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Cosplay, Tutorials

Mei How-to #1 – Boots

So, now I have a website up and running, I figured I’d start things off with a tutorial post – and I’ve had so many questions about how I made my Mei boots, so here’s my write-up on the process I used, with a whole heap of my progress pictures thrown in for good measure.

When I built the boots for my Mei cosplay, I had a lot of experience working with EVA foam, but not a whole lot building complete pieces of footwear – and that’s what these needed to be. So not only did they have to look exactly right for Mei, they had to be completely functional and stand up to multiple convention wears. A tough challenge, since Blizzard aren’t exactly know for the practicality of their designs (which is why I love Blizzard designs so much, really).

I first started by creating an overall scale so I could figure out the proportions.
I’m roughly 175 cm tall, and the picture I had was 12.5 cm tall. So to create a scale, I divided my height by the height of the image – which gave me a scale of 14. This was my universal scale – I could measure anything on my printout (as long as the view wasn’t from a skewed perspective) and multiply that by 14 and I’d have the “real life” equivalent scale for my height.

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Once I had my scale, I started blocking out a pattern using cheap foam yoga mats. I personally don’t recommend anyone use these for actual cosplay pieces, as they’re far too soft to be durable through regular wear and tear, but when they’re on sale it’s worth stocking up so you can use them to block out EVA foam patterns.

At this stage of pattern making, I wasn’t looking to get the design lines right – those would come later – just the shape. So it was a process of gluing and adjusting and cutting and re-gluing. Once I had my shape right (and I was constantly checking my reference image), I then drew my design lines on, like so:

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And I cut up the entire boots to create the pattern for my finished boots. I like to draw my notes directly onto the pattern so I don’t forget anything as I’m working, and once I’ve got the basics roughed out in black I do a proper line in a different color, so I know where to cut. Also, putting great big crosses through the lines I don’t want to use helps, too. The lines with arrows are my own code for “mirror from this edge when you cut”, so I trace on half, mark the center, flip it, then trace the other half.DSC_2391

Once I had my pattern made, I was ready to cut my actual EVA. I used the higher density floor tiles from Bunnings. I use standard retractable knives to cut my foam – I own about a dozen, all for different purposes (and because I always need one around wherever I’m working, and they’re the thing I loan out and never get back the most). I keep a sharpening stone on hand always, and I’m sharpening my knifes between almost every cut – this means my blades last much longer and my cuts are much more precise. I even sharpen my knives when I’ve got a brand new blade in, because sharpened blades are sharper than new blades. I seriously can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep a sharp blade, not just because you get better cuts, but because they’re much safer to work with as you require much less knife pressure to make a cut. You should feel a little resistance when cutting foam, but very little – if you’re feeling resistance, either your knife is too blunt or you’re pressing too hard.

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Once I’d cut and glued the basic part of my boots together, I carved in the design lines at the front. I use a sharp retractable knife to make a shallow cut, and then hit it with a heat gun to open up the cut (I learned this nifty trick on YouTube a while back and it’s a favorite of cosplayers everywhere). I also go one step further and use a bone folder (used in leatherwork and paper folding) to wiggle the cut open even further.

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Once the design lines were done, I then glued the back seam shut, and used a small aluminium bowl from Ikea to heat and shape the toes over. With that done, I sanded back all the seams I didn’t want visible – starting with 300 sandpaper, then 400 and finally 600. I then sealed them with a heat gun – this will darken the area, but it’s not visible after painting.

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I also glued a bit of scrap foam to the insides of the ankles to reinforce the weakest part of the boots, and I ran a lip of foam around to hold the sole in place (I move the position of this to be a little higher after this photo, but you get the idea).

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Next, it was time to make the soles. I decided to set a pair of ugg boots inside mine, both because the idea of walking around a convention in ugg boots all day was pretty appealing, and because the soles of Uggs Boots are EVA foam, and I could just sand those back with a power file and use contact cement to glue them to the insides for an extremely strong bond.

