NOTE: If you follow this guide, you assume all responsibility for the risks involved, and I am not liable for any damages that may occur. PLEASE BE SAFE, and I highly recommend working with a partner and taking all proper safety precautions.
Hey Everyone! It’s finally another Halloween, and this year my girlfriend and I decided to go with some awesome couples costumes: Commander Shepard and Miranda Lawson from the Mass Effect Universe. Last year was one of my first times making a costume from scratch and we went as Calvin and Hobbes, seen below:
If you would like to see how we made these, and have a guide for doing it yourself, I now present a guide to making your own Shepard Armor and Miranda costume. I will first talk about the cost of the projects, and then break down the guide for Shepard first, followed by Miranda. For full disclosure, inspiration and some instruction for this build came from this wonderful YouTube video. We also had guidance from screenshots of the characters, shown below:
Cost of Build
Before diving into the materials and steps to create these costumes, we should mention the cost of this project. The cost of this build will vary based on what materials and tools you already have. For the Shepard costume armor, not including the black shirt and pants worn under the armor, the build will run you between 80 and 120 dollars. The main cost of the Miranda costume was from the catsuit which we purchased online, so this build will run anywhere between 40 and 100 dollars, depending on what you want to buy.
Creating the Commander Shepard costume
Materials and Suggested Tools
- Shock absorbing foam mats—These are the grey, puzzle piece type mats. They run about 15-20 dollars for a pack of four, which are about 1 yard x 1 yard in dimension
- Poster Board—Used to make stencils for the armor cutouts
- Spray Paint—White and Red for the striped armor and N7 logo, Black and Grey/Silver for the armor itself, or any colors you want the armor to be.
- 2 sets of Knee Pads pads (from hardware store, not sports) — I bought two different sets of knee pads, and used one to look like knee pad armor, and attached the other two to my shoulders for shoulder armor.
- 4 Work belts with clip buckle, such as this — Used to hold front and back of armor together
- Pens/Pencils/Sharpies for drawing and marking on the foam before you cut out
- SAFETY GLASSES
- Hot glue gun with plenty of hot glue
- Heavy duty epoxy
- Either a soldering gun with a blade attachment, or a handheld power jigsaw
- Random screws/bolts (for cosmetic effect, completely optional to this build)
- Heat gun (used to peel paint or for crafting purposes)
- Old socks/towels that can be used and discarded
- Painter’s tape/Masking tape
Steps to Creation
- First, you are going to want to draw out the design of the Shepard armor on paper to get a rough idea of how you want to layer the foam. This build has limitless possibilities for design, but we found that we had plenty of foam left over from the four sheets we bought. So just take some time and plan out how you want it to look before you start creating stencils. Alternatively, if you want to make two sets, you can split the cost with a friend!
- You want to create stencils on the poster board before you begin drawing the design on the foam. This is important, because cutting out your stencils allows you to make sure it will fit the person who will be wearing the costume. After you cut the stencil out of poster board, check that the design fits the person appropriately, and adjust designs as necessary. Also, this foam approach is awesome because the foam has a textured and non-textured side, which can be layered for interesting [mass] effects.
- Using a pencil/pen/sharpie/frosting dispensing tube/etc, outline the stencil onto the foam mat.
- CAREFUL HERE. Using the soldering gun with razor attachment, or jigsaw, cut out the foam into the design you have drawn. Note—It may be helpful to use clamps to hold the foam in place. As I did not have a soldering iron with a razor attachment, we used the jigsaw approach, resulting in rough edges along the foam. THIS IS OK.
Once the pieces for the armor were cut out, I used the dremel to sand away the rough edges and give it a nice, worn but smooth look.
- Now that the armor pieces were all cut out, we began the molding process. This takes time and patience, but works very well and will look quite cool when completed. Using the heat gun, we applied heat to the foam and slowly bent it into the desired shapes so that it would curve around my body as necessary. The foam is hard at first, but after repeated heating/bending, the foam will begin to cool and stay in the shape you have molded it to. Be careful not to burn the foam too badly, though if it gets a little burnt, this will be covered with spray paint later and will not be noticeable.
- Once the foam is molded into the desired shapes, it’s time to glue the layers together. We used quite a bit of hot glue on this approach, which has the advantage of being quick drying and somewhat easy to fix should something go wrong. However, if you are wanting a VERY firm hold that will not run the risk of falling apart, you might go with a slower drying, but tougher, epoxy. Besides gluing the layers together, we used the extra puzzle piece scraps to make spinal armor along the back, which gave it a very cool, sci-fi look.
