Tag Archives: cosplay

Living with Derek

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Back in February or March, my Eldest Weasel said “Hey Dad, can we build a full-size Dalek to take to Fan Expo?” It didn’t seem like a completely crazy idea, because the Fan Expo is usually in November, and with Eldest helping me, it would be a breeze.

Since my usual efforts in building don’t go beyond the odd helmet (some of which are very odd…)

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..Maybe I would have to actually…you know..do this properly. To that end, I got in touch with the Project Dalek Forum.

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The PDF is a great group of builders who make daleks from every era of Doctor Who, including the movies. They have plans that have measurements for every aspect of the build, and within a few days of registering with them, I had a complete set of plans myself. Yay! Here we go!

But I know me, so let’s start out simply, using cardboard. After all, building a life-size dalek is going to take a lot of materials, and I want to know I can get it right.

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Cardboard is easy, and it gave me a false sense of security. I knocked up the base and the panels in no time, and because they only had to be secured with duct tape, it was easy to do. Then we decided to make the real thing out of wood.

Oh dear.

I measured the base on a piece of wood. Eldest came home and measured it again, correcting my measurements. Then I checked hers and changed them again. Then we took an average of the three measurements and cut it out.

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Well, that looks fine. Let’s stick the wheels on it.

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Brilliant! Except, of course, you have to make the bit with the wheels on separate from the “skirt”, because the bit with the wheels on is called the bumpers, and it’s the widest. If you make it detachable, you can fit your dalek through doorways, which is important.

So we have to make another base for the skirt. But we don’t have another piece of wood big enough. Never mind, we’ll use these planks. There has to be a hole in the middle anyway, so Eldest can get her feet through and pedal.

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Yeah, not as pretty. Then we cut out the panels from some kind of plywood. It was not successful. We decided to ignore the results, and use foamcore board, which we could cut to size in place. And stick together with tape. First, we have to get the top of the skirt fitted at the right height. That involved math.

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Before we clad the skirt, I had a brainwave and installed a small seat, because who wants to shuffle around inside a dalek without taking a break now and then?

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Once the panels were on, it started to look quite convincing.

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Of course, the problem was that this was pretty good. And the next bit was the shoulders, which were very complicated. I needed a good whack of free time to build them, and yet the phrase “I need time to work on my dalek” cuts absolutely no ice in this household, I can tell you. I tried making a mock up in cardboard, but ended up making a muck up in cardboard. A lot of useful time passed.

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When the chance came along, I made the base plate for the shoulders, and the circular plate for the top. Then I had to cut out the four pieces that would delineate the slope of the body. I looked at the plans. I looked at the wood. I looked at the plans. I went away and looked in the fridge for more beer. When there was no more beer, I had to just go ahead and cut something out.

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And this, believe it or not, was the easy bit. Because the next bit was cladding the shoulders, and for that we had to soak two enormous sheets of hardboard, and then clamp them into place so they dried in the right shape. This was not easy.

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See those clamps? They are almost all the clamps I own, and the only ones the right size for doing this job.

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While I had been wrestling with the shoulders, Eldest Weasel had been adding the bumpers to the bumpers, so we could stack up the bumpers, the skirt and the shoulders, and stick a weasel inside. Not bad!

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That white blob on the skirt was a hemisphere of styrofoam. They are light, cheap, and easy to attach. But you can’t spray paint them, because they melt. If you coat them with, well, almost anything, you get the results pictured above. We needed to find sixty hemispheres that would NOT do this. But not right then.

The next job would be building the gun boxes. Some people build them as one unit, but because of the way I’d built the shoulders, it made more sense* to build them separately. My issues with measuring came to the fore again (or the three?), and required a lot of filling, sanding and re-cutting to try and get the gun boxes to be any kind of accurate. Since the next logical thing would be to cut into the now dry and shaped shoulders to fit the gunboxes, I decided to build the dome.

The dome is not a perfect hemisphere, so I got Eldest to cut multiple silhouettes and form the dome that way. Then we covered that with card, then paper mache, then wallboard filler. Later, we slapped some fibre glass on there too.