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Next, I made the solves by layering a stack of EVA floor mats together with contact cement. Getting an even spread with the right amount is absolutely crucial to a good bond, especially with the soles, so I did two thin coats and waited for the glue to dry between coats after heat sealing the EVA, and before bonding I hit the glue on both sides with a heat gun. I have a roll of adhesive backed EVA foam that I use to make glue spreaders by doubling it over a coffee stirrer – I find the EVA is perfect for getting an even coat, and I can cut it to any width I like. Plus I can just tear off the foam bit and throw it out when the residue builds up too much, which saves on coffee stirrers (and trees). After heat forming both the ugg boot soles and the main boot soles to he contur of the bottom of the boot, I traced around the ugg boot soles, and spread two thin coats of contact over both the ugg boot soles and the new EVA soles, letting it dry for 5-10 minutes between coats. I then hit it lightly with a heat gun and glued the ugg boots in place, with a final sealing by running the heat gun around the sides and pressing down from inside the ugg boots to ensure the bond was rock-hard. I then glued the soles in place inside the main boots, and that was the bulk of the boot construction done. I waited 24 hours for the glue to bond and did a test fitting.

(as a side note, the positioning in these photos is wrong – after testing the boots, I discovered they were too bulky with the central poitioning, so I wound up moving the ugg boots to the inner front of the boots, which worked a treat and made them surprisingly easy to walk in.)

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Now, on to boot detailing. I used 2mm EVA “foamies” from a craft store (they come in A3 size, which is perfect for most projects) as an underlay, and glued those in place for the boots straps. Next, I cut the rest of the detailing from foam floor mats and used my power file to round out the edges roughly, following up with some 400 sandpaper to smooth out the shape.

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I glued everything in place, and here the boots really started looking like Mei’s.

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I like to use found objects a lot, especially when embossing foam -this metal pen lid was perfect for doing rivet detailing. I used a heat gun to heat the pen lid, heated the foam, and pressed it in firmly. Voila, ten-second rivet details. Now all that was left was to add the spike housings.

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I made a template for the spike housings, and cut a bunch of them out in EVA before roughly cutting the angles needed to set them flush against the boot surface in with my knife (I sanded these back smoothly afterwards with my powerfile). There were sixteen in total; eight for each boot. I decided against including the actual spikes, as walking around on a concrete floor would destroy them almost immediately.

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Once those were sanded back, I glued them in place, added some detailing with a knife and heat gun, and that was the base of the boots ready for painting.

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I coated the boots with three passes of Armor All Custom Shield, which is an Australian equivalent of plasti-dip (and comes in bigger cans for a much cheaper price). I bulk bought a lot in the clear color when Supa Cheap Auto had a sale, so that’s what I use on everything I make in foam. I then hit the boots with two thin coats of grey primer, then three thin coats of the grey top color.

Detailing was done with standard artists acrylics – I mixed up my dark grey and used that for the detailed sections, in two thin coats. After the detailing I applied a satin clear coat of Estapol top coat to seal in the paint and protect it from moisture. I decided against adding aging and detailing at this stage, as I was on an extremely tight timeline and I figured these were on my feet, so people were unlikely to kneel and look at foot details. Weathering and a bit of dimension is something I plan to add in the future.

For the fur, I used sections of open cell upholstery foam to line the insides of the boots. I cut and sewed a circular section of fur the same circumference as the outside of the boots, and applied this to the inside edge of the upholstery foam with hot glue. I rolled the tube of fur down over the boot outside and left the outside edges free to drape over the top of the boots, so that if they get dirsty and I need to launder/replace the fur, I’m not tearing glue off the outside of my boots.

I later traced a quick pattern for the blue details and cut those from scrap pieces of the upholstery vinyl that I used to make the gloves, then glued them on with a little hot glue. I also added some bicycle reflectors to the strapping as a finishing touch. And that was the boots finished and ready to wear! See here for more pictures of the finished costume.

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