Friday 5 February 2016

SB6 Space Suit - The SpaceToys Satan Pit

Following on from my reader’s enquiry about the SpaceToy space suits, I thought it a good time to reproduce an article which first appeared on the DW_Cosplay forum way back in March 2011.
At the time Tennant-era costume designer Louise Page had just been a gust at that years Gallifrey One convention, and all things Tenth Doctor were all the rage!
Space Suit Doctor Costume Guide - Doctor Who Cosplay and Costuming
It is reproduced here with the kind permission
of author Kevin Coppa.

After hosting a panel with the always awesome Bob Mitsch where the mantra of sharing what you know to benefit the community was a prevalent encouragement, I thought I’d share the successes and hopefully prepare you all for some of the pitfalls in what it took to put together my SB6 space suit for Gallifrey One 2010. As well as some really neat details I was told about the real suits by costume designer Louise Page at the convention just last week!

For those who don’t know me, I’ve already dressed as Ten at several Who cons using an old Magnoli suit. It looks fine and I’ve nothing against the brown suit but after wearing it so many times I was desperate for a little variety. I’m nowhere near getting a quality blue suit yet, his Christmas Invasion pajamas look fun and certainly would be comfortable, but clearly nothing stands out quite as cool as the space suit from the Satan Pit episodes. Plus with it’s reappearance in The Waters of Mars cementing it as a repeat costume, I know it’s popularity has shot up. Decision made!

Frankly I thought this one was going to be easy. Most of the parts looked like they could be sourced & purchased without much modification, primary of which is the orange pumpkin suit itself which I believe this community already knows comes from US costume maker They even advertise on their website that they supplied several suits to be used in the show. I first found that out on my own after a brief Google search for “orange space suit” and I thought I was a pretty special snowflake for a while there too until I discovered a group on the Replica Prop Forum had already ID’ed long before me. LOL

Either way it was still exciting to find (what I thought) was a totally screen-accurate source for what makes up 90% of the costume. So I even though it had a mighty hefty price tag at $545 with an additional shipping charge of $99 (yes, you read that inflated shipping cost right) I figured I’m an adult with an adult job and can afford something like this one more time- after all, if I can recover from buying a PS3 I can handle this right?

Now, if you’re thinking of being totally crazy like me and buying one at the sticker price you should know the website says they make them in two sizes seen here:

Large – Height: 5'5" - 5'10" and X-Large: 5'10" - 6'3" with custom sizing at request (possibly at an extra charge-I don’t know for sure though- I never asked).

I’m 5’11” so I figured I’d risk ordering the smaller of the two, “larges” since my height seemed to be right on the borderline. Also, though I thought to, I didn’t end up bothering to ask if they could leave the NASA patches shown in the photos off the final suit since I knew I could just seam-rip them off regardless. So I just bought it. Right through the website. No phone communication beforehand. Just button clicking and credit card numbers being flown through cyberspace. I may be an adult but I can admit I’m still apt to make mistakes from time to time. Folks let me tell ya, NEVER DO THIS with an item THIS expensive without investigating it over the phone with a REAL PERSON the way I just did. Allow me to tell you why…

After two weeks I finally got it in the mail and with fevered excitement tried it on for the first time… Yikes. If what I was wearing was considered the smaller of two “Larges” I can’t fathom what form of mighty giant the “X-Large” would have draped over snugly- I don’t even think Shaq would look moderately fitted in one. Now it fit me all right in the shoulder and leg length but for whatever reason, SpaceToys seemed to have anticipated me possessing some ungodly huge gut.

Of course I know it’s supposed to look baggy and baggy it did look. But to such an extreme that I had almost 8 whole inches of material sagging off the crotch end of this thing like left over stomach skin after liposuction. The crotch sag made this Doctor look more like “Gangsta Who” and I expected be hearing someone sing “Pants On The Ground” to me at any second.

