A few years ago (gosh, is it 5?), I played a game called Journey on my kids Playstation 4. It was like no game I’d ever played before. Here I was, wondering around the sands and ruins of a civilisation lost to time with nothing but my ability to call, to search and discover, and, to fly.
This game, Journey, by thatgamecompany really changed my idea of playing games, and what I wanted from the experience of playing a game.,
I found the joy of the mystery, wanting to know more, to grow within the game, and to reach a goal, that mysterious mountain in the distance.
And once I’d completed it, I of course wanted more. I wanted to play more games like this. So I searched in vain; there just wasn’t anything I could find at the time that resembled the experience. The closest I came was a work in progress called Omno by Studio InkyFox, but at that time, it was years off.
And then, on the 13th of September 2017, at the iPhone 8 launch event, Apple and thatgamecompany announced the new game Sky (which later became Sky: Children of the light) which was to arrive on iPhone, iPad and notably, the Apple TV 4K.
I was hooked. I began watching for evidence of a launch date and then early in 2018 I managed to get a place as a beta tester. Once I had that place, and was able to play, admittedly, on my iPhone, and not a nice big Apple TV screen, I was both dazzled, and really happy.
Sky was and is, an amazing achievement. I spent around 2 and a half years as a beta tester for Sky. I and a number of very very dedicated players and testers spent countless hours in the game having fun, but also really working hard to help the developers hone and tune the game to be the best it could be.
For a core group of us, it was a pleasure to go in and play, and report findings. Before I left Facebook, I took a dump of my data. Looking back at that, I have 522 videos I’d recorded (amassing almost 21 hours of recordings), in some cases edited and uploaded to the Sky beta group.
They were fun times, and during that time, I’d been to a couple of ComicCon’s with my youngest child, and discovered cosplay whilst doing so.
I thought it would be neat to create a Sky cosplay.
One of the iconic things about Sky and the children that run around in that world is the cape. The cape is life in Sky, and it’s also the means by which one can fly. The cape charges when your child is close to light, or in clouds, and when it charges, there is a lovely animation.
Now before I continue I should point out that my experience as a beta tester is primarily with the original feathered cape. Somewhere around March 2020, thatgamecompany discarded the original cape in all its beauty because it apparently took too up many resources.
When all this happened, the capes became plain mono-colour capes with no decoration or shape. Some time after launch, complex capes began to creep back into the game, but to date, so far as I know, the original cape has not returned. What follows is my attempt to recreate the original cape for a cosplay outfit.
How to make a cape.
Step 1 – Plan
What I wanted, was to re-create the classic, original Sky cape in my favourite in-game colour, purple. But I wanted more than that. I also wanted it to glow, and to animate in a manner similar to that of the original cape. So what does that look like:
This meant electronics, and more specifically, LEDs that I could program. But it also meant fabric that would let me see the light showing through.
I also needed to learn how to sew.
I started by searching online to find out how to make a cloth cape. There are a lot of sites online that show you basic patterns and techniques. Here is the one I found most helpful:
Its not really all that hard; getting the basic measurements is the trick. In my case, because I wanted to put electronics into the cape I needed to factor that in as well.
🚨 Now, pay attention to that website when it comes to the neck, because this is one area I failed in. I forgot to allow for the next and how to cut it out. I think it’s something I could have fixed, but I decided not to when I created the cape originally. The thing was that I wanted a fold-over, like a collar and I didn’t know how to do that, so I left it in the too-hard basket and focused on the stuff I could do.
For me, I decided on a cape with a radius of 90cm. I’m tall, and so is my child, so this would allow the cape to hang to roughly the length as seen in the game.
The next thing for me was creating the cape design.
Step 2 – Design
Unfortunately, because the cape I was building was no longer in-game, I had to draw on my old recordings and screenshots to allow me to rebuild the cape design so that I could put it (somehow) onto fabric.
So I spent an inordinate amount of time trawling through my recordings, finding a collection of reference images (all very grainy) so that I could see with some clarity the pattern and layout of the cape.
Below is a good depiction with some clarity, showing the entire cape.
Once I had this and a lot of other images ready, I set about recreating it in photoshop, shape, by shape.
