Reproductions of the classic Darth Vader helmet can be found all over the web. I’ve seen them in construction paper and EVA foam. But when it comes to Darth Vader constructed in metal, the Gold Point Props (GPP) build is as epic as the voice behind the mask! Finding this video afforded a welcomed moment to reminisce of my autobody days gone by. But even more, a chance to showcase a creative talent behind the build and a few tools and techniques of the trade. I’ll not be covering the build step-by-step per se. Rather, my aim will be to highlight certain aspects of the process of transforming flat sheets of metal into a highly sculpted 3D form and the tools used to do so.
Robert is the owner of GPP and best I can tell he’s an autobody guy by day and a custom prop maker by night. His build collection is truly impressive. While he delves a little in the Marvel and DC Comic universe, he’s spent the largest chunk of his time hammering out Lucas Film characters. Not just Darthy, but I’m talking, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, and Kylo Ren. Each build, outdoing the other at showcasing the depth and breadth of Roberts skill at shaping metal. Hop over to his GPP Facebook or GPP Instagram pages to view his entire sculpted helmet collection and more work-in-process.
Layout And Build Strategy
The helmet is constructed of three major components, skull cap, facemask, and chin/neck cover. Robert omitted a rear neck cover most likely to make it easier to don and doff the helmet. More than likely, the thickness of the metal is 18-20 gauge, which equates to 0.0478 inches and 0.0359 inches respectively as these are common thickness used in autobody repair and restoration. To make the forming of small pieces easier Robert could be using upward of 22-gauge (0.0299-inch). – source
Shaping metal is not for the faint of heart. It requires a fine balance between force and finesse. It requires plenty of strategic plows! Also, you’ve also gotta be able to look at a flat pattern and see the resulting 3D shape before you lay hammer to metal.
GPP looks to kick it old-school for the most part. I’m talking no 3D CAD, CNC lasers or 3D printers. Nope, we’re witnessing analog at its best! Robert uses a Shapie marker, paper, and a healthy dose of hand-to-eye coordination, to layout his 2D patterns. Adjustments are made on the fly.
As for the build sequence, Robert started with the cheekpiece working from the center outward to help maintain symmetry. He shaped and fitting each piece. Intermittent tack welds were used to hold pieces in place. Have a look at the assembly montage below. The build sequence is actually from the bottom right to the upper left.
Tools Of The Trade
Now for a look at some of the tools-of-the-trade and custom forming jigs used throughout the build process. Aviation style tin snips were used to make quick work of trimming out pattern pieces and truing up the contours around the perimeter edges.
Autobody hammers are very versatile tools. The pick end enables pinpoint accuracy when lifting or peening detail in the metal. At the other end, the hammer when used in combination with a dolly flattens high spots while retaining panel contour.
Custom builds like the Darth Vader helmet often require and extra does of ingenuity to get the job done. Robert made a series of custom die and shaping anvils. For example in order to fashion the spherical depression in the nose, a length of metal rod was used in combination with a spherical dolly.
An assortment of handheld power and electrical tools were employed. The most obvious being a Mig-Welder. Other tools such as die grinders and cut-off tools were used to fit piece-parts, sculpt vent details and grind away welds.
Robert also has a few go-to pieces of heavy or stationary equipment he makes use of. The big sheet metal brake nicely handles all necessary linear and angle bends. A few automotive-specific tools like the English wheel and metal shrinking presses are used to create compound curve shapes and smooth out dimples leftover from the hammer ponding process.
As you can see, a metal build of the classic Darth Vader helmet is quite an undertaking, but given the outcome, well worth it!
If you fancy taking on a sheet metal sculpting project of your own, I trust you’ve discovered a nugget or two to help you on your way. As for tools of the trade, Eastwood is an excellent resource for specialty autobody tools and Harbor Freight can get you in business on the cheap.
Until next time, keep learning! – SkillCoach