Learning to Cosplay: Building the Titan Shield from Destiny 2
One area of geekdom that I haven’t delved much into so far has been cosplay. I’ve tested my chops as a gamer, a pop culture nerd, and within the realms of academic geekery, but building objects to represent my geekiness isn’t something I have much experience with. I’m learning how to be more crafty, but I’m also the type of person who took up crochet and literally tied their hand together, so I can’t say that I’m super confident in my skills for how to create something tangible from a video game.
This is a story about my forays into a whole new world of working with power tools, sports equipment, various spray paints, and friends, and working against my type-A mentality.
I love video games, and I love finding ways to express my love of video games. So, when I was presented with an opportunity to learn how to use EVA foam to create weapons and armor, I decided that my first adventure into the world of cosplay would be to make something that was both a weapon and armor: the Titan Sentinel shield from Destiny 2.
Full disclosure: I have invested hours upon hours into Destiny 2, both on the development side and as someone who plays it. But when I started this project, I had sunk precisely 0 hours creating anything that was remotely a tribute to it. I picked the shield because I main a Titan when I play Destiny 2. I’ve always liked being the tanky, smashy character in a party, and I thought that when this particular subclass dropped for a Titan, that it was a perfect extension of how to marry offense and defense together. The void subclass is also one that I’ve found the most mysterious in how it works, but it has some pretty cool ingame mechanics. (To be clear, in the game, there are three subclasses for any class: arc/lightning, solar/fire, and void, which is the sparkly purple subclass that this belongs to.)
For reference, this is what the shield looks like ingame:
To start, I had EVA foam of various thicknesses, four days, and my friend Jeff for help. We looked at a lot of images of the shield online, and tried breaking it down into various layers. We settled on three: one for the outer circumference, one for the center dotted layer, and one for the smaller circle with the Titan insignia on it.
I don’t have a picture of the various layers when we cut them, but I will note that there was a lot of math involved in scaling up the proportions from an image on paper to what the final size would be. I did not expect cosplay to have this much math. I had to remember how to do geometry, which was probably one of the hardest parts of this project honestly. Anyway, after we had our pieces cut out, we had to shape them. The shield was partially domed, so we wanted to recreate that shape. I never thought I’d have to use gym equipment in cosplay, but we found a handy tutorial for making curved shields, so we went to town using saran wrap, a yoga ball, and a heat gun:
Surprisingly, it worked. We also used the heat gun to seal each piece as we worked on them, and then curved and glued them together. However, one thing that didn’t work for us was the fact that we didn’t have a way of keeping the shield curved as we worked on it, so overnight it had lost its shape and we were stuck back with a very large foam pizza.
This is where my perfectionist type-A personality probably started to cry. I have a tendency to want something to be perfect and awesome, and in retrospect it’s probably not a super reasonable expectation for a first attempt at working with an unfamiliar material. What did help was learning that cosplay isn’t about perfectionism; it’s about what works. If you make something and you think it’s cool, that’s what matters. I also learned about the cosplay five foot test: if it looks good from five feet away, then it’s fine. I had to remind myself about that a lot.
We decided to work on giving the illusion of curvature, instead. This is where dremels are your best friend; they’re great rotary tools for shaping the foam and creating angles and divots. (Safety tip: make sure you have a drop cloth to catch the foam dust, and a mask/respirator and eye protection.)
The challenge after that was to get the details right. (Yes, I know that cosplay is about what works, and not necessarily everything that’s perfect, but still…) We had cut out the little diamond shaped pieces out of foam with an exacto knife, and used even more geometry to work on the hexagon pieces and the indents/detailing. After a day of work, we had something that kind of looked like a shield:
The next step was sealing everything before painting. There’s a cool product called Gesso, which is basically a base coat/primer. We covered the entire shield in it, and did several thin layers to make sure we had coverage in all the gaps and whatnot:
It was important that we let it completely dry, so we left it overnight. The next day, we came back and got ready to paint.
You’ll notice that the original inspiration for the shield is almost transparent, but has hints of different colors in it. Translating this from cool digital effects into an actual, solid object, was tricky. We settled on using a series of metallic colors (gold, silver, and bronze), as the base layer, with the plan to cover it with a purple sheen later. So, we got to painting:
At this point I should give Jeff a billion props for doing the gold detailing on that black middle section: those little gold dots were created by him cutting out a set of tiny hexagonal stamps from leftover foam, and hand stamping each individual tiny hexagon onto the shield to create that pattern. It took him several hours. I cannot believe the effort that he put into that.
After letting it dry, it was spray painting time. I found a purple shimmer spray paint, which was basically perfect for our needs. A few light coats and it was really taking shape. (Pro tip: spray in a well ventilated area and away from open flames! I also strongly recommend if you use a drop sheet or a spray box so that flecks of paint don’t coat all your other surfaces. I spray painted in my garage and the top of my car ended up slightly purple and sparkly.)
I don’t have a picture of the back, but we found an old leather belt and cut it so we could use it as an arm strap. We also used the buckle part and notch holes so the shield could accommodate arms of various sizes. I think this was where it got exciting, because it wasn’t just a giant purple frisbee at this point. It had arm straps, and you could actually wear it like a shield.
After a few final touches (such as adding a string of purple LED lights around the outside, and affixing the battery pack to the center of the shield), and then it was more or less done.
All up, this took just shy of four days to complete. In retrospect, if we had more time, there are a few things I’d probably do differently, now that I have an understanding what it’s like to work with foam and paint and power tools. I also later discovered that transparent EVA foam is a thing that you can use for LED cosplay, which I definitely think I would want to stock up on.
I found the challenges to be in places I didn’t expect: remembering 8th grade geometry, overcoming perfectionist ideals, and learning that the rule of thumb is that if it works it’s legit. I feel confident now that I can work with foam and power tools, and translating a picture into a three-dimensional object that functions how it does in a picture. I’m pretty excited that now I have a thing I can carry around to conventions, share cosplaying experiences about, or even hang in my house to show how much I’m a fan of this game.
I think this went pretty well for a first try. Now for the rest of the armor…