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January 2017

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Book review - Make: Props and Costume Armor by Shawn Thorsson


Are you ever called upon to make stage armor? Perhaps you just have an interest in learning more about the subject, or perhaps you want to dress up like Iron Man at some point in the future because that's just how you roll. Regardless, get your hands on a copy of the new title from Maker Media, Make: Props and Costume Armor by Shawn Thorsson. It's a must-own reference manual on a whole host of materials, methods, and techniques for creating such things.

The book is written in an accessible, knowledgable way that demystifies a complex and often daunting area of costume production--the full color photographs are consistently helpful but occasionally hilarious (like the shot of an unfortunate housefly which got stuck in mold medium). Thorsson has aimed the book at primarily a cosplay readership, but the practical concerns of the cosplayer are the same as those of the theatrical costume artist: cost, time, quality, weight, mobility, etc. And, while i've purchased self-published books on these sorts of topics written by cosplay authors, the problem from a professional's perspective with a self-published text is the potential lack of vetting of the methods/media described within for accurate industrial health and safety practices. This book has clearly been edited by an IHS professional for proper practice and PPE recommendations.

Thorsson divides his book into five sections: Prototypes and One-Offs, Molding and Casting, Vacuum Forming, Painting and Weathering, and Bringing It All Together. He covers everything from the tools and materials you'll need for various processes, through several how-to sections, up to and including movement tips for wearers of costume armor. In fact, I have to give big ups to this book for actually tackling the question of how to assemble armor in such a way that the wearer can conveniently answer the call of nature. The topics and illustrative projects range from the very simple to the extremely complex, so whatever your skill level and experience coming to the book, there's something new to see.

I'm particularly gratified to note that the book contains sections on the application of digital technologies--from using Pepakura software to create faceted printable PDF patterns, to 3D printing and CNC carving of armor and prop shapes. This is an area of production which is only going to increase in importance--we've been 3D printing costume elements at PlayMakers Repertory Company for over two years at this point, and we had a show with ten Pepakura-style masks in it last season.

My one tiny quibble pertains to the section on straps, specifically leather strap construction methods to which Thorsson only makes passing reference. Due to my time spent working at a high-end custom leather shop, i'm a bit of a strap snob, as one might surmise by my tutorial post on the various means of making strong but beautiful leather strapwork. But this is such a minimal grouse about the book that it makes no impact on my wholehearted, unreserved recommendation of this title. At only $30 for a copy, it feels like a steal.

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