Monday, August 8, 2016

Blogspot is dead! Long live Wordpress!

Hi guys, I've recently transitioned over to my own stand-alone site at

This is where I'll be posting new content, blogs, videos, and hosting my online storefront.  This blog will stay active for archival purposes but check out my site for any new content.

Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skyrim: Iron Shield

Not too long ago, I was commissioned by a New York based film maker to produce a prop for a fan film titled "Skyrim: The Shadow Cult."  They're currently in filming right now so you can see their progress and hopefully some of my work on their fan page:

Its been far too long since I've completely a full write up on any of my work, so here we go! The build log for the Skyrim Iron shield.  

The Iron Shield is a piece of heavy armor and part of the Iron Armor set found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

After following VolpinProps' build of the Whiterun shield last year, I had a difficult time improving on his build method.  Basically, the Iron Shield is the same wood buckler with some decorative iron banding on the surface.  If you follow Harrison's work and have a strange sense of deja vu, its because I've employed a lot of the techniques he developed for this project. Danke sir.

Every good project starts with a plan - Blueprints, 3d model, hastily doodled napkin sketch, etc.  For my process, I'm still 50:50 on what software package I prefer to do my pre-production work in.  CorelDraw is a fantastic vector drawing system, but for a design that was so heavy on symmetry and radial alignment I decided to draw this piece in Rhino.  The rendering of the blueprints may look a lot nicer in Corel/Illustrator, but in terms of accuracy Rhino can't be beat. 

So with the plans plotted and materials sourced, it was time to get cracking on the fabrication of the shield.  I would have preferred to use EPS foam (the blue/pink stuff you can find any your local hardware store), but the terribly nice fellow at Home Depot cut me a fantastic deal on an opened package of styrofoam.  

There's a shield hiding in here somewhere....

I don't own a large compass so I had to get a little creative with my circle drawing.  Here I measured out a piece of scrap sintra to half the diameter of my shield, then screwed it into the centerpoint to keep it from sliding around.  

And on the Sintra outter band

The wood paneling on the front/back of the shield proved to be the most time consuming part of the build.  Instead of drawing out each groove and gnarl in the wood, I included just the basic segments in my blueprints and free-handed the rest using a tool I like to call a "Scrimmel."  The Scrimmel is a great little DIY engraving platform that consists of a dremel zip-tied to a Scroll Saw.  Shim your work with a few sheets of Sintra to adjust the height and you have a setup that provides consistent cuts and very nice flowing lines.  

Two panels down.  Three to go. 
To laminate the wood paneling onto the shield I used a 5-minute epoxy and "clamped" each piece down with all of the heavy things that were within arms reach in the shop.  

For the center iron piece I scribed out a piece of styrofoam and the hard coated it with Apoxie Sculpt.  Add a few cuts and gouges as it cures and you're good to go.

This is where my progress photos become a little disjointed.  In this next shot I have stained the wood and epoxied on the outer Sintra ring.  In addition to the ring, I filleted the inner edge with Apoxie clay to give me something to cut into when I go about weathering/denting up the iron bands.  

Since the majority of this shield is styrofoam sandwiched between two 1/8th inch sheets of wood paneling, I needed  something stronger to mount the handle and arm strap to.  For this I counter sunk two T-nuts into the front surface of the shield and hid the holes with apoxie sculpt.  This gives the bolt a much larger surface area on which to spread the force, and makes it less likely to rip right through the shield the first time you go to bash a dragur's face in.  

And now we wrap things up with an inordinate amount of dremel work.  In a similar fashion to the Dragon Priest mask, I used the "dremel hammer" approach to simulate a wrought iron look on the shield surface.  Its very time consuming and wears your arm out like you wouldn't believe but the results are well worth the effort.  

I've been dying to use this theme song with my work. 

Next we assemble the iron cross braces and give them the same Apoxie and dremel treatment as the center ring and outer band.  When the dough is still fresh and soft you can use isopropyl alcohol to smooth and feather out the edges.  As it cures and hardens you can begin to sharpen the details and refine shapes using standard clay sculpting tools. 

After getting the cross braces and the outer rim assembled and weathered, I gave the wood paneling some additional attention with a box cutter.  I tried to randomize the cuts and weathering to simulate the wear and tear this shield might see out in the medieval forests of Skyrim.   After getting stabby with various blades and files, I gave the wood a final, most lovely looking coat of Mahogany stain.  

For the iron studs in-between the cross braces I simply skinned eight Sintra pucks with Apoxie sculpt, and used a sanding drum on the dremel to get that hammered iron look.  They were then bonded to the shield with 5-minute epoxy.  

To paint them, I used several layers of acrylic washes over a standard metallic grey paint.  Once I was happy with the color/finish, I sealed the paintjob with a clear acrylic topcoat then applied some final weathering by dry-brushing silver liquid leaf over the high points.  For the overall feel of the paintjob, I pushed toward a "cooler" palette, and applied several passes with blues and stormy grays.  