I made the mistake at first by creating it as a circle, resulting in the following (showing where I saw myself adding the LEDs) :
Whilst this looks great, it’s completely wrong. When I printed this out, cut it out and tried to make it look like a cape, it was all wrong. Of course, I’d made the mistake of creating the design around how it would look when worn, wrapped around the Sky kid, not how it looks on a flat surface.
I realised that I actually needed to redraw the design on to a half circle. After all, when you look at your Sky kid flying, you don’t see a circle.
So after some more of hours in photoshop, I ended up with:
Now note a few things about the above diagram. First off there is a border outside the bottom of the petals:
It’s important to remember that because I was putting LEDs inside this cape, it would essentially be like a pocket. I would end up sewing two large pieces of fabric together and then turning it inside out. Having this spare cloth there at around the edge gave me room to do the sewing without affecting the design.
And printing this, and playing with it as a cone, we get:
So, with a design that works, the next plan was to print out, to scale, each of the pieces that made up the cape pattern. You see, my plan was to re-create all of those designs by cutting out a piece of fabric of the right colour, and then sewing them all onto a large purple piece of cloth in the right pattern.
But before I did that, I needed to find the right fabric. So off to the local fabric store (in my case, Spotlight). I took with me, a small circle of LEDs with a controller chip to animate them in a manner similar to what I wanted. I wandered through the various isles of fabric, testing them for translucency, weight and atheistic feel.
So with fabric chosen, I decided with four in total:
The next step was to use my printed templates for all of the elements of the patterns on the petals of the cape to cut out all of the pieces so that I could then sew them onto the backing fabric.😲
Note the colour differences in the paper pattern. My plan was to multi-layer the cloth to get the visual effect.
I went to the trouble of borrowing a sewing machine because I thought it would be 1. quicker, and 2, I’d get a better, more uniform stitch. The only machine I could find was quite old, and we couldn’t work out how to change the stitch. So my first and only attempt to use it as a test resulted in:
And soon after I started, I realised just how much of a task I’d set myself. I quickly discovered just how bad I am at cutting fabric, sewing fabric, and so on. It became obvious that the end result was going to fall far short of the vision I had in my mind.
What could I do? Well, one of the things I’d seen my child do was put their artwork on a site called RedBubble where other people could then purchase items like socks, or stickers using my childs art.
I discovered that I could upload an image of the cape design, and have it printed on a large “wall hanging”! And by doing that I basically got out of having to sew all of the detail of the feathered pattern on the cape!
Here is a link to that wall hanging: https://www.redbubble.com/i/tapestry/Sky-Cape-Design-by-SkyFan/43661774.ODB3H
So after a week or so, the wall hanging showed up, and it was perfect! This would become the outer face of the cape. The fabric was a little thinner than what I’d planned to use/create in my Plan A, but it was worth it because it just saved me a great deal of stress.
Back to Spotlight I went, and bought a large piece of heavy, dark purple fabric that would act as the back to the cape. It was time to get started.
Step 2.5 – Making the cape itself.
Lets step back a bit (I know, this has being going on for a while already). The cape, because it needs to contain, and conceal the electronics, needs to be like a pocket, a giant, semi-circular pocket, sort of like a pita bread…
So to make the cape I needed to take the wall hanging, and pin it to the backing fabric, but with the patten face-down.
It’s important to be generous with the pins. You want the two pieces of fabric to be as one, so that there is no movement of one or the other as you sew them together.
This was the single longest process for me in the entire exercise of making the cape. Without a sewing machine I needed to sew the entire semi-circular outer edge of the cape, one stitch at a time. I also spent a bit of time, because I was hand sewing, finding out which stitch to use. I settled on the “Back stitch”. Here is a link to a good tutorial on how to do a back stitch:
Note that I’ve pinned along the outer area of that purple border that I mentioned earlier on. That keeps everything secure as I sew close, but not on the line between the border and the beginning of the printed pattern.
The reason for this is that when you finish sewing and you turn it out the other way (so that the pattern is on the outside), the edge of the pattern is visible and not lost to stitching.
Once I’d sewn all the way around (and it took me a week of nights to do this), I was then able to cut around the curve, along the outer edge of the purple border, and outside the pins.
