Very few people could have predicted that the best movie of 2015 would be a dystopian action movie based on a movie series that ended 30 years ago, but Mad Max: Fury Road has made almost everyone who saw it a believer. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is a high-ranking soldier serving under the ruthless chrome fist of Immortan Joe until she betrays him by helping his “wives” (sex slaves) escape from their gilded prison. The movie has given birth to an incredibly popular cosplay community in the few short months since it has been released. Furiosa has, naturally, become both a feminist icon, and notably, an icon for people with disabilities both due to her lack of a left arm and her unwillingness to let that interrupt her from conducting her very important business, like being a badass.
Cosplay prop designer Overworld Designs Michelle Sleeper had long dreamed of creating a functional Terminator endoskeleton hand with the skin peeled back. She thought the arm as made famous in Terminator 2: Judgement Day would be perfect for a cosplayer who was actually missing part of their arm. But the idea never seemed to connect with the right person, and honestly it’s probably a little hard to just go up to someone missing an arm and ask to use their disability to make something, even if that something is a cool Terminator arm. Eventually a mutual friend connected Sleeper with Laura, a cosplayer who is a left arm fetal transradial amputee (meaning that she was born with no left arm below the elbow) who was enthusiastic about the idea, and had previously incorporated her arm into cosplay. But then Mad Max: Fury Road came out, and Laura became instantly connected to Furiosa; she even wrote an amazing blog post on Tumblr about why the Imperator was so important to her.
“Watching Fury Road, I felt like I was watching my own struggle brought to life (albeit in a very fantastical setting), and I don’t think I ever realized how truly profound that could be for me. Watch Furiosa load a shotgun. Watch Furiosa punch Max in the face, with her nubbins. Watch Furiosa drive a semi tractor trailer. Watch Furiosa fire a long shot, using Max’s shoulder to stabilize the gun barrel, as an alternative to using two hands! Watch Furiosa do anything you can do, but better, and with half the number of fingers. The effortless manner in which this film has presented a character’s disability is incredible. I literally could not ask for anything more. It’s ubiquitous. No big deal. Her body is never a plot point. It is simply allowed to be,” said Laura on her fantastic blog post.
It didn’t take long for the Terminator arm to be put on the backburner and Sleeper to get started on a Furiosa arm for Laura right away. The pair agreed that the arm would need to be 3D printed in order to make sure it was light enough to wear for the duration of a convention. The fit was going to be vitally important, as it would need to fit Laura comfortably. Since there would be no second chances once it was completed Sleeper started by making a plaster cast of Laura’s arm. With the cast done, it was quickly scanned and turned into a CAD model and the 3D printable parts were then designed around it and printed out in ABS.
“The process of cleaning up a 3D printed prop is pretty simple – rough sand the surface to get rid of some of the print lines, then (in the case of an ABS print) use ‘ABS sludge’ – a thick mixture of acetone and ABS – to coat the surface. This acts like a body filler and will help fill in the remaining gaps, but as the acetone evaporates, the ABS bonds to itself, so you have a single rigid object. The part is then sanded with a finer grit sandpaper, and coated in spot putty to fill in any remaining pits or print lines. After that dries, the excess is sanded off, and then primed for painting,” explained Sleeper on a thread that she started on the Replica Prop Forums.
Once the hand was finished and assembled, Sleeper got to work on adding the little details that would make it look like the original from the movie. For the mesh coverings on the fingers she laser cut holes into some 3mm acrylic and then used a heat gun to bend it to the finger shape. Then she molded the two wrenches that Furiosa had incorporated into her hand, one attached to the inner arm support and a second smaller one that was attached to the pinky finger. In order to cut down on the weight, she made the wrenches out of Foam-IT, a lightweight material with a smooth finish that can be painted to look like real metal.
“The shoulder was laser cut out of EVA foam, and was designed just from looking at stills from the film. The actual shoulder armor appears to be leather, so I tried to mimic the overlapping section in the back. There is what appears to be a model plane engine on the front, so I grabbed a random DC motor from the shelf and glued that in. The pull strap I quickly 3D printed based off of product photos for a weed wacker. There are 3 cables connecting the shoulder to the arm – a braided metal hose, a clear/yellow tinted tube, and a brake cable. I got similar looking things of each and bolted them on to the arm, and attached them on to the shoulder end,” Sleeper continued.
Sleeper used some fiberglass rods attached to some 3D printed connecting joints to make the arm’s support pistons. They were bolted directly to the hand, giving it a full range of movement, which would allow Laura to pose it as needed. She gave all of the parts a quick base coat in silver and then weathered the arm using several coats of paint washes ranging from black to brown and then to yellow. Then she finished it off with some rust effects on the bolts, joints and finger grills to make it realistically used and dirty, as if it was a well-used appliance from an arid wasteland. She finished the whole arm off with some real leather straps to hold several parts in place and match the prosthetic arm from the film. Sleeper even 3D printed and painted Furiosa’s belt buckle emblem and custom made a wooden box to hold the arm as a surprise for Laura.
The finished arm is nothing short of amazing and as you can see from the pictures taken at this year’s DragonCon in Atlanta that Laura absolutely looks the part and is clearly thrilled with the final product. You can read Sleeper’s entire build log over on Replica Prop Forums and you can see more of Michelle Sleeper’s props and all her other shine projects on the Overworld Designs Facebook page and her Instagram. You can also read more about disabled visibility in media over on Laura’s Fiction Ability blog.
Let us know your thoughts on this creative cosplay. Discuss in the Mad Max 3D Printed Arm forum thread on 3DPB.com.