If you’re into making costumes and building things with your hands, this will be a great post for you.

I’m going to walk through the steps I took to make the Master Chief / Halo helmet sculpt. Before we begin, I would like to explain some basic requirements needed for such a project.

First things first! Let’s find a good working area. For starters don’t start sculpting in the living room on your mom’s brand new Persian rug. Why, you may ask. Well, because she’s going to take your life when she finds little bits of clay scattered and embedded deep in the fibers of her favorite hand woven rug. So don’t don’t tempt fate my friend!

Here are some things you’ll want to consider if you’re using oil based clay. If you get it in the rug, you’re going to have a heck of a time cleaning it out. You’d better have an extra carpet handy because oil, of course, is resistant to water, meaning you can’t steam clean it out. Trust me! I speak from experience. I lost a deposit on an apartment that way. So, find a place that won’t matter getting dirty or make provisions to protect the floor with a toss away rug, plastic, or set of painter floor covers.

Now that you found a spot to work, let’s get the materials.

First you’ll need clay. There is a huge barrage of clays out there – from soft, medium, hard, oil-based, water-based, etc. For this post I will not go into detail about the different types of clay to save time on your reading. For this project, I used Chavant NSP Medium in the brown color. You can find Chavant clays off their website http://www.chavant.com. Be sure to look at their various distributors to see if there is a location that sells it locally. The stuff is heavy, and if you can save yourself on shipping, it’d be wise. One thing I will mention about the clay is the acronym NSP. It means that it is sulfur free clay and that is very important if you’re going to make a mold of the finished sculpt. I won’t bore you with the details, but sulfur will react with the curing chemicals in the rubber that is used for the mold, causing the clay to warp and the silicone not to cure properly. Be sure to check the oil based clays if you decide to go with some other brand of clay.

With the clay in hand we’ll need a few basic sculpting tools. I’ve collected many tools throughout the years so I have a large collection that will handle just about anything. But all you really need are the basics, such as loop tools, small loop tools, rakes, and some small wooden tools. You should be able to find these basic tools at any hobby store or local art supply store.

Alright, now we have the materials, tools, and a place far from the wrath of your mother/girlfriend. Heh, just joking, we know if you’re reading this you don’t have a girlfriend. Alas, I digress. So, now what? Well, we need something to apply the clay to. In my case we took a life-cast of my head, and I used that to ensure the fit of the finished helmet. You don’t have to do this, but it really does help. It would suck to spend days or weeks on a sculpt, not to have it fit. I won’t get into the specifics of life-casting but here are a few pictures of the process.

If you don’t want to try your hand at a life-cast, you can always use something of relative size. For example you can get a Styrofoam head, mannequin head, a bowling ball (only if you have a head shaped like a bowling ball), whatever will get the job done. We’ll be offering a Bust Armature later this year that you’ll be able to purchase off our website as well, so keep your eyes out for that. Once you find the right head-like object, you’ll need to prep it for the clay. The way you do this is spraying a few coats of Shellac on the armature so that it’s all sealed up and has a good surface for the clay to stick too.

Now that we have all the things we need to start sculpting and once you recover from the dizzy feelings from the Shellac, you can start applying clay. There are a few techniques for applying the clay to the life-cast. One is the friction method shown in Adam’s Podcast Number 5. I actually did this project the hard way of tearing off little pieces and applying them one at a time. It works, but it’s probably not the fastest way to start building up the clay.

Because this character has a visor in the helmet, I want to represent that as closely to the game model as possible. In this case, I used a motorcycle visor cut to size, to represent the face shield of the Master Chief. Yes, now you know. If you don’t have to sculpt it then don’t. Why sculpt out a perfectly smooth face shield when you can just stick on in the clay? This lesson will save you hours of work, if you realize, some things are easier when you don’t have to sculpt them from scratch!

Now that we have the visor in place we can continue to build up the clay. During this process you want to look at references of the subject so that you’re building towards the final objective. Don’t go throwing a bunch of clay on life-cast making the sculpt look like bozo the clown when you don’t have too. If you notice in the pictures I found every reference shot I could, and got as many perspectives as possible for guidance. Throughout the entire process you’ll want to view the subject in as many angles as possible so you can truly represent its features. I even went beyond this by mocking up a 3d model so I would know how much clay to build up for the scaling of the helmet. This step is not necessary; the general rule is you just need to build up an inch to two inches off of the life-cast to make sure there is plenty of room for your fat head. Once you have built the clay up to represent the basic blocking of the subject, you can start sculpting it down to get more accurate shapes, contours, and details. Don’t spend a lot of time getting all the fine edges in or straight lines that comes later.

One of the hardest things about sculpting is representing symmetry in your work. In this case the Master Chief has a very symmetrical helmet with mirrored detail on the two sides. So when you sculpt one side you’ll have to do the same thing to the other side as well. This is a tedious process that might take you awhile to master. I’ll give you a few tricks to help speed things up and give you a better end result. One method is making paper templates that you can uses to copy shapes to other parts of the sculpt One way to do this is to use masking tape to trace a shape then pull the tape off as a whole and put it on some poster board. Cut around the tape to get the general shape on a flat surface. Then you can flip it over and use it to make your cuts and build ups on the other side.

Another trick I use is my computer. I’ll take pictures of one side and flip the picture in PhotoShop using the new flipped picture as I sculpt the opposite side. It’s a good trick to use and you can play around with tracing one sides profile and then flipping it over to the other side to see what needs to change, but I’ll let you play with that.

Now that we got the basic blocking and symmetry of the sculpt we need to start detailing it more. We want to represent the sharp edges and grooves as much as possible. The general rule is the more detailed you get the smaller your tools become. So when you’re blocking things out use your big rakes and wooden tools, but once you start getting more detailed you should switch to the smaller more precise tools. You’ll figure out what works for you. When you’re starting the detailing process be sure to keep symmetry in mind when it comes to the angles and lines of the individual shapes and contours. You can always use straight edges and templates to sharpen up edges and details.

Sometimes flats smooth surfaces are the hardest to sculpt. So what you may want to do, and what I’m showing in these pictures, is the use of poster board in and on the sculpt to represent these flat smooth surfaces. Cut some poster board to the required shape. Then make a groove in the clay to allow you to lay the poster board down flush-then you just cover the edges of the poster board with some new clay to keep it in place. This will give you that smooth surface that may be harder to reproduce by hand.

This next step is optional and you should play with it before attempting on your final sculpt. If you dare you can use a paint brush and some mineral spirits on the sculpt. Found at a home improvement center, you can use these to smooth out the clay even more. What the mineral spirits does is chemically melt the top layer of clay, which allows you to smooth it over like a glaze. Be sure to wear a respirator and be in a well ventilated area before attempting this step. It’s a little tricky to master this technique but if you do you can get some really smooth looking surfaces, and it will cut down on your final sanding time.

mineral spirits

Well that’s it! You have learned just how to complete an awesome helmet sculpt. Once you’re satisfied, what you want to do is prep the sculpture for the molding process. I like to go over the entire sculpt with a few layers of primer to seal up the clay really good. It will also take out any small scratches that the brush may have left. I won’t be getting into the molding or how to cast the helmet in this post but I will show you what the finished molded piece looks like.

I hope you have enjoyed going over the basics of sculpting a helmet, and I hope you continue to visit our website and subscribe to our blog. This was a fun project and I enjoyed working on it. Feel free to leave comments and let us know if this helped you. Thank you for reading.

For more information about Halo Costumes and Prop Building, visit http://www.405th.com, tell them Blue Realm sent you.