The last little bit to do involved weathering and finishing touch ups.  Several dark washes over the entire surface give it a grimy/real-world feel, and shading around the wood paneling makes the iron studs pop a little more .  

Nearly wrapped up. 

Then it was just a matter of attaching the handle/strap and giving the shield a protective clear coat.  I'm assuming the clear coat wasn't completely matted out when I took these outdoor shots since most of them turned out very glossy and reflective.  

It shows the wood graining wonderfully but talk about washed out!

So there we are!  It was a fairly straight forward build, and we didn't have any wrenches thrown into the engine.  I'm very excited to see how this piece looks on film in the fan-series.  A big thank you to Cathy from   God Save the Queen Fashions for the leather strapping.  If you have any questions, comments, concerns, deep-thoughts, or jaded opinions, feel free to leave a reply below!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween 2012: Plants Vs. Zombies

Halloween 2012!  Brains for everyone!

It was kind of a last minute idea, so it was a quick and dirty build.

First, I sculpted out a rough maquette in clay to pattern over.

Then I brushed up 5-8 layers of RD-407 latex in order to draw out my pattern.  This was my first foam patterning project so in retrospect I definitely see things I would have done differently.

Once the pattern is cut out, its pinned down (or more simply spray adhesived down) and then scanned into the computer.

After redrawing the pattern, the tricky part is figuring out exactly how much to enlarge the parts to properly size the costume.  For this fella, the lucky number was 2.68x.

 At this point the hard part is pretty much done, and it's not much more difficult than putting together a pepakura pattern.  The teeth and gums were fairly simple shapes, so I didn't include them in the sculpt.  For the eyes, I ended up using tiny foam basketballs I found at Walmart.  The eyes in this shot are rigid foam balls from JoAnns - Highly overpriced.  I don't recommend them.

 My biggest hurdle for this quick build was how to seal and/or paint the foam.  My first attempt was to apply acrylics directly to the foam.  Being the sponge that it is, the piece sucked up about half a pint of paint and left it with an undesirable weight and surface finish.  Fortunately the acrylics did a decent job of sealing the foam, and I was able to then brush up several layers of latex on the piece to give it a nice durable skin.  For future foam projects, I aim to use stretch spandex as my "sealer", and then apply the latex skin for the paint surface.  I'm very much open to suggestion for alternative methods for solving this problem.

The latex coat can also help to hide and minimize seams, though with as crap a job I did assembling the thing, I'd need 20 layers of the stuff to hide the blemishes (ie - seam between the eyes, around lips, etc).  After the latex is cured, a final paint layer is applied.  The hair is simply window insulation stripping.

For the hands, they too were quick and dirty - 1-ply foam scored and glued into a zombies' grasping, filthy clawrrrrr.

 The strap is designed to give animation to the hands, but also to allow me the ability to easily hold onto my beer with out taking them off.

Quick and dirty paint.

A trip to Goodwill for clothes and we're done. All together now!


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Skyrim - WabbaJack Staff

"And as for you, my little mortal minion... Feel free to keep the Wabbajack. As a symbol of my... Oh, just take the damn thing."

The Wabbajack is a Daedric Artifact of Sheogorath, given to the Dragonborn during the quest The Mind of Madness. The mysterious staff that casts an unpredictable spell which ranges from transforming enemies into other creatures or items to casting a random Destruction spell to even healing your enemies.

Sounds like fun, let's build it!

To begin, having a proper plan of attack is absolutely critical to any project, "Fail to plan and you plan to fail", and all that jazz.  Drawing blueprints and experimenting with the real-world scale of the prop can help work out design issues and potential roadblocks well in advance of making the first cut or globbing the first bit of clay.
But did he have to use the junkless naked scaling guy.  Eesh. 

The original idea was to sculpt on top of this armature and make a silicone plug for the void in the headpiece.  Turns out the PVC was way too flimsy once cut and would warp and flex when I went to work on it.  Having a solid armature is an important in keeping the clay where you want and where it was put.  I went ahead and filled in the core, and decided to just deal with it after casting.

Before destroying a perfectly good piece of pipe...

Here the sculpt is generally roughed out.  I'm trying to capture the critical forms and features of the characters on the staff.

The white powdery dust in this shot is nothing but baby powder.  Brushing talc on the form can help smooth slight imperfections, and knock off those annoying "skin tag" type bits of clay that cling to the surface when you use rake tools.

Once you're fairly happy the sculpt, it's never a bad idea to photograph your work and then review it on a flat screen.  It's not nearly as apparent in person, but the asymmetry in the "sad" face is very clear when looking at a photo of it.  Also, if you have photoshop, you can mirror the picture on itself and then overlay it compare left and right side features.

