In a hot, poorly ventilated garage in Tempe, a young couple lost a lot of sleep so they could hammer out one the best Mass Effect cosplay costumes in time for the San Diego Comic Con Masquerade.
David Lyon is an architect who has worked on everything from remodeling the Arizona Science Center to skate parks. His wife, Jenna, is a self-described "art nerd" and graduate student at ASU.
Their foray into the world of cosplay started when Jenna, who had recently started playing the Mass Effect series, joked that they should make a female Commander Shepard costume. David agreed and it rapidly ballooned from crude cardboard mock ups into a full size metal working project.
What sets the Lyon's Shepard armor apart from past Mass Effect cosplay is that it's actually armor-like. David says he really wanted to use metal because of how the finished product would look and he was pleased with the results, even if it cost him a little of his sanity.
What's amazing about their armor is that all of it, from the chest plate to the N7 Valkyrie rifle, was made with only a couple power tools: A band saw, a drill press, and some sanders.
Each piece of curved metal had to be bent and glued into shape, a laborious process that involved a lot of clamps and time. It is even more impressive when you consider that the curves on the rifle are all cut on the band saw from solid blocks and then sanded into a finished state. The actual price tag on this project was surprisingly low. The rifle and the armor came to about $150 a piece in raw materials.
Jenna and David had difficulty quantifying how many hours went into their FemShep armor but after some debate they ball parked it to around 500 hours of labor spread over the six months leading up to Comic Con.
Of course one of the major problems with metal, particularly aluminum is that aren't many good ways coloring aluminum while retaining the metal grain underneath.
With an anodizing rig beyond his reach, David finally settled on a painstaking process of shellacking layers of printer ink onto the armor. Unfortunately this process isn't very durable as the paint tends to chip off under any sort of stress. While this initially frustrated the Lyon's they found that at Comic Con people repeatedly commented on how cool the "battle damage" looked.
Another problem they faced was trying to translate what they were seeing on screen into something Jenna could actually wear.
After blocking out much of Shepard's armor they realized that the artists at Bioware often "cheated" when they animated the armors, allowing seemingly solid pieces of metal to bend and warp when necessary. To make their costume work they had to take some artistic license of their own, adding extra points of articulation around the hips and legs.
Even with their modifications, Jenna says that she got "beat up" by the outfit over the course of just walking around at Comic Con. Any hypothetical future versions will undoubtedly include more padding.
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While neither of them would outright admit that this project almost ended their marriage they did say that it was a powerful learning experience. Jenna says that they had to figure out how to work under stress together, receiving and give constructive criticism and so on. They both agreed that it was a wonderful experience and that their relationship is much stronger as a result.
They also note that they'd never recommend other newlyweds cut their teeth on a project like this -- maybe shoot for something lower key, like a nice end table.
You can see more of their work and a deeper look at the building process on their blog. After receiving numerous requests at Comic Con they've also opened up a section for commissions. However don't get too excited David has already scared a few buyers off by stating that one of his all metal gun designs would cost between $500-$1500 depending on the level of detailed requested.
Neither of them are really interested in going into costuming full time. Jenna says they don't want to take something like love and turn it into a job. That said, David says his post-Comic Con drive back to the Valley was full of ideas for improvements and new designs.