pad is actually a roller derby knee pad that we removed all insignia from and then added dents/scratches with the dremel. I then hot-glued the knee spikes to it.
The gloves are mma grappling gloves (so they are slightly padded). I had to order red and black gloves b/c they don’t make them in just red, and then I used Angelus Leather paints to paint them the correct shade. The knuckle spike was then hot-glued on top. Even though the gloves were slightly padded, I will probably need to tape my fingers for future wearings as they did chafe slightly from carrying the chainsaw around.
I think that about covers it? I know I didn’t go into detail about all of her armor or how I did the corset/tie skirt/belt buckle (the belt buckle was also made of worbla), but I think that’s probably good for now? Again if anyone has any questions/needs clarification, let me know :)
(top photo credit: Patrick Sun)