This is my first attempt at making hard wearable armor. I've done some with with fun foam building faux leather armor and such, but never the "real deal". I originally planned to cast it in fiberglass from a plaster molds, but ended up vacuforming instead. This was a real learning experience for me, so I'll try to point out all the mistakes to perhaps save my brave readers from the same pitfalls. In terms of design, the AT-AT Driver armor is the basically same as the well documented Tie Fighter Pilot - front and back torso armor, shoulder bells (from the Snowtrooper), and a chest box. There are some minor detail changes on the chest box and back plate.
The torso armor started as a sheet of pink insulation foam from Home Depot. This stuff is super easy to carve/sand into shape, it's great fun! Being too cheap to buy two sheets I built up the depth only where required since I wasn't originally planning to vacuform. This turned out to be a bad idea as we shall see, but it worked out in the end. Basically I made up some quick templates using posterboard to get the size right, then traced these onto the foam sheet. I re-drew lines as needed, working the foam down using sandpaper and knives. In retrospect I think the chest armor is undersized, but it looks good regardless.
The hard angle shapes on the front were built with a for sale sign. The large rectangles front and back were cut from styrofoam I had laying around. Another bad idea, I should have used plywood or MDF. I knew enough to recognize that I needed the masters to be fairly firm to act as vacuforming bucks. I coated the whole thing in a coat of spackle and/or Durham's Water Putty, which ended up being a ton of extra work. It's very difficult to sand. I ended up using polyester resin and fiberglass to harden the back, which was also a ton of work. I had hoped that the water putty coating would prevent the polyester resin and spot putty from attacking the foam, but it wasn't 100% effective. Here are a bunch of pictures of this painful yet fun process. The chest box is a paper mock up.
I'm sure there's a much more efficient way to sculpt this kind of thing, just not quite sure what it is yet. ;) The foam is so easy to work, but so hard to work with when it's done being shaped! Regardless, I was able to get decent bucks sculpted, here's how they look after crazy amounts of smoothing work and some primer (still some flaws to fix in the pics). You can also see the primed chest box, which I'll go over seperately.
The shoulder bell was also sculpted starting with the pink insulation foam. I'm not sure how I came up with the scale and shape, but with a little help from the internet and trial and error I managed to get them right. Since I had so much trouble hardening the torso parts, I was still experimenting when I made the bell. I initially tried quickly brushing on polyurethane casting resin, reasoning that it might soak in and harden the foam without attacking it. Aside from the fact that it sets up too fast for this, it didn't soak in, it didn't adhere well, and the thin layers provided almost no strength. *sigh*
Well, that didn't work. So I buttered it with Durham's water putty and fiberglass cloth, then sanded the heck out of it, cleaning up with Bondo and spot putty as needed. Once I had that shape worked out, I pulled a few styrene copies on the vacuformer and cut most of it away to form the ridge around the edge (2 layers). This was poorly executed so I had to do a lot of putty work to blend some chopped up pieces together but it came out ok. The raised rectangles were shaped from wood stock and glued to the bell.
I made tons of mistakes on this stuff, but in the end got the results I had hoped for. These bucks were used to vacuform the final parts. I'll go over that on another page, but first let's take a look at the scratchbuilt chest box.