Monday, 26 November 2012

31st ENTRY - Final Armatures

And here are the final armatures.

Design credits go to Tobias Feltus, Professor Donald Holwill, myself, and Edward Sams at John Wright Modelmaking, who brilliantly understood my needs, and assembled these functional works of art.

My clavicle design, refined by Edward Sams, using bronze and steel.

Anna, Isolde, Russeau, and Mr. Bernard

Professor Donald Holwill's foot design

Forearm design by Tobias Feltus

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

30th ENTRY - Cutlery

A fork, a spoon, and a knife.  These are hand filed from a sheet of aluminium.
The colour is not as I would like. Metal from a tomato can seems to be the ideal tone, but cans are not thick enough. Aluminium is too cold.

They are quite imperfect. The knife (last of the three made) was looking pretty good, until I found my measurements were off, and in shortening it, lost some of the shape in the handle. And the fork has oddnesses as well.
The spoon was the one I worried would be least successful, as the metal sheet was not thick enough for the depth of the spoon, but it actually seems ok.

I could certainly do with a vice.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

29th ENTRY - Material Matters

Throughout the duration of this project I have felt that I was always missing something, that out there was a product that was much better suited to whatever it was that I was doing. More often than not, I was right to think this.

When I started sculpting, I knew about Plastilene, and that it was the preferred product for special effects artists, for example. But the romantic side of me chose to ignore a product made from dried clay powder and motor oil, and instead to work with wax, a far more traditional and "cleaner" substance.

My lack of experience brought me to settle for Tiranti's White Modelling Wax, which I sculpted all my figures in, and which I felt quite comfortable with. But the main problems were two. First, being an off white colour, it was necessary to have a particular kind of harsh and very even light in order to see the form properly. Secondly, being soft modelling wax, there was a limit to the amount of detailing one could achieve.

I spent hours throughout the months going back and searching for clues as to what materials were used to sculpt the impressively detailed high end action figures, such as Adam Gu's Heath Ledger Joker sculpt.  But my searches strangely came to no conclusions, until very recently, when I discovered Castilene. And low and behold, this product is now part of the Chavant family.

Today I received a sample from the only European distributor I have found, which is in Germany.

All I can say is Blo%$@ F&%$*^g H£)(!!!!!!!

It is a very nice product.

Four different waxes.
From left to right:

Tiranti's Blue Carving Wax (impossible to cast in, shrinks terribly, is plasticky, and far too dark to see any detail)

Chavant's Castilene modelling compound (casts well, can be sculpted, carved, filed, sanded, built up by melting little bits and applying drops directly to the cold model. Seems great).

Tiranti's White Modelling Wax (what I used to sculpt the figures. Very nice to work with, but too pale to see detail, and too soft to achieve tight detail. This bust is how she came out from the version II mould).

Tiranti's Yellow Modelling Wax - Type B (got some of this intending it for the wax sculpture of Isolde in the film, wanting a beeswax look.  It is very soft, sticky, and impossible to see any form or detail at all!)

More of the white wax.

Same four waxes as above. Notice the difference in visible detail.
Blue Wax
White Modelling Wax
Yellow Type B Modelling wax

Here is a very useful guide to Castilene - Castilene Compendium:

28th ENTRY - Eyes

4mm balls are not easy to create.

Earlier on I attempted ideas of sculpting a positive full eyeball including the bulge of the cornea, to then mould and perhaps cast in two parts, inner eye separate from cornea. But of course at this scale it is probably impossible, and even my attempts at casting a perfect ball in the blue hard wax failed to begin with.

All along, my main concern regarding the eyes has been to achieve a realistic cornea, bulging out slightly from the rest of the eyeball, and being a transparent lens over the iris. My frustrations about sculpting eyelids over flattened beads were recorded in entries 10 and 15.

The tutorials available online, ranging from the Stan Winston School, to an odd Southern American gentleman's own technique, have all been very illuminating, but also not much help to someone working at 1:6 scale.

Doll makers and hobbyists brought me closer to the solution, suggesting liquid Fimo, or UV resins, which I'd had no experience with.
But most helpful was the example of the brilliant artist from Japan, Hanano, who makes the most arrestingly beautiful ball jointed dolls, and whose work I find myself deeply admiring.

As his eyes are only one or two millimetres larger than mine, and yet perfectly crafted, his work was the closest thing to the answers I was looking for.