Imaginative comparisons for the sizing aside, there were several other major details which were totally off and some even missing completely!

For starters the pouches on the legs had NO ZIPPERS. This one really got me steamed especially since the picture on the darn website clearly shows the suit with zippers on the pockets.

On top of that (and I nearly missed this one because I was mostly looking at it on myself in the mirror) the three black Velcro strips across the right leg had jumped ship at the SpaceToys production house and landed incorrectly sewn onto the left. Again, a detail contradicting the photo they used to advertise their expensive product.

The final blow came from those patches I had decided to not bother asking to be excluded. It came with three- An American flag on the left arm, a NASA emblem on the left breast, and a Space Shuttle triangle logo on the right. The American flag was sewn on and came off very easily with a few tugs from a seam ripper. The other two though…

…Were cheaply HOT GLUED DIRECTLY to the fabric!!! We're talkin' globs of it fused into the fibers. Even heating it off with a heat gun would leave tons of slick residue. I could hear my $644 laughing at me from Hell.

I called up SpaceToys and calmly inquired into a possible exchange. I was just as calmly reminded that the website contains disclaimers informing me that all sales are final and materials available for finishing the suits are dependent on their current availability. In short, I was screwed and that money was not coming back. Lesson learned and I hope it can serve as a warning to anyone looking to deal with SpaceToys over this product to make sure they’ll be getting exactly what they want before dishing out the cash.

Well since this story is already running way too long, I’ll cut things short a give a quick run down what I had to do get the suit up to spec since I was stuck with it either way.

• To solve the baggy waist problem I had to take the whole bottom of the suit apart which included the two front sections of the legs- This worked out okay since I was going to have to remove the pockets to add zippers to them anyway and it’s plain easier to sew them back onto the disassembled leg sections.

• I then cut about 6” of fabric off of the lower half of the body section where it seemed to be a better fit for me and then re-attached the front of the legs.

• This brought the front leg pieces up higher than the back ones and they had to be trimmed to match. After which the entire legs ends were cuffed as they were before I pulled them apart.

• While it’s mostly not noticeable and hidden by the harness straps around the legs, this change in crotch length also required an alteration to what I’ve dubbed “The Cod Piece.”

No this one doesn’t fold down & let you go to bathroom, it’s just a decorative fake… Sadly. It needed to be sewn back on higher than were it once was on the front and shortened on it’s back end so it didn’t sag too far down past the crotch.

• I removed all the pouches then cut and added 14” long zippers to the tops of them. I also switched the Velcro panel to it’s correct side.

Tips & Info on Sewing the Suit:
As you can see in the pic above, the material is a thick “Canvas Ducting Cloth” in “Hunter Orange.” I’ve found bales of exact matches in my local JoAnn’s and I’m willing to bet that’s where SpaceToys gets their supply too. The thread is a very thick, very visible line (almost like tying string) that leaves big holes in the fabric after it’s been removed. So be careful where you put your stitches or it will show should you change your mind.

I found that if one small bit of the thread was broken, it would all quickly come undone. I could literally pull the suit apart if I wanted to once that small section of the thread was snapped.

–Keep that in mind for something that Louise told me later. As such, I chose to use a smaller thread with a tighter spacing on my machine when I sewed it back together to make it stronger since I didn’t want to be forced to sew this thing back together a second time should I bust a thread.

• I used an iron to get the NASA patches off and used this recipe to dissolve & scrape the remnants of the hot glue residue off:
-  Heat up
-  Douse in Goo Gone
-  Rub the fabric like crazy
-  Use a metal tool to methodically scrape the gunk out of the fabric channels

To my surprise it worked brilliantly! I then added some custom patches I designed in Photoshop from screen caps and had a friend with a proper machine embroider for me.

