Frodo's Orc Armor - Helm-Making Tutorial
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"You're a dork!"
"'re a dork!"

Making Frodo's orc helm was the hardest part of the costume! I didn't expect it to be, but the curving shapes and my lack of experience really turned it into a difficult exercise. I'm just grateful it came out as decently as it did, and although I could focus on parts of it that aren't perfect, it got done, it's (nearly) the right shape, and it looks like metal. Not bad, for a first attempt!

The materials I ended up using were:

  • A batting helmet
  • Wireform
  • Mod Podge, matte finish
  • Lots of cheap brushes for painting on the Mod Podge
  • Newspaper in strips
  • Fabric "studs" to simulate rivets
  • Black, Pewter, and Rust Colored Spraypaint
  • Pewter-colored metallic powder, used for mixing into paints
  • Thin scrap leather, the uglier the better
  • Shoulder pads (glued inside the helmet for padding!)
I started with a basic, cheap plastic batting helmet - in this case, a Yankees helmet I bought on eBay. Later, I learned from Mary MacLaughlan of Weta Workshop that they, too, had built many of their helms on pre-existing bases (usually horseback riding helmets, to provide protection for the "Riders of Rohan"). So, I was - by mistake - in esteemed company! I cut the brim off of the batting helmet so that just the bowl was left. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it more carefully. I just sort of whacked away at it with scissors. Very high-tech...NOT.
I first tried to model the shape of the helm using pressboard taped into place, but that was a disaster - the curves are too difficult. I researched and eventually ordered a product called "Wireform," which is like the world's smallest chicken-wire. It holds its shape, making the modeling process (while still frustrating) much easier. Here, you can see the jaw shape in Wireform. I had to make it first, and Mod Podge it into rigidity, before I could make the nosepiece. This is the first stage of Mod Podge. Mod Podge can be bought at pretty much any arts & crafts store. It looks like white glue and, while drying harder and stronger, behaves much the same way and can be cleaned up while damp, using just water. I painted strips of newspaper with the Mod Podge and applied it like paper mache, putting down about 5 layers in total before finished, and then adding five coats of straight Mod Podge, allowing it to dry between coats. I was terrified the helm would simply crumple if I didn't build up the layers - and it was still a bit pliable. Note: When making the newspaper strips, I ripped rather than cut, because the ragged edges blended in better, leaving fewer seamlines. This shows the shape of the "jaw section" from the front (this was mid-way along in the process, which is why it's not totally symmetrical yet!). I had a devil of a time visualizing how it all fit together, because the design was never a simple, flat plane. The "chin" area was recurved, with it projecting out at the top, curving in, and then curving out again to form the point of the chin. I spent days on this, believe it or not! Yeesh!
The nose was really hard to do, and, as it turns out, after I'd begun Mod Podging everything, I realized the proportions were off. Unfortunately, by that point, my deadline was too tight to redo the helm from scratch. That's life, I guess. Anyway...the curved nose on the helm was basically Wireform, wadded and bent with my fingers as best I could manage until it resembled that downward curve. Not the most elegant way of doing things, but it worked out pretty well, all told. The "bridge" of the nose, before it curves, is not a simple tube the way I'd hoped. It had to be curved and then stapled to the inside of the "jaw" section to hold its shape properly. Note the outward curve along the bottom of the "jawline" too. This thing had some very organic shapes to it! In this picture, I've added a "flange" to the back of the helm in posterboard - it off-set the heaviness of the nose-section, made an anchor point for the leather I added later, and is also movie accurate. One frustration in all this was that the process of making the helm was made more difficult (as was all the costume) by the paucity of photo-references. There weren't many of them, and what did exist were often very dark and hard to see in detail. In this photo, I still need to add a "nasal" piece, connecting the nose section with the helmet itself, and delineating the two eyeholes.
The next step was to add two "ear shapes" - curved pieces to either side of the helm and riveted down (later, leather bits were added to these parts) - and the nasal section (which is the only part of this picture that isn't Mod Podged yet). This image shows the helm with all the pieces, at the last stage of Mod Podging. It looks pretty silly at this point, and I was nervous about simulating the look of old metal. As it turns out, that was the easiest step in the whole process! Before painting, I applied decorative "studs" from a craft shop as "rivets" (I think they're normally used on clothing, and are thin little aluminum studs with tiny points on the underside). Following Leah's (the "Sam" for our group) advice, I just gently hammered the points into the surface and glued them down for good measure. I then spraypainted the helm with Rustoleum "Textured Black," "Dark Pewter" and "Rust Primer" - working in coats until the right color balance was achieved. I added metallic accents by dipping my finger in "Pewter" colored paint powder, and rubbing it onto the raised areas of the helm where the rust and patina would logically get worn away by use, and then sealing it all with multiple layers of acrylic sealer.
The last stage in the helm-construction was adding leather "skirting" at the sides and back of the helm. Leah had found some great, tattered deerskin that she used in places on her Sam orc armor. She kindly gave me some to play with, and I used that as well as other types of leather scrap, and glued it to the helm using E6000. Finally, I stuck a couple shoulderpads on the inside of the bowl of the helm when I discovered it was a bit too loose. A low-tech, but useful solution! This is a comparison shot with the actual helm in the movie. Unfortunately, you can see the proportional differences, and when it came time for me to glue on the leather "ear" pieces, I discovered that some of my mistakes made it impossible to get the exact right look. Still, I'm very happy with the result overall!
This is Mary MacLaughlan, a sculptor with Weta Workshop, who was kind enough to spend some time with me and Leah when we dropped by the Weta Sideshow booth at Comic-Con while in costume. Held up beside my helm is the Weta Sideshow 1:4 scale model. To my dismay, I realized that the real helm had holes punched into the "jaw" on the right side! There were never any photo stills in which Frodo was looking that direction, and so I never saw them! Still, Mary had some nice compliments, and I left very happy!