Blog RSS

Replicating Past Techniques: Paint Weathering, Decals, and Hand-Cutting!

"Look, sir! Droids!"

Truth in advertising—this is my favorite Stormtrooper. Ever. I've always loved the look of the Desert Stormtroopers on Tatooine, or "Sandtroopers" as they came to be known. As a kid I would do whatever I could to make my Stormtrooper action figures look as dirty as possible trying to recreate the look. So yeah, this is a helmet I've been looking forward to for a long time. A long time.

When we set out to bring this particular Stormtrooper helmet to the fandom we of course wanted to ensure that it was as faithful to the original Sandtrooper design as possible. So with that in mind we went again into the Archive and found one of the most recognizable Stormtroopers ever—the Sandtrooper who pops into the frame and says, "Look, sir! Droids!".

Pictured: The first Sandtrooper with important dialogue.

Now, the archive is filled with all manner of amazing things, but nothing brings back the feeling of being a kid in the theater watching Star Wars as much as holding a simple Stormtrooper helmet.  And THIS helmet is one that we all remember seeing on screen.

Having found the helmet we wanted to recreate, we went to work examining every aspect of it. We started by carefully documenting every nuance of its intricate, painted, weathering pattern.

We wanted to convey the story of the original prop in our replica, so we could best create an accurate representation to the original prop:

  1. The actual colors used to weather the helmet.
  2. The technique used to create the weathering patterns.
  3. The replicating the technology of the 70’s.

Actual Colors

Original Weathered Sandtrooper Chin
Pictured: Colors sampled from around the chin.

Handling the “Look sir, Droids” helmet had its benefits. The first striking element was that the color palette used to weather the original helmet went far beyond what we had expected from simply watching the film. Previous attempts to replicate the weathering of Sandtrooper helmets and armor usually used warm, "desert colors" like tan, taupe, ochre, and lighter browns. But, the actual weathering on the helmet had to compensate for the blinding light of the sun on location. In the desert of Yuma, California, and under the brutal Tunisian sun, warmer colors wash-out. These harsh lighting conditions necessitated the use of darker, heavier and cooler colors in order to show up on film.

As a result, we carefully selected the palette that matched the colors from the original artifact as it was used on set.

The Finer Techniques of Weathering

Under eye closeup.
Pictured: Weathering close up of the lower eye "ridge" from the artifact.

Knowing just the colors wasn’t enough. What we found was a very intricate, deliberate pattern of heavy weathering using dark, cool paint colors. There was almost nothing "haphazard" about the weathering technique on the helmets. In fact, instead of the conventional “spray and fade” method, there was a mixture of manual, darker paint washes and stippling to create the pattern of weathering. With our helmets, we opted for this method of manual, individualized weathering to capture this technique, rather than a mass volume spray. Though this technique does take longer to execute, we felt strongly that it was the final touch in making the paint job as close in spirit to the original helmets seen on the set. 

As a result, each individual helmet has its own unique weathering pattern, and thus no two helmets are exactly alike… a fingerprint with its own unique and distinct hallmarks, if you will.

Replicating 70’s Tech

Decal "Teardrop" closeup from artifact.
Pictured: Closeup of "tear-drop" decal, noting the hand-drawn shape and varying thickness of the black border.

We also documented all the surviving decoration on the helmet, including the distinctive "stripe-less" grey accents, a detail that further set the Sandtroopers apart from other Imperial troopers. Armed with this research, we created new decals for the teardrops, temples, and rear trapezoid shaped areas while recreating the intricate pattern of weathering we found on the original helmet.

Secondly, because patterning and illustrator programs didn’t exist in the 70’s the actual cut outs didn’t match the actual shape of the indention. We deliberately replicated this feature including the varying thickness of the decal edges to replicate the hand-drawn borders of the original… yes, we don’t mess around. We also applied this “handcrafted” approach to the physical helmet itself wherever we could.

Eye "socket" close-up from artifact.
Pictured: Closeup of the eye socket from artifact, noting the wavy cut-out from hand-cutting into the material.

For example, if you examine the openings for the lenses you’ll find that they look like they were hand-cut just like they were on the original helmets. That’s because they were. We could have opted for a cleaner, automated, cut-out for the visor openings but chose instead to have them hand-cut. Sure, it complicates the manufacturing process somewhat, but it adds an extra level of stage accurate detail that serves to make this piece truly feel like a piece from the film.

As a result, this helmet looks like it was made in 1976. It’s like we went to the archive, and selected a helmet for you from among the Sandtrooper helmets that have survived all these years.

Combining all of these elements with our beautifully asymmetrical classic stormtrooper helmet, we've crafted the first accurately weathered, wearable... troopable, Imperial Sandtrooper Helmet this side of Mos Eisley.

We didn’t set out to exactly copy the pattern of the archived helmet, but focused on replicating the technique used to bring the helmet to life on-screen. The beauty of this approach is not only the individual care in weathering but also the individuality of each helmet pattern, which precisely mirrors just how different each on-screen Sandtrooper helmet was from another.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm gonna grab my Sandtrooper helmet and try to find these droids everyone seems so concerned about.

John Cooley March 06, 2019 0 tags (show)