Now we had the dome, it became necessary to build the second most complex part of the dalek – the neck rings. There are three rings – one sits right on top of the shoulders, then two more are suspended by eight uprights, and the dome sits on top. At the intersections of each ring and the uprights are neck blocks – so, 24 of those. Cutting out the rings was tricky, as was cutting all eight uprights to the right length, but this was nothing – NOTHING – compared with trying to glue those uprights in place. because, you see, all three rings slotted into cutouts on the uprights, and the rings decrease in diameter as they go up, so you can’t put one on and then do the others. All eight uprights had to be glued to all three rings at once. How did I do that? I have no idea. And, unsurprisingly, there are no photos of me doing it because I didn’t have enough hands to do the job, let alone photograph me doing it. Here’s the damn thing done:

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Ok. So now we see how big the final thing is. And it actually looks like a dalek. In this picture, you can also see the upper collar at the top of the shoulders. Professionals used more damp hardboard for this and the lower collar, but I tried that. After being smacked in the face by damp hardboard three times in a row, I cracked and bought two camping mats from the dollar store and used them (they’re made from thin EVA foam, smooth to the touch and easy to glue.)

See the lower collar in place here.

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Now the lower collar was in place, there were no more excuses for avoiding putting the gunboxes in. And let me skate lightly over the process for that, because if fitting the neck cage together was the hardest thing ever, putting the gunboxes in comes a close second. It should have just been “cut two holes and slide ’em in”, but no, the shape of the holes got weirder and weirder to accommodate the gunboxes, and eventually I got them seated, but had lots of tidying up to do. The logical response was to paint the whole area with some spare housepaint to try and get it to look like one unit.

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I’d love to say that this was where we began to sprint for the finish, but the honest truth is that this is the point where we had six weeks of visitors, and dalek production slowed to a crawl. I mean, they were great visitors, and we even put some of them to work producing Derek’s ears:

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But it was slow going. We produced a lot of “slats” from EVA flooring foam, then glued them in place.

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We made lots of neck blocks and sprayed them the right colour.

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We bravely cut into the dome and built the “cowl” to house the eyestalk. The parts we needed for the eyestalk were too tricky to build ourselves, so we go them 3d printed and sent to us.

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That left putting together the two most iconic parts of the dalek, the plunger and the gun (or egg-whisk, if you prefer). The gun was hardest, requiring wire bending and stuff…

The plunger arm was an old shower curtain rod, or something similar, and I made the plunger itself from EVA foam. I don’t know why. Perhaps, by this point, I just felt the difficult way was the only way to do things.

And that was the main work done, right?

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Well, not quite – we bought a LOT of DIY Christmas Baubles from a craft store and sprayed them, and glued sticks inside them to attach them to the skirt. There is a rotation mechanism inside the dome, but it was rudimentary and did not work smoothly. The eyestalk was raised and lowered by means of ( I kid you not) a piece of string. Dalek dialogue and sounds were on an MP3 player with a separate speaker, and the ears lit up because they were LEDs stolen from two flashlights and wired up using Dim’s Patented Home Electrics Method (not recommended to anyone, ever, under any circumstances.)

Derek was ready for the Fan Expo, which was a good thing, because the Fan Expo was the very next day!

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So, we took him to pieces and stuffed him into the car.

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We got hm to the Expo and assembled him on the sidewalk outside and were immediately mobbed by people wanting to take his picture and ask “Is it real?” I honestly had no answer prepared for that.

Next, we decided to move towards the entrance and disaster struck. The front wheel snapped off. Derek came to pieces and got moved inside the convention centre, where we made repairs and people once more gathered around him.

When we went to move Derek further into the hall, the wheel failed again, and this time it could not be fixed. Derek stood guard just past the Prop Check area and made a lot of new friends. We have some serious repair work to do, but for now we’re proud of our newest family member, and glad to have had the chance to share him with Fan Expo Vancouver 2018.

*In as much as any of this makes any kind of sense.

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LAUNCH DAY! More Cosplay Disasters

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Yes! It’s finally launch day for my new e-book, “More Cosplay Disasters”!

