Real Bowcaster

During my time working on the Chewbacca costume when I didn’t know the Rebel Legion existed I was happy to make a “bowcaster” that was a modified nerf gun toy. I thought I was doing something great and I was really happy to get the bow part from another toy and put it on the gun.  However cool I thought I was making this toy (and it still fired darts!) it is a bit of a joke compared to the movie quality things required for the Rebel Legion.  Chewy is an awesome costume and he commands so much love from people, but I really need a bowcaster that matches the quality of my wookie.  So, it’s time to make a good bowcaster.

There are several kits and outright bowcaster casts that can be purchased (see Wookie Workshop) and they are spectacularly beautiful, and somewhat pricey.  However, I enjoy making my own things as much as possible and I thought I could do the bowcaster.  I downloaded a good line drawing of the bowcaster and modified it so only the stock was visible.  I converted this to a jpg file and sent it to Office Depot with instructions to print it so the length was 28 inches (which is what I heard the real bowcaster was).  A word of warning – make sure when they print this out that the depth of the bowcaster stays in the same proportion as the length.  I didn’t notice on mine until I was well into the build, but I think the depth of my bowcaster is a little shallow and so the cutout holes in the stock are a little narrow.  Not a big deal but not exactly accurate either.

bowcaster

Diagram I used to print the stock outline

Then I transferred the outline from the paper to a piece of wood.  I don’t own a saw capable of cutting curves so I had my wife take it to the wood shop teacher at the high school she worked at (Papillion South – go Titans!).  They cut it out for me and I sanded the corners and grip.  I used aluminum to form the bow part and again, had the high school cut it to size for me.  I bent the bow across my leg to get it in shape and I cut some aluminum tubing for the barrel.  I added sections of wood for the scope attachment point.  The great thing is that I used that old, crappy bowcaster toy that I had built for the single-point center scope and the scope attachment.  I added two Tesco 7×35 scopes to the sides that I had purchased for $7 each from Walmart.  I had to make a nose plate out of sculpy and then mold it and recast it in a stronger acrylic.  The nose plate and two screws hold the bow on and secure a strap that holds a D-ring for the bowcaster strap.  Too late now, but Chewy’s bowcaster seems to have an O-ring and not a D-ring.  Oops.

IMG_1209I made the detailing on the sides of the bowcaster out of a wood plate and various sizes of washers stacked up and screwed into the stock.  I also went to Guitar Center and got some guitar knobs that I used on the sides.  I decided not to put a trigger on it because my gloves for Chewy are pretty bulky and would have trouble fitting in there.  After putting it all together I put a coat of primer on everything and painted it black.

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The last pieces to put on it were the pink bouncy balls ($1 at Toys R Us).  I cut slits in the balls and tried hot glue to hold them on.  That was a giant mistake!  Hot glue does not work for this application.  I then mixed up some JB Weld and tried that.  The JB Weld held pretty good.  I think this will work just fine.  I added a second coat of JB Weld to the seams to reinforce the connection and it seems fairly stable.

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JB Weld used to hold the rubber balls on the ends of the aluminum bow.

Once the balls were secure it was time for a coat of black spray paint.  Finally, I added the spiral wires (old cell phone car charger) and the last couple guitar knobs.  I found these cool looking gold and clear guitar knobs at Guitar Center and got them for my bowcaster.  They are not movie authentic but they look so neat I don’t mind.  Gives the bowcaster a little pop of color.

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I cast a second nose piece and cut the top off for use as the sight that goes on the end of the barrel.  I molded craft foam around it to make the actual sights and used gorilla glue gel to attach it to the barrel.  On the back, bottom of the stock I put a piece of webbing with a D-ring  and wound some waxed string around it.  The final bowcaster (minus the strap) turned out pretty well.  I love this thing!  It is awesome and I can’t wait to take some photos of my Chewy with the new bowcaster and with our Han Solo.

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Also, use proper Bowcaster safety:

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Always keep your bowcaster locked safely on the Falcon.

The total cost for my bowcaster was about $50.

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Planet Comicon 2016

On the Rebel Legion wookie building forum there is one final step to truly completing your Chewbacca costume – getting your picture taken in your costume with Peter Mayhew.  Planet Comicon 2016 provided me with this last checkoff.  I went to do my normal normal volunteer appearances with the RL/501st and that was great as usual.  People love the wookie.  Then I set off to find Peter Mayhew.  He was at his autograph table and I have to say that Peter is a super nice guy who treats wookie builders with a great amount of respect.  I had heard this about Peter and it was definitely true from my experience.  I was in my Chewbacca costume and I got in line for his autograph.  To get to this line I had to traverse the ENTIRE convention floor cordially fighting through throngs of people who want a photo with the walking carpet.  I had just got into the autograph line and within a minute or so the attendant tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mr. Mayhew would like to see you as a VIP.”  He took me directly to Peter and Peter stood up next to me and let me take two photos, one in full costume and one with my head removed.  This was a highlight of my time making the costume.  I came back later to pay for his autograph on the inside flap of my Chewbacca bandolier pouch.