Thankfully, that was about it in terms of correcting the suit's problems from their maker. There’s a lot more to cover about all the other things that were created & added to make it as accurate as possible (i.e. adding cuffed sleeves, a zipper cover, etc.) as well a whole list of the other items that make up the costume besides the suit. But I thought for now I’d just share what you may be in for if you decide to take the plunge and buy a SpaceToys suit.

To finish up, I thought I’d share some tidbits of info I got from Louise Page when I talked to her about the Space Suit costumes used in the show-

I wore the suit to her panel on Friday. She noticed it right away and our conversation went like this:

Louise: That looks great! Did you make it all yourself?
Me: I might as well have for all the trouble it cost me but no, I bought it from...
Louise (cutting me off):
Me: Yep that's the one.
Louise: Oh what a NIGHTMARE!

It turns out the suits she bought from them were just as cheap (in quality, not price) and came apart the first day they sized them just like I found to be the problem with the thread being easily pulled apart.

Her experience with their customer service was just as deeply unsatisfying too. In the end she told me that to get a filmable suit they had to take apart the Spacetoys suits, use them as patterns and remake their own from the same type of fabric. Almost exactly what I had to do!

She confirmed the use of the clunky snowboard boots seen in the London exhibits.

The neck ring was remade by Millennium FX since the ST ones broke on the first day.

The rubber billows that connect the yellow helmet to the suit’s neck ring was also custom sculpted & cast by them and was a pain to get it to work and hold together.

The second suit that the actress wears in “Satan Pit” was made very quickly as the part was recast at the last minute and the new actress was much shorter than the first. In fact the new one was the same height as Louise so she used herself as the model to base the new suit off of which is why there’s a picture of her out there somewhere of her wearing it in the costume shop.

That’s all I can remember for now. Hope that’s helpful to anyone looking to make this costume.

SB6 Space Helmet - acquiring the base

One of my readers contacted this week to ask questions and advise about the SB6 Space Suit, which came from US-based seller, Space Toys. Space Shuttle Pumpkin Suit
Personally I have never made myself such a suit, but I gave him the best advise I could - which is essentially not to buy it unless you are prepared for disappointment!

This was backed up by my friend Kevin Coppa, who also bought one of the suits, only to be disappointed.

The suits aren’t made that well, something the Doctor Who costume department found out when their’s arrived from the States.

In fact the first outing for the suits (in The Impossible Planet) were actually remade from scratch by Louise Page and her team at very short notice. This was party because they weren’t what they expected, but also due to one of the lead actors was recast only a few days before filming started, and the replacement actress was much shorter than the original choice!

Anyway, my reader was also seeking one of the Scott Tornado T/Procap Headtop welding masks. This was used by the prop department as a base on which the SB6 helmets were built, and amazingly they are still available today.

He had found a company in the UK that sells them, but they do not ship to the US where he is based, so I agreed to act as a middleman and send it on using my FedEx account.

While I had it, I thought I’d take a few photos to share with the rest of my readers, in case anyone else is inspired to have a go at recreating one of these helmets themselves.

The helmet is the white moulded plastic part, and the grey visor hinges up over the head, but this is very stiff.

From what I can see, the visor and surrounding frame was little altered for use on Doctor Who, but the main helmet had to be enclosed round the neck before various moulded plastic attachments were added to make it look suitably spacey.

Inside, there is a chin strap to help keep the helmet in place when in use, as well as a fabric curtain at the rear, presumably to keep hair out of harms way.

At the back of the helmet, there is a connector where a hose can be attached. This then plugs into an extractor unit which pulls clean air over the face of the user.
The prop department kept this part of the design intact, and the appropriate hose connector is also available from the retailer.

Here is the hose in its packaging.

I’ll be keen to find out how my reader gets on with creating his helmet, and hopefully when he’s done I’ll be able to share some pictures of his finished masterpiece!

If you want to order your own welding mask and hose to then adapt into a SB6 helmet, here is where we ordered it from.

Scott Tornado Helmet and Visor Headtop

Scott Tornado Self-adjust Hose