In this follow-up volume to “My Cosplay Disasters”, I lay out the method I failed to develop properly to build another four helmets. This time I ruined:

A Captain Rex Clone Trooper Mod

A First Order Stormtrooper Helmet from “The Force Awakens”

Handles the Cyberman Head from Doctor Who

A Deathtrooper helmet from “Rogue One”

Each disaster is neatly laid out (which is more than can be said for my workshop) with accompanying photographs and a detailed account of where I went wrong (often, simply starting the project.)

There are many authors and makers out there who are keen to tell you how to do things right, but I’m pretty much the only person showing you how I do things wrong, thus proving that YOU could do a better job than me if you put your mind to it. Also, that I should have a different hobby.

The e-book is available exclusively on Amazon:

In the US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCF665N

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XCF665N

In Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B06XCF665N

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And anyone else, check your local Amazon variant!

Escaping to Fan Expo Vancouver

There’s little doubt that 2016 has been a grim year. We’ve lost folk heroes, rock stars, and a little bit of belief in the fundamental goodness of regular folks. But yesterday we set aside our fears and doubts, and dressed up as someone else for a day. We went to Fan Expo Vancouver 2016.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ll know we try to go every year. I always intend to dress up, and I never do. Time and again, the Weasels have outshone me with their brilliant outfits, and been photographed over and over.

This year, I was ready. Having spent only a short period of time building s Doctor Strange outfit for Halloween, I had spruced up the Shakespearean Vader suit that I built so long ago. I shortened the cloak so I didn’t trip on it. I added extra bling. I was ready.

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We didn’t rush in this year – there would be no queuing! Eldest Weasel had booked a photo shoot with her personal Doctor Who idol, Alex Kingston, and that wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had a leisurely drive in to downtown, and then we gathered outside the convention centre while Mrs Dim figured out how to exchange our tickets for the wristbands that would get us inside.

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Eldest Weasel’s friend came along as Kaylee from Firefly, while Eldest herself had really gone to town on improving her Time Lord Headdress.

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Middle Weasel was Quicksilver (somewhat ironic, given her tendency to avoid moving whenever possible) and Tiny Weasel was Frisk from Undertale. You know, Undertale? the Game? No, me neither.

Attending Fan Expo in costume was wildly different from going in regular clothes. For one thing, I was stopped quite often so people could take photos of or with me. For another, I couldn’t actually see very much. My breath fogged up the eyepieces after about four minutes, and Mrs Dim had to guide me through the halls. I was glad she’d chosen a white jacket for the day, as it was easy to follow the white blur. Only once did it turn out to be the WRONG white blur….

From an atmosphere of fear and hate (through the internet news and the reactions of friends and family) we found ourselves in a place of acceptance and encouragement. Fans can be sticklers for details, vocally critical of the film industry when details are altered for a movie, or when a beloved character is treated badly for plot purposes. But I heard no criticisms of any of the costumed characters at the Expo. There was open admiration, compliments, applause, and , of course, photographs. Prominently displayed in the convention centre and the nearby hotel were signboards with the “Cosplay is not consent” policy clearly laid out. Some female characters wear skimpy outfits, and those that chose to dress as those characters could have no fear that they would risk assault for that choice.

Respect. Inclusion. Honest fun. Pursuit of interests for the joy they bring, not the financial gain.

It was a delight to step into this world, and imagine the one we live in coming back to these values one day.

Halloween is coming

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Lazy summer days are great, and fresh spring mornings can be wonderful, but I have to admit that autumn is my favourite time of the year. It’s not the crunchy fallen leaves, or the tang of snow to come in the air, but one night of silliness: Halloween.

As a child in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, Halloween was not a big deal. There would be a party on the night itself, or the weekend closest to, I guess, and there would be costumes and apple bobbing, but no trick or treating. By the time I was at Secondary school, there were Halloween discos, and rumours of trick or treating in local areas, but these were always accompanied by horror stories of razor blades in apples and so on. We knew about North American Halloween traditions, of course, because we watched movies like “ET” and saw the parades of costumed kids going about collecting sweets. None of them seemed to suffer horrific murder as a result….

In our final few years in the UK, we were on RAF stations, usually behind the wire, where a small community made for safe trick or treating. Mrs Dim came up with the idea of making a huge cauldron of soup and some hot dogs and making a gather point for adults. We could see the kids working their way up and down the road while the adults took turns supervising and eating.