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Black eye make-up, hallmark of a wookie.

After finishing with Peter I went to find my garrison’s Han Solo I wandered by the Jeremy Bulloch booth and he came out wanting a picture with me so I was able to get an impromptu photo op with the real Boba Fett!

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Chewbacca and Jeremy Bulloch (the original – and only – Boba Fett).

Then I headed across the aisle, still in search of Han, and Alexandra Breckenridge (actress from the Walking Dead) came out wanting a photo with Chewbacca.  She was so excited to pose with me in my wookie.  I didn’t have a chance to get a photo of this for myself, but later at home I looked on her Instagram page and saw this:

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My posing with Alexandra Breckenridge (actress from the Walking Dead) on her Instagram account. Notice the views…13 thousand people!!

Such an amazing opportunity for me and my Chewbacca costume.  I had a short trip to Planet Comicon, but a great trip, and I couldn’t have had any of these opportunities if it wasn’t for my wife who watched our 8-month old for the day so I could go.  Thanks, Lindsay!

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Planet Comicon 2015

I took my Chewie to Planet Comicon in 2015 and entered the costume contest.  I won 3rd place in the men’s division.  I am very proud that all of the work paid off with a placing in my first costume contest.

Winners in the 2015 costume contest at Planet Comicon, Kansas City.

Winners in the 2015 costume contest at Planet Comicon, Kansas City (my Chewie is center).

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WARNING to New Wookie Builders!

Now that I am done with my Chewbacca I wanted to write an entry about the mistakes I made while building my Wookie.  I have made a couple of doozies too, but I rolled with them and everything turned out ok.  I guess my first piece of advice is that everything can be fixed so don’t worry too much, but it is better to do it right the first time.  Here is a list of things I would warn new Wookie builders about:

1.  Join and Read the Rebel Legion costuming forums, especially the “Chewbacca and other Wookies” threads – even if you are not going to be a Rebel Legion member.    Almost everything you need to know is on there somewhere and the people on the forum are friendly and very helpful.  Sometimes it may take people a while to write back.  (http://www.forum.rebellegion.com/forum)

2.  Do not add your hair like I did, it is too thick and too spread out.  This was my most problematic issue, but I made it work anyway.  It looks so much better if you add only a few strands all over the body instead of large clumps spread out.  This mistake happened to me because when I began I didn’t know about the Rebel Legion or the forum and I started on an incorrect path.

3.  Realize this is a long and expensive project.  It took me two years to complete my Wookie – set small goals and work toward them.  You can do it in a much shorter time, but I did work on it fairly regularly.  You will need a lot of supplies and tools and if you don’t have all the stuff then it can be somewhat expensive.  Also, because of the list below, you might understand better why a completed Wookie costume might cost upwards of $3000 (there is a lot of labor on these costumes) Below is a list of the basic stuff I purchased for my Wookie.

Basic cost list for supplies and equipment I used to build my Chewbacca costume.

Basic cost list for supplies and equipment I used to build my Chewbacca costume.

4. Having a supportive wife is a great help.  Sometimes you need help making a life cast of your head and it is always helpful to have someone who won’t try to murder you by suffocating you in alginate.

5. Use some good clay when making the sculpt of the head.  I used a cheap, water-based clay and it cracked as it dried out so I had to sculpt and mold the silicon mask within a short time (couple days).  Even with this time period I still had to fill cracks.

6. Even with all the hard work and expense this was definitely something I am very proud of.  I think I was the 39th approved wookie in the world.  Worth the two years of work.

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Approved!

It has been just about two years, exactly, and Chewbacca has been approved as formal for the Rebel Legion.  I am happy that I was able to see this through to fruition.  I will be taking Chewie out on troops around the Omaha area now.  I have also reworked my CHewie feet and took out the shoes that were in my feet and replaced them with more comfortable shoes.  I also took out the curved portion of the feet so that my shoes sit flat.  I lost a couple inches in height, but I was approaching 8ft anyway so I could stand to lose some height.  My wookie feet feel so much more comfortable now.

Finished and Approved!

Finished and Approved!

