Friday, June 29, 2007

Tours of Duty

I've just added a list of all my Stormtrooper-related events (right column), and so far I've come up with roughly 46 occassions dating back to March 2002 when I first acquired my armor kit (although there's probably some that I've forgotten). On my original site, I used to document my troopin' gigs including photos of each event, but I eventually gave up. Hopefully, this blog will make it much easier to keep a record of each event as it passes. Moving forward, you can see my "Tours of Duty" by selecting the "Tours of Duty" tag under "Select a Topic" in the right column.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hovi Mix Mic Tips

One of the simplest upgrades you can make to your helmet is to get some screen-accurate Hovi Mix microphone tips replicas to replace the faucet aerators that come with the FX helmet kit. Resin castings of these original parts are fairly common now and only cost about $10 US per pair. Contact Russell if you are looking for a set. You can even wire mini-speakers inside your mic tips to use in conjunction with your voice amp. More on that later...

TRIVIA: The Hovi Mix mic tips were also used as the top of the comlink prop used by C-3PO and Luke during the Trash Compactor scene in Episode IV: A New Hope. The newer prop shown in the Star Wars Visual Dictionary is not the original.

Got Static?

I just purchased a second-hand ROM/FX Static Burst/Voice Amplifier unit and started playing around with it. A "static box" is a custom circuit board that adds the cool walkie-talkie clicks and radio noise that is heard after a Stormtrooper speaks in Star Wars. The static (in combination with a voice amplifier) really adds a nice element of realism to the costume. I acquired the "Pro" version, which comes with a speaker, microphone, battery boxes, three wired buttons for alternate sound effects, and some other add-ons. This particular set-up cost me $250 US which isn't too bad considering the current exchange rate (USD to GBP). On top of that, availability of the ROM/FX unit through their site is somewhat unpredictable. My old FX helmet had the classic "Radio Shack" voice amp set up (no longer in production). You can still get an inexpensive mini amplifier but you'll need to buy the microphone separately. I had an old "GT Static Box" from around 2002 (now out of production) but it never seemed to work quite right so I ended up using the low-tech "blow into the mic" technique to punctuate my sentences with a static burst. This approach actually worked really well over the past five years, but the poor man's "static burst" sound isn't movie-accurate. Since I got a new RT-MOD helmet, I figured it was time for an upgrade. Pulling out the old wiring from my FX bucket was going to be difficult anyway and would depreciate any resale value should I decide to part with my trusty old oversized bucket. Playing with the settings was simple and the sound effects are great (mine came customized with three sound clips in addition to the static burst effects). There is quite a bit of wiring, mostly due to the two battery packs which each hold 4 AA batteries, so I'll have to play around with the best way to pack this all into my helmet. Some people install these things behind their chest armor or on a belt-pack, but I like the all-inclusive helmet package.

TRIVIA: The static burst audio effect is only heard on Stormtroopers in Episode IV: A New Hope. Curiously, the static is absent from trooper chatter in all of the other Star Wars films.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ab Plate Button Mod

It's amazing how small modifications can really change the overall look of your armor. The bulk of my armor is still the tried-and-true FX suit that I bought in 2002. However, with a new helmet and this ab plate modification, other troopers always ask me what type of armor I have (thinking that it's not FX, but not sure exactly what). Anyway, the ab plate buttons that come with the FX suit are actual black buttons that are glued into holes in the abdomen. The screen-used suits had the "buttons" molded into the plastic and were simply painted blue and gray. This is one of those cases where you might say "Hey, I don't care what the actual costumes look like! Real buttons are much cooler than painted-on buttons," and I'd agree with you. Up close, the FX buttons look more "real" and functional versus something just painted. It's a matter of fictional realism versus accurate reproduction. Have a look at this actual screen-used Return of the Jedi-style Stormtrooper armor that has been on exhibit. The abdomen button plate is unpainted and upside-down. How ugly is that?! My preference was to change the black buttons to ones with color, as seen in Stormtroopers from Episode IV: A New Hope, and to make them slightly smaller. Dagobah Swamp has a good tutorial for this, and I essentially did the same thing except I used thumbtacks rather than metal screw posts.

TRIVIA: Among other subtle differences, Sandtroopers do not have buttons on their abdomen plates. The Tatooine desert scenes in Episode IV: A New Hope were reportedly some of the first that were filmed around 1976, and thus the costumes weren't quite "final."

Single-Piece Flat Lens Strip Mod

When I upgraded from the FX helmet to the more accurate RT-MOD in December 2006, I decided to try a single piece lens for simplicity of installation as well as convenient future replacement. Photos of the original screen-used helmets show a flimsy green sheet of plastic was used for lenses. Of course, movie props are typically built to serve their seconds of screen time, not to last for years of troopin' abuse. So I've used the dark green welder's faceshield replacement (the standard for troopers these days) which is much sturdier. Having previously used these in the two-piece lens set-up, I knew the tint was dark enough to hide my eyes---even in the flash of a camera---and yet light enough so as not to impair my vision. The lens strip is held in place by two plastic spring clips that are bonded to the inside of the helmet with DevCon Plastic Welder. Because I am able to quickly remove the entire lens strip, applying anti-fog spray, wiping condensation from the lens, or even repainting the inside of the helmet is now a breeze. Speaking of breezes, there is no need for an air-tight seal around the eye holes. In fact, the gaps (no visible from the outside) help improve much-needed airflow inside the helmet. Read more about the installation of the single-piece flat lens here.

TRIVIA: One easy way to tell "hero" helmets from "stunt" helmets in Episode IV: A New Hope is bubble (hero) versus flat (stunt) lenses.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Schiele Museum Troop

Today I trooped a Mid-Summer Festival at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, NC. Some of the local 501st members have family that work at the museum and invited us to add some flare to their event. From the museum's website:

"See a live white buffalo, hear the legend of White Buffalo Woman, watch Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers and Rebel Alliance fighters in battle, meet an iguana, make giant bubbles, learn why it's really mid-summer and much more!"
I'm not sure about the connection between Stormtroopers and natural history, but fans loved us (despite a few "Oh, look! Power Rangers!" comments) and the museum treated us well. We had about 24 total costumed attendees including members of the Tidewater Alliance who put on a nice lightsaber seminar. It was good to meet more of my local Carolina Garrison members. Check out some photos here, here, and here.