By 2008, we were hosting our own Halloween party out in the world of civilians.

The kids even got to go trick or treating around the local roads (with adults in attendance, of course.)

But over here, the sheer scale of Halloween is impressive. When my writing partners from TLC came to visit in our first year, they went back with a suitcase filled with Halloween decorations that were cheap over here, but non-existant at the time in the UK. I suspect that situation has changed in the years since, but there’s no denying that people go all out for  Halloween over here.

The last two years I have been working Halloween night, and I will be again this year. It’s a quiet night in the library, even though the staff dress up and the Librarians usually have some sweets for any trick or treaters who make it in.

 

The Weasels will also be dressed up, and some will be roaming the streets in search of sweets, while others will man the Witch’s cottage, or whatever scary house we set up to trap the unwary….

After two months…

I finally got to put up the Star Wars Day display at the library.

It was fun to get everything together and write out some information cards for each helmet, trying to find links to specific books, as well as pointing out how Star Wars contributes to drawing new children into reading each year.

 

I was also proud to receive a card from the Commanding Officer of the local 501st Garrison, the Outer Rim Garrison. He left his card, so I’m hoping to catch up with him in the next week before the display comes down.

 

What are YOU doing for Star Wars Day?

Hey Amazon! Let’s make something NEW!

The new cover for the new edition - same photo, new subheading.

The new cover for the new edition – same photo, new subheading.

E-publishing will kill REAL books!

Real books will never die!

The arguments have been raging about e-books since they first became a thing, way back in 19-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-look-it-up. So far, I think we can agree, real books have survived, and e-books like “50 shades” and “The Martian” have become real books and vice versa. (Sidebar: Now wondering about the viability of a “Fifty Shades of Red: Survival and sex on Mars” blockbuster series… Studio Heads, you have my phone number – it’s on that restraining order.)

Anyway, it’s become clear to me that e-books are not pushing their best features. Why should they just be regular books but on tablets? Yes, I can take fifty books on holiday in a pocket-sized device (I have big pockets), but that’s only one advantage. E-books can do full colour photos at no extra cost. They can include sound clips, video clips and other multi-media hyperlinks. These are all cool, but they feel like gimmicks.

Last week I looked at one of my early publications: “Troubled Souls“. It was supposed to be a collection of short fiction, but because one of the stories got away from me and mutated into a novella, it ended up as only three stories and the opening chapters of the novella. Neat, but not great value for money, even at the low price I set. I’ve written other stories in the intervening time, and I realised that some fit the Troubled Souls profile. I updated the file and uploaded it, then notified Amazon that I wanted to roll out the changes to people who had already paid for the book. They weren’t too sure about that. Here’s what they said:

“Because customers may lose their highlights, bookmarks, and notes when they download updates, we only send out updated content to correct serious readability issues, like overlapping text or cutoff images.

 If your updates fit the criteria above, please provide details and specific examples (including location numbers) of the content updates. Then, we’ll review the changes to make sure the readability issues have been corrected, and then we’ll take one of these three actions:

 Corrections to distracting errors. If we find only minor corrections, we won’t notify customers by e-mail, but we’ll activate their ability to update the content through the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on Amazon.com.

 Corrections to destructive or critical errors. If we find major corrections, we’ll alert the customers who already own your book via email. These customers have the option to use the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page on Amazon.com to receive your book updates.

 Corrections to critical errors needed. If we find more major corrections are needed, we will temporarily remove your book from sale. We’ll notify you of the issues we found so you can fix them. Once the improvements are made, just let us know and we’ll email customers just like we do for major corrections.”

But I’m not correcting an error – I’m adding content! I want to give my readers more, at no extra cost. Ok, so this may not look great from the point of view of Amazon’s business model, but think about it. Imagine you saw a collection of short stories for sale, and you knew that buying this one book would allow you to receive MORE stories for FREE as the author wrote them. A collection that grows over time. Amazon already allows subscriptions for e-magazines, like the excellent E-fiction series, so what’s the difference here?

I guess it’s that users have to approve an update to data they’re storing locally, but this is a big issue for me. I want to add content to “My Cosplay Disasters” too, but I don’t want to have to go to the trouble of personally contacting the three people who have bought it and sending them the new file. This should be an automated process.

