Tuesday, October 4, 2011

They've got skulls on them!

Well, you are sitting in your living room, and you suddenly realize you need to have some skulls everywhere, but the cost of real humans skulls on ebay will break your bank, and your connection in India is cooling his heels for a dime in Avinal. What do you do?
Here are my top secret tips to make lifelike skulls out of plastic models.

The Models
Over the last 45 years, there have been TWO (count 'em) skull models. The first is "Revell Life Size" it was cast in a glow in the dark plastic, and is out of print. It has individual teeth, a multi-part cranium and is fantastic. It is also hard to find 1977 originals for under $75. The second is the Lindberg/Skillcraft 1/1 scale anatomical model. In 1998, somebody decided these were not "real" enough to be called anatomical, and were reduced to "pirate skull models", same thing, different box.

This version is not retarded, it is just from Canada.

The good news is that these are pretty cheap. If you shop right, you can get them for ~$18. The will go for as much as $30 in some shops, don’t get corned. Try online or on ebay.

Out of the Box

The set is pretty simple, face part, dome part, jaw part, nasal part and teeth parts. The teeth are grouped in threes and fours and will not allow as much mixing and matching as individual teeth. I cut these blocks up and mix them up. Always best to make your skulls look like third world savages, not aryans with ideal dentition.


I use super glue with an accelerator. Gap filling formula works like a top, there will be gaps. This model really kinda sucks. I suspect the molds are casts of mods from casts. The pieces will not fit well, there will be gaps at best, heinous mis-match at worst and will require filling. if you are highly motivated and have a heat gun, you may want to warm up and re-form some of the parts. This can have mixed results and could end in cooking parts of the plastic. Don't fret! Burns and scorches will add character if you screw up.

This doesn't look like Jack Sparrow..

Filling can be done with standard squadron putty of you want to use white, if you will be painting the whole skull and don't mind pink, you can use bondo. This is really more body work than modeling. If you find yourself actually re-sculpting parts, you are doing it right. This is normal.

I tend to pile on too much filler with this kit, then sand down, it's the only path to victory.

Most modelers would crap their drawers if they saw this mess.

Again think automobile body work not modeling. If you think you are going to improve this with little diamond tooth files you are high. get an electric angle sander, and lots of industrial sand paper.

Note the way my retreating hairline gives me sanding power!


Again, don't even think about geardoing out with your airbrush.  If you are an Asian dude who is really into car models I'm sorry, this will hurt your face. We are going to use flat outdoor spray paint. Off white. Kinda close to skull color. FLAT is critical, shade of white or beige is not. Ecru and Eggshell is also acceptable. You want the teeth to stay smooth and not take any of the light texture the matte paint will give. FLAT paint, not gloss or semi gloss. in later steps you will see why. Mask your teeth of with tape. You will also want a matte brown, black or cordovan.

After you have the teeth roughly masked off shoot them with the paint. you want to tap tap tap, not SSPPraaaaaaaayyyyyy, this will make a slight unevenness you will need later. Shoot your eye holes and nose holes and brain holes with the darker color. I had some dark brown handy.

Yes, I over shot the nose socket. Don't shit your pants.
After the brown-esque color is dry, or kinda close, then shoot your white-ish color, tap tap tap on the high parts, tap tap on the middle parts and single tap the brown. Look at it, decide it's not enough and do it again until you like it. You are creating the gradient between the brown and white on the fly, so cool kids will do this while the brown is still a little wet. Not critical, but it helps. Let it dry, whoop off the tape and check it out.

This is now halloween store cool.
This is unacceptable.
The Hoark
Now begins the process called "the hoark". Hoarking is a sacred right where you take something that looks like a normal piece of shit store bought decoration and make it look real. Let's face it, if you go to CVS at Halloween and buy a headstone, a bat from the hot topix, or a sword from merlo's cutlery you are not fooling anybody. it looks like a goddamned toy. We are not in the toy business here, we want to make stuff that looks so real the FBI will be checking your trunk for angora sweaters and protein stains. So one needs to ask, how do you emulate the REAL? Use real! So let's say these were made of bone, which we have pretty well emulated, (you used flat paint right?) bone has stuff in it like marrow, fat and  cartilage. Once the talking monkey the skull used to be inside of is gone, skulls get exposed to bugs, worms house pets and pollution which hasten the gooey parts becoming poison crisco around the hard parts.

