If you are familiar with the Cosplay community, you may have heard the word “Pepakura” being thrown around, or you may have seen these absolutely AMAZING custom Iron Man armours and costumes and wished you could make one as well, but what actually is Pepakura and how is it linked to these costumes? This post gives a brief insight into the art of pepakura and exactly what you can do with it.
To quote directly from the wiki:
“Pepakura is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “paper craft”. It may be considered a broad category that contains origami and card modelling.
Origami is the process of making a paper model by folding a single paper without using glue or cutting while the variation origami does. Card modeling is making scale models from sheets of card-stock, on which the parts were printed, usually in full colour. These pieces would be cut out, folded, scored and glued together. Pepakura is the art of combining these model types to build complex creations such as wearable suits of armour, mini statuettes, life size characters, and accurate weapon models.”
Basically, Pepakura Viewer is a piece of computer software owned by Tamasoft, that is available for Windows computers (although it can be forced to run on Mac with a bit of fiddling around, more on that in a later post). It is capable of taking a digital 3d image, and unfolding it into flat components. These flat components, can be printed out on your home printer then cut out and folded and glued back together to recreate the 3d digital image in real life.
To elaborate on the above, a talented digital artist, will use other programmes such as 3dS max, or Daz to create 3d models of pretty much any item they want, from vehicles, to building, to characters, etc… These 3D models, can then be imported into Pepakura Designer to be unfolded into 2D components. The entire file is then saved in a .pdo format that is only readable by Pepakura software (at the time of writing). This .pdo file, when opened by Pepakura has a window displaying the original 3D model, and a second window, displaying the 2D components of that model. Although the 2D version looks nothing like the item it is meant to represent, it will when it is printed, cut out, and glued/folded back together.
Here is a screen shot of a small desk sized 3D Gundam figure, that has been built on a 3D designer program, then imported into Pepakura Designer, unfolded and saved as a .pdo file. It will have a name similar to “gundam.pdo”.
In the Window on the left, you can see a 3d representation of what the figure will look like once it has been printed out and assembled. In the window on the right, you can see all of the various components broken down into their 2D form. Hard to believe that these components will create the model seen on the left, isn’t it? Each of the rectangle boxes on the right represents a piece of A4/letter sized paper and how it will be printed on to (A4 being the european standard paper size, and letter usually being the slightly smaller American standard).
But these models are only made of paper, surely they will look a bit pants? You would think so wouldn’t you? Although this next example is not the exact model from the particular file above, this is a very close variation and a great example of how awesome these models can look once they are complete:
So moving on in our mission to find out “What is Pepakura”, leads us nicely into another question… “How does this benefit the cosplay community?”
Although Pepakura files were initially used to create desktop models of various things, such as the above example, the cosplay community adopted the technique to use on life sized costume and Armours.
I know the technique had been used for some time in the cosplay community to build Halo armours (among others), however I believe it really start to boom around the time the second Iron Man movie was released. Many people will have different accounts of who was really responsible for the explosion in using Pepakura to create cosplays, but from my perspective, sometime around May of 2010, an individual that went by the screen name “Robo3687” over on TheRPF forum, used 3D programmes to create a 3D model of the Iron Man MK 4/6 armours from the second movie. The various body parts of his 3D model were then imported into Pepakura Designer to be unfolded into their 2D components by Robo and a few other “unfolders”, then saved as .pdo files.
Robo3687 spent months of his own free time working on the designs, which he then distributed part by part to the eager army of thousands of onlookers, desperate to build their very own Iron Man armour. I was one of these onlookers, that couldn’t believe it was possible to create my own movie quality Iron Man armour.
Eventually other 3D designers joined in, and more and more characters were offered out to the cosplay community. The best bit? THEY WERE ALL FREE!!! Including the Pepakura programme itself. These people were spending hundreds, if not thousands of hours of their own time, to create the 3D models from their favourite movie franchises and giving the files away for free so that other people could experience this same level of enjoyment.
There are very few other communities in the world that offer this same level of selfless giving, just for the pure satisfaction of making other people happy. For this reason we are honoured to be a part of such a selfless community.
Now although it is great to be able to print out and build your very own move accurate costumes, paper costumes aren’t going to stand up to such rugged requirements of being worn as armour. So once the components have been pieced together, it’s then time (in the words of Peter Venkman) to: “Make em hard”. With that in mind, we don’t want to discuss the process too much here, but the basic method is to use fibreglass to add strength to the paper part, then use car body filler (American brand name: Bondo) to create a shiny smooth surface. Parts are then spray painted to finish. We’ll discuss techniques in another post:
Sadly, the fibreglass method is hugely time consuming and expensive, so… As time went on, people came up with new, faster and cheaper ways of creating amazing, movie quality armours using the Pepakura method. By printing the parts and cutting them out, they can be traced onto foam, or plastic meaning that a builder can skip the time consuming fibreglass/body filler method. JFCustom over on TheRPF, used his own variations of the .pdo files and proved that it was possible to build an entire Iron Man armour, in just 5 days.
Now, 5 years after the boom, you can get .pdo files for almost any character you can think of; Ant Man, Halo, Batman… The list goes on… So if you want to start building awesome costumes or models like the ones displayed here. Head over to the our very own Pepakura Library. The largest Pepakura file repository in the world.
The next time someone asks you “What is Pepakura?” or “How can I make my own costume?” Show them this
Thanks for reading.