So come on, Amazon, let’s make a new thing, a book that gets bigger with time, a book that adds new content without further purchases. It’s possible, and it’s unique to e-books. It’s something they can do that no other form of publishing can. Let’s do it.

I dare you.

The updated “Troubled Souls” is available now. The un-updated “My Cosplay Disasters ” is also available now, to be updated later with fresh disasters.

EDIT: Twenty four hours later…

I received an email from Amazon KDP:

Hello,

I’m following up on your feedback on the recent response received from our Kindle Direct Publishing team.

Thanks for your feedback about notifying the existing customers of a book about the updates made to its content file. Though we currently don’t have this option, the customers can always contact our customer service team via the below links and get the updated content file for free.

To contact our customer service department via phone: http://www.amazon.com/clicktocall

To contact our customer service department via chat: http://www.amazon.com/clicktochat

Meanwhile, what I can do for you right now is, I’ll take your concern as feature request and communicate the same to our business team for consideration as we plan future improvements.

I’m unable to promise a timeframe at this time, however, we are still evolving and feedback like yours motivate us to dive deep and unearth ways and means which helps us in making publishing on KDP a happy experience.

Please be sure to check our forums periodically for updates:

https://kdp.amazon.com/community

Thanks for your understanding and support. We look forward to having to providing continued support to you.”

Not bad, Amazon, not bad.

E-book writing software: Sigil

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text...

This was the page that showed I had some problems with the first draft of the text…

E-books aren’t generally complicated things. You can bash them out in almost any word processing program, then just save them as html files. Then you upload them to your chosen platform, where you may need to jump through a few hoops to conform to their formatting requirements.

Certainly, you CAN make things more interesting by including hyperlinks and styles, then an active table of contents or index to help your reader jump back and forth through the book, but even so, a few clicks in Word can fix those things up for you.

If you’re an intermediate computer user (someone who doesn’t look for the “any” key, can reboot a router and prevent a download adding Macafee to your desktop) then you should be able to sort out those features with some experimentation and consultation with Google search.

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But what if your book contains a lot of illustrations? Working in Word can be problematic. For my e-book “The Great Canadian Adventure“, I used Serif PagePlus 6, a  desktop publishing program that claimed to have some special features exclusively for e-book production. While the process worked, it was a steep learning curve with several restarts and not a lot of guidance.

Available NOW at Amazon!

Available NOW at Amazon!

This time around, for “My Cosplay Disasters“, I wanted things to go a little smoother. However, only thirteen pages in, I was running into all kinds of formatting errors that I couldn’t fix.

Then my friends Amy Knepper and Lisa Cohen told me about Sigil, an e-book editing program that allows you to edit text or or html  code direct, and it will build the table of contents for you.

Amy kindly reformatted the pages I had already completed, which gave me a template for the rest of the book. Lisa lent her personal preference for the CSS.

To check that the pages I was producing were formatting properly, I would periodically save the file and export it to another program, a desktop e-reader called “Freda” to check how things looked. This helped me spot when things went wrong, as well as the more mundane issues like typos and spelling mistakes.

When I had completed the book, I tried uploading it to Amazon’s KDP program, but I was told the file contained a broken link. I went back and manually checked all the hyperlinks I had included, as well as the table of contents itself. Having no luck there, I was getting frustrated, but then tried the “preflight” check facility within Sigil itself. That found a whole bunch of “invisible” links, where I had inserted pictures, but the files had fallen out of the book somehow – in the code, there were still links to pictures that weren’t there.

Like any new program, it took some mucking about to understand exactly what I was doing, but by saving a few different versions, I ensured I was never more than one re-load away from a working copy, no matter what changes I made. Putting together “My Cosplay Disasters” didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, and there were considerably fewer re-starts than with PagePlus.

When I’m producing “Murder in the Kingdom”, the second “Eddie and the Kingdom” book, I’ll do it all in Word again, because it’s entirely text and simple enough to throw together. But later this year there’ll be an update to “My Cosplay Disasters” when I add in the saga of constructing my very own Stormtrooper Helmet.

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