We will spray some super77 on the skull lightly, mostly avoiding the teeth. This will represent the connective tissue. Then the dried bits of muscle and poo drug onto the bone by rats will be emulated by ordinary BBQ ash. If it has grease drippings in it, its better; Obvious chunks of kingsford briquettes are bad. Cigarette ash is the BEST, but if you don't smoke or can't loot the ashtrays outside of bingo parlors, you will want to get some kind of cruddy ash to dust into the glue. While I try to avoid anything that looks like finger smudges, by no means should your coverage be even, flesh doesn't rot evenly! A few dings may improve the overall look, but they should be random and organic. dobbing here ant there with a wadded up paper towel will aid this process. Likewise, don;t have kittens if you get some glue drippage in the teeth, just rub EXTRA ash into these drips and it will help emulate some leftover gum tissue.

Leave these to dry for an hour or so, then shake the skull vigorously. Do this in a place away from prying eyes. The UPS guy or random wandering Mormons don't need to see you shaking the ash off of a skull at this point. Short of some parts of Norway where this is encouraged and acceptable, it should be done in private.

Next critical stage is fat. Humans are full of water and blood, this is a given, but the water and blood are gone inside of a week of the decay process. Blood becomes a fine dark brown dust that looks like rust. water completely evaporates, and what is left is fat. Depending on your proximity to NACSCAR events, bodies will have more or less regionally. Fat will melt, smell, and be eaten by bugs, but generally stays around for a long, long time. Stick your hand in a vat of Crisco and try to wipe it off. now rub some bacon grease in your hair. Now stick your head in a sandbox, roll in some leaves; See it defeat even salon brand shampoo. This is why corpses take 10+ years to become skeletons, and skeletons can take another 10+ years to become bones. Fat is not particularly water soluble, and attracts dirt and scoopage. You could try to paint it, but most paints will not vary enough in texture and consistency.

If you want a clean look, try a light lemon fresh pledge. The oil will spread, soak into the ash, and attract bits. Spray heavily, roll across your yard and the garage floor to pick up natural flotsam.

Plain ash on the left, furniture polish on the right.
You can see where I scrambled the teeth on the right,
but also where I should have ground more on the cerebellum seam
of both models.
For a more swampy look, or something that decayed without direct sunlight, Dark Old English furniture polish is your magic butweasel. Since this doesn't spray, you will need to dab on with an old lint free shirt or scrap of cloth.

Lemony fresh on the left and swamp rotten on the right.
The one on the right will continue to gather dust
and airborne shmeg with age, making it look even more creepy.
In Closing-

The lesson today is that furniture polish and various kinds of ash can be used to create a nice organic schmeg on just about anything. Remember the effects fo decay will react diferetnly with plastics, metals, paper, cloth, wood, etc. so if your piece is part of a vignette, be sure your decay leveles are within spittin distance on all involved parts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Quick" and dirty BSG flight suit

This is a repost from another project forum, included here for more public access.

So, for those of you who don't know me, I'm Sokkmonkey AKA Anders Hudson (Yeah my real name is Anders and I'm not brain dead in a hot tub).
I work in the film industry doing wardrobe, digital/practical effects and just about anything else that will get me near enough to a craft services table I can loot.

Let me start off with my disclaimer. Lots of people have put a TON of work into getting the proper details from screen used originals for reference on this site;
MANY people put a ton of hard work and effort into reproducing exact uniforms using exact materials, I am one of those people who needs to rock like that.

However... the following is in no way meant to kai-bosh their sensibilities or efforts, but rather provide an alternative perspective, both from how things happen in "The industry" and MOST importantly a viable way for those who don't have the three bills it takes to make a perfect flight suit to get yourself into a bone sack that will blow away the wimminz at cons.

So, my mission-
Make a flight suit for under $500 spending less than an hour a night.

Now.. I have worked for Spielberg shoots that cost millions, HBO shoots that were done for under thousands and History Channel shoots where our total budget was under $200 including gas money. This scenario was arranged to simulate what would be required to make one of these puppies in the most heinous of conditions, and save as much money for scotch as possible.

So lets talk about real life...
Props people have learned the art of dumpster diving and thrift store looting to a SCIENCE. I literally wardrobed an entire shot filmed at ILM (that shall remain nameless) by modding things purchased at the Ross in Oakland. (right by Ches Eggroll). People have this misconception that EVRYBODY in the industry has plenty of money to spend for their department. The reality is that the producers and director party like its 1989, re-gift the writer a set of steak knives they got for opening a checking account, spend most of what is left to spackle Megan Fox into looking like an 18 year old day stripper, then go OH HOLY FRAKK, we only have $23.58 left and still need to make a movie!

