Status of the Site and Commissions

So, anyone who has tried to access the site in the last couple of weeks probably saw a very nasty warning page from google stating that the site was likely an attack site. This has been fixed! It seems my site was the target of a nasty bit of malicious code insert that tried to install malware whenever anyone visited it. I’ve been working with my hosting provider and the site is now clean again. If you have visited the site in the last 2-3 weeks and ignored the warning page, it wouldn’t hurt to run your favorite malware/virus checker just in case.
On brighter news, I have a few commissions slots open over the summer, but only for things which I already have the molds for. These items include:

I just won’t have time this summer to take on any new, custom commissions with my current workload and preparation for DragonCon. I will have time to prepare things I have already created molds for, however, and may also be able to provide any of the above listed items in kit form. Use the commission inquiry form to inquire.

Megaman Starforce – Helmet

I am very pleased to get to show this bad boy off.

MMHelm-Turnaround

This was a fun piece to work on, and will be the only hard part of my client’s Megaman costume. The helmet started as a large acrylic light dome. This was cut into the bases for the helmet (a word to those cutting acrylic with a rotary tool, wear long sleeves!). The visor section got a few thin coats of transparent red, and the rest of the helm was masked off and was colored with model magic and testors colors. The “ears” are slush cast in urethane resin. The “Hair” is assembled in EVA foam, which gives a cool cartoony look to it and holds the spikes perfectly without having to deal with a heavy wig and a ton of styling products. The visor also flips up for when my client needs more visibility. The inside is finished off with a foam lining for comfort

Ed’s Automail Arm – Step by Step

 

By request, here’s the step by step process of how I made Ed’s Automail. There will be a few gaps in the photos, as I wasn’t doing the best job of chronicling this build. I’ll try my best to fill in the image gaps with adequate words.

Since there was no way to meet with my client and make a mold of his arm, I got several dozen measurements from my client and stitched a plush replica of his arm in muslin. I also made several paper mockups at this stage of major parts and mailed copies to my client to hold to the appropriate areas on his arm and hands and take photos so I could verify fit and scaling before moving to making the pieces in woderflex.

 

To make the end caps for the fingers, I coated a it of PVC pipe the same diameter as my client’s largest finger with bondo and began shaping the cap.

 

The pipe was cut off and the bottom sanded. You can see here how tiny my hands are compared to my client. I have very small hands, so the plush arm/hand double was vital to making this automail. After I sanded the piece carefully, it got several clearcoats and went under silicone. I then cast five copies using black tinted resin with Smooth On’s cast magic powder in Silver Bullet.

 

For certain areas, I wanted to use silver metallic stretch vinyl in order to minimize how much this automail would restrict my client’s movement. Here is the cold cast resin finger cap next to the vinyl, the finish really is very similar.

 

After getting the confirmation that my paper mockups were the correct size, I started the somewhat tedious process of cutting out all of the pieces. Each piece was numbered to keep them straight, I ultimately had to cut out two dozen pieces in Wonderflex and keep straight probably three dozen resin castings, so numbering was vital. Each Wonderflex piece was double thickness, one layer was just going to be way too flimsy. Once cut, the layered were joined with some mild heat from the heat gun. The folks over at The Engineer Guy are my favorite source for Wonderflex.

 

Once the pieces were layered, it was time to form them. I recruited pretty much every wine bottle, storage jar and tin can I could find to get the right curve forms, and even used my own thigh for the upper arm plates, as it turns out it was the perfect size (Shows how tiny I am that my thigh is the same thickness as an average man’s biceps). I used painters tape to keep the wonderflex in place while it cools. Wonderflex is a very useful material because, once you have applied heat, it remains pliable for about two minutes afterwards, meaning when you handle it, it’s no longer scalding hot. This is a huge advantage for anyone who has had to deal with heat forming styrene, which is only pliable while hot, lots of burned fingers!

