Friday, November 6, 2015

How to make a spiffy-looking Han Solo's Blaster and/or Princess Leia Blaster for a costume

I'm going to break from my usual cycling subjects to talk about a recent project: creating inexpensive, decent looking replicas of Han Solo's and Princess Leia's blasters.

My wife and I decided to dress-up like Leia and Han from the Moon of Endor assault, and dress our two year old daughter up as an Ewok. Carol, being the fabric-smith, took on the bulk of the costume, I took the relatively modest task of making some decent looking blasters.

As it turns out, you can't just go out and buy a "realistic" looking blaster. OK, you can, but its hundreds of dollars... and... yeah... No. Instead, you have to buy a safety orange toy blaster and paint and work it to look like the "real" thing.

To be clear, you can buy some of these made by other people for $50-80 on Etsy which are good, but not perfect either. But I'm just not going to spend that much on a costume gun, especially when I can spend $17 on the orange one, plus $15 in other materials, and hours upon hours of time to make my own. I was surprised that there was no tutorial for this online, so I thought I'd share my approach. Here's what I did, along with some tips for how it could be done better "next time".

General Instructions:

Generally speaking, you want to put some silver paint on the blaster toy to cover up the orange plastic, then a layer of black, and then carefully strip off some of the black paint to reveal the silver underneath so it looks worn. Seems pretty simple, but the devil is in the details. Here's the detailed steps:
  1. Order your chosen blaster. Searching around online you can find them at the usual online shopping places. Compare prices, there can be some significant differences.
  2. Buy your other materials at the local hardware store: 
    1. a can of silver spray paint that is specifically intended to stick to plastic (such as Krylon Fusion), 
    2. a can of matte black spray paint (I chose semi-gloss and it was a little too glossy), 
    3. for Han's blaster, a can of brown spray paint, I chose a "walnut" color, but try to find something that looks the most like wood to you, 
    4. a roll of masking tape (for Han's blaster only). It may be worth investing in some higher quality tape like Frog tape.
    5.  some "0000 super-fine" steel-wool.
  3. Take some time to clean up the seams and rough edges. I did not do this step, and regret it. Use sandpaper and/or a hobby knife to carefully remove plastic burs, and reduce the visibility of the seams between the pieces of plastic. You may want to try to take down the text molded into the blaster, such as "Made in China" A little work along these lines can go a long way, but I can tell you from my modeling experience in the past, that is easy to go overboard real quick and make it look worse, so err on the side of a lighter touch. Remember, the paint will cover up some of these blemishes too.
  4. For Han's blaster, mask off the rest of the gun and apply a couple coats of the brown paint to the handle. Take a look at photos of the blaster online to see exactly where the defining line between the handle and metal part of the blaster is. I went a little low, and had a pretty easy time masking it off at the seam of the battery compartment at the expense of authenticity. I would probably mask it off up higher next time for more realism, but it could be really challenging. This is where the fancy Frog Tape might be handy. Once the paint is dry, remove the masking tape over the rest of the gun, then apply tape over the handle before the next step.
  5. Spray paint the gun silver. Its best to do many, MANY light coats of this base silver paint. I did 3 coats, not nearly enough, I would recommend 6-8 light coats. It needs to be thick enough so that later when you wear through the black coat you will have plenty of silver underneath, and not reveal the orange plastic below (which is what happened in places on my blasters). Make sure you get every nook and cranny, but be careful not to spray too much with any given coat so you get pooling and running. I'd let it dry for 1 day to 1 week before the next step, it shouldn't be sticky to the touch, you want the black paint to separate fairly easily from the silver paint.
  6.  Apply the black paint in as few coats as you can to thoroughly cover the entire blaster. *See below for a note about the muzzle/flash suppressor on Han's blaster.
  7. Be patient and wait a day or so to let the paint dry before you remove the masking. For the next step, you want the paint to be thoroughly dry, at least 48 hours depending on how thick the paint underneath is. I waited a week.
  8. Now you need to weather the gun! I'd recommend roughing it up with some tools or files first. You could carefully drag it across some dirt, sand or gravel to give it some real world experience. The point would be to make shallow scrapes, nicks and gouges into the black paint. You don't necessarily need to scrape it to the point that it shows the silver paint underneath, just remove some of the black paint and the sanding will enhance it later. Hair-thin scrapes will get wider and more visible once you take the steel wool to it.
  9. Now is the time to really put the authentic-looking wear on the blaster. Use your super-fine steel wool and go around the whole gun (excluding the handle on Han's blaster) and give it a general polish. Get that steel wool in every little nook and cranny! This alone will make it look a little "worn" and start to reveal some of the silver under-coat along raised edges and areas where you weathered it in the previous step. Now take a careful look at the blaster from the movies and try to replicate where the wear is on the actual prop, for example on the cooling fins of Han's blaster, and give it a little more work in those places.