Lets talk about cannon..
Before "The Plan" got started, there were flight suits up the yin-yang; Then the Cylons invaded, those who did not assume room temperature or get blown to chum in the first wave of attacks scrambled like hell for anything that would get them off that rock, then took to space.
Before long they became REAL short on pilots and supplies, people were brushing their teeth with algae for godssake. You aren't going to tell me that they pitched a fit when their pressure suit was not EXACTLY Pantone 575 Green..


Okay lets get started..

Day 1.

Bought that scale from sears to the tune of $30, peeled the Rubber off and made a mold. Using durhams water putty.
Let it sit in the sun for two days. If uncured silicone gets anywhere near water, it foams like a rabid tree weasel, so your mold needs to be DRY.

Day 3.
Poured 80 shore rubber into the mold with black pigment. You can either get it in BUCKETS from BJB
or in ounces bottles from Burman
Burman claims they only have shore 20, which is great for making a mask but crappy for making a skid pad on a vest. Call them up, tell them you need an 80, then they will say "It may take a while". They will call BJB, order their 80, pour it in a smaller bottle marked Burman and sell you a quantity less than Shamu's tank for a small upcharge.

Day 4
The frackking thing didn't set YET. Pigment is a biznatch, and increases your cure time by like twice+. Use as little as you think you can get away with.

Day 4.5 Demolds just fine looks awesome. Will take 2 casts to make a XL vest or a jacket size 46 with some extra.

Total cost=

Scale $30
Mold material $14 plus some scraps for a frame
50/40 silicone ~$40 Qt. (could do ~12 casts or four vests with that much!)
Black silicone pigment $6

=$90 = BS, that dot original material is like $15 for the patches including work time. So DON'T do what I did.
I'm ordering a roll of the dot material PM me if you want a piece of the action, it will save you money and headaches.

Day 5.
I made a pattern based on all of the "exact" specs people have come up with. I averaged out about 20 numbers of "exact" specs and got something that fits and can be scaled. I made a PDF of the XL size, and can make other sizes by scaling that pattern. Pester me and I'll post the PDFs here.

Day 6.
I spent driving around getting some of the "alt marcasite" From Jo Anns. When it shipped, it shipped in five colors, so while you can give the nice lady the SKU number, she cannot tell you which stores have what color, and it has ALL been red tagged. Good news, it's $6 a yard. Bad news is you need to dig through the discontinued pile to get it, and that pile smells kinda like unwashed babies and creamed corn.

Here is the original sample card of the stuff used...

AND I have it confirmed by an insider at Sommers that MULTIPLE colors were ordered for the show, which would explain the odd purple, gray, brown and black you see as opposed to the "correct" off golden tan green copper color..

Exhibit A: "Marcasite" and "Quarts" used on teh same screen used flight suit-

Short form, use something that looks cool. I'll bet $10 you can find a sturdy upholstery fabric in the remnant pile for $2 a yard that will do just fine

Day 7.
So, get your sash cord and make piping, if you use the alt stuff, it frays like a mofo, and needs to be surged or glued, I did both..

I'll explain my vest panel philosophy later, but first, here is a glues un-distressed version on the right and a sewn pre-distressed version on the left.
I recommend sewing, surging, distressing, TACKING with glue, then sewing in place for this to survive a con or a adventure of some sort.

In the above left example, I sewed the piping into the Joann alt stuff, in 1.5" strips, trimmed the edges, then did a loose binding stitch. It then went outside where I used a really jankey "intsta camo" fabric spray paint in brown, light brown and black. On the version on the right, I sewed the piping cord into the strip, tacky glued the edges, then glued it to the base of the panel. There was a problem with my plan...

Day 8.

The original recipe called for using the dot material as backing. I used a supported polyurethane that was green with snake skin on one side and black and fuzzy on the other. Nobody is going to see the back, and the weight is good. Again, the real dot stuff is cheap (because you need to buy a ton) and is legit. SO anyway the dot stuff like my snakeskin will REJECT fabric paint. Distress your piping and your suede patches before applying. As I mentioned above, I spaced on this materials ability to resist, and it blotched paint globs everywhere. In the effects industry, I mix fullers earth with olive oil (or spray pam) and cigarette ash if I can get it (I quit smoking so it's rare now) THE BEST distressing schmeg in the universe, but it will rub off and or MELT off when it gets warm.

