Have I ever mentioned how much I despise painting? Anyone visiting my house will immediately notice the stark white walls with white trim. That’s not on purpose, that’s how it came. They could’ve painted that shit purple and green and those walls would still be purple and green to this day. I. Hate. Painting. Hate it. We have one painted room in the house—the TV room—which was doused in a bright, Disney teal. Despite the festive color, know that every brush stroke in that room was wiped with unbridled hatred. We also have two gray-ish test spots in our bedroom with color cards taped next to them. They’ve been on that wall for two years.
With this deep-seated hatred of painting, I embarked on the last phase of my Cobra Commander Cosplay Journey. And this phase did not disappoint. I added the final coat of blue that morning and let the helmet dry all day. After an insanely fun evening of fantasy football drafting and chugging beers at Hooters, I got home and quickly set to work on clear coating.
Another pro-tip: never, EVAR, paint while buzzed. The helmet was perfect. Pristine. The color, the sheen, everything was exactly how I envisioned when I began this project. But, I got it in my head that the helmet needed a few clear coats and a nice polish to truly finish the job.
I began slapping down layers of clear coat. The helmet’s appearance became progressively worse with each coat, but it still looked pretty friggin’ awesome. With the last clear coat, I made sure to lather it on thick and juicy. I noticed the helmet’s shiny, grand piano luster suddenly fog into a dull, wax paper finish.
What the fuck?! I stopped working and read over the instructions just to make sure I was doing this painting thing right. Only the instructions didn’t read at all how I remembered. I gave the can a quick turn and examined the label: “Dupli Color Adhesion Promoter.”
I walked away, shamed and defeated. After tossing and turning in bed for a couple of hours, I finally got up at 3AM and decided to apply more clear coats on the adhesion primer. Maybe the color would just shine back up? Before painting, I inspected the primer’s finish. The helmet actually didn’t look that bad. It wasn’t glossy like I wanted, but it had a tolerable semi-gloss finish.
But, I had come this far and, dammit, I wanted glossy. So, I took a deep breath and began applying more coats. As before, each coat of clear just worsened the situation. On the third coat, the spray can sharted silver, glittery stuff all over the side of the helmet. The end result: an unmitigated disaster. The whole right side of the helmet had a rough, sandpaper texture. And just to drive the point home that this was a unsalvageable mess, the front of the helmet had a paint run exactly where I wanted to apply a white vinyl strip. Total and complete fail whale.
After pacing the house for a good hour, I woke The Missus up and informed her about how terribly I jacked things up. She mumbled a few groggy, disinterested words and went back to sleep. I announced, to nobody in particular, that I’m starting this bitch over. Later that morning, I cranked up the power-sander and smote the unholy layers of paint that engulfed my helmet.
To save time, I propped the helmet on three paint cans. This allowed me to paint the whole thing in one shot instead of painting the top and the trim separately. After applying two coats of primer, I began sanding to prep the surface for color. I didn’t have time to allow the primer a full day of drying, so I just dove right in after couple of hours. Sanding rubbed the primer off like recently spat Bubblicious. I barely staved off a total meltdown. At this point, driving to a fabric store and buying hood-making supplies seemed like a very real possibility.
Help Me, Wet-Sanding. You're My Only Hope.
I studied wet-sanding tutorials a few times during this process, but I never saw an opportunity to give it a shot. Now was the perfect time to test my new skills. I dipped a few squares of 3M's 400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper into some soapy water and went to work. The result: A glorious, silky smooth, primer finish just begging for some blue paint. I firmly believe that all the world’s problems can be smoothed down with a little wet-sanding. Three easy coats of blue later and the paint job was complete.
Installing the visor was fraught with peril. I’m quite surprised that I avoided any serious catastrophes. I used J&B Kwik Weld to install 3/16” inch threaded posts into the helmet. Putting these things in is a total guessing game. I just eyeballed where I thought the posts should sit and went to work.
J&B Kwik Weld is a tar-like goop with a toxic, assy, pine odor. I’ve heard from the movies that the gas chamber smells like pine. Mix the goop with the hardener and you’ve got about 10 minutes before this shit morphs into black steel.
Here’s where I went wrong: I placed the posts in the helmet before gooping the area with Kwik Weld. I completely destroyed two posts this way by letting some Kwik Weld drop into the post threads as I worked it around. Next time, should there be a next time, I’ll mark where I want the posts, goop up the area, then set the posts in the blob of Kwik Weld. I know, obvious, right? Well, this is shit that I learn the hard way.
I also didn’t test the threaded posts before permanently welding them into my visor. Again, obvious, right? Nope, not to this dumbass. The top post is defective and only allows you to put a screw in about 1/3 of the way. And, even then, only sometimes. No biggie. My totally uneven side posts actually hold the visor in place without much tilting. I love it when my shitty craftsmanship becomes a feature.
After installing the posts, I put the visor in, leveled it out, and marked where it touched the three posts. I drilled out these marks with a drill bit slightly larger than the posts. Then, I carefully dropped the visor on the posts and tightened the screws.
I wanted to airbrush some chrome on the front to hide my face more, but I never became comfortable enough with the technique to try it on my carefully fitted visor. I also experimented with VHT Nightshades (darkens tail lights) to darken the inside of the visor. This worked extremely well. But only where it actually adhered to the visor. With the failed experiments out of my system, I stuck with the factory chromed tint and will wear a ninja mask underneath the helmet.
The Cobra Commander Pistol
Finally, the gun. Bloody Plastic’s prop-making page was my inspiration for this project. I was initially more fascinated with playing a NES Zapper’s innards than making the Cobra Commander Pistol. But, once I got to work, I probably enjoyed this portion of my costume-making journey more than any other phase.
I opened up the NES Zapper, pulled out all the electronic bits, and noted where inner screws and springs were. I marked a safe spot to Dremel the barrel off the gun. After filing down all the nasty plastic fragments, I sealed the hole with a matching piece of WonderFlex.
I made the barrel from PVC pipe and worked out the barrel’s details with an X-Acto knife and 3mm craft foam. Finally, I Dremel’d a nice seat for the wooden upper tube of the barrel and flattened out a few unsightly areas with pieces of styrene.
Here’s the finished product. I won’t go into the painting, but I will say FUCK YOU CLEAR COAT. There, I feel better now.
The Final Product
Here are a few shots of the finished helmet. I'll post pics of the full costume after DragonCon. It's now 5:30 AM, I've been up all night packing and finishing every minor costuming task (making a holster) that I've put off until the last minute. Now to catch a few hours of sleep before driving up to Atlanta.
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 1: Introduction
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 2: Pepakura
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 3: Fiberglass and Rondo
- Making a Cobra Commander Costume Part 4: Bondo and Sanding
- The Cobra Commander Staff