I could now turn the cape out for the first time to see the results of my handy work.
So you can see that sewing as I did, once the cape is turned out, the line of the pattern is just where I wanted it to be.
With the curved side of the cape done, the straight edge needed doing. This was different because I didn’t want to sew it. Along this edge I’d left a good few centimetres of excess. If I folded that over and sewed it, like a hem, I’d end up with stitching all along the straight edge, right through the pattern and that would be ugly.
So I bought some iron-on adhesive tape.
And then proceeded to fold, and then iron down the hems of both the outer fabric (from the wallhanging) and the inner fabric. This gave a really nice finish.
In most respects, the fabric cape was now mostly complete; mostly…
I needed to create some wrist bands and sew them to each wingtip of the cape. For this I took a 5 centimetre wide strip of the leftover backing fabric, placed some of the adhesive tape down its centre and then ironed each side over the edge, providing a nice purple wristband.
I also bought some small velcro dots for help with closing up the opening when the time comes.
Time to add some life to this thing!
Step 3 – Electronics
Now that I had the fabric element sorted, I needed to give some focus to the electronics.
I wanted to embed inside the cape a lot of LEDs, and I wanted to animate them in a way that would roughly approximate the animation seen in the original cape.
Here, I’ve slowed down the cape charging animation as a reminder:
So searching online, I found that I could get rolls of LEDs that are programmable, allowing me to set the colour of each individual LED on the roll. Each roll was 5 metres long. I ended up settling on measurements that allowed for 20 strips of LEDs containing 20 LEDs each.
These rolls contained WS2812B LEDs that are programmable, providing a full RGB range of colour. These were perfect. Now how to control them? Well there are a myriad of tutorials online on how to do that. A couple that I referenced are:
These were great because I had an old RaspberryPi lying around so it allowed me to prototype and play with the animation sequence; to test whether I could make it do what I wanted. This was all done with a small LED board from my local electronics retailer.
Here is the resulting animation on that LED board.
Note that it differs in one key way from the in-game animation. In the game, charging leaves a glow remaining in the cape, and I couldn’t do that simply because doing so meant leaving all of those LEDs on a lot longer. These smart LEDs are power hungry, and if the wearer didn’t want to carry around a massive battery on them, I had to make this compromise.
With the animation worked out, I now needed to work out how I could translate this little circle into a cape. I also needed to find a solution to control the animation other than using a RaspberriPi which is too big, and also, too power hungry.
And I discovered that the Arduino family has just what I needed. The Gemma M0! This tutorial showed me a lot of what I needed to know:
The Gemma M0 is a terrific little board, with a CPU and all of the connectors I needed. I needed a single data line to drive the LEDs, and another to act as the button sensor.
The original rough wiring diagram I came up with was like this:
But the problem with this was that with 20 LED’s per strip, and 19 strips, that is 380 LEDs, and there is a limit of how many LEDs we can have in a single strip.
Part of this is memory, but part of it is the CPU speed. Because I was using a relatively low spec chip, there was no way I could animate all 380 LEDs independently without having issues with performance.
So I chose a different path; the data line that drives each of the 19 strips would be run in parallel in the same way the power does. This meant that the CPU only has to manage 20 LEDs in total. It also meant that each strip would be animated in sync with the rest.
To do this, in between each LED strip inside the cape I needed to run wires joining each strip in parallel. I needed this to be flexible but secure. What I settled on was creating a tiny little circuit board by cutting them out from a larger “Vero” board. Each little board would have 3 lines, one for each of 5V+, Ground, and Data. Here is a rough diagram of what I needed to do:
This was laborious but necessary. I cut out each piece of veroboard (or stripboard), filed the corners so that they were rounded and smooth, and the proceeded to solder them all together with small lengths of ribbon cable.
I then used more lengths of ribbon cable to connect each board to an LED strip (🚨important, connected to the INPUT end of the strip).
After putting this all together, it was time to lay it all out on the backing fabric on the inside of the cape.
Looking good. What about in the dark?
So whilst this is looking great, and shows that all my efforts at wiring and programming is working, there is a problem with the LEDs.
I don’t have a clip of it still sadly, but what I noticed was that the LEDs showed through the cape material very clearly as little dots. So I needed something to diffuse their light that would be inserted into the cape over the top of the LEDs without making the entire cape over bulky.
