As you may have seen in the past by browsing this website or by seeing my work online, I'm a huge Star Wars fan. I have multiple projects involving this universe, from training to 3D printing. I'm also doing now live stream on ZBrushLive.com on regular basis and I wanted to do something different than usual, that's why I decided to do a Kylo Ren helmet. I picked up that project because it's very difficult to find in store good helmet. They are very cheap and not well done or very high quality and very (very) expensive.

Then I invite you discovering this Kylo Ren helmet making-of, involving ZBrush, 3D scan and 3D printing.

References

The first difficulty has been finding good references. Using the movie itself was almost out of the question as Kylo Ren is always in the dark, or moving and finding a good point of view in good resolution (hey, thank you HD...) is impossible. Then I asked Google image, to find only cheap helmet (again) and 4 images of a high-quality helmet prototype.

Below is two examples: on the left, crap helmet and on the right, what looks to be a very good one. After ending this project, I finally found the source and the product (see at the end of this article).

For your information, I'm using PureRef to display my references imagines when I'm working. It's a donateware and it's worth the few bucks.

Scan 3D

One of the main constraints for such project is working at the good scale. ZBrush is perfectly able to do that as soon as you know how to work with them (TranPose is your best friend!). On top of that, I need to be sure that it will fit my own head. It would be a shame to work that much to do a helmet which could be too small.

Then 3D scan was the best solution to this size and proportion issue. I asked my wife to do a 360° shot of me with my DSLR and I processed everything in PhotoScan from Agisoft.

Below is the result of the scan with its associated texture. To be honest, it's not a good scan as it lacks accuracy and is very noise, but it is not an issue for me because I'm only looking at the proportions and scale.

Then I bring the scan in ZBrush, I did some quick cleaning, mainly for the hairs, recentered and orientated it in the scene then I redid the symmetry. For the scale, I measured the distance between the outside of my eyes and between the root of my noise and lips then I reported that in ZBrush where I used TransPose to rescale my scan.

I need to specify that i'm working at the 1/100 scale in ZBrush. It means that a 10cm distance (between the extremity of my eyes) will become 100mm for 3D printing and then, 1 "unit" in ZBrush. I'm doing that because ZBrush is working better when your models are in a range of  0.5 et 10~20 "units". For the exportation, I only need to add a x100 scale when using the 3D Print Hub plugin of ZBrush.

Template

Before starting the modeling of the helmet, I had to build a quick template shape. The idea is to check the my scan is at the good size and I didn't do any mistake in the mesurments. I quickly built the shape below with the ZBodeler and did an FDM print. Note: the screenshot below is the first iteration of this template, I did some tweaks before printing it and made it closer to my head.

Then after 12 hours (!) of print, I did the assembly and then tried it. As you can see below, it fitted my head perfectly. Then nothing was preventing me to move forward on this project.

A side comment: notice that how much your hairs can mislead you for the scan. They can make your head looking bigger than how it is and then you need to keep that in mind.

Modeling

The whole model has been sculpted with the polygonal tools of ZBrush and with just only few sculpting brushes: Topology Brush to build some specific parts, ZModeler for all the topology modifications and refinements, PanelLoops for a constant thickness of each part, retopology of other parts with the ZSpheres retopo tools, etc.

The first step has been the setup of the shape by itself. By setup, I mean having the good proportion and the shape which is the closest to the original model, with keeping something which fit the 3D scan. This is a crucial step because if you are building bad foundations, then your result will be bad as well. Then this step hasn't been a quick one but it was very important. Another benefit of working with a low polygon topology is the ability to manipulate only a few points with the Move brush to do your shape refinements.

If you look at the model below, we can recognize the helmet only if we know very well the movie... but at this stage, it would have been a mistake to start building some details if the base shape is imperfect.

Refining the shapes

There is one criteria that is important to keep in mind all along the creation: the 3D printing process. It is mandatory to create the model without forgetting to ask yourself key questions: "how I will print this part" or "Will it fit the 3D printer building volume?". It required to work with multiple parts from the start and not from one bloc which ill need to be splited at the end of the creation process.

Then before thinking of a final split, I decided to go with each visual part of the helmet which is, fortunately, very well defined on the Kylo Ren one: side, top, back plates, front grid as well as front shapes on the mouth area, etc. And thanks to its design, it will be easy to hide the split between parts, like I have to for the shape behind the chrome grid.

A last thing that I had consider: how I will bring this helmet to a trip from France to Los Angeles. No way to have such helmet in the cabin and it's quite big to fit my luggages. I decided to build it in two parts with on for the front part of the head (the face) and the the top, side and back part. And I will use (strong) magnets to attach both parts.