Hence, between moments of much research and despair, the evolution of eyes for this project has been as follows:

During my mould-making expedition in Scotland,
Tobias started thinking about a solution,
using the beads, sanding down a 2mm flat surface,
spray painting them white,
and painting the iris with Humbrol enamels.
A solution to the cornea had not yet been found.
First tests by Tobias Feltus, 26/02/2012

Later on I attempted using a mask for the 2mm
iris diameter cut-off point, and made a silicone box
mould of a bead. Unfortunately I had the 
unpleasant surprise of the mask not actually being
a 2mm circle, as these things are designed
to take into account the width of your pencil
drawing the circle!
Anyhow, I couldn't get the wax to cast
properly, and didn't try resin, who knows why.

After much research I managed to find
a supplier in the UK of German glass
doll eyes, so I ordered a few to sample.
They are very nice, pretty much the right
scale, but not round on the back where
they are attached to wire. The idea of the
balls not being perfectly round on the
back worried me that they might not
work well in the eye sockets.

Here I tried making a quick cornea on two beads
with soft wax, and painted them.
I suppose I was thinking about the possibility
of there being no other way than to have a solid ball,
cornea and all, and just a gloss varnish overtop.
The third test was a sanded down iris, painted with
Humbrol paints, and varnished with a thick coat of
Humbrol gloss coat.
I also tested the Humbrol gloss coat thick, casting
it into the nose of a silicone mould.

Monday, 22 October 2012

27th ENTRY - A Re-Proportioned Isolde

I work to my best abilities, knowing that this is the best I can do, whist at the same time suffering a nagging little notion that if only I allowed myself to push a little further, I could do better.   And the thought that this might be my last chance, that later, for one reason or another, I will not have this opportunity, or my talent will fade, which seems to happen, and therefore no, it will not do, I must do better. 

With the decision and need for a new armature, Isolde's bad proportions, which had been forced by the first armature, were open for adjustment.

Since Liz was struggling so much with trying to work out a functioning pattern for a dress to fit Isolde, adding more pleats and length in places that shouldn't need them, I felt she would understand and welcome my intentions to go back and re-sculpt Isolde.

I told her I would spend two or three days fixing her proportions. I would then make a new mould, cast a new costume mannequin, and take the new mould to John Wright for the new armature.

Eleven weeks later I had accomplished this.


The white modelling wax doesn't melt down very well, so it doesn't really pour into a mould. I managed to brush and dab it in.

I sliced up one half cast (front half) as a three dimensional sketch,
shortening her proportions.
I then brushed up a new full cast (front and back made separately)
and followed where I had cut and shortened the "sketch".

New tool. I noticed that sculptors tend to use a rake-like tool
to help keep the shapes clear and visible. I never studied
sculpture, so am constantly learning.
I made these two tools with sewing pins and polymorph.
Love them!

rake work

I finally purchased a Dremel, after spending hours
filing hard wax into a bottle and bowl, and reluctantly spending far too
long hand grinding down the armatures where needed, and often
just avoiding doing it. So now I was able to shorten the feet a little.

Another majour frustration. Light. Uneven light was making
it so tricky to see what I was doing.
I moved around the room a lot, as the window light
was affecting the lamp light. Finally I went and got a fluorescent
magnifying lamp, and moved from the centre of the room
to right between the two windows. And I was
blessed with a freebee desk on my morning walk.

New work station.

I know how artists are able to reach what others might describe as perfection, and then keep pushing things forward, sometimes losing that previous state of perfection and never regaining it again.  Innocent bystanders see the work as what it is, every time they look at it. But often elements will either bother, or be lacking for the artist, who will keep pushing forward, unaware of the present successful state of the work.  Often this means that the work changes dramatically and only a subtle ghost of that previous state remains.
The two images above are dated exactly one month apart.
I found that I would keep reworking things over and over again, even though the bystanders thought things looked good as they were. I would then look back at the pictures of previous states, and struggle to see what had changed.

Legs were still too long. Then too short. Then too long again.

Liz came in and looked, and, although I had reworked the hand down
in scale quite a bit, noted that they still looked enormous.
When I got my new lamp, I also picked up some thin copper wire.
I was annoyed by the thickness of the aluminium wire I had for fingers,
and this very fine stuff seemed just as strong, if not stronger,
and the fact that it had more memory bothered me little
given the fact that it was so pleasantly thin.

In my constant research, which mostly fails to find anything
useful, I finally came across pages about artists who
sculpt action figures using hard wax casts of their
initial sculptures for fine tuning the details by carving.
This seemed like the way to do it, but I need to find the right
wax, and it will be for next time.

I tested my new mould concept, described in the previous entry.
It looked promising.

Yes, I started using Lego.

Feet are something done differently this time.
She is on her toes to avoid verticals in the mould.
I also embedded nuts in the mould.
Successful silicone master.

Quick resin cast from the silicone. Interesting how
light behaves differently with a different material.