 

Here is where I start having gaps in photos, as I got to the point where each piece was at a different stage in the process. Here we see the upper arm plates heat formed and hit with 2-3 coats of primer, which was then sanded. Wonderflex has a slightly pebbled surface on the presentation side, but a few coats of sandable primer usually handles the texture. Another trick for smoothing the surface is to use the back of a spoon  to burnish the surface while the Wonderflex is still pliable from heating.

 

You can also see the elbow piece and some of the cold cast resin pieces. They’ll be used to fill out all of the screws, studs, pivots, knuckle covers and any other little circle bit needed to embellish the finished piece. The elbow piece is also wonderflex, but has had additional buildup with Bondo to create the rounded  form.

 

I also ordered some colored plastic tubing and heat shielding to add in the armpit area to replicate thewiring and tubing. The large screw top there is actually a cast from the mold for my gold circles for my Lightning’s coat, with the notch scored in with the dremel.

 

Here I started assembling the hand plate and started working the finger sections. These are just stretch vinyl cylinders, since if I had cast these in resin or used Wonderflex, my client wouldn’t have been able to fully bend his fingers.

 

A glove will hold all of the pieces in place and hide the client’s skin. It’s sewn in basic black spandex. The paint I used for the silver is Valspar’s metallic silver. It’s not a chrome-like finish, but is far more durable than most of the high quality silver glosses I use, which I felt was very important since this piece would rub on itself and bits of the costume all day. Another advantage is that this paint has a much more forgiving humidity and temperature tolerance, which was an absolute lifesaver in southeast Georgia in June and July!

 

For the large forearm plate, I needed to thicken the wonderflex substantially. So, I cut a lower layer in wonderflex, then cut filler layers with the three dents cut out in EVA foam. This was easy to cut, lightweight and could hold up to the heat-forming of the wonderflex. The blue strips all-over the board are the notches I cut out. I then layers another layer of wonderflex over the base and foam, then pressed in the trenches so that the top layer of wonderflex bonded with the base layer, rounded the edges and flattened the outer form. This is the plate in an early form, after this would come a lot of extra filling and sanding.

 

The piece starting to come together! As you can see, some places required extra puttying and sanding, but on the whole the wonderflex didn’t require too much extra work.

 

Here’s a shot of the plate as I was puttying and sanding it, the pink is bondo, while the grey is Krylon sand-able primer. To get into the trenches I used a combination of sanding sponges, emery boards and standard sandpaper.

 

The hand was finished up with a sewn vinyl half glove. The T-shaped fastener is EVA foam covered in stretch vinyl, and I attached it with heavy duty thread sewing the T to the half glove. The stitches and knots are hidden nicely under the little resin studs. I also attached the finished arm plate to a strip of stretch vinyl for the underside of the forearm. The whole forearm closes with velcro hidden under the plate.

 

Here you can see the full arm underside, and the elbow attachment. The elbow also has a strip of stretch vinyl which will give more comfort when my client bends his elbow. The upper arm was also finished with a sewn vinyl cover.

 

The complete hand, the only hard parts are on the fingertips, back of the hand and the resin disk on the side of the thumb. This will give my client maximum use of his hand. I also took these final photos before realizing I had forgotten to add the studs to the arm plate, Whoops!! I made sure the studs were attached before it went to the client however.

 

For the shoulder area, I connected the major pivot points with a few real studs, then added all of the extra studs using my resin replicas. I also epoxied in the tubing and heat shielding. The spandex glove pulls all the way up over the shoulder and has a strap that wraps across the chest to keep everything in place.

 

This was a really interesting piece to work on. It used several materials I rarely get to use, but have always loved working with. I can’t guarantee it’ll help with your alchemy or survive a disagreement with your teacher, but at least you should look cool with it. Hopefully this rather messy write-up will help others hoping to tackle the project. I gotta say I have even more respect for Winry after making this!

Light Staff from Final Fantasy 11 – Step by step

Design

This is a piece that has already been done by another prop-maker whom I respect tremendously, Volpin. So, I was very keen on making sure that I took this a different direction than he did and not just copy his work. The in game design is -very- low rez, so switching out the filigree work and forms was easy enough while still keeping the appropriate look. I went with a more organic and dense design on the filigree and changed some of the other details as compared to Volpin’s interpretation.