Building all these parts visible in the screenshot below hasn't been very complicated since it was always the same process except some extra edge loops to control the boundaries and having a nice connections between all of them.

Finalization of the main shapes

By refining and refining again, I have been able to finish all the main shapes in a way that it was quite similar to the original helmet. I added the grids to the front part by doing a retopology with the help of the ZSpheres. I chose this method because it lets me have a fine control on the shape over the others and more importantly, a controlled topology. At this stage, all the main parts were finalized.

Preparing and splitting the final shapes

This critic step was the longest and the most difficult. We are leaving the artistic side of the creation to switch to something 100% technical as we need to build something which can be printable and more important that you can assembly when done. Then let's use the boolean operation and thanks to the ZBrush Live Boolean, it has been way easier to what it could have been before this feature addition. I need to specify that at that stage, I didn't work on the details of the model, I just wanted to have all individual parts done.

Below is the front part of the mask which will support the chrome grid and the mouth covers. The grid has been dupplicated then I applied a small inflate to one of the copies which have been substracted from the support. Like that, I have a very small gap between the support shape and the grid, allowing me for some tolerance when I'll assembly both shapes. Being able to visualize in real time the assembly through the Live Boolean has been Uber helpful!

I'm also checking which part will be able to fit the 3D printer building volume or not and trying to see where and how I'll split and then join the parts later.

Creating the details

And now it's time to work on the details. Something a little bit more creative using ZBrush brushes!

You can see below the resulting mesh and details added after all the boolean steps. Kylo Ren helmet has a lot of minor/medium damages, in opposition to his grandfather one. I decided to apply all these scratches because it's faster to do it in ZBrush than trying to create them on the final print. And it's easier for me as well!

For all these scratches and damages, I used the brushes from Orb and from ZBrushGuide n addition to some of the default ones from ZBrush (Slash, Dam Standard, etc.). Please notice the large scratch on the front part of the helmet, on the grid location. This is where I split the grid support which was too large for the printer building volume. That's why it's important to consider as soon as possible your design and the 3D printing constraints.

The grid in front of the eyes is done through boolean operations and the result is just perfect.

 

Parts

These are the different parts of the helmet. In this screenshot, you can see some connectors and magnet supports. Just adding them increased (quite a lot) the production time.

Final model in ZBrush

This is a quick render of the helmet done in ZBrush, I just applied basic materials without the scratches or polypainting. But it was fine enough to have a good preview of the final model.

3D Printing test

At the beginning of this project, I was thinking of doing almost everything with my FDM printer, an Ultimaker 2+ Extended. It can build a very large model, it's quite stable and the quality is pretty good for this printing technology... but...

Below is a test print of the outer part of the helmet front grid. This is a large part, but all rounded. Even with the help of multiple supports, the starting areas have a hard time sticking and then the print can't start in a good way, move around and just fail. I tried three times to print the same model with different settings and always with the same result.

 

Trying different orientations has been helpful and I have been able to successfully print the model. But it made me understand that it will be complicated to print the whole helmet with an FDM printer. All the parts are quite big but thin and with no real flat areas to start the print. It would have meant a lot of potential failures. On top of that, the FDM printing process is slow compared to SLA and time was a big concern for me.

Then it was time to switch to the Form2.

Preparing the model for the Form 2 - SLA printing

Below are some screenshot of the PreForm software, which manages the Form2 printer. You can notice two bounding boxes, one blue and one gray. The gray one is the maximum building volume... and for quite a lot of part, I was nearly at the max limit (blue). Then I had to try multiple orientations and play with the settings to make it fit this maximum size.

Another point to consider, the amount of support needed for some parts which can be quite important. For some pieces like the front grid, I had twice more support material than the part itself!

Cleaning the 3D print

All my 3D prints have been done with a 100 microns per layer setting, with the Gray V3 resin. Even if the resolution was the lowest, the result was perfect and it allowed me to print everything in the time frame I had. At 100 microns resolution, there is no comparison between SLA and FDM...

In the photo below, you can see a large part, taking the whole diagonal space on the build platform. This piece is technically too big to fit the print volume size but changing the orientation allowed me to fit it (bearly) in the printer.

Below the front grid which takes the maximum volume size. as you can see, it's too big to fit the cleaning kit which made me cleaning it twice in the IPA alcohol. In fact, I had to remove sooner the support to make this process easier.

Assembly test

It was now the time to do my first assembly tests. Always a lot of stress for this stage... but fortunately, everything is fitting perfectly. On top of the grid support (which is in two parts), you can see some weird extrusion with a hole. It is the magnet holder, to make both large parts of the helmet fitting and snapping together.

