Making the HEV Suit: The Gauntlets

So you’re making a suit and just finished half the torso piece. The next logical step would be to make the back of the torso piece, but I’m not a logical thinker and instead opted to make the gauntlets. As there is no point in reinventing the wheel I used a free template for basic gauntlets from the Foam Cave. After cutting the template to size while keeping the thickness of the foam in mind I modified them to appear similar to the different gauntlets from the different HEV suits I’m using as a reference. I don’t feel like going into any details here mind you, as these changes speak for themselves.

I’ve decided to cover the “shallow cuts” texturing on the suit with textured vinyl wrapping. I just can’t help but feel these will look a lot better and help to sell the costume a lot better. I’m also pretty sure these cuts would be filled up during painting anyway, so there’s that. Finally in order to keep the gauntlets in place I’ve glued two strips of velcro on the inside of both gauntlets. These will attach to veclro on the under-suit and not only keep them in place, but also properly aligned.

All of this leaves me with my future plans. I’m currently facing some health problems involving a blocked nerve in my wrist, so process is extremely slow for now. I’ve already see a specialist about this and will meet with a plastic surgeon in the near future to discus my options for recovery. This will most likely involve injections into my tunnels or surgery depending on how bad things look. Either way I will have to allow my body to fully recover before continuing on with the suit, which can take up anywhere between 2 to 6 weeks depending on the treatment. Luckily I’ve started early and with my initial deadline being late March I see no danger in the odds of me finishing this project on time…


Making the HEV Suit: The Torso Piece

It’s cold, it’s winter and a Halloween-less last weekend of October for me; the perfect moment to start making the suit! As everything else depends on the torso I decided to make that part first. The first step in this was creating stencils with my handy low budget duct tape mannequin. I drew on the mannequin what I wanted and used A4 paper with 5mm blocks on it transfer everything onto paper. This proces was a scotch tape Hell where I added paper pieces onto paper pieces until everything looked fine. As taped together flimsy paper isn’t exactly durable I transferred these onto card stock and cut all the pieces with my trusty knife. After a taped fitting of the card stock version it was time to start cutting the foam and adding join marks onto them for easy alignement during gluing.

Cutting through the 1cm thick foam required a bit more pressure than I’m used to, and using fresh blades is a must as they dull off pretty fast. Still, I managed just fine and forming the foam with a heat gun and after a taped together fitting of the foam pieces, it was time to glue things together. For this I used contact glue. It’s stronger than hot glue and doesn’t turn liquid at a hot convention, a mistake many people have made. I started off with the base pieces and added the detailed pieces (purple 4mm thick foam) afterwards so I could keep the thickness and shape of the foam in mind. This proces of stencilling, gluing and cutting took me two evenings with music gently playing in the background.

The center piece took a bit more effort to make as I had to incorporate an illuminated logo. For this I embedded a piece of clear plexiglas into the foam connected to the base armour, and glued a negative cutout of the lambda on top of it to block off all other light. On the inside of the chest piece are a 15mm deep cavity, a sheet of orange plastic, and some floor isolation foam which diffuses the light. The protoboard with five orange-red LEDs soldered on it is held in place by a foam flap with velcro, allowing me to access it in case a component  breaks or a solder point gets loose.

All in all I’d say things are looking pretty good so far. The edges still need to be rounded off with my rotary tool and some additional detailing is required, but other than that I’m pleased with how the front chest piece looks at this point. Before adding more detailing however I first want to create the back of the chest piece so everything can be aligned properly. And boy, will that be a challenge…

(Over-)Planning the HEV Suit: Testing the Electronics

Today was package day for me. Both the electronics and my crafting materials came in which means I can finally start with this build. As the electronics play a major part in the assembly of the chest piece I definitely wanted to have tested them before doing anything. Yes, it’s definitely overkill but as this is my first time doing this I’d rather be safe then sorry. My two main concerns were if whether or not I picked the right parts, and if they won’t get too hot. So right after they came in I took some protoboard and wired both types of LEDs with their corresponding resistors and hooked it up to my power bank. What happens next is a clickbait title you won’t believe… They worked perfectly fine.

Neither of the LED’s burned out, my power bank didn’t explode and I didn’t trigger a resonance cascade. Sometimes it’s just so disappointing to see things go as planned. Just to be safe however I simulated the in-suit conditions by wrapping the protoboard in foam with only the LEDs poking through. After leaving it running for an hour I removed the foam and everything was fine. So was it all in vain? Not really, as doing this gave me an idea on how to connect all the LEDs together in a sturdy way, as well as how to keep them accessible after embedding everything in the suit using velcro.

And that completes my overly unnecessary safety check of these basic electronics. Next up is creating all the stencils, starting off with the torso piece…

Planning the HEV Suit: Electronics

As the HEV Suit model has some lighting in it, I definitely want to have it in my own suit as well. Not only will it look complete, but those lights will most likely make the suit look awesome in low-light conditions. While the only experience I have with soldering is repairing my old stereo which needed some new electrolytic caps, something as basic as LED’s wired in parallel should be more than doable to me. As I’ll be adding lights anyway, I’ve also decided to make the Lambda on the front illuminated for added eye-candy. Finally, considering how warm foam costumes tend to get I’ll also incorporate an intake fan into the costume where the “charging plug” would normally be. Hopefully having some form of airflow will greatly assist me with staying cool as I move around in the costume…

The LED’s

For the LED’s I will be using USB power banks. The ones I own provide 5V with a max draw of 2A, which is more than enough to power the 20~24 LED’s. Each LED will be wired in parallel with a resistor in front of it to prevent the LED from burning out. The value of these resisters can be calculated with a basic formula; R = (Vs – Vled) / Iled. R is the value of the resistor you will need, Vs is the voltage provided by your power supply (in this case a power bank), Vled is the voltage the voltage drop from the LED’s, and finally Iled is how much current in Ampere the LED’s draw. However if this sounds like pure hocus pocus to you there are plenty of online LED resistor calculators available, some of which even give you schematics on to wire them properly.

