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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Practically Perfect

I was reminded recently of one of the first movie props I really coveted: the talking parrot umbrella from Mary Poppins. And when I started thinking about it, I realized it’s not all that complicated a piece (unless you get into the mechanics of making a talking version, which…maybe…). So why not have a go at it?

In my research, it became clear that there are several umbrellas used in the film. There’s certainly a talking one and a static one, but there are also variations in the pole, tassel, and paint job of the parrot.  These are most of the major differences I caught:

The standard hand prop

This darker paint job (see the white eye area is blue). I'm leaving this one as a maybe because it could just be one of the others repainted

The wide shot flying umbrella (no graduation in the pipe, different/offset canopy

This one in the rain with a border around the canopy

And the puppet version (which you can se here full length with the cables out the bottom!)

I came across an expired auction for what claims to be one of the originals. I’m not so sure that it is. The paint looks unlike anything seen in the film (both in style and color), the eye is painted (rather than an inserted doll’s eye), and the treatment of the handle with wrapped cord doesn’t match anything on screen that I could find. But that’s not to say it isn’t an original that’s been restored, or at the very least a casting of the original bird. What it did give me was a scale to work off of.

Disney has offered three versions of the movie umbrella. Two of the released Disney versions are derived from the original mold, and there are better pictures of these than of the prop in the movie. And while it looks like some detail was softened in the manufacturing process, these still provide a nice blueprint for where things line up on the sculpture. A defunct company called Icons produced a replica of the prop, as well, and someone on the RPF who has this one was kind enough to send me some photos.

Now the other component is, of course, the umbrella itself. I spent some time searching the web for a simple black umbrella to use as a base. It turned out to be rather difficult to find manual open umbrellas of the right size. Eventually, Target came through with one that nearly fit the bill, except the tip is all wood instead of wood and metal. I cut off the hook at the handle, and that looked about the right length for the wider part of the pole.

I started sculpting the bird over a pipe that’s close to the size of the handle, so I could slip it off and try it on the umbrella. This is a couple of short sessions in. I'll do a silicone mold of this and make the final piece in resin.

The next bit of problem solving is how to accommodate the eyes in the casting, and whether to make the lower beak separate for a possible animated version.  I set the project aside for a little while to mull things over.

When I next picked it up, I was working out the detail below the bird with my 3D printer, since I don't have a lathe. It's trickier than I expected to get the right proportions here. This is the third attempt, and it seemed pretty good.

After a few months abroad on a project I hope to be able to discuss sometime in the future, I finished up the sculpture the other day and threw it in some silicone!

The first cast came out pretty good. There were few problem areas I had to troubleshoot bubble-wise. The eyelids are molded separately so the eye can be inserted, then the lid glued on top.

I've got plans for a mechanical version that are starting to seem doable in my head, but it made sense to get it finished off as the static prop first so that
1) there's a starting point to work from for the animated version
2) I've got something complete to show for my time so far before embarking on that adventure.

I'll be able to cast up a hollow version to modify for movement down the road.

Because of the variations in paint on the real parrots, I had some decisions to make when it came to painting mine.  I played around on the piece a bit, and ended up following the basic color scheme of the talking version, as it gets the best close ups in the film.  I tried to approach it with a washy, watercolor-like thought process, as I thought that best matched the feel of the film's design principles, looking in particular at the matte paintings of a dreamy London cityscape, and the actual prop snowglobe.  Not too clean and polished, but not overly heavy handed, either.  A lovingly handmade piece.

Here's where I ended up!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Strange Mask Making Continues

I really got the mask making bug doing those retro monster mask repaints.  While I was working on the Frankenstein, an idea finally gelled that had been floating around for a few years now.  I had the sense that, with his strikingly textured face, Glenn Strange's incarnation of the Frankenstein Monster would lend itself beautifully to my wacky zombie corpsing technique

I had originally envisioned doing a full bust of the character, but, at 11:30pm on a Monday night, I realized it had to be a mask, so I pulled out some clay and got to work.