Unfortunately one ear was crushed whilst I removed the
rubber mould. I cast a new one from the rubber mould, but of course
nothing is so simple. Getting it to fit back in place is impossible,
so it required much work.

Wax walls surrounding figure to leave flashing canals.
I also brushed a thin coat of resin onto the face and some other
areas to protect them and force me to accept that they
were finished.

hands will be separate pieces of the top half of the mould.

As she had been sculpted in pieces, she came out in pieces.
A pleasant surprise that she resisted much less than previous
figures. Nearly intact. 

My best mould yet. And by far the slowest.
Because the resin heats up when it cures, I was advised to
keep layers thin, to avoid heating up too much and warping.
This made the process ever so slow.
Costume mannequin armature. Wire and polymorph.

Silicone cast - costume mannequin. Flashing canals helped.

Isolde version I, and Isolde version II.
Was it worth all that trouble?

P.s. her nose had an air bubble,
but being a costume mannequin I left it.

Monday, 30 July 2012

26th ENTRY - Moulds in the Future

Note to Self

My design of the join in the upper arms of the puppets, allowing for the arm and hand to be replaced, was not very successful. I knew it would be impossible to achieve a perfect join in this way, but at the time it was the best solution I could think of.


After experiencing the mould-making process as well as silicone as a material, I have come up with a new solution for the future.

Maintain the sculpture intact. Make three moulds at once - Mould 1 for body, Mould 2 and 3 in a second step for arms with hands.

In step 1, make the bed and walls for the figure, with a clay wall cutting off the arms.

Step 2, clean away the clay wall separating the arm to reveal the resin from the body mould made in step 1.
Make a guide in the upper arm, lower down than the mould wall, which will be the cut line for replacing an arm. This guideline should be made into the sculpture as well as into the mould bed (see bottom of the page in Fig. 1).

This should give three moulds. It will probably be a positive thing to have a separate mould for each arm, as rarely will both hands need to be replaced at the same time, and it is confusing to know which part of the two halves of a mould correspond during casting when there are two separate elements in the mould and one only wants to cast one.

With this method, during casting of a replacement hand the upper arm will fit into the hand mould and the cast will adhere to it directly in this stage, instead of requiring a joining stage post casting (Fig. 2).

Note: It may be a good idea to devise a way to fix the three moulds together for the first complete casting, though perhaps not important.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Also, feet have been problematic in the mould-making process, as well as in the casting phase, because of their vertical position. 
Feet should next time be either spread out sideways, or, and probably preferably, in order to avoid twisting leg muscles, pointing straight down as a ballet position.

As Tobias has not yet finished sculpting Mr. Bernard, I may suggest that he try this approach.

Entry: Wednesday October 3rd, 2012

Before making the new mould from the re-sculpted Isolde, I decided it was important to test the above theory.

I used the silicone "dress mannequin" cast from the original Isolde for this test. The fact that this figure was a thick silicone cast made moulding her a bit tricky, as she tended to move around a bit, and her thumb popped out of the first half of the resin mould (the bed).

But, although it was a very crude test, I believe it was successful.

Before the test, however, I did succumb to a nostalgic weakness, and took the bus to Kingston to enjoy some moments in a toy shop, surrounded by Lego.
I cannot claim it as my own idea to use Lego blocks for mould-making walls, but they are wonderfully therapeutic, and do the job quite nicely. Fascinating how much fun they still are.

Figure resting face down. Water based clay built up for her resin back part of the mould (which I refer to as bed).
I brought the clay quite high up, making deep undercuts, as she will be cast in rubber, and for the arm replacement process, the bed needs to be shallow enough for her to lay in it easily.

Resin poured for mould back

In the first step, I made two little notches in the clay, following the cut seam line in the arm. These will be a guide for cutting the arm off, and for lining it up in the mould.
Here above I separated the arm with a clay wall. I used two toothpicks sticking through the clay wall which would be embedded into the resin, and act as forks to hold together the two parts of the upper mould. In the proper mould I will use steel pins, probably hex keys.

Second part poured, after removing the clay wall.
This picture was taken after everything had cured and I had removed the Lego walls.

Before pouring the two top parts of the mould, I laid down strips of clay to leave trenches. These will allow excess silicone to escape during casting, without blocking the mould from closing tightly.

A new silicone cast from this mould. The arm looks messy because the original was so, from my previous bad method of joining arm to body.
However, the cut line was visible, making it easy to cut off the arm using the guideline. The arm came off a la Terminator II.
Figure laying in bed, with bare armature arm in place for new skin.

Casting new arm

New arm cast directly to the figure. first arm above.
The experiment was successful.