Anyhoo, this is a good time to talk about loose threads and cutting nylon strap.

Weather cutting this synthetic for piping or back scales, or cutting nylon strap for you BDU sets, there is one secret I learned about these and that is keep a lighter (or blowtorch) handy.
You can sew till you are blue in the face and under heavy duress (like getting your booze on at a con) these things will find a way to unravel. BURN your lose ends. A policy I recommend for many things in life. This also is good for when you need to use parachute cord for a boot lace. It will make a nice globby plastic blertch you can let cool a bit then force into submission.

You don't need to NUKE your loose edges just singe them.

Once you have all of your pre distressed piping tacked to your back panels with glue, then run a stitch for good measure.

You get a pile like this..

Day 9.

Cut out the suede in the same shape as your backing, then get the black and dark brown spray fabric paint (I also use floral paint because its CHEAPER and does the same thing) Stand about a foot and a half over your panels and circle the edges, the first pass should mist/cover about 2" in, then close in to about afoot above it and do another perimeter covering in 1" from the edge, this will give you a nice gradient. Some prefer to use an airbrush for this, I just use rattlecan and practice. The desired effect is that the edges are more dirty than the inner part as they "rub on things".

Now, let's talk about adhesives, they come in many flavors, for tacking beads earlier I used tacky glue. Now, to adhere the suede ot the backing I'm going to use spray adhesive.

This comes in 2 flavors-

77, great for gluing fabric and paper. I will use the 77 to put the distressed suede panels on.
It comes out in a mist.

90 great for gluing toddlers to walls and mounting Granite onto counter tops.
I will use it to put the rubber impact panels on the suede.
It comes out in a thick bubbly stream; BEWARE this is your enemy and should only be used other than indicated on the can by consenting adults behind closed doors.

I used a little roller hootchie to get things flat and all of the bubbles out. The glue is basically rubber cement's cranked out cousin from the rectangle states, it can be controlled by rubbing and rolling when it gets unruly.

Eventually you will get this-

Next- Day 10, snaps, and Carol the sexist scrapbook lady.

So, snaps, rubber, and sexist Carol.

AKA Day 10

The bottom rubber shock panels were of a ore or less indiscriminate shape. If you look at Apollo’s they are amoebas where on Athena’s they have more of a radiused rectangle. I’m GUESSing there is no rime or reason to this other than cut shapes and glue. We as dorks have a job to try to make sense or order out of sci-fi , in reality we interpret a backstory where there is often none, and make policy out of free form decisions from costumers and set builders.

Much like the colors of the asteroid fabric, I have seen screen used flight suits with nickel snaps, copper snaps, bronze snaps and black snaps. I have even seen a screen grab where Cat has Black and bronze.

While bronze seems the most common, followed by copper, I was going to use whatever I could get my mits on and get this project done. I was after all on a time table. For those of you who have never worked with snaps, a bit of advice. Get a set of snap pliers. The hand pummel set post and base where you beat the snap into its self just plain sucks. The good news is you can pretend you are Thor forging the mighty spear “G├╝ndeer” that you may go forth and slay the Giant Eeel Jorgamud. The bad news is no matter how careful you are, your snaps will always look hand pounded. This is one place where the crispy machine adhered look will contrast nicely with the distressed suede. Oh, and it’s tons faster and can be done undetected by the neighbors at 3AM.

Now, before you go any further, and unless anybody can recommend a source for copper snaps.

-Order these-
You will need 30 per vest assuming you don’t screw up, or a post gets swallowed by the cat. That means order at least 40. I think the cat is iron deficient.

Anyway, I decide I’m going to do this on the cheap side so I go to my local Beverly’s.
(What was wrong with that last statement?) I pick up some 1” black nylon strap, a bag of snaps (Dritz plated) and I’m looking a the plastic fastex style buckles.. ($1.60) each..
I’m thinking, what the heck, I need FOUR, this is an experiment, they aren’t that pricey.. While sitting there trying to do the math without taking off my shoes, up comes a middle aged woman wearing a GIANT decorative name tag labeled “Carol”.
Seriously this thing had barns, and grapes, and beanie babies and a full sized live kitten hot-glued to it. Rather that saying “can I help you” She says “You look as lost as I do in home depot” I was about to say “I’m not lost, just trying to calculate how many hundreds of times your mark up is” but before I could answer she asked me “Are you looking for something for your wife?” I just about hit the roof, I was about to give her my speech on the difference between art and craft, followed by an inventory of the sewing equipment in my house that is MINE, but instead I was much more subtle and I think it was lost on her. “Hey do you have any metal Bernina bobbins or just this plastic generic stuff?” She replies, “Oh heavens no! we sell mostly to quilters and scrapbookers! I just love scrapbooking!” I look at her name tag… “you don’t say?”..