I used some Model Magic clay that I had kicking around on top of a reject casting of Sybil the Clairvoyant.  At this point I was imagining that I would leave everything attached to the hollow Sybil face as the structure for the mask, but I realized after I finished sculpting that it would be too heavy with the amount of clay required, so I slathered the sculpture in vaseline to release it from the subsequent layer of paper mache.  Had I known it would go this way, I would have used a non drying oil clay.  It would have released itself from the mache mask and been easier to work with.  Oh well.

I didn't worry about getting a perfect likeness, because my other source of inspiration, besides the movies themselves, is the fantastic Don Post "Calendar" Mask of the character, which has its own over the top exploration of the design, and only almost hits the exact likeness.

Two layers of newspaper and thinned school glue make up the shell of the mask itself.  It gives it structure, but isn't totally rigid, which is kind of nice in a mask.

Then two layers of "chicken mache."  The first one smooth for extra structure, the second with all the wrinkly goodness.  Check the tutorial linked at the top of the post to see how it's done.

And then we paint.  drybrushed pale green highlights and thinned down, washy purple shadows.  What color is he supposed to be? I don't know.  You can't forget the Glenn Strange mole, though!

From there I added hair, monster hardware, and an elastic strap.

And now I'll probably have to make some more.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Monster Masks Rewind

Target put out a line of Universal Monsters themed Halloween products this year, and what caught my eye was the cheesy vacuum formed plastic masks.  They had the bones of vintage Ben Cooper and Collegeville Halloween masks, but the paint job was lacking.

I picked up the Creature from the Black Lagoon to have a go at painting it up retro style.  This one had a really cool vintage counterpart with an almost identical sculpture from Collegeville, so I had a clear direction.  Here's the before and after.

It was pretty fun, and the Instagram kids seemed to dig it, too, so I sought out the others.  I found the Bride of Frankenstein next.  Turns out the vintage paint jobs on these were just about the same as the new one. Snooze.  So I pulled from some vampire lady designs, as well as the Frankenstein ones to come up with what hopefully comes across as wild yet pretty. It's certainly prettier than the factory paint job, so there's that.

I had to order the Frankenstein Monster, as it was all sold out locally.  This one is sculpted pretty boring compared to the old ones, but we  can save it in paint!

And here's the terrible trio!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Raiders Idol

Or: Jeepers Creepers, Why Are Your Peepers Moving?

You may have noticed I've got a thing for movie MacGuffins.  One of my favorites has always been the golden statue from the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc.  The stumbling points that have kept me from it are acquiring a decent casting of the real deal (they are out there), and figuring out a solution to gold plating it.  But I think I got a satisfactory solution to both, so here's my process.

First problem solved: Someone appears to have scanned a (perhaps modified) copy of the stunt version of the idol on Thingiverse.  So that's handy.  The only thing is the stunt version has a different expression, and this one has some other quirks.  If I were more of a digital whiz, I'd have fixed it in the 3D model, but I printed it as is and modified it after.

I like to give my PLA prints a rough sanding right off the bat.

Then a coat of filler primer

The primary issues here are the downturned corners of the mouth, the face of the baby, and the hairline.

After a few passes of primer and sanding, I corrected those with Apoxie Sculpt, which is an epoxy putty that sets up in a few hours and is nicely sandable.

Now once I got this far, I figured the project might actually turn out all right, so I started thinking I might as well take it one step further.  Most people have never noticed, but the eyes of the hero prop in the movie were not only glass humanlike eyes, but moved back and forth.  I had to take the challenge.

If I had planned it this way from the beginning, it might have been easier, but I didn't, so it wasn't.  I had to dremel out all the support material from the inside to fit an eye mechanism.

I ordered several different plastic eyes to decide what would work best.  The one you see below was my favorite looking, but I ultimately decided to use another without a corneal bulge, because a totally spherical eye would be able to fit tighter to the rigid eyelids while they're moving.

I prototyped out the mechanics with some pins and scrap plastic.  The actual design had the servo on the other side.

One of the puzzles I wanted to solve was the hatch to access the mechanics.  The original had a somewhat awkward cut across the top of the head so the whole back of the head could come off.  I wanted to avoid anything conspicuous, so I devised a door on the underside of the hair.  This is where having the model in two pieces worked to my advantage, because I could have easier access to the back of the eyes to set things up initially.

