Light Staff from Final Fantasy 11 – Step by step


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.



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.



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.

Filigree How-to

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s get it started with a quick step-by-step tutorial!

So, I was recently asked to make another survival knife from Final Fantasy 13, and while watching some of the trailers for 13-2, it became clear that the caps on the handle were far more intricate than I had originally thought. It was time to do some raised filigree work!

First, I used a bit of scrap paper to create the shape templates I would need for the end caps. I then started sketching the design I wanted onto the templates.

I then cut out the shapes in styrene. Next, use graphite papaer or rub the filigree design onto the styrene. It will be rough and hard to see, so then go over these lines with a sharpie to get nice, clean guidelines. Next, grab some fabric paint and carefully draw it onto your guidelines. I used Tulip slick  in white for the finer lines and details like the oak leaves, and puffy in black for some of the thicker lines. I also went back after this photo and carefully drew in all along the edge of the upper cap to give a raised border. Allow this to fully dry.


Now, take the dry fabric paint and styrene contraptions and glue them down to whatever you’ll use as the base for your mold. I used foamcore this time. Build up the edges to hold your silicone, and mold as usual. Since this is for a bent piece, and I cast this as a flat piece, when casting I did not leave the resin in the mold for the full cure time. It will take a little experimentation, but resin can be removed before it has fully hardened and shaped as you see fit. Wait until the resin has become opaque, no longer feels remotely tacky when touched with a glove and bends like underdone pasta. If the resin seems to stretch as you try to remove it, it is not ready yet, just leave it a little longer. Once pulled from the mold, I simply pressed the resin pieces onto the knife handle where they will eventually rest.

Here we have, from right to left, the original styrene and fabric paint base, the mold and the resin casting after being formed around the handle. The handle also sports two more casts. Now simply paint and assemble!






Here are two casts, up top is a primed cap with a brown base-coat, below is the result after dry-brushing the cap with gold.















Speaking of dry-brushing, I also made a quick video demo on the subject:


Hope this has been helpful, stay tuned for some new projects and some exciting news about the studio!


Progress/Tutorial – Sculpting and casting Ligthning’s Pauldron

So, I finally made the jump from small scale bit and pieces for jewelry, up to making armor pieces. I went ahead and took a fair amount of photos during the process so I could make a small tutorial. I am by no means an expert, but have received some very wonderful advice from fellow casters.

First, the Materials List:

  • Plastalina clay (any non-sulfur clay can be used, including kleen clay and chavant)
  • A base to sculpt on, in this case, a paper mache and foil shoulder form
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Sculpting tools, whichever works for you
  • Rebound 25 brush-able mold rubber
  • Thi-vex thickening agent
  • Smooth Cast 321
  • Plaster Cloth
  • Plaster
  • Aluminum foil
  • Disposable chip brushes
  • Loads of mixing cups and stirring sticks

The sculpting:

First, get your plastalina onto your form and into the very basic shape. This stuff is easily hand worked, never dries and very smooth. Once it’s into the basic shape, start forming it into a more refined shape. In this case, since I was making a very smooth sort of pauldron, my first order of business was to get it symmetrical and round.I did so by rolling the form and clay around on my cutting mat, rotating and pressing it until I had a nice, round surface. I also took this time to go ahead and trace the outer edge, ensuring symmetry. Alcohol can also be used to help smooth the surface, just apply some to your finger or the area you’re tooling to help lubricate things.

Now you can start working on details. In this case, I needed a raised edge all around the piece. Sculpting this to be round and smooth all around would have been a nightmare, so instead I rolled out some long, thin rods of plastalina and sliced them in half lengthwise with a hobby blade. These were then applied to the edge I traced earlier and gently pressed into place, taking time to smooth the joints.

Now it was time to start on her rank strips. These were cut from a rolled out sheet of plastalina and applied in the same way as the rim.

After all this working, there will inevitably be a few nick, dents and bumps in the clay, so be sure to deal with those before you’re finished. I also took the time here to press in guide holes for the EL-wire and for mounting to the costume.