- With the pieces glued together, now comes the spray paint! Make sure to paint in a highly ventilated area. Regardless of what final color you want the armor to be, we recommend giving it all a base coat of black spray paint.
Here’s what it looked like before spray painting:
And here’s what it looks like after:
With this armor, we decided to give it a black/silver look, to look like worn down Shepard space armor. To accomplish this, we took some of the bright silver spray paint, and rather than applying it directly, we grabbed the old socks and sprayed paint onto that, then rubbed the paint over the armor to give it a less “fresh” look, and followed up with more black applied in this fashion. The mixed color look gave the armor a more realistic appearance, and the dark, metallic look I was going for.
We used the same technique on the shoulder/knee pads, and were thrilled at how quickly they went from “plastic looking” to “awesome”. Check out this video of the process:
We decided the knee pads looked way too cool with the metal look, as they actually had metal strap buckles to begin with, but for the red and white stripe on the shoulder pads we simply taped off areas we did not want covered, painted a white stripe on the not taped center area, let it dry, and then taped and painted the red stripe on top.
- To go from “sci-fi” to “definitely mass effect”, we had to apply the most important part: The N7 Logo. BE CAREFUL HERE, so you don’t make a mistake. Since the foam was already bent in the area we wanted to apply the logo, we had to be careful not to apply too much spray paint, or we’d risk the paint running. We taped the stencil over the foam, and first sprayed the lettering.
After that dried, we applied the little graphic beside the lettering to complete the logo. Once it was done, it looked so cool, realizing the project was nearly complete and looking great.
- To add some more detail and vary the look of the costume, we took old screws and bolts that were not being used and applied them to sections of the armor, adding a realistic rusted metal look. The bolts seemed to stay in place fine, but you might want to drill a pilot first, since the bolts were too fat to just push in some of the time.
- The final step was attaching the straps. We cut the straps in half so that it would buckle the front and back of the costume together.
We put two sets of straps on the lower portion around the torso, and two more near the neck to secure the armor. Here is where I definitely recommend using epoxy, as this holds the whole build together. We tried to use super glue, hot glue, etc and for the most part weren’t satisfied with the results. However, after using a strong epoxy, the build stayed in place and we were done!
Did I say Done? I meant, done with half of the couples costume!
Creating the Miranda Lawson costume
Materials and Suggested Tools
- One catsuit! Meow.
- Black hair dye (or black wig)
- Black boots (already owned)
- Yellow and White Acrylic paint
- Posterboard —for stenciling the Cerberus logo
- Painters/Masking tape
Steps to Creation
- While this costume is significantly simpler to create than the Shepard costume, you still want to be patient with it, as you will be doing hand painting and don’t want to ruin a potentially expensive catsuit. So, step one is taking a deep breath, and proceeding with patience.
- For this costume, you will be painting the yellow lines around the shoulders and down the costume’s legs and chest, so you want to make sure the lines are straight. After thinking it over, we decided it was best that Claire wear the suit while I paint it, to make sure all of the lines would look straight on her body while she wore it, and that the paint would not crack when she put the costume on and it stretched.
FUNNY ANECDOTE: While Claire was wearing the costume in the garage prior to painting, two 8-11 year old neighborhood kids came up the driveway asking if we would sponsor their walkathon to raise money for a band trip. As I agreed and donated some money, the kids all observed Claire was there, but none of them commented on it or gave the impression that they thought a woman in a skin-tight cat suit in a man’s garage in the early evening was strange at all.
- I then taped off the areas around the arm pits shoulders, legs, waist, etc that needed to be painted, and hand painted the yellow acrylic onto the suit. The paint dried well, and while it took a few coats in some areas, it came out looking pretty good.
- I then taped the stencil for the Cerberus logo over the left side of her chest, and used the yellow and white paint to paint the logo.
- As a final step, this particular suit had a shiny zipper going down the middle, that looked out of place on this costume but was unavoidable. To work around this, we used some leftover black spray paint and Q-tips to paint over the metal to make it more subtle.
That wraps it up! Hope you enjoyed reading this and seeing the pictures, and I hope this can be helpful for your own builds. With so many modification ideas, you can construct any kind of armor look you want using these techniques. Who knows, maybe you’ll see me dressed in this on March 6, when ME:3 is released!