In-Game Model

As you can see, the staff is pretty low-poly, pretty common for MMOs. This leaves plenty of room for artistic interpretation. The staff will be collapsible into three parts, lower staff, mid-staff and staff head.

 

The design was printed out to size, then affixed to a bit of thin plywood and cut out with a scroll saw. I decided to use half of a clear plastic ornament for the orb base, to have a nice, smooth sphere with little work. This also allows me to pop it out freely while working. Here I also measured the width of the central spine and made perpendicular marks with the measurements.

 

Next, I carefully cut half circles out of styrene to act as guides to keep the spine perfectly circular. This was a bit tricky, as I also needed to trim off the precise thickness of the base plywood otherwise the final piece would be more of an ellipse.

 

Here, I have affixed the circles to the staff in the appropriate places.

 

I also cut two identical guides for the two lower arcs and glued them in place. Then, I cut rough semicircles out of insulation foam to fill up some of the space so that I wouldn’t need to use so much filler later. I also added a spine from the top of the rounded bit to the place where the point rests on the sphere.

 

Now, the bondo begins. I used a scraper to press and smooth the bondo into the spaces between styrene guides.

 

Even more bondo, it gets a bit rough as layers are added, but the styrene guides helps keep it manageable.

 

Here, with the disposable other half of the ornament, wrapped in cling film to prevent bondo from sticking to it and allowing me to remove it for sanding and cleanup as the upper wings get filled and formed.

 

The spare orb half was marked up with the outline for the upper arcs, then, more bondo! The shape is starting to come together here, and it only needs a little more bondo before I can start sanding it down and making sure that it is symmetrical.

 

Hit the staff head with the dremel here to knock out some gunky, overly raised bits and start smoothing the arcs. I’ll need to reapply another layer of bondo to the spine and one side of the upper arc, but the form is starting to become clear now. The spine got way too heavy a coat and I had to take about an eighth of an inch off in some places, which is why it suddenly looks lumpy. Lots of refinement to go!

 

New Scraper!

So, I wasn’t pleased with my metal scraper for applying the bondo. It was starting to go on chunky, which would make sanding harder down the road. So, I ripped the head off of a silicone spatula and started using that instead. Best tool ever for bondo application, everything is going on a lot smoother and with a great deal more control. I still need to break out the calipers and start matching the arcs to one another for symmetry.

 

Smoooth~

Got one side of the arcs smoothed into what will be the final form. It’s getting nice and smooth, too bad most of this smoothness will be obscured by filigree work later.

 

Even more smoothing, the pencil marks are identifying either areas to be built up or holes to patch. After this shot was taken, I decided that the spine was a mess, so I carefully ripped out all of the bondo on the spine and applied the new bondo far more carefully, using the good spatula from the start, and was able to achieve a far smoother starting ground that did not require dremel sanding, only sponge sanding.

 

Nearly ready to go!

 

A good coat of grey primer to look for any dents, rough patches or holes that may have been hidden by variations in the bondo color. The piece is now ready for embellishment.

 

Another angle.

 

Started the filigree work. Here, I am using black puff paint to draw on the design. I ended up needing to deviate from my filigree design, as I did not account for the 3d curve as I should have.

 

The straight design elements will all be done in 18th inch half round styrene.

 

The nearly finished embellishment. In order to mirror the design in some places, I actually made puff paint “decals”. I traced the design I wanted to copy on to some tissue paper, then reversed it (just by flipping the paper over and tracing it on the back), then covered it with some clear tape. I then drew the design in puff paint over the tape, allowed it to fully dry, then was able to carefully pull the “decal” off of the tape and place it onto the staff head where I wanted it.

 

Finished the embellishments!