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Submission

The time has come to call Chewbacca done.  I’m sure there will be a couple minor (hopefully) alterations that the Rebel Legion costume judges might want changed, but I think my Chewie is as complete as he is going to be.  I got in the full costume with eye make up, good Wookie hands, and the newly trimmed hair.  Fortunately, my eyes are naturally blue so I won’t need any contacts.  I hate touching my eyes and it was weird enough putting on the eye shadow, let alone actually putting something in my eye.

Black eye shadow to highlight my eyes in the mask.  Fortunately, I have naturally blue eyes so I don't need to wear contacts.

Black eye shadow to highlight my eyes in the mask. Fortunately, I have naturally blue eyes so I don’t need to wear contacts.

I marked the height markers on the wall using blue painter’s tape at each foot.  I placed the tape so that the top of the tape is even with the actual foot intervals.  To be acceptable for the Rebel Legion Chewie needs to stand over 7 ft tall, I am 6ft 4 in in height and with the lifts and head/mask I thought I would be about 7 ft 3 in, but I am actually more like 7ft 5-6 in!!  Lindsay did a really great job of adding hairspray and combing out the fur on Chewie for the photos and that, combined with the new hair trim, really made the costume come together.  I am absolutely taken aback at how good this costume turned out.  It is really amazing how terrible my Chewie looked back when I first had it together with that terrible Rubies mask, and how much better it looks with my custom fabricated mask.  This costume was an incredible process that was fun, a great adventure, and taught me so much about costuming and special effects.  I am so glad I decided to make this.  It has taken me almost two years (in November) to make and I am excited to bring Chewie out in public for Rebel Legion events.  I think people will really love him.  Here is a retrospective comparison:

BEFORE (with the terrible Rubies mask/This is really embarrassing now):

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

and AFTER (with lifts/feet, hair straightening and trim, real bandolier, and of course a custom fit mask; I’m proud of this one!):

Finished Chewbacca! Front side.

Finished Chewbacca! Front side.

What a journey this has been!  I have to say a big thank you to Lindsay for putting up with this crazy plan of mine.  She has put up with lots of Wookie hair all over and paints and clay all over our table.  Also, thanks to many Rebel Legion members for their help, especially Ian (Chefhawk), Johnny, Nick (Wookietrooper), Sarah (Sez), Matt Pfingsten (Gotwookie), and Marty (Wookiewannabe).  Here are the rest of the submission photos:

Left side

Left side

Right side

Right side

Back side

Back side

And finally the “action” shot.  I am not sure this will be acceptable because of the stormtrooper blaster in the photo, but we will see.

Chewbacca, Bespin Escape

Chewbacca, Bespin Escape

Chewie, basic action shot

Chewie, basic action shot

 

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Clip, clip here; clip, clip there…and a couple of tra-la-las

In my final push to getting Chewie ready to submit to the Rebel Legion I wanted to get the hair on the costume to look more natural.  Right now it has definite lines that indicate it is a shirt and pants and not an entire wookie.  I needed a professional hair stylist to blend the transition points so they look natural.  I made an appointment at my old hair salon and I think when I called and asked if anyone would be interested in cutting Chewbacca they probably thought I was kidding.  However, one of the stylists agreed to cut him for me.  I went in tonight and put the costume on so she could see it as a whole and then she could attack the troubled areas.  The stylist who worked on Chewie was April Heller and she did a great job blending his hair.  I had accidentally cut the hair on the wrists so that it looked straight, instead of natural.  April fixed my mistake and she spent time blending the waist and thinning out the backside, especially the shoulders.  She also tamed a major problem spot I was having and that was the waist of the front side.  There was a large clump of hair that always bulged out and looked bad.

Trimming up the back of the waist.

Trimming up the back of the waist.

After trimming off a large amount of hair that was left on the floor I needed the head to be looked at.  I sat in the chair and put the mask on and let April go to town on the head.  She thinned out the back of the head and really cut down the side mutton chops so they were more manageable.  I will still need to do something to prevent the hair on the top and sides of the head from falling forward onto the face.

Chewie getting a little off the top

Chewie getting a little off the top

I need to add some thin bits of hair to the upper forearms to make sure the mesh is hidden, and April said I need to add some longer strands to the back center of the head because my neck was showing.  The sides of the face need more thinning and trimming and then I need to add some sort of glue or holder to the face hair to prevent it from falling.  April did a great job of thinning and blending the entire body.  The body had what appeared to be rows of hair and she blended it into a more natural creature.

April Heller, from Victor Victoria Salon (formerly SIrens) in downtown Omaha was the Chewie stylist

April Heller, from Victor Victoria Salon (formerly Sirens) in downtown Omaha was the Wookie stylist

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