Monday, January 9, 2017

Vacuum Formed ATAT Pilot Helmet

So a long time ago I made both these helmets.  These helmets were cool because they're both a cross between a stormtrooper helmet...

...and a rebel pilot helmet.

Below is the TIE pilot helmet I made.

This helmet came out pretty well.  For the face plate I used my old vacuum former on a stormtrooper helmet.  The rest was made with a pepakura file.  You can see my original build by clicking here.
And here is my AT-AT Pilot helmet.

This one is also nice...but not as nice as the TIE pilot helmet.  For this build I combined both stormtrooper and X-wing pilot pepakura files.  You can tell it's an AT-AT pilot helmet, but it is nowhere as smooth as the TIE helmet.  You can see my original build by clicking here.

The color of the helmet is also wrong.  Most people believe this helmet to be white, just like Stormtrooper helmets.  But in actuality it's a light gray helmet. has a good back story about this helmet which you can see by clicking here.  Anyway, I think I'm going to rebuild this helmet.  And it should be a lot easier this time, as I recently built a new vacuum former.

For that build you can click here.
After the former was made, I created molds for making stormtrooper helmets...

I had a lot of trouble making the back & top of the helmet.

But the face plate turned out well, and that's all we need for this project.

A side note here:  As much as I've always wanted to vacuum form a whole Stormtrooper helmet, buying a complete plastic helmet is very inexpensive. 

The photos above and below is another helmet I bought for a little over $20 on

The price for buying a few sheets of thermoforming plastic is more expensive, so it makes more sense to me to simply buy the helmets online.

Another thing we'll need is an X-Wing Pilot helmet mold, which I made a few months prior to the start of this build. 

You can check out my X-Wing Pilot Helmet build by clicking here.

With both of those complete it was time to remake the TIE and AT-AT Helmets! I vacuum formed a face plate...

and a set of X-wing pilot helmets.

Then I cut each piece out.

When making my previous vacuum formed helmets I ran into trouble adhering the pieces together.  I first used PVC pipe glue, but that melted thin plastic a bit.  I've used Krazy glue which works, but doesn't always hold super well at stress points.  And I've used hot glue which for reasons unknown to me only stick about 50% of the time.  Rivets seem to work pretty well, but I don't think I have enough to assemble this whole thing at the moment, so I'm going to use some brass binder clips.

I also don't have enough plastic at the moment to make the Mohawk, so I'm going to cut strips of plastic to hold this together temporarily on the inside.

I drilled holes around the Mohawk on both sides of the helmet and the small plastic strips.

Then I attached the strips to the inside of one half of the helmet...

...followed by the other side.

Then I attached the face plate and realized the helmet was too wide.

So I disassembled everything, but the pieces of plastic on the inside to be smaller and reassembled it.

Now it looks right.

With everything more-or-less lining up correctly, I removed the brass clips and inserted rivets.

I had just enough rivets to put everything together.

The front of the Mohawk looks uneven but that will be covered up later.

I used a piece of thin plastic and cut it into some strips.

Then I used contact cement to attach the strips to the helmet.

The contact cement worked well, but I didn't get the strip on evenly.

This bothered me... I removed it and started from square one.

To build up the 'Mohawk' in the middle of the helmet I went back to my pepakura file.  I printed out the Mohawk and assembled it on cardboard.

Since the original X-Wing helmet was made using the same pep file, the new pieces fit almost perfectly.

To attach the pieces I used contact cement since it did a very good job before.

When the 2 halves were done I cut some more cardboard to joint them into one piece.  I forgot to take a picture of this step - but essentially it's a long, straight piece of cardboard attached to the 2 halves with more contact cement.

When the X-Wing helmet portion was together, I sprayed the cardboard parts with spray adhesive.

I then lined the inside with fiber glass.

And then I added resin.  This will holed the insides together strongly.

When the resin hardened I flipped over the helmet and repeated the fiber glass and resin application to the top.

I cleaned all the frayed fiber glass with some sharp scissors.

Then I attached the face plate with some binder clips.

Next I used Bondo to start filling and leveling the Mohawk.

When the Bondo had hardened I began sanding to smooth out the Mohawk area when I noticed how flexible the areas other than the Mohawk were.  This kind of flexibility may start to break either the vacuum formed plastic or the areas with fiber glass/resin/Bondo.  So I decided to use some expanding foam to make the plastic insides more rigid and this will also make the helmet fit a little better since it's such a large helmet.

Applying the foam takes a bit of time.  I started on one side of the helmet a then waited a few hours to fully expand and harden.  Then I flipped the helmet over and did the other side.

Then I did the front...

...then the top...

...and finally the back.

Once all the foam had expanded and hardened the whole helmet was rigid enough to work on again.  So I added more Bondo to the Mohawk.

Then sanded when the Bondo dried.

Next I printed some parts for the helmet from a pepakura file I had.  I adhered the paper to cardboard, cut it out and shaped them, and finally glued them up with hot glue.

I then attached the "ears".  I also made an extension of the tubes on the sides so they connect with the ears.

Then I went about connecting the front of the Mohawk.

