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 - www.facebook.com/jarmanprops


  1. I've been wanting to make one of these for the longest time. Seems that, since you've outlined the whole process for creating a masterful looking replica, it's time to learn how to sculpt, mold, and cast. Aw hell, I'm so busy that I guess I'd just love to know if/when you do some runs at creating duplicates to sell.

  2. This was intended as a one-off project from the start, so my molds are not designed to run multiple copies. It's unlikely that I'll ever do a full run kit of these. However, the sculpting portion of the project was incredibly fun and satisfying. If you do find the time to invest in this prop, I think you'll really have a lot of fun sculpting the faces.

  3. Great job, my friend wants me to do a woodcarving of one of these so this was quite an inspiration.