Testing a piece of material at the store I found this worked. You can see most of the lights are diffused, but a few are not, showing the difference:
The material I settled on was this stuff:
So to demonstrate this in a raw manner:
And using a piece of this as a test on a single strip of LEDs inside the cape produced this:
And to take that a step further, in this clip you can see the difference between diffused and natural.
This diffuser was flexible, but it was also quite stiff. Having the entire cape lined with it was going to change the way it hung on the wearer. So what I did was cut long strips of the material, roughly 2 to 3 centimetres wide. I would then sew them down over the top of each LED strip within the cape.
One thing I’ve not really talked about (what really? You’ve gone on, and on, and on…) is how to power this thing. There are two parts to the electronics; the Gemma M0, and the LEDs.
The Gemma M0 needs a 3.2V to 5V power source, and the LEDs need a 5V power source. Now the Gemma M0 can run for ages on very little but those 380 LEDs need lots of power.
I elected to use two power supplies. For the Gemma M0, I bought a small 2AA battery holder, and for the LEDs I settled on a battery pack that you might use to charge your iPhone. One trick with doing this is that because the Gemma M0 and LEDs are still electrically connected, the respective GND from each power supply need to be connected.
So how is the entire wiring done? Well here is another of my terrible diagrams to answer that:
Step 4 – Final construction
With everything now worked out, it was time to put it all together. This was pretty straightforward, and involved the following:
- I purchased a “wearable” push button that I then attached at one extreme end of the cape, where the hand would be that moves the cape. This button was then attached via two wires to the Gemma M0 to act as a trigger for the charge animation.
- Stick each of the LED strips onto the inside of the backing fabric. The LED strips I’d bought had adhesive backing so this was pretty easy.
- Each of the little circuit boards I made joining the strips together needed to be insulated so I covered them with insulation tape. This also helps to secure the wires and reduce the risk of them breaking as the cape is worn.
- Each insulated circuit board was then adhered to the backing fabric to further reduce wear and tear. I probably should have used a softer, more flexible wire. I went with ribbon cable because it’s cheap and I had some.
- I then sewed a strip of the diffusing fabric over each LED strip. This was done pretty roughly; it just needs to be secure enough to stay in place.
- The Gemma M0 needed to be sewn into place so that it’s not floating around.
- The pushbutton was sewn into place near the tip of one edge of the cape and the wires between it and the Gemma M0 secured.
- A small “button hole” was cut and sewn near the nape of the neck so that power leads from the cape could be fed through. These power leads could then run down the back of the wearer to belt mounted battery packs.
- The two wristbands I’d created were then sewn into place.
- The small velcro dots were stuck into place along the inside straight edge of the cape so that the opening could easily be closed, whilst leaving me room to open it all up again in case there is ever a problem.
The End Result
Sadly, COVID got in the way just as I was finishing the cape, and as we planned to go to our first ‘Con’. We had to rush a mask together, and we managed to attend SuperNova Melbourne 2020 before everything changed.
Our plan was to add more to the cape, to add animations to the diamonds down the back, and to add a glowing chest light as well, but life changed, and focus shifted.
The final cape can be seen in the following video, at home as a test, and then very briefly at the ‘Con’ (we were a little uncomfortable videoing amongst other people).
- 3 x 5 Metre rolls of WS2812B LEDs
- 1 x Gemma M0
- 2 Metres of ribbon cable (5 colours)
- 1 x Wearable Momentary push button
- 1 x 2AA Battery holder
- 2 x AA Batteries
- 1 x USB Battery charge pack (10,000Mha minimum)
- 1 x Cape wall hanging
- 1 x Sheet of backing fabric (I used purple in keeping with the front).
- 1 x Roll of Iron on adhesive.
- 1 x Packet of velcro dots.
- 1 x Packet of pins (you will need lots and lots)
- 1 x Sharp fabric scissors
- 1 x Fine sewing needle
- 1 x Reel of strong sewing thread, the same colour as your backing fabric
- A large sheet of diffusing fabric (enough to cover 19 LED strips, each say 5 centimetres wide each x roughly 70 centimetres).