Just duplicate R1 and L1, and R2 and L2 as many times as you need.

In the schematic above L1 is a white LED running at 3.3V with a 20mA draw, while L2 is an orange LED running at 2.1V and a 20mA draw. In total 18 white LEDs will be used, and about 6 orange LEDs. Together they add up to a total power consumption of 357mA, which is well within the reach of even a standard USB port which grants you a max draw of 500mA, as well as the 2A max draw provided by my power bank. Using another formula I can calculate how long each power bank can power the LEDs; Estimated HoursBattery capacity in mAh / device consumption * 0.7. The magic number 0.7 is there to keep external factors like ambient temperatures in mind. In my case I have two power banks, one with a capacity of 6200mAh and one with a capacity of 10,400mAh. In other words, the first will last me ~12 hours while the second power bank will last ~20 hours on a full charge. In other words, more than enough time to last me all day before I get back to my hotel!

The fan

The fan I’ll be using will be either a 10 or 12cm computer case fan. The beauty of case fans is that are cheap to come by and often operate between 7V and 12V; the more volts you supply to them, the faster they spin. To power these I have four options;

  1. Use a USB step up 5V to 9~12V converter with my power bank. These are relatively expensive unless you trust cheap Chinese versions, which I don’t.
  2. Use 9V block batteries. Normal versions offer around 500mAh, or ~2 hours per battery. This means that for an 18 hour day I will require 8 batteries per day, which adds up to €15 a day.
  3. Use 9V lithium block batteries. These offer 1200mAh, or ~5.2 hours per battery. While I wouldn’t have to replace them that often I would still need at least 3 of them each day, which adds up to €27 a day.
  4. Use 6 1.5V AA batteries in series. This solution gives me 2600mAh, or ~11.3 hours per six batteries. This means I’ll have to bring more batteries with me, but given the low cost of AA batteries it seems to be the best solution as a 24 pack only costs €9,99, meaning it will only cost me €4.40 a day. I better not forget to hand in the dead batteries for recycling…

Aside from the power supply the only other component I’ll use is a switch, which is incorporated into the battery pack. Before I do any soldering however I’ll create a bread board version of both circuits just to make sure nothing starts burning up as the last thing I want is to cosplay the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. But, more on that next time!


Planning the Mark V HEV Suit

So, just how much work goes into making a costume? Well that greatly depends on the costume. However one thing that’s always the same is the first step, gathering reference files. Now normally when making a costume from a video game you would probably just launch the game and take a bunch of screenshots of your character. In this case however things are a bit more complicated as the character, Gordon Freeman, is never seen in a third person perspective. To make matters worse this means there is no third person model at all, making this first step a lot more difficult than it should be.

The HL2 model lacks a proper back, mostly as it was never to be seen in-game.
The HL2 model lacks a proper back, mostly as it was never meant to be seen in-game.

In order to get things going properly I launched up Garry’s Mod, a game that lets you spawn items and characters from various games made with Valve’s Source Engine. Within Gmod, I spawned the HEV suit model from HL2. in game this suit is placed inside a display case, and touching it automatically equips it. Unfortunately luck isn’t on my side with this as the person who modelled the suit never bothered making the back of suit properly as it would never be shown. After this realisation I opened my copy of “Half Life 2: Raising the Bar”, a book with concept art and the development story behind Half Life. At this point however it became clear that nobody at Valve ever bothered designing the back of the suit as there was no concept art of the back of the suit inside the book either. Not what I would call the best start…

Pretty weird that Valve had a finished model in a beta build yet replaced it with an unfinished version for the version of the game...
Pretty weird that Valve had a finished model in a beta build yet replaced it with an unfinished version for the version of the game…

Searching the web I came across screenshots from a leaked early build of HL2, which had a proper back modelled onto the suit. Some people already used this model to create their own unofficial versions, including one available for Garry’s Mod and another high-poly version with 4K textures for a Fallout 4 mod. While these suits do differ from the version inside HL2, they look amazing and pretty much like how the HEV Suit would look like if HL2 would had been released today. Because of this I’ve decided to combine the features of both suits into one hybrid, the HEV Suit Mark Vβ.

So what exactly are these additions? It’s mostly minor details like adding more depth and (orange) lines to the suit. The bracers especially look less flat with the addition of an orange part, and the arm-guards now also protect the elbows with a protruding bit. The back is similar to the leaked model but has a lot more detailing to it, and as a creative freedom I’ll be replacing the plug with a fan. After all, those foam armours tend to become very hot to wear and having cold air blown over my back will greatly help me to stay cool. As this involves adding electronics I’ve also decided to make a functional LED ring around the fan as well making the Lamda on the front illuminated. More on how I’ll tackle that will be posted in a future post.

Now that I’ve got all the reference files in place, it’s time for step two, designing the suit out of paper…