Final assembly

This is the part of the process which always stresses me. The more part printed means the more parts which could fail when trying to do the assembly. Then I started to glue some of them, adding some putty, sanding some of them, etc. At this stage of the process, my plane was only 24h ahead of me. If something was wrong, it would have been a big mess as each part takes a minimum of 10 hours to print while some others took 16-18h...

To glue everything, I used the usual Super Glue and to fill the whole, the Tamiya putty. In fact, I only sand these connection parts. No times to sand everything else. I also added some very strong double sided tape inside the helmet, which was also used to glue some black fabric. Obviously, I didn't sand the inside part, except where the support spots were too much prominent.

This is the front part of the helmet which will become the support of the grid and the mouth mask part. as I explained below, I had to split it into two parts to make it fit the printer volume size. I used the scratch area to do this split and only the part around the grid (and not below) will be visible. Then a little bit of putty and sanding was needed to make it looks nice.

This is a great example when anticipating the constraint of 3D printing help the design of the model.

And here it is!

The final stress! It was at this stage that I was afraid that both parts won't fit my head or won't snap together... or just fit my luggage! And (luckily?) everything has been fine, in fact, close to be perfect. I was able to wear the helmet, the size was good and hold my head without problems. Only in one location, I have a slight offset of ~2-3mm because of the lack of support which deformed a little bit the part during the 3D printing process.

Then I started the long process of painting. It's not where I'm the best at. I used only Tamiya paint cans in two colors with a half shiny black color and a silver grey color. I wanted a real chrome one, but nothing in stock at my usual supplier... My plane was taking off only 12 hours later...

I did some weathering effect and scratches, by using the dry brush technic with some black color. I used a chrome paint with a small paintbrush inside the scratches.

This is the final helmet on my head. On the right, you see that the assembly is not perfect on the right side of the front grid, magnets were missing.

Let's travel!

And here is the helmet at our ZBrush Summit on a Kylo Ren clothes bought on Amazon.

Me and my helmet. well, it's become quite hot with that on your head under the heat of Los Angeles, especially with the scarf and the neck lock. The smell of the paint and glue is not that strong.. but you can't deny it!. The usage of magnets has been a good idea, but only for a temporary solution. They are too strong for the Super Glue to hold them!

The helmet on the ZBrush Summit table during the EA Motive Star Wars Battle Front 2 presentation. I was very proud ;p

Cost

Is it worth doing your own helmet? Yes and no. It really depends on your 3D skills and 3D printing knowledge. It's dozens and dozens of hours of work and eventually experiments. It is definitely not a project for a beginner in this field.

And then come the cost (note, prices have been converted from EUR to USD and include taxes):

  • 1.4L of resin Grey V3: 266 USD
  • 1 resin tank: 77 USD
  • 10L of IPA Alcohol: 40 USD
  • Sanding tools (Japanese): 7 USD
  • Paint: 40 USD
  • Glue / double sided tape: 29 USD
  • Misc (paper, masking paint, paintbrush, etc.): 15 USD

Total cost of the materials: 474 USD

This cost doesn't include the printer price (3500 USD + taxes) and electricity. It took a total of 4 days, 11 hours and 30 min to print everything. Of course, I didn't include some of the tools I already had, the sponges, papers, etc. Then we could evaluate the final price to be 500 USD without considering the human labor.

Now if we look at the commercial Kylo Ren helmet, you have crappy and cheap one or very good but very expensive ones. The only one I found is this Anovos one at 699 USD. Then yes, if you are a huge fan with the skills and technical tools/knowledge, it's worth doing it otherwise it's better to buy a good one like this Anovos one. And if I had to sell mine, the price would be at least twice my material cost, then around 900-1000 USD minimum.

Conclusion

It has been for me a fantastic project and I have to admit that I love mixing both virtual and real world and having an end goal that I can have in my hands (well, on my head..) I learned quite a lot of things which is for me what I love. Of course, I learned from my mistakes as well. I hope doing one day a Vader helmet and I'm sure it will be easier.

And I'm sure with a couple of extra working days on this project, I could have improved it and more important, having a better finishing with more sanding and a better painting. But what made me proud is that some people thought we purchased this helmet during the ZBrush Summit.. until se told people it was built in ZBrush and 3D printed.

Now it's time to build the light saber!

 


Videos

Here is most of the creation process of the helmet in 3D, during my ZBrushLive sessions. Unfortunately it doesn't cover the last part with all the post process after the 3D print. And sorry for my "French accent"!

 

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Thomas Roussel - 2008 - 2018

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