Mold-making and casting:

Now, time to mold! Make sure your piece is smooth, free of flaws and the surface clean. Get all of your matierials into your working area, and have more mixing cups, stirring sticks, paint brushes and paper towels than you think you’ll need.Also, ensure you’ve given yourself enough time to finish. Brushable silicone layers need to be applied at a very specific time, and if you stop doing so and go to bed, the next layer is not gonna stick when you come back to it.  I gave myself four hours for this particular silicone.

Before pouring, you’ll have to build a wall around the model, otherwise, the silicone will just run allover your table. I have a bag of plastalina solely for wall building, you can see the ridge I’ve built around the edge here:

Measure and mix your silicone according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to mix until there are no streaks, scrape the side often and mix gently. Don’t whisk, beat or frappe this stuff, you’ll incorporate air bubbles, which are very bad. For the first coat, don’t thicken the rubber, this coat is just to coat it thinly and get every nook and cranny of the prototype. Dab very gently with your brush, trying to not warm your sculpture or incorporate any bubbles.

(now enter the area where I have no photos)

Now, for Rebound 25, you leave this for about an hour, but start checking it at the 50 minute mark. It will be ready for the next coat when it’s tacky. Tacky means that when you touch it with a gloved hand, it’s sticky, but material does not come off onto the glove itself. The next layer can be mixed now, and I added Thi-Vex to this layer to thicken the rubber, since now I need more support. You only need a few drops.This thickened rubber should be the thickness of rich cake frosting, and can go on in a very thick layer compared to the first. Apply with strokes instead of dabs and smooth with a stirring stick if necessary. Allow this to cure for the same amount of time as the first, check for tacky, and repeat until your mold is at least 3/8th of an inch thick. Then allow the mold to cure for it’s full time, which in rebound 25’s case is 6 hours from the time of the final coat. Do -not- remove the mold from your prototype yet!

After it has cured completely, we need to make what’s called a mother mold. This is a rigid shell that will give the floppy rubber the proper support and shape when you cast in it. This is a completely rigid layer, which means on a piece like this pauldron with undercuts and such a deeply round shape, I would never be able to get the casting out if it were a one piece mold, so it must be two part. To do so, simply grab more of your plastalina and make a ridge on top of the cured silicone mold with your prototype still safely inside it. Make sure it is flush to the mold and then cover the ridge on one side with a bit of aluminum foil.

To make this mold, I chose to use a combination of plaster cloth and plaster, but any rigid, sturdy, moldable material is fine. First, I mixed up some plaster and painted a layer onto one side of the mold and up the ridge at least an inch. Once that cured, I wet my plaster cloth and added a layer of cloth atop the now cure plaster, then continued adding layers of plaster and cloth until I was satisfied with the thickness.

To make the other side, remove the plastalina ridge, but not the aluminum foil! This is the barrier between the two side of the mother mold. Now, repeat the process you used on the first side, bringing the plaster up onto the foil, also at least an inch. At the end, it should look a little like this:

Once all that dries/cures, it’s time to de-mold. First, carefully remove your mother mold, one side at a time. Next, grab one edge of the silicone and peel it off your piece. It should come off as easy as a banana peel, and you’ll notice it’s very floppy, this is why that mother mold is so important. Silicone molds do not support themselves. Clean the mold out with mild soap and water and allow to dry. You can see my three pieces here; mother mold, silicone mold and undamaged prototype sculpt.

Before casting, assemble your mother mold pieces together and hold them together either with rubber bands or clips on the ridge, place the silicone mold inside and make sure it fits snugly.

Now, for this piece, I did what’s called slush casting . This means I didn’t just fill the mold up to the brim with resin and let it set. I poured a small amount of resin (less than you think you’d need) and rotate the mold so that the resin rolls around inside and coats all of the edges. This particular casting resin has a pot life (time it remains liquidy) of about 8 minutes, so I sat there, slowly rotating and tilting the mold, making sure all areas were coated over and over, for the entire pot life. This give you a thin coat of resin inside the mold. Simply repeat this process until you have the thickness you’d like. I did there slush casts.

Here is the resin cast, next to the original sculpture in plastalina:

Now, pain, drill and distress to your liking! Here is my first practice piece. I painted it with hobby enamel and distressed it by hand. It’s not perfect (the edge rims aren’t supposed to be light green…whoops!), but everything is a leaning process in this workshop!

I hope this has been helpful to someone out there, and please do not hesitate to ask any questions you may have.