Nov 12, 2012

The TK Project


Introducing a new blog post category called The TK Project.

This category will document my newest costume, that of an Imperial  Stormtrooper.

Putting together a set of armor is not an easy task, and obtaining the pieces is just the beginning. Many hours of work need to be done to make the armor ready to wear. Each suit of armor is custom-fit for the person who wears it.

At long last, I have obtained TK armor, and will be documenting the process of customizing it, so that I can wear it during 501st Legion events.

In the picture above, I am with my friend Gary, wearing the armor of a late friend of mine, Marc Brugger, who passed away unexpectedly. This picture was taken two years ago after marching in the Star Wars Weekends parade at Disney World's Hollywood Studios, in Orlando. Marc had organized a bunch of us for a photoshoot at an empty office park, for a professional photographer, and since he was wearing his Darth Vader, he asked me to wear his TK.

Why do they call it TK?

Each costume in the 501st Legion is assigned a code; an Imperial Officer is ID, a TIE pilot is a TI, a biker scout is a TB, and an Imperial Stormtrooper is called a TK (in the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, an Imperial Officer aboard the Death Star calls one of the Stormtroopers who has been knocked out by Han Solo and Luke Skywalker: "TK-421, why aren't you at your post?")

This is what unassembled TK looks like:

You can't walk into a store and by TK armor. I obtained this set from a friend of a friend, who made each piece from original molds.

Each piece was made in a vacu-form machine using ABS plastic, and must be individually trimmed to fit the person who wears it. The thigh, leg, and arm pieces must all be the proper length, and an attachment system has to be created to keep it together while it is worn, which means creating a system of straps and snaps.

No two suits of TK armor are exactly the same.

Members of the 501st Legion gather on weekends to work on their costumes and swap ideas on how to improve and upgrade them during get-togethers called armor parties. To read more about armor parties, click HERE

The first piece of armor I will be working on is the bucket, or the Stormtrooper helmet which consists of several pieces, all of which have to be trimmed and assembled. Part Two of The TK Project will document this part of it.


Now that I have the armor, the real work begins, and it involves armor parties, this one taking place at my house.

Assembling movie-accurate TK armor entails a tremendous amount of work, time and commitment, as you will soon see. It also requires a great deal of skill: skill with a Dremel, and skill modifying and customizing each piece for a proper fit.

The process usually begins with the bucket, which comes in several pieces, and has to be carefully trimmed before being assembled.

When the bucket pieces are made in the vacuum-molding machine, there are no openings. The eyes and the holes in the frown have to be cut out. This is a delicate process, and has to be done just right.

An hobby knife is used to cut out the center of the eyes, but there is still more trimming that needs to be done.

Below: a pen is used to mark the areas where the excess ABS plastic must be trimmed away from the inside of the helmet. A Dremel with a rotary cutting blade is used to do this.

The excess plastic from the back part of the bucket has to be trimmed as well.

The Dremel is used once again for this task, after which the plastic is sanded to make it smooth. The back and front parts of the bucket will overlap, hiding the joint.

Opening the holes in the frown is a delicate process. The holes must be rectangular, and angled up to the center of the mask.

The first step is clearing a path with a small drill bit, and following up with a set of precision files.

Below: the holes in the frown must be as rectangular as possible, and angled toward the center. The size of the holes decrease from the center. The frown will be painted gray, masking any remaining imperfections. It is time-consuming, precise work.

One side is almost finished, but there is still more filing that needs to be done

A good friend of mine in the 501st Legion, Brian has many costumes (including a Darth Vader; we have trooped together many times) and provides guidance on making sure my trimming is being done correctly. The armor will have to be approved by The 501st Legion before I can wear it at events.

Below: trimming the frown with the precision files

Below: my TK bucket (left) sitting beside a completed TK bucket (right)

Two friends of mine who are also working on their armor do some test fittings. Each set of armor is carefully trimmed to make sure it fits the person who will wear it.

As the day winds down, my wife Deb looks at Fritz trying on pieces of his armor.

It's been a productive day; I've made a good start on trimming my bucket. Many hours of work remain, however, before my armor becomes close to being ready to wear.

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