If you've read our other posts, we've walked you through a lot of the costumes we've been working on for our upcoming Avatar, the Last Airbender fan film: young General Iroh's armor, a Water Tribe boomerang, and more.
Although all part of a single film project, each of these creations was driven by unique objectives. The same is true of this build—the Fire Nation Scout armor.
If you've considered reproducing any of my Avatar designs for yourself, pay attention, because this is likely to be the most straightforward of the lot.
This post was originally published on Ingenius Designs, our blog for all our cosplay and crafting projects (anime and otherwise). You can see the original post here, along with plenty of other cosplay tips and projects!
The reason that this suit of armor is easier to build than some of my others is that it was actually designed with that objective in mind.
Whereas some characters in the film—such as Iroh and Lu Ten—are unique, we will see several Fire Nation scouts ion screen, so I needed a costume design that I could make over and over with good time and cost efficiency.
The armor design also needed to be "one size fits all," so that I wouldn't have to reinvent it for each actor who would put it on.
For these reasons I decided my design ought to be constructed from long strips of leather.
My final design drew heavily from this concept sketch, featuring many long leather straps.
Long, straight ribbons can be cut right alongside each other with minimal waste of leather. Large, oddly-shaped, custom-molded pieces, on the other hand (like Iroh's breastplate), don't fit beside each other very well, and such projects often leave you with a lot of scrap.
Some of my scrap leather from other such projects was actually in long and skinny pieces, though. This made it even more efficient to build my scout armor from strips of this shape.
My design concepts weren't all pragmatic though. You've probably learned from my other posts that both function and form are very important to me.
To make the armor appear like it belonged to the same army as Iroh's and Lu Ten's, I used the same leather dye and golden rivets as in the other pieces.
To complement the headgear that the scouts would be wearing, I added a collar that rises in the back to reflect the shape of the helmet's jawline.
The helmet and the collar slope similarly up the back of the neck.
To make the armor look consistent with Fire Nation designs from the animated series, I created a breastplate which sat outside of the shoulder pieces.
Having a breastplate that lies on top of a gorget is opposite of European medieval tradition. Honestly, I like the European look better with the gorget on top, but the breastplate-over-gorget look shows up in so many Fire Nation outfits that I could hardly get away without putting that design in at least one of my armor suits.
Many Fire Nation outfits from the series feature breastplates sitting on top of shoulder armor (gorgets). Artwork by: DressUp-Avatar on DeviantArt.
Another feature that appears in a lot of Fire Nation armor is a prominent peak over the shoulders.
My Lu Ten armor makes the most of this feature, and Iroh's armor has it to a lesser degree, but I felt like the big shoulder pad look was a trifle too heroic for army scouts, so I avoided this feature to help show that these characters are lower in rank than Iroh and his son.
Lu Ten's armor features a dramatic gorget peaked at the shoulders. Note also that I put the gorget on top of the breastplate, not under it.
Still, I gave the shoulder peaks a small nod by layering my strips of leather so that the outermost layer was toward the shoulders, adding a little extra bulk.
Finally, the last concept that went into the armor was mobility. A scout's primary job is not to fight—it's to gather information. Speed and free motion are far more important to him than a heavy, impenetrable defense.
With this in mind, the armor was made thinner and more flexible than other suits, and I built it with large openings for arms and head.
This allowed unrestricted arm and leg range of motion in every direction—a fact that my model Gabriel (who will play one of the scouts) exploited to greatest advantage when we took a photo shoot of his costume.
Leaping chasms, running through rivers, and striking flexible martial arts poses are all in a day's work for this costume.
How It's Made
Okay, now that I've pontificated sufficiently on the thought that went into my design, let's get down to what you probably really want to know—how to make it.
I created the armor through trial, error, and a lot of eyeballing, but to save you that effort, I've made this template which you can use to recreate it for yourself.
The black and white boxes at the top of the template represent 1 foot (12 inches) for scale.
The nice thing about this design is that it's basically "one size fits most." I shaped it around a mannequin, but if you could use your own body instead. This would mean you'd need a friend to help you at some points, but it would fit more exactly in the end and would save you money on buying a dummy.
The breastplate is made from several pieces of leather with the edges pulled together by a baseball stitch. The edges of some of the pieces are curved, so that when assembled the breastplate has a rounded shape.
Rivets are placed 1" apart along the edges of the straps. Many of these rivets serve to hold the straps in place, and the rest are decorative. The angle and amount of overlap between the straps will vary depending on your body shape, allowing for a custom fit.
On the back side there is a gap between the collar and the straps. This is filled in with a triangular piece of leather which sits underneath the collar and straps.
At the small of the back, a wide rectangular belt overlaps the straps.
3"-wide straps riveted into the breastplate and the wide back belt connect at the sides in massive double tongued steel buckles. This is a very simple harness and can be taken on and off easily.
The leather is dyed the same deep red color as is seen in all my Fire Nation armor. My dye is a mixture of one part Cova Color Java Brown, and one part Feibing's Oxblood. The leather is sealed and finished with Satin Shene.
The armor sits atop a knee-length black suede gambeson which is very similar to the one worn by Lu Ten (just without the fancy angular cuts and embroidery). A wide sash or belt can also be worn around the waist, where it will be seen peeking out from under the breastplate. Finally, long black boots complete the ensemble, increasing the militaristic feel.
The final costume design for my Fire Nation scouts is a balancing act between the many demands placed on a film costume.
The workmanship is high quality, and will stand up to the scrutiny of camera close-ups, but the breastplates can be assembled relatively quickly (about a week of work each).
The armor is flexible enough for real martial arts action but also durable enough to withstand such abuse for hours on end.
The large shoulders, high collar, and death's-head helmet create a menacing profile, but the outfit doesn't outshine the armor of higher ranking officers.
The design feels like a natural part of the Fire Nation army, but is also generic enough to potentially be re-used for other costumes in the future.
From concept art through the final builds, these costumes were a lot of fun...but the story is only beginning as we continue to work toward the final adventure of a full-on short film production!