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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Ring of Dracula

The Universal Monsters have always been a big influence on me, and I started thinking recently about putting together a little display of a few of the smaller pieces from those films. The Wolf Man has a silver wolf's head cane, Dracula and the Mummy both have themed rings, and the Frankenstein Monster's equivalent piece of jewelry is... the neck electrodes! So this should be a fun little diversion project.

I decided to start with the Dracula crest ring. There have been a few replicas produced over the years, and they all look nice at a glance, but once I saw the auction photos of the original ring, which belonged to Forry Ackerman for many years, it became clear that most of the current replicas are very sterilized, geometric interpretations of what would have been an organic, hand sculpted design, presumably by a jeweler in the '40s. Yes, the 1940s. In the original Dracula film in 1931, Lugosi wore a plainer ring. This more extravagant Dracula crest ring was first seen in the John Carradine sequels (though was probably altered from the Lon Chaney Jr. Dracula/Alucard ring), and finally worn by Lugosi in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

There have also been replicas molded from the original ring, but they seemed to suffer from lost detail. You'll see the original in the printouts I'm working with for my rendition.

Anyway, detailed though it is, I thought I would be able to sculpt the ring in Apoxie Sculpt, and if I mixed in aluminum powder, it would be able to be buffed to a metallic shine. I did several tests with several methods, but didn't come up with something that would be workable at the fine level of detail I would need. So I decided to use Super Sculpey Firm, because it is hard enough to hold the sharp detail, and could be sanded after baking if needed. I jumped right in to the crest. I scaled the auction photos to full size, and cut out templates to help keep my proportions correct. I also traced the image onto a piece of clear plastic, so I could hold it over the sculpture to check. I ended up using various sizes of needles as my loop tools! Once that was baked and cleaned up a bit, I dumped some silicone on it. I cold cast it the way that's worked best for me in the past, which is to coat the surface with metal powder, and fill with black resin. Buff with steel wool, a very slight black wash, and the crest is done.

I had to think quite a bit about how I would mold the main ring part before proceeding. The thing about cold casting is it's very difficult to repair any imperfections in the seam or otherwise, because you need to preserve that ultra thin surface layer of metal. Once I figured out that I could have a removable dowel in the center, and split the mold where the band joins the main hunk of material, I could start sculpting. I decided that I would not attempt to mount a separate stone of any sort in the center. The tolerances would have to be so precise that it wasn't going to be worth it. Instead, I'd just sculpt it right in, and paint it later. The center of the stone would actually be the perfect place for a pour spout, since the crest would cover it up.

Sculpt, mold, cast the same way. I released the dowel with vaseline, and coated it in aluminum powder. It didn't quite take to the resin like the metal on the silicone sections did, but it's on the inside, so it doesn't matter much. With the stone painted, and a black wash over the recesses, I could carefully superglue the crest on top. And that's not too shabby for a plastic recreation. It's not perfect. I think I'd need some smaller needles to really get a 100% match on the sculpture, but I think it captures the feeling of the original. I gained a lot of respect for old school wax jewelry sculptors, too.

More to come!

Monday, October 29, 2018

You Seem a Decent Fellow. I Hate to Kill You.

Our Princess Bride costumes made the rounds this past weekend. Here are a few brief notes on how we did it...

Inigo Montoya:
-found a shirt, dyed and added leather laces
-vest made from scratch with faux leather
-boots are women's boots with added faux leather cuffs
-wig was a cheap number, cut and styled, but set it back on my head to use my own hair as bangs
-mustaches are from Frends Beauty, trimmed
-pants were also used for Han Solo a few years ago
-belt is a "close enough"
-scars are 3rd Degree silicone

Dread Pirate Roberts:
-mask is a vacuum form of her face with faux stretch leather glued on top and an elastic band
-bandana and sash were just lengths of black fabric, hemmed
-added faux leather boot tops to regular boots
-cheap $7 frogs used for both swords
-bought a basic black pirate shirt. The sleeves aren't as full, but it's all so darned black that you can't really perceive whether the details are right
-her own pants and belt.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

One Sword, Two Sword

Mrs. Chicken and I have been working on our Hallowen costumes for some time now.  I'll say the theme is The Princess Bride, and you'll probably figure it out pretty quickly, but before the big reveal, I wanted to do a specific post on one of the most important and complicated parts of the outfits: the swords.

First, we needed Inigo Montoya's sword.  Gold, jewel-encrusted, and ornate, it has a very specific look.  I don't think you could do the costume justice without getting reasonably in the ballpark.  I spent a long time looking for an existing replica, or a "close-enough" product.  I looked at many a swept hilt rapier, but nothing even had the general shape of the hilt.

Then I saw that IndyMagnoli on the RPF is in the process of doing a run of beautiful reproductions of the Inigo sword, but they won’t be ready in time for Halloween, so it was back to doing things the old fashioned way. And I mean that in a general sense, because I had never made something quite this way before.

I thought about making a blade, but the thought of all that grinding of metal was giving me a headache, so I found a cheap rapier for $40 on Amazon to cannibalize.

On studying the construction of what looks like a very complicated, swirly, twisty hilt, I determined that it would be impractical to mold as one piece, or even a few pieces, especially given also the fact that I only needed one. Really, the way the original maker probably made the hilt is out of a few flat pieces bent and fused together. I could take a similar approach with plastic. Cue the 3D printer. I mocked up the concept in paper to be sure it would work.

I am not a skilled 3D modeler, so I drew out a rough approximation of the intricate details of the guard in sharpie, following the outline I had prototyped in paper. Then I scanned those drawings, and used the tracing tools in Illustrator to turn it into vector outlines. That file could then be imported into a 3D modeling program (I used one of the free ones from Autodesk...123 something), and extruded into one thickness for the main body, and again a little taller for the details. Print two of everything, mirrored for the other side of the sword.

