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Friday, September 21, 2018

Yo ho, yo ho, A Pirate's Head for Me!

Ye come seeking adventure and salty old pirates, eh? Sure, you've come to the proper place.

I recently had a resin head fall into my lap that seems to be derived from a well used sculpture from Disneyland.

When they did the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, there were only 20 or so different heads sculpted to fill out the hoards of buckaneers, so each face got different paint and hair treatments to transform it into multiple characters.  This one can be seen several times in Pirates.

It even found a job in the Haunted Mansion as one of the revelers in the ballroom (pictured here in a pre-opening promo photoshoot with master illusionist, Yale Gracey).

Every now and then a figure will get retired from the ride and wander into the world.

The original source of the copy I have seems to have been this head, or one just like it.  This was from an auction some years ago.  It matches up with the old man in the bayou scene at the top of the ride.  Notice the angled hole in the mouth to accept a pipe, and the partially closed eyes.  This is the only example I've been able to find of a different version of the same sculpt.

All other appearances of the head in Pirates and Haunted Mansion have more opened eyes, and a more neutral mouth position.  And that's kind of weird.  They were doing all these different sculptures for Pirates, and reusing many, but here's this one that was reused, yet modified.  I have to assume they made a copy of the first sculpt, altered it, and remolded it.  But which version is the original sculpt?  Going back to the auction picture, I spy a line in the reflection across the upper eyelids that roughly corresponds to the shape of the open eye version.  That's good enough for me.  Looks like the open eye version came first, and additional eyelid was added in clay over a hard casting to be remolded as the bayou guy.  The lower lip was probably tweaked the same way.

Now, I'll be turning this head into a replica of the jailed pirate seen above.  So, the aim of the game is to open the eyes back up, see what we can do with the mouth, and go from there.  I'm going to be inserting premade eyes, so I can just carve away at the cast eye until it's the right size and shape.

Measure twice, cut many more times in gradual increments.

I filled in the hole in the lip with epoxy clay, and shaped it back to a closed position with a dremel.  I cut a door in the back of the head to be able to access the eyes from behind.  It took lots of careful carving to shape the backs of the eyelids to properly fit the plastic eyeballs I had.  Side by side with the original, you can see how much is changed before we even get to the finishing work.

I find it's helpful to visualize where things are going to doodle important features on photos.  Will his face look right when the beard goes on?  You'll notice I also stated adding some of the clothes.  The bandana and scarf are just cotton fabrics, and the shirt is one from the thrift store.

And then came painting.  I wanted to strike a balance here of looking nice fairly close up, and having the feel of the actual Disney piece, which tends to have a pretty simple paint job.  "Tends to" because, well, let's digress a bit here.  Each time the character gets a refurbishment, things change a bit.  Here's a look at some of the different versions of the same character at Disneyland.  We're not even getting into the variations at other parks.

There's changes in the face paint job, the hair color, the beard texture, the beard placement, and cut.  The bottom right picture is before the very first one was installed in the attraction, so I take that as the most important reference point.  Then I sort of mixed all of them together to get at the essence of the character.  If there's this much leeway in how the official pirate looks, then I can have some wiggle room, too.

So, I painted the face.  A little more cartoony than not, but with a little more realism than slapping down one or two colors.

And then I started going at the hair and beard.  It's two colors of kanekalon synthetic hair mixed together to feel a little more natural. It makes a color not exactly ever represented on the real pirate, but one that feels like a pretty good compromise between the many that have been.

I didn't take any pictures during the hair laying, but I did learn a few things.  I've glued hair to resin before with superglue, so I started using that, but I found out that there's some kind of reaction between the glue and the hair that turns the hair whitish after a short time.  I switched over to E6000, which worked great.  I styled and set it with clear satin spray paint, as it's a more permanent solution than hairspray.  Wear gloves and a respirator, kids.

I decided a small, simple base was in order to give it a polished look.  Just some 1/2" wood painted black.  It took some playing around to find the right way to deal with the scarf, which hangs in a low loop on the real figure.

And that's about it.  This guy won't be staying with me, but he's off to a good home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to Make an Animatronic Raven

I've finished the 4 part series on assembling my Animatronic Raven Kit.  Check it out if you've got a kit, or are thinking about getting one.

The Facebook group for anyone working on a kit is here:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Benny from Halloweentown visits Midsummer Scream

While prepping for the Mr. Chicken's Prop Shop booth for Midsummer Scream, the show's creators asked if I might have time for one more project.  The lead actress from the Disney Channel Halloweentown movies was going to be in attendance, and they thought it would be fun to have one of the characters from the movie as a photo op.

This is Benny, the taxi cab driver in Halloweentown. Can I make a replica of him for the show? Sure!

There were a few considerations in my approach.  First, it needed to be sturdy enough to survive being touched by the masses.  Second, it needed to be a fast process, as there was only about a month until the show, and I had plenty of other things to get done, too.  Third, it couldn't be too expensive, as the budget was tight.

I figured I'd start with a plastic skeleton, mount it to a sturdy armature, dress it, and sculpt on top of the skull with epoxy clay to get the Benny likeness.

Thank goodness Amazon still has skeletons in the off season.  The one I found had what I think of as the "Target" skull, as that's where I first saw this design show up a few years ago.  It's probably the furthest off from what it needs to be of all the generic skulls out there, but we can fix that.

I've enjoyed using Aves Apoxie Sculpt in the past, but I wanted to try a new product, so I picked up some FreeForm Sculpt from the local Smooth On store.  I didn't like it.  While it's easier to mix, it doesn't hold its shape well while curing, so you end up spending a lot of time chasing drooping forms until it sets.  I'll try Magic Sculpt next time, as I've heard good things from my friend at Hellizondo.

The head was painted with acrylics, sealed with my old standby, Polycrylic, and mounted to another piece of armature wire for free posing by pouring expanding foam inside the head to lock the wire in place, and epoxying the wire to the neck.

The skeleton was zip tied to 1" PVC that was mounted to a plywood base with flanges and fittings.  The pipe supported the legs and spine up to the ribs.

I chopped off the existing shoulder joints, and ran a hefty piece of armature wire through the upper arms, connected across the torso, and zip tied it to the ribs in the middle.

This way I could get more than a toy soldier's range of movement out of the shoulders, which goes a long way in posing.  I also zip tied a length of wire along the outside of the arms, behind the elbows, to allow for sturdy, adjustable posing.  You might notice one hand was removed and flipped around to make things feel a bit less restricted, too.

The costuming was all eBay finds.  I knew the jacket and hat would be tricky to source locally.  Both were sold as military inspired pieces.  The navy blue jacket is a Liz Taylor-- go figure.  I grabbed some of the skinniest 28" waist black pants I could find while I was in town, too.  He still needs safety pins to hold them up.

The final touch, which was actually the first thing I made, was a "TAXI" embroidered patch on the hat.  Now that I have to explain my approach, I'm remembering that my sewing machine might have some embroidery settings, but it hadn't occurred to me at the time.  What I did was to model it in 3D in Fusion360, then 3D print it, allowing the layer lines to stand in for threads.

I heat warped it to match the curve of the hat, then painted and sealed with acrylics.

He spent the weekend posing for pictures with Kimberly J. Brown and fans, and tells me he had the time of his afterlife!

Buster Balloon even gave Benny a parting gift on Sunday night!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Big Bird Announcement

I'm pleased to present the release of my newest offering, an Animatronic Raven you can build yourself!

Check out the details at ChickenProps.com. There's a full step-by-step how to video coming soon, but if you order by July 6, you'll lock in the discounted introductory price!