...XCOM's wading through the rubble.

After seeing the Dorkly comic about how much of a pain in the ass building a costume is, I got reminded that I spent over two months building just a backpack styled after those from The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. And I have to admit, for most of the time it was a comedy of errors.

I have a couple of nerd buddies running a photography group on Facebook. Someone comes up with a topic, a place, and interested people get around to gathering props and costumes for the photoshoot. The XCOM Declassified shoot was conceived in May and scheduled for September, so we, at least in theory, had enough time to prepare. I stocked up on concept art for the backpacks and, as odd as it may seem, various builds of the Ghostbusters proton pack. Since it was big, techy and had an odd bit dangling from it by a cable, it was pretty much like the XCOM pack with a Venn Brace, right?

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My initial idea was to go for a mix of military and alien technology cobbled together in a lab. For this purpose, I bought an ALICE pack frame with a radio shelf, an old radiation detector and a chemical contamination testing kit - since the radiation detector was busted and the chem kit way past its expiration date, they cost me bubkes. I also had a leftover large sheet of rigid 1/8" plastic that was 20 inches long and 12 inches wide, just right to serve as the basis for the project.

Awful, eh? I promptly gutted the radiation detector, planning to keep the shell, and ditched the chem kit. After some measuring and pondering, I came up with the idea of making the main body out of 2" PVC pipes used for specialist watering installations like pools and large aquariums, then skinning it with 1/32" plasticard and adding gubbins to that. This set me back some serious dinero (at least in shitty Eastern European conditions), and I wound up with this thing:

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Yay, it looks like a sleigh and doesn't even fit the ALICE pack frame. That and it turned out that I was two T-sections short, and the ones I bought after the rest didn't fit. For a while, I thought about just scrapping the whole thing, two hundred kopecks spent on completely unnecessary PVC pipes be damned. But then, after a friend of mine sent me two busted casts of shock mounts for the Ghostbusters proton pack cyclotron frame (that curiously had bubbles on only one side of the cast), I got the idea to downscale the things and rework them.

I went from a sleigh to two elbows and two t-sections for the part of the pack I called "the reactor". The busted shock mount casts were supposed to be two electrical coils, rigged with a blue and white LEDs to simulate sparks jumping between them, so I stocked up on some more plasticard of the 1/32" and 1/8" variety, and gave the reactor a smoother, more technical look with a slotted cover over the coils. I also stuck the power supply bits (a 8.4V RC model battery and voltage converters for 3V, 3.7V and 5V) inside the gutted radiation detector.

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Also, the voltmeter mounted where the warning buzzer originally was on the radiation detector had to go, replaced with a plate full of sockets the other things would be plugged into. I stocked up on more electrical and electronic things - potentiometers, LEDs, capacitors, resistors, connectors, a housing or two and various chips. The backpack has gained its final shape. The bubbler on the left, the reactor on the right, and a control box underneath them. I took two weeks off work, pretty much going into full crunch time mode for a week and a half.

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The bubbler in the shape you see was a 2" PVC pipe with a window cut out that served as a cover for a 1 5/8" acrylic tube with clear acrylic bottom and a 1 5/8" to 3/4" reduction with a 3/4" thread on top. The bottom also had a piece of 5/32" brass tubing to connect a small aquarium aerator pump and a frame to press-fit a green LED into, so the light would be reflected off the bubbles for a better effect.

I planned to fit the control box with additional sockets that would power any accessories I came up with later. I bought a matching second voltmeter and a can of flat OD paint to give the control box a military look, and after sorting out the cables I ended up with this.

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LEDs, and switches, and gauges, oh my! Those large switches in the center are labeled "Auxiliary Voltage Output", with positions labeled respectively "OFF", "3", "3.7", "5". The voltmeters show voltage being fed to the blue sockets on the right, and three-color LEDs provide a visual shorthand: green means 3V, yellow means 3.7V and red means 5V. The sockets themselves are XLR connectors, very popular in things like amplifiers, guitar effects and the like. They look "technical" and sturdy, and that's why I chose them.

The smaller sockets on the bottom left are meant for more permanent add-ons. I have no idea how are they called, I've heard the names "industrial connector", "aircraft connector" and "aviation connector", but the important thing is that they look "technical" and sturdy, and are meant to lock by a threaded collar on the plugs that screws onto matching threads on the socket. I used the seven-pin variation for power output from the reactor to the control box and Venn Brace, and three-pin variation for an auxiliary power input (basically an eight D-cell pack stashed in a M56 rifle magazine pouch) and the additional outputs. If we ever get around to organizing a dieselpunk-themed photoshoot, I'll reuse the pack with some additional bits like laser strobe goggles and shoulder strap-mounted flashlight that will be plugged into those three connectors.

Two potentiometers on the top left, labeled "Reactor Cycle Speed" and "Fuel Cell Moderation" control the spark gap and the bubbler respectively. I had no idea what would look better: fast, strobing flashes or slow switching between the LEDs, so I added the adjustment knobs just in case.

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The bubbler was the last thing I did, well, aside from the quick'n'dirty Venn Brace I built out of an Iron Man wrist blaster toy I found in a thrift shop (once again, it cost me bubkes). The shell was built from 1/8" sheet plastic, with two bits of 2" PVC pipe housing the bubbler and the battery case (since the pump caused too much interference and put too much strain on the main battery, I rewired it to run off three C-cells), then glued to the backboard. Backboard itself was screwed to a frame made of 3/4" PVC piping, and the whole shebang was zip-tied to the ALICE pack frame.

Here it is with the lightshow on, but with the bubbler empty.

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And here I am wearing it at the photoshoot (you can see the bubbles coming up). The first photo up top and the one here are the work of my friend Zook. You can see more of the photos we took here.