So lets see how bad I got corned.

The webbing I broke even on after what shipping online would have been,

5 yards @1.75 a yard (I needed less) $8.75
Bag of 7 heavy duty snaps x2 @ 4.29 (61 cents each instead of 40 for the right ones)
4x strapworks buckles $6.40 ( I got 50 of the correct fastex buckles on ebay for 11 cents each, Beverly made me her prom date on that one)

All in all I paid WAY too much for the wrong stuff. Moral of the story, order the right stuff online and nobody gets hurt.

So, I have that pattern in XL,

Use at your own risk, may not be suitable for some viewers, side effects may cause nausea blah blah blah.

So starting the snaps-

Day 11

washed off the buckles with soap just in case, and painted them a godlish bronze using a giant brush and a dry-brush technique. Cut my straps to length and torched the ends.

Assembled this together as such-

Coming soon, Cuffs, ankles and my cast of the broken dork watch.

Days 12-15

Thanks to an unexpected prom date from MB who is stetting out to do TFIII and make my life hell for another few months.. Anyway.. I'm back

The dork watch. Hard to find these, especially in working order. I have hear twice as many horror stories as "OMG I love my watch" stories.
So anyway, I scoop up a dead one off of ebay and within seconds I scoop it's dead tech self out of the package (The ebay seller's "I think it's just the battery" story turned out to be express BS and the watch was dead as Tom Sizemore's career).

So I plopped this sucker in some molding compound and made a one-part mold. Cast a few of them in RTV resin and wahmmo-

First in the solid cast with no painting, discoloration is from the resin pigment,
Second is primed black, bezel masked off and then dry brushed silver/bronze,
Third is the original,
Fourth is a failed attempt at a plexi bezel. Even painted the results were not worth the effort. (I have extras iffin you are interested, PM me)

I have scooped up some nicely reenforced gun metal stretch vinyl. I looked at the original stuff and made the executive decision that it was too flimsy, I picked this stuff up at sexist carol's for $11 a yard. The snaps from the vest will work great. You may also want to use black snaps. The cuffs should be about 3" wide x long enough to get around your wrist. You may want to make the ankles at the same time, they should be slightly wider. "Cannon" is 3" for wrists and 3.5" for ankles, Now if you were a number runner for the Albanian mafia, you may find this to be too narrow, likewise if you spent most of your life trying to be a supermodel who lives off of rice cakes UN salt packets, you may want to make them more narrow. Now, before things get ugly having brought up body image issues in a forum full of "fans" let me just say this..

This is YOUR flight suit, you may want to adjust for your body type.

You may not have a body like Athena or Apollo, I for one look like a viking who has been living off of the Viet Cong's table scraps all my life, so I will adjust for "tall" and "narrow".

The cuffs and ankles should have two snaps closing on the end, and then 3-4 reinforcement snaps along the middle. The male side is put on the inside of the cuff, the female side outside of the flight suit corresponding to the males on the cuff to connect them.

The textured areas should be folded under to make hems, the dotted lines are where you fold to create edges. On the side with the watch, cut a hole smaller than the watch, then make diagonal cuts to the size of the watch, fold the flaps under and glue to create the watch window. You may want to punch the wristband of a watch where the snaps are going to penetrate, it's thick and will be hard to get through. For the fake ones (resin cast etc), epoxy them to a strip of webbing, then punch the snaps through the same way. It's tricky but will hold the watch in place. On the off hand you dont need to punch the hole, just fold the material, glue and set your snaps accordingly.

Here is racetrack's dork-side cuff, Three supporting snaps, two closures. Also notice glue schmeg on the sides of the watch, and distresses in the fabric on the edges just to the top of the watch face. These are the things that geeks have a hissy fit about because a screen used original could NEVER be enything but 100% perfect. amirite?

Okay, so I totally get sanchoed on the alt flightsuit material, while looking for it in the internets, I managed to find real snuff films, coelacanth meat (regular and unsalted) and one of jimmy hoffa's socks. I also managed to get a giant bolt of yardage of the real chroma. Which does me no good for this, because this is supposed to be the CHEAP way to make a flight suit. Well, I found a batch of stuff that is too thin and not polychromatic, but a good shake better than most of the CB and other cheap options, so until it gets here lets talk helmets..