I think he's mad that he's covered in neon orange goo.

One quick Rebound25 mold with plaster bandage jacket later -

Cold casting with Aluminum powder -

I'm still fairly new at cold casting, and my ratios were not correct in this cast, so I wasn't able to get a more lustery shine out of it.  Since this project I've aimed for a 1 Part A: 1 Part B: 1 Part metal powder ratio, and that's given pretty respectable results for aluminum.

This is the punishment for not making a silicone plug for the mold.  Even with slush casting the part, there was a LOT of material to dremel out.

Being impatient, as I often am, I decided to go ahead and do a couple test washes to see what might look nice on the final prop.  From all the resource images I collected, it was really hard to pin down exactly what this WabbaJack was made of.  Depending on the shot it could look like stone, weathered steel, or even blackened wood.

So for this progression I did a stippled acrylic wash with a standard throwaway chip brush, then noted the color in the photo as seen in the upper left. For the shots with no color swatch, I did your basic charcoal black wash and feathered things out with isopropyl alcohol.  I'm pretty lousy when it comes to painting so I wouldn't at all consider this a guide. I think of it more as a rambling experiment with color and lighting to see what "could" be.

Hit the jump for a larger shot at these. 

So with our painting diversion over, we move on to the rest of the prop - the neck, staff handle, and butt.  Once the head of the staff was sufficiently far along in sanding, I epoxied it onto the shaft of a replacement rake handle.  The original idea was to embed threaded rod into it and socket the handle so that the piece would be removable, but there was not enough material to tap through near the teeth/lips.  

Apparently I did not catch too many shots of the butt (har har) of this staff during fabrication, but the process was exactly the same as every other part of this staff -

1. Sculpt in clay
2. Mold / Jacket with plaster bandages
3. Cast

However, the casting on this part did stray from the norm a bit.  Rather than casting the end solid, boring out a socket for the handle, and then epoxying the parts together, I instead poured my resin and then embedded the staff into the mold.  This way, the resin physically locks in on the piece and reduces the chances that it'll fall off after stomping around a con for a couple days.

Trying to get razor sharp lines in clay is a lot harder than it is in resin, so the plan was to clean up a lot of these wavy bits after the part was cast.  A better (or at least more patient) sculptor than I would have made things perfect before molding, but as this was a one-off project it didn't warrant stressing over.

As for the beard/detailing down the shaft, there isn't much new to report.  Here we have another basic clay sculpt that gets molded and cast just as the head did.

"He slimed me"

For the cast of this piece, I had to dremel it into two sections in order to attach it to the shaft.  Somehow, I managed to attach both the head and the butt before realizing there would be no way to get this piece on with out hacking it apart.  Remember back to the whole "proper planning" bit?

Rough placement of the "beards."

When making the mold for the beard detail, I "overmolded" the part and included a portion of the lip so that I have a reference for exactly where the original sculpt sat in relation to the head.  Then it's just a matter of dremeling off the excess and making sure all the components fit up snug and flush before epoxying them down.

Here the beard detail is completely installed with a bit of Apoxie sculpt added in the seams to feather out the transition.  It's still looking a little rough, but after several sanding passes with 220grit paper, it will look much nicer.

A couple Apoxie sculpt bits to tweak the details and a few sanding passes later we have a nearly finished prop. 

I really should invest in a backdrop to take documentation photos against...


Now onto the fun part - paint!

For this process, I used the basic acrylic washing technique outline earlier, but with a few small tweaks.  I focused more on the grays and metallic colors rather than trying to get exotic with the blues and greens.  It's simply just a process of building up color layers until you are happy with the results.  When you want to "lock in" a layer, you can use a hair dryer or a heat gun to force cure the paint and make it more resistant to being washed out on the next pass. 

For me (your mileage may vary), I like to stipple on my colors then use a damp sponge or brush to feather out the paint.  If you're using acrylics and it's not to your liking, cleaning the part and trying again is as simple as wiping things down with a wet sponge/paper towel. 

Fun fact - If you use liquid leaf (silver) on your props and then use an acrylic clear coat to seal and protect them, the silver will turn a brassy yellow/gold tone.   Then after a few days to cure, it'll hue shift back to a dull silvery grey, just not as vibrant as it once was.  It's an interesting look for some things, but it's not what I was going for on this piece. 
When casting with this staff in game, the end collects energy and glows red.  To showcase this and to give this prop some pizazz, I decided to make its creepy little eyes light up.   This was done with a basic LED light kit and a couple dabs of hot glue.  Your standard multitemp hot glue has a naturally translucent color when cold and was a perfect medium to refract the red light through. 

Well that's about it for this rambling build, so on to the finished pictures!  If you're looking for more shots, or the entire album in raw format, the flickr album can be found here.

Enjoyed the build?  Drop me a line on facebook -