 

Silicone! I used Smooth On’s Rebound 25 silicone. The first layer was un-thickened and smoothed on very carefully to fill all the gaps and prevent air bubbles. Then I used a few drops of Thi-Vex for the next three coats to make the silicone nice and thick to build up the mold wall. This then got a basic plaster cloth mother mold.

 

The piece was de-molded, and the mold was good! Here, after I cleaned the mold out, I applied some goldfinger casting powder to the filigree and trim areas. I was still unsure at this point if I would be doing this as a cold-cast.

 

I slush cast the main staff in brown tinted Smooth Cast 300.

 

After removing excess brown resin carefully from the orb area, I applied silver bullet casting powder to the silicone.

 

Now, the reinforcing layers and the orb was cast in white.

 

Here we have the original, the cold cast brown staff cast and a white cast. I decided after de-molding the first brown one that I would not be cold casting the gold, as it turned out there are a couple places that will require some spot puttying, so I’d have to paint those parts anyways, therefore, I will be painting the brown and gold areas, but still using the silver powder to give the orb a cool, pearlescent effect.

 

The two cast pieces roughly matched up together. I still need to trim both sides, so they aren’t matching up just yet. I really like how the side profile has come out.

 

I ended up casting another half, as the brown one had a few weak spots I didn’t like. I also got a much closer match to the cold casting on the orb on this one, so both pieces match in color perfectly now.

 

I filled the bottom caps in bondo, which will provide structure for the bolts when I get to that part. I should have taken photos, but while I was casting, I made sure to create raised resin “barbs” to help lock the bondo in place, the resin was also heavily scored on the inside as well, just to make sure.

 

I decided to use a leftover bit from an older commission to finish off the staff end. This pieces is a table leg turning, or what was left of it after I cut the part off I needed earlier.

 

I used Red Mahogany stain on the handle and end, and finished the bottom with some gold enamel before giving the whole piece a good clearcoat.

 

The end was attached to the bottom section of the staff with a threaded dowel, secured with epoxy.

 

The staff is collapsible, into three pieces plus the head for easy transport to and from the convention. I drilled out the ends and set a recessed nut in one side of each joint. Then, a threaded dowel went into the opposite end, secured with epoxy.

Here, the two pieces are being held together as they are being epoxied together.

 

After some spot puttying and sanding of excess epoxy, and some very careful taping of the orb,I hit the head with a few coats of primer to check for more defects, then set on carefully filling the last few gaps and cleaning up around the filigree.

 

More progress of cleanup.

 

After everything was smoothed, the head got a few coats of primer, a black undercoat and started getting thin layers of a dark brown acrylic. This will be the basis for the faux wood finish.

 

Starting on the wood grain! Here are the paints used here, along with my choice brushes.

 

Progress on the fake wood grain, the trick is to layer.

 

Slightly closer shot.

 

After the grain was done, I began gilding the filigree with basic testors gold enamel, first drybrushed on..

 

More drybrushing…

 

Then the highest points were hit with enamel highlights. After this, the tape was removed and the whole shebang was given several protective clearcoats.

 

Finished!

All assembled and cleaned up!

 

 

I couldn’t help myself, it wanted to be photographed in a natural setting.

 

The full staff is about 5’8, slightly taller than I am.

 

I am in love with these casting powders, the pearly effect is just wonderful.

 

The end of the staff.

 

Overall I am very pleased with how all of the shapes and forms came out.

 

The tone and texture of the painted resin turned out very close to the real stained wood.

 

 

 

Here is the piece disassembled for shipping and travel to the convention. Small enough to fit into a suitcase!

 

Here is the only shot I got of the nuts and screws. The screw end is epoxied into place, so that all of the tension is taken in the bolt instead of stripping away at the wood each time it is unscrewed.

 


A small bonus piece, My client wanted a quick replacement for the badge on his hat, his older version was just a scrap of felt.

 

This project was a lot of fun to do, and as always I learned quite a bit from doing it. Mostly I learned that I truly wish I had more shop tools, especially a lathe. I could have shaved a whole month off of production time! Ah well, we make do with what we have.