Let’s Talk About Armor Making – Breaking Up Reference Art

This post originally appeared on the GlitzParty Cosplay Facebook in 2017. It has been preserved for posterity to aid other cosplayers here!

We’re back for another #TutorialTuesday everyone! Our move has gotten set back a bit since we still don’t have electricity in the new place, so the planned molding/casting tutorial is getting pushed back for now, but we got some requests for help figuring out where to even start with armor! We took a little time to throw together a how-to on converting your reference from an overwhelming mess to easier to manage individual pieces. Let us know what you think of this tutorial, anything that’s unclear about it and where you’d like us to go from here!

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It’s actually fairly easy to get a good full body image these days! With re-releases of older properties, artbooks, figures and people ripping assets directly from games, we usually aren’t left wanting for a turn-around. This tutorial assumes that you’ll have at least one view on hand. If you guys need one for how to interpret muddy refs or make up missing pieces/views, we can definitely write one of those up in the future, just let us know!

For this tutorial, we’re using Leo, since he’s topical and we’ve had questions on how we even got started with his armour. Conveniently, the Fire Emblem series is big on releasing artbooks and concept work, which generally includes a full turnaround at some point. While we had those refs handy, we ended up leaning more toward the artwork in Heroes, since there were several different full body images and we just liked some aspects better. Once you have a character in FEH, you can look at the artwork for them, so all we had to do was take a quick screen cap and we were ready to get started!

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The first thing to do when you’re trying to plan out armor is to find the different main pieces that comprise it. For this part, you’re just looking for the solid edges where pieces end. You aren’t planning any additional cuts or embellishments, those come later. We just want the main shapes for now.

You can do these steps in your layered art program of choice or even print a copy of your ref and go at it with colored pens. Whatever works best for you, go with it!

With a ref like this, we want to focus largely on just the edges we can clearly see. For a lot of references, you won’t get views underneath certain pieces, so it’s good practice for us. In Fates, you can get lucky and suffer battle damage that removes layers of the characters’ attire, but that requires a capture card and a fair amount of trial and error to get the right angle at the right moment. It can be done though!

Here, we’ve decided on which ‘views’ of all mirrored pieces we care about. Since they are identical on each side, only one is really needed for this part. We just create a new layer and label it accordingly, then trace all the edges of our pieces.

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The second step is to define where the additional seams within pieces will be. Sometimes they will be well defined with a line, sometimes you’ll have to suss it out from the information given.

Here, we had some really obvious seams on the sides of the torso, the hip guard, the front of the kneepads and greaves, and around the ankle. In general, anything that has a defined line will be something you’ll want to keep well defined when you make it. If it’s more of a gradual shape change, such as on the pauldrons, you may want to keep the seam really flush and smoothed to maintain the desired appearance.

In general, the more seams you have, the greater control over the shape of the piece you’ll have but the harder it will be to get everything smooth and flush. The sorts of techniques you use and the number of seams needed will vary greatly depending on what type of materials you’re using, and also what thickness and rigidity they have.

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The last part you’ll be outlining will be the embellishments. This is just to keep them accounted for during this process. Very often, the embellishments are just a finishing touch to the armor and you could add them absolutely last with no issues regarding the structural integrity of the piece. That should be your barometer as to whether or not a piece is merely decoration.

When it comes to adding these pieces, sometimes you won’t need to ‘add’ anything so much as just make a line where a line exists. When sewing, you can run a line of stitches to create lines, and when doing foam work, you can carefully slice halfway into the foam and hit it with a heat gun to spread the cut. This would be the preferred methods of tackling details such as the design on the greaves and the center diamond pieces on the torso layers. Edges such as on the kneepads or pauldrons may do better as added layers done in thin ribbon or craft foam. Pieces that appear more 3D should be made more 3D, such as the spiral and wing motif on the pauldrons and kneepads. These can be made through fabric manipulation, foam carving, sculpting, molding and casting, however seems best to you. The same can be said of any pyramid-shaped pieces, such as the inner edges of the torso pieces. Figure out what will work for everything after the main structure is made!

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Once you’ve outlined your reference art, tossing a quick 66% solid black layer between your outlines and your art can provide a good base to see just the shapes of each layer. Turning layers on and off help simplify which shapes you’ll need to consider and replicate at what stage of development. From there, you can mock up those shapes on scrap paper and fit them to your proportions.

That’s all for this #TutorialTuesday! This technique also works well for seemingly complicated fabric patterns, so try it out on anything you might need to break down into more manageable pieces! Let us know what you think, if anything was unclear, and what you wanna see next week! If you’d like a follow-up, be sure to drop us a line so we know what direction to take it in!

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