Han Solo Blaster Detail

Han's blaster is well used. He carries it with him constantly. He pulls it out a lot. He fires it a lot. He gets into scrapes, and the gun gets dropped, on the ground or bounced around the Millennium Falcon during maneuvers. I feel like the more wear you can put on this blaster the better its going to look. Just be careful not to wear right through the silver paint too and expose the orange underneath as this ruins the effect.

*You may want to mask off the muzzle of the blaster to keep it the silver color as seen in A New Hope. This also makes the gun a little more visually interesting than all black. But if you look at the blaster from Return of the Jedi, its muzzle is black, or only slightly faded (as if the metal has been heated due to being fired). Actually, look at the series of photos below you'll see there is a lot of variability in what Han's BlasTech DL-44 looks like most of the blasters shown in the movies had more-or-less silver flash-suppressors/muzzles, but most of them from publicity photos were all black. For what its worth, the high-quality replicas tend to have the black flash suppressor/muzzle. Can't say which is more authentic, perhaps the black finish wears off with use.

If I could have found a dark metallic paint I may have put a few coats of it on the muzzle. I also considered "misting" some black spray paint on the muzzle to give it a more charred look to the silver, but this could be tricky to get right. In the end, I think I would just paint the whole blaster black and then carefully try to remove as much of the black paint as possible from the muzzle/flash suppressor to show the contrast seen in the movie while applying the well worn look. I would probably masque off the other parts of the gun immediately adjacent to the muzzle to prevent them from getting worn too much.

I might also be tempted to drill out the holes in the muzzle/flash suppressor, but that would be a lot of extra work and could go south in a hurry. Also, it appears not all of the prop guns had holes in the flash suppressor. If it could be done well it would be a nice detail to add.

Princess Leia Blaster Detail

You can't actually buy the blaster you see Leia using on Endor. Instead, the more iconic long-barreled blaster from A New Hope is available. This is fine by me since its a costume and the more recognizable gun is going to make you look more like the character, even if it isn't 100% accurate for our Moon of Endor get-up.

The blaster Leia used on the Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi

This is the gun we all associate with Leia anyway.

Princess Leia is a noblewoman, and her gun doesn't get as much use. In A New Hope, it looks pretty pristine. It's a self defense side arm. So I kept the wear to a minimum to try to replicate what it would get being carried in a holster and occasionally used. It got the general polish with the steel wool, then I paid special attention to carefully wear off the paint on textured surfaces, such as the grip and sight adjustor, and the little adjustor knob below the barrel, as these are where a real gun would show wear. I ended up putting more wear on this one than you see on her blaster in the movies, but I think that makes it look cooler.

I just noticed that the end of the muzzle of her blaster is silver in A New Hope! So maybe mask that off.

For what its worth, the high-end replica Leia blaster that sells for hundreds of dollars, appears to simply be this same toy blaster, very carefully done up!

The Results:

Not perfect but pretty good. I may even try to sell the Han Solo blaster online and buy a new one to try again and see if I can improve accuracy.
If you look carefully at some of the raised points you can see where I polished through the silver paint to the orange plastic underneath. I'm going to try to find a fine paint brush and touch these up later. Also, the muzzle looks oddly un-weathered compared to the rest of the gun.

Authentic scuff marks made by lightly scratching the area with a file first, and then while polishing with the steel wool they really started to stand-out.

Leia's postol came out pretty well. There are a few spots where orange and white plastic are visible, which I can touch up later.