Once those parts were in place I used some caulking to seal up the edges.

After a little clean up and drying I gave the helmet a coat of gray primer.

While that was drying I fetched my old ATAT helmet.

I decided to use some of the trinkets that were on the first helmet for the new helmet.  I removed the pieces I wanted and set them aside for later.

Once the helmet was dry I added some wood filler to fill in many small defects.

I let the filler dry overnight and the next day I sanded the spots I worked on.

I smoothed the filler with a damp rag since the filler is water soluble..

Then I added more primer.

When that dried I decided to try using some plastic wood to fill some areas, and strengthen some others.

When dry I sanded.

At this point I put the helmet on the shelf for a while to work on other projects, and it sat on that shelf for about 6 months.  Finally one day I decided to come back to it.  I used a chisel to continue smoothing out the wood filler in tight spaces and a small saw to cut away some extra foam inside.  I also marked some areas that needed some work with a marker.

Then I used some Apoxy Clay to fill in several areas - mostly around the front of the Mohawk...

...and also in the bottom 2 bells.  These will make it easier to add the pieces that go in there later.

When the clay dried I glued on the little do-dads here and there.

For the 'buttons' on both sides of the Mohawk, I cut and glued on pieces of thin and thick crafting foam.

Thin foam on the sides.

And thick foam on the back.

Next I added various round 'buttons' all over the helmet to match whats seen in my reference photos. 

These were created using furniture tacks.

Then I gave the whole helmet a layer of black spray paint...

...followed by gray primer...

...and then another coat of black.

All this paint is to seal up the foam and small spaces here and there and to add some layering to smooth out the helmet.

The next morning when everything was dry I took a few beauty shots of my progress so far.

Sometimes having a dark smooth application of paint helps you better see areas that need work.  In this case I could see that the dried clay needed some better shaping.  So I sharpened my chisel and began shaving some of the clay areas.

Then I gave the whole thing a sanding once more.

Followed by a new coat of primer.

After the primer dried several cracks in the paint showed up.

This was most likely a result of not completely cleaning off all the dust after sanding.  So I had to re-sand the whole helmet.

While sanding some of the parts began coming loose.  I admit that I simply used some Krazy glue to attach them.  I really should have used some epoxy, but in a way, its a good thing I did things the easy way since I need to sand everything again.

To help get rid of some of the cracks I also used some paint thinner.

Below are some cracks...

...and here is the same area after being wiped-down with thinner for a minute or two.

After the cracks were gone I used a little filler to fix some spots.

Then sanding once more...

...followed by a THOROUGH cleaning.  To make sure all the dust was removed I used a tack cloth.

Then a new application of primer.  This time the paint dried smoothly with no cracks.

Then I reattached all the little parts, this time using epoxy.

Once the epoxy hardened I gave a new coat of primer and let it dry overnight.

The next day I tackled those things on the back.

The PVC pipe fittings I had for the old helmet are a bit too big.

So I'm going to use a smaller dowel I have.

I cut 2 pieces of equal size on the miter saw.

To attach these dowels to the helmet I'm going to use a 1/2" diameter dowel.

To drill a hole in the helmet for the 1/2" dowel I first made a simple paper template and marked a hole on it.  I then used that template on both sides of the helmet.

Then I used my drill to drill a hole on both sides.

The dowel slides through nice and snugly.

I also drilled holes in the larger dowels.

I then glued the larger dowels to the small one and let it dry.

I then used my hole cutting saw on my drill press to make 2 smaller pieces of wood.

I glued these to the top of the 2 other dowels.  Then I cut pieces of thin crafting foam to begin shaping those 2 pieces.

I also cut some foam to line the edges of the helmet opening.

Then I gave all the new parts some primer.

After the helmet had dried I applied a few coats of High Heat spray paint.

I like using the high heat spray paint because it's a little thicker than normal spray paint, and so it does a good job filling up and smoothing the surface of the helmet.

I let the black paint dry over night and the next day I hit the helmet with a few coats of the light gray primer.

Then I let the helmet dry overnight again.

This light gray is the perfect color for the helmet.

The next day I brought it inside and began painting on the details.  First came all the black areas...

...then a little color...

...then a slight bit of weathering.

Painting complete.

Next I printed out the same decals I used for the first helmet...

...and applied some double-stick transfer tape to the printout.

Then I cut out the decals and stuck them on.

Lastly, I brought the helmet back into the workshop and applied several layers of glossy clear coat.

While the clear coat dried I found a piece of clear plastic that I had tinted for a previous helmet build.  Luckily there is enough left to use as lenses for this helmet.

I also repainted the old helmet stand black and applied clear coat to that as well.

Once the clear coat was dry I hot glued the visors in.

And I'm done!

This helmet turned out quite nicely.

Its definitely a lot smoother than my first ATAT helmet.
Below are some shots of the old and new helmets side  by side.  The old helmets are on the left.

I'm quite relieved that this helmet is done.  I started it about 9 months prior to finishing it, and most of the time it had been on a shelf in my workshop just begging to be completed.

Thanks for reading!

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