Thursday, December 2, 2010

Great War Goat Fur Jerkin


I have been reenacting for almost 20 years to one degree or another, not counting the years playing war as a kid with the best uniforms I could muster. Back in those days, my green wind breaker and a helmet liner had to pass for everything, but when you are six, the imagination is wild and unabashed. Yes, when I was a kid we played war, and cowboys vs. wagon burners, etc. we never shot up a school or had an accidental discharge of a real gun resulting in the death of a playmate.

Our guns looked like guns, and shot caps. We made rules of engagement and stuck to them. Unlike today where just touching a day glo blaze orange plastic “marker” pistol that shoots marshmallows and fairy turds would lead directly to asthma and a Ritalin prescription; playing war lead to things like team work, fort building and this elusive cryptic thing called “exercise” that resulted in lowering our body mass, and building a healthy immune system.

But I digress…

I still play war these days, but our production budget is much better, and the authenticity demands that much higher. Recently I joined a WWI club, and have a lengthy report about a battle here.

This is not about the war however, but the costumes. Bill, my partner in crime, gun nut, and screen writer of several epic sci-fi legends has a good tendency of putting bad ideas in my head, calls me one day out of the blue and says “You know what we need for our WWI gack? Big fucking fur vests”…

Winter in the Somme was probably the most crap-tastic combat engagement since Napoleon lost 85% of his army in Russia. The commonwealth forces were in a mad scramble to make warm clothes, and the traditional wool greatcoats were a major drain on time and resources. Various provincial sources were called upon to make warm stuff fast. Using blankets, leather jerkins and civilian clothing expedited winter items trickled to the front. Of interest to this story was the raw fur jerkins that came out of the rural provinces of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the greater united Kingdom.

Issue of goat hide jackets

These were made with a variety of hides, and either backed on the issue leather jerkin, or on a new vest made with surplus or repurposed material. So the question of the hour is how do you make an accurate historical reproduction out of an item that had no regulation and could be made out of anything?

The Project

As soon as Bill mentioned that we needed to do this, there was no question he was right. This was just too cool, and there was more than enough historical evidence to support that they were both made and used regularly.

Fortunately, Bill had hired us a big gun. Steve McCullogen , maker of historical military garments, costumer to the stars, was going to help. Steve runs a small business in southern California that both sells to historical reenactors, and makes ridiculously historically accurate movie costumes. To give you an idea, when he had the HBT material made for the marine costumes in HBO’s “The Pacific” miniseries, he actually acquired the original machine to mill the mil-spec cotton twill to make the fabric his uniforms were cut from.

On the set of HBO's "The Pacific"

just some of his awesome work.

Spray them with pam, stick them in the oven, throw them on your roof for a week, bone somebody on ebay.

Steve had made stuff for our forays into WWII, and was notorious in the mid 2000s for having some of the best Waffen SS camo out there.

Somebody once described me as the guy who either shows up to the party with strippers AND beer, or doesn’t show up at all.

Unfortunately Steve being a cottage industry beholden to the movie business, he had developed a reputation much the same. Sometimes he shows up with amazing one of a kind costume art, on other cases, guys who ordered rack items he keeps in inventory are left hanging six to eight months.

He was totally down for the project, and after finishing USMC and Japanese WWII costumes to outfit hundreds of extras, he was looking forward to the change of pace.

But would we be waiting on these until we were old and grey?

Good news bad news, he just so happened to have some major hunks of WWI era blanket wool that he was saving for a rainy day, the bad news is he was completely out of goat hides.

Bill calls me up and says “Anders, this is where you come in. I need several yards of goat hide, work your magic.” A few calls later yield nothing from the usual suspects, and overpriced micro-goat pelts on ebay. Finally, a source out of nowhere, a guy in Texas who gets fresh from the taco farm goat hides at a price that was right. Twenty-six food grade goat skins and a few crafty Fedex trips later and we were cooking.

Steve worked a miracle.

Literally 72 hours later, the hides were cut into squares, matched by texture and direction of hair and color, and attached to the vests made of the blanket material. In addition he added ties using period cord. Other than the goat, the whole thing was made using original material and in stunningly record time.


The final products, brown version and stunning white.


With the sleeves off, both rank and unit affiliation are exposed.


Naturally occurring racing stripes.


The inside, showing the blanket liner.

The overall cost was just over what somebody would pay for a reenacting tunic, custom made in record time. I could not be more happy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

M41A "Pulse Rifle"


Despite being described in the original script as a plasma weapon, the final result was a 10mm caseless round, with a built-in 12ga. grenade launcher.

Before the filming of "Avatar" started, I had the opportunity to talk with James Cameron about guns. Fortunately I was so drunk at the time, the fact that he and I were in my friend's guest room playing with various firearms didn't really sink in, and I managed to avoid a complete fan boy mental breakdown.
We were looking at a prototype model for a blank only sub machine gun, a special gas operated PPSh41. We talked about the custom blanks, the rate of fire, and the ability to fire the blanks at close range. Even when firing blanks, there is still a danger of injury or death from having blanks fired at you at close range.
Fortunately he had been drinking as much as I had, and the conversation wandered from Avatar logistics to him reminiscing about picking out the guns for aliens.