I had originally planned to build the eye mech out of brass stock, but I was inspired by the mechanical designers I've been working with at the ol' 9 to 5, and I ended up modeling the eye mech in Fusion 360 for 3D printing.  The first time I built it, the eyes were just a hair too far apart to seat correctly, so I had to redo it, which is fairly trivial when the computer is doing most of the work.

When I got it how I liked it, I mounted the whole mech inside the head with magnets.  There were two reasons for this.  1) I wanted to be able to easily remove the mech if needed, and 2) I wouldn't be able to get any conventional tools up there once the body was sealed up.  Okay, 3 reasons.  3) I like magnets.

I 5-minute epoxied the magnets to the mechanism, and then used propoxy to mount the ones in the head, using a bit of plastic wrap as a barrier.  You can see the controller board here.  It's a Pololu Micro Maestro.  I've become fond of these for this sort of simple animatronics control.  It's small and, unlike an Arduino, is designed for smooth servo movements.  The software is not as easy to program as VSA, but that's the tradeoff for being self-contained.

At this point I could superglue the two halves together.

I poured some resin in the feet to weight the bottom so it would be a little less top heavy.

Now there's just enough room to guide the eye mech until it snaps into place.  The system works pretty well.

The eyelids needed a little resculpting to fit cleanly around the eyeballs.  I wrapped them in plastic wrap before inserting them back into the head, and using Apoxie Sculpt to fix them up.

I also worked on the seam between the two parts, and the join on the trap door.

Nothing's a one step process.  You can see even here there are print layers that can be seen and seams that need another pass of patching.

That hair took a lot of going over with a small, triangular file (thanks, Harbor Freight).

When I finished bodyshopping, I went into glossing it up.  I decided at this point that I could get it chrome-enough with Alclad chrome model paint.  As for the gold color, well, one step at a time.  Now, I've always been told to do chrome paint over a black glossy base.  The problem I've had with that is that you can't go too heavy with the Alclad, or it loses the reflectivity, so there's always sort of a darkness to the chrome from the black base.  I went ahead with just three coats of gloss clear on the assumption that a glossy grey would lead to a brighter silver.

There were a few spots where I had sanded down to the black PLA before clear coating, and sure enough, I could see those through the chrome as darker chrome areas, so the grey experiment worked.  The other bonus of a grey under layer is that, should the chrome rub away (and Alclad will tend to do that, though I've started applying it before the clear coat is totally dry to help it grab hold), a little exposed grey won't draw nearly the attention of a black spot.

The Alclad will never be 100% mirror chrome, especially with a rattle can gloss coat, but it's a lovely approximation.

So then I started figuring out how I'd tint it.  The tricky thing is that most clear coats disrupt the reflectivity of the Alclad.  I think it has to do with solvents causing the tiny metal flakes to shift out of alignment and/or not allowing light to pass straight through.

There's a "golden yellow" candy color that Alclad sells, but I found it to be too strongly pigmented for this.  Eventually I stumbled upon a video by Gordon Tarpley, in which he suggested Liquitex Gloss Varnish (I used High Gloss) mixed with food coloring.  Airbrushing this gave the best results in my small scale tests, so I went for it.

On the actual prop, however, the varnish would dry in one spot before I could get the whole peice wet, which meant it wouldn't level out smooth unless I really flooded it, and I didn't want to do that because more paint meant more intense color, so I ended up doing a top coat of just the varnish to bring back the shine.  I did get some drips (which surprisingly don't show up much in the picture above), but I planned to do some weathering, and I figured I could just cover up the drips then.

I followed that up with a weathering pass of a few shades of acrylic sparingly stippled on with a chip brush.

Now, the end result is definitely not chrome gold, but it's surprisingly convincing as polished metal in person.  I think the weathering pass gives a matte contrast  to the gold that sells it.  And the hatch in the bottom is barely noticeable when on battery power.  If I want to run it off wall power, the cord can fit neatly in the slight gap at the bottom of the hatch.

Oh, and it does this.