I printed in ABS, because it’s a bit stronger. Solid infill for extra strength. The thinking here was that if I printed the curved parts in a curve, the layers would be aligned to create weak points where it would snap through the thin bars. If I print it flat, one layer of plastic goes continuously around the whole surface, making for a stronger part.  Then it's just a matter of hitting the parts with a heat gun, and shaping them to fit together.

A bit of acetone will bond the reversed ABS parts to each other, and will also seal in the outside, and melt it down a bit. I also rounded over the edges and some of the detail with a dremel sanding drum at this point. It could have been done in the model, but I was pleased with the way this worked out.

My mistake that I realized at this point was that the middle Y shaped piece should have been a bit larger.  Oops.

I used a thick 5 minute epoxy gel to fuse the larger curved parts to the main guard, and to fill in the volume there. This stuff retains some flex when it cures, which means it’s less likely to break off at the join than if I had used a totally rigid glue.

I did another pass of acetone, but it wasn’t giving me the total smoothness that I wanted, so I went for a product that I really don’t like to use. Smooth On XTC 3D. It’s designed to be brushed on to 3D prints to clean up the layer lines, but it tends to obliterate all detail, too.  It often goes on unevenly, and it’s an especially stinky epoxy. Not my top pick. But all of those usual drawbacks (except the stench) will actually work in my favor here, and give me a high gloss surface to do my faux chrome. So I slathered on a couple of coats.

Some Alclad Chrome paint, then a candy coat of orange makes a decent faux gold.

I decided to keep the original pommel because the weight of real metal is needed to make the sword balance properly in your hand. The shape was in the ballpark, too, which is one of the reasons I picked this donor sword originally. So then I just had to make a handle to fit between the pommel and the guard. I checked the size with a bit of 1/2” pvc pipe, and ended up using that as a base, onto which I added Freeform Air (leftover from a previous project). I figured out this time that using baby powder to smooth it was a cleaner way to go than alcohol.

I let that cure, then painted it and gave it a good wire wrap. Not too bad for $50 and some leftover materials.

The Dread Pirate Roberts sword was the next puzzle. I should mention that Factory Entertainment did both swords several years ago in a very small edition. I looked for these, but they’re long sold out, and it doesn’t seem like anyone who has one is parting with theirs. However, I spotted on Amazon what appears to be the manufacturer’s attempt to make a genericized version of the Dread Pirate Roberts sword. It’s the same guard, same handle, but a different pommel and a black blade.

They call it the Black Marauder Rapier.  I can work with that. Frankly, this was the sword that could have been pretty generic.  Most people wouldn’t know he difference no matter what sword he was holding, but where’s the fun in that?

The blade was blackened, and through some research, I found that you can just scrub it with vinegar and the blackening comes off.  Give it a polish with some stuff made for stainless steel kitchen surfaces, and you've got a silver blade again.

The wrong pommel screws right off, so it would be easy to replace. And I had great reference of the correct pommel, due to the previous licensed replica. The bummer is that the swirling seashell design is a pain to 3D model. Yes, I’ll be printing this one, too. One thing the printer does much better than I do is geometry.

I got it modeled and printed hollow, with a receptacle for an appropriate hex nut. And then I filled the void with lead shot, backed with epoxy.

Sand, sand, sand the pommel.  Then I gave the guard and the pommel a coat of gloss black enamel and the Alclad chrome treatment.  I'm really impressed with how effective the chrome is on this.  There's a little ring of metal at the top of the leather wrapped handle.  I opted for aluminum tape on this part, rather than masking and painting, and it blends right in.

If you'd like to make your own swords, I've uploaded the files I made to Thingiverse.

Here's the Dread Pirate Roberts Pommel: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3114815

And here's the Inigo Montoya guard: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3054622

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Model Magic Prop Heads How To Video

I've talked about Model Magic on the blog before, but now I can show you!

Watch me make this Haunted Mansion popup ghost-inspired head, and explain everything I've learned working with this weird material.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Monstrous Mask Making Video

Here's how I've been making my paper-mache-ish monster masks.  If you just want to make yourself a cool mask without going through the hassle of molding and casting, give this a try, and let me know what you create!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fuzzy Wuzzy Werewolf Mask

I got the mask making bug when I made my Glenn Strange chicken-mache Frankenstein mask last year, and jumped right into another, with just days before Halloween.  It's taken me almost a year to complete the Wolfman mask to buddy up with the Frankie, but now it's finished, too!  Here's the story.

I've wanted to do a rendition of Lon Chaney Jr.'s original Wolf Man for some time, and the success of the Frankenstein Monster mask pushed me to take that approach.

Like the last mask, I'll be drawing from the original character and the intense textures of the Don Post mask.

I started by doing a quick sculpture over my lifecast in a soft, easy to shape, oil clay.  I know that the imprecision of  the process means I'll never hit the likeness spot on, so it's just a matter of checking in at each stage to make sure it still feels right.

A few layers of the ol' chicken mache (how to here) for structure and detail.

And then I popped it off the sculpture once dried, and gave it some paint.  Pictured below are temporary teeth.  The final teeth were done in sculpey.

I ended up completely repainting it later because, as often happens, the paint job looked entirely different once the hair went on.

I wanted to use the old style of cheap brown fur fabric to keep with the raw, constructed look.  There's a hood to cover the back of the head, but the hair on the face is snipped off of the fabric backing and glued down to the mask to allow it to lay flatter.

But what really matters is how well we can pull off the iconic Don Post Calendar shot.

Yep. I'm happy with that.

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.