Foamsmith by Bill Doran

Review: Foamsmith, by Bill Doran

Anyone who reads this blog (or really, any blog about props) probably recognizes the name of Bill Doran. You’ve either marveled at his prop work over at Punished Props, watched his how-to videos, or followed his live chats with other prop makers.

One thing you pick up about him is how much he loves teaching and demonstrating everything he learns. Not only is he an enthusiastic teacher, but his knowledge comes tested from building countless costumes for numerous conventions, and regularly talking with other cosplayers. It’s a great recipe for making a book, and a book is exactly what he made.

Foamsmith is all about building a suit of armor out of EVA foam. He began with a series of e-books on different foamsmithing techniques, and has now collected them into a single print volume. Even if you’ve never worked with foam before, you can have a full suit of armor built by the time you’re done with this book.

Foamsmith by Bill Doran
Foamsmith by Bill Doran

The book is gorgeous. Full color pictures and easy-to-read layouts meet you on every page. Websites and e-books are certainly a great resource for learning how to make things, but there’s something about a physical book that makes the information so clear and accessible. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the words and pictures suddenly disappearing like when a website goes down.

Doran covers the basics, from patterning, cutting and shaping your foam, to carving, texturing and adding other details. He delves a lot into the specifics of wearing a full suit of armor, like designing it to be easy to take on and off, adding pockets to hide your cell phone, and making sure you can go to the bathroom while wearing it.

Even if you never intend to walk around a convention in a suit of sci-fi armor, this book still has a lot to offer. EVA foam is a wonderful material to build many things out of, and Doran has lots of specific tips and tricks for getting the most out of it. He has built entire props just from foam; I’ve used it for puppet-making in the past as well. His instructions on sealing and painting the foam are very useful, and his chapter on LEDs and wiring are helpful even if you are not working with foam at all.

If you’ve ever watched Doran’s videos, you know he has a cheeky sense of humor, and his personality is all over the book as well. You get the sense that this is a lot of fun for him, and he wants to share everything he knows with us so we can have fun too. It’s not distracting though; his instructions are clear, and he does a wonderful job of matching photographs to his text to further reinforce what he is describing.

I wish he had a few more photographs of his completed projects. He has a few, and I know you can find them online, but it would be nice for the book to show the culmination of his processes. The tutorials throughout the book show bits and pieces of some of the suits he built, and you just think, “wow, that little wrist gauntlet looks awesome, I wonder what the whole costume looked like?”

There are very few Bill Dorans in the world, and it is exciting to see him put his experience into book form. Prop making and cosplay still suffer from a lack of books and learning materials, so I’m glad to see more people contributing to this vast field.

Foamsmith is sold exclusively on the Punished Props website. It is 184 pages with over 400 color photographs.