James Cameron on "Aliens"

I'm fairly convinced that Jim makes all of his movies so he can play with awesome toys. After Lucas had used the Sterlings, Mauser pistols and MG34s to create the blasters of "Star Wars", the days of waving a rubber blaster at a stage mark were over. Even lasers required some kind of recoil and feed mechanism so the actors could react to being in a combat situation better. Lucas's method was effective, and Cameron wanted to turn that up to 11. He said "We wanted to find the fastest heaviest guns we could get, ridiculous futuristic high-capacity magazines, with almost ludicrous rates of fire." The M1A Thompson and the MG42 fit that bill nicely, and are renowned to this day for throwing an almost wasteful amount of lead downrange in a split second.

The Model

The subject today is a resin "stunt" model. While the originals were made on a full auto Thompson frame with a heavily modified SPAS12 as the grenade launcher, thanks to the commies in office who have never enjoyed the sweet, sweet, awesome of blowing shit up, both guns are illegal in CA, and I wanted to give this as a gift. There are a half dozen makers of fine reproduction pulse rifle kits out there, from the geek jerk off "perfect" reproduction in the $2k range, the Japanese airsoft body kit in the $600 range, the resin models (spatcave, matsucorp, etc.) that range from $125-$300. and from time to time you can lay your hands on casts from the original molds of the stunt props, which are considerably lamer looking than those mentioned above.

This version came in 12+ solid parts, halves of the major body parts, stock, trigger/grip assembly, barrel, and grenade launcher front piece. I have seen the cast heads on cheap Chinese motorcycle engines that were in better shape than this.
With the help of one of "spat's" 9-volt powered digital counter, and a little Anders magic, I will turn this into an un-suck model.

The mag well will hold the guts of the counter, the shuttle for the power supply and the wires that go to the board. Once the two halves of the mag well were together, they are together for ehvar, and the head of the magazine will hold the secret trap door to change the batteries. I milled out a hole for the batteries, then made a channel for the wires, and carved a hole for the face of the counter to peek out.

A small switch was added to the area where the trigger for the grenade launcher would have been, then the whole assembly was hot glued like a mofo into the channels. This way you can pull on the leads to the battery pack pretty hard and not run the risk of disconnecting them from the switch or display solder points.

The counter works like a top, and will be masked off until the final unveiling.
According to Jim, the counter would count down from 100, the logic being that the magazine was higher than 100 rounds, but when you hit your final 100, it lights up and counts down until you change mags, or hamburger time.

Now with all of the "halves" glued together, they needed to be assembled into a cohesive whole. The resin is heavy and even epoxy would have trouble. I tapped and pinned all the pieces together using threaded 1/4" rod stock pins. the halves would be re-enforced with wood screws, and a wood screw would serve as the "swivel" for the magazine head acting as the power supply door.

The fascia plate for the grenade launcher is epoxied, then screwed into place, then I used a blade bit to tap down the grenade hole as deep as I could. I then took every part and deepened every vent and every groove on the mill. Odd angles were deepened with a 1/16" dremel ball cutter. all flash and globs from the mold and my white trash bondo job were removed with sand paper.
The pinned, cleaned, "contrasted" parts were then assembled into a whole with two part epoxy at the pins and contact points.

I tapped a piece of pipe into the grenade launcher to add a little more barrel, it's sticking out here, but was pounded in and fixed with about 1/4" protruding. The entire model was then washed with soap and water, and covered with a matte black high build primer.

The metal parts were dry brushed with a deep gun metal acrylic, bolts and screws were dry brushed with a lighter silver, and the entire thing was dabbed with dark furniture polish and cigarette ash.

The whole thing was then masked off with blue tape, fairings were painted with matte olive green spray paint, then using a 2" wide finishing brush pure silver paint was lightly and swiftly brushed over everything, this made scratches on all of the high surfaces. The pistol grips and grenade launcher pump was then re-painted with the matte high build primer, and the magic mix of Furniture polish and cigarette ash was re applied to wear points. The cigarette ash is harder to come by since I quit smoking two years ago, so please send butt free donations to my address.

Finally sprayed the whole thing with a matte sealer and un masked the digital display.

Done deal.

Higher res, un blurry final images in the after action report, coming soon.

Costuming and props

I had originally set up this account as a backup-backup for when Live Journal was swallowed by the former communists; That didn't happen, but I feel kinda lame about sending people over there to read my stuff. As such, this will be my costuming and props blog.
weather stuff I make or just things I'm putting together, this is where all that stuff will be stashed.
Many of these will be re-posts from some places you have already seen, but have been pulled from genre specific forums into one collected point of my complete works.