Our own Retro makes good vacuform versions with light sets, and his new sets are better than the ones I have. (I have an old one I got from Eggroll) I got the old version which is kinda wonkey, and has a shallow draft. This is awesome. Now I'll bet you are saying "Sokk, why is wonkey shape and bad draft edges a good thing?" Well frakkers, It gives me an opportunity to show you how to make a vacuform your biznatch.

You see TONS of this stuff in the fan costume dork world. Why? It's cheap and easy to make, and doesn't require the massive molds that casting hard parts would require. Using fiberglass is another alternative, but its hard and messy to work with, and is 87% likely to cause flipper babies when touched or inhaled.
You can build a vacuform machine with any shop-vac and a board with plenty o' holes drilled into it; you are pretty much limited size wise by your ability to heat whatever you are shaping evenly. If the little woman doesn't mind you standing by the open oven with a duct tape laden redneck sucking machine, you can probably do about 30" square.

I scooped up one of Retro's sets, and it has potential. Two main halves with a bunch of bits.
Lets start with the main halves.

These suckers need to get their outsides trimmed. I don't trim the face area because it will help stabilize the shell during the shaping process.

You can see where the draft on the buck (the item shaped) drifts onto the table (the sucking table!). You want to cut off the stuff that was shaping it's self to the table, but keep the plastic that shaped it's self to the buck.

After trimming off as much as I could, I used tape to put the two halves together. this way I could see how tweaked the halves got in the forming process, and check for mismatches.

When I saw the first test fit, I almost messed my drawers.

After about thirty minutes in teh men's room at work crying so hard I blew snot bubbles, I decided to go back for another look.

Here is the chin-

This is the back-

Okay, can't let this thing whoop me.
Fortunately vacu-form works off of heat, and hair dryers make heat. Having gone to high school in teh late 80's I know a thing or two about hair dryers. The trick to this is constant ambient heat, too much focused heat, you will go SHHHEEIIIIII.... in slo-mo as a hole suddenly and unstoppably opens up in the plastic. Not enough, and nothing will bend. I tend to put my hand on the opposite side of the area I'm trying to affect, and use swishing motions with the dryer on the other side. This way if the plastic gets too hot, it will suddenly graft to the flesh of the hand on the opposite side as punishment. If you have one of those industrial heat guns, they work better, but also heat faster... crunch the numbers.

So what I;m doing with both hands (so I cant take pictures) is bending the lips of the edges toward each other. Edge should face edge, so I can make as smooth a seam as possible. At the same time, I'm shaping the overall shape of the helmet to be closer to symmetrical. If I NEED to get some droopy edge to stay, I heat it, shape it, then shock it with cool water so that it doesn't droop when I'm not looking.
Once I get the edges all facing in, I tack some pieces of rigid sheet plastic on the inside. ~5x 1" squares are tacked tactically on the inside with super glue. Now I can heat up the whole helmet slowly and tweak it's general shape. On this one, the crest of the helmet was way high giving a mohawk look. I actually left a little extra space at the top between the seams and formed the top to a wider, flatter profile.

After a few stiff drinks and a good nights rest, we move onto the filling shaping filling part of the program.

Bondo is a fickle lover. The good news is it fills and hardens to a nice sandable, smoothable compound. The bad news is it can be really picky what it sticks to. When I was a younger man of about eight, my father and I were sitting by the rail road tracks drinking a beer or six, a Camaro that had had some radical body work drive over the tracks. as it went "bump" over the tracks, all of the bondo they had used to fill the dents popped off. Dad exhaled sharply from his filterless lucky strike and said "Shoulda drilled more holes". At the time I had no idea what he meant, but now I know. You sometimes need to destroy things that they can be reborn. Making holes or scraping up the surface will give bondo something to grip on.

In this case, where i filled the seam there was plenty of hole, but other places on the form that needed more help than heat shaping could provide needed some fill too. Each of those spots got a 1/8" hole drilled for every inch of surface. The bondo oozes out the back like a bad decision at the taqueria, and hardens into an anchor.

I cut some sheet styrene to back the bottom jaw and insides, cutting enough space to run the side LEDs, and still far enough back to mount the side padding on. I literally used the heavy epoxy like I was welding 1/4" steel plates between the sheets and the helmet. I then used bondo to further fill, stick and shape the parts. A motivated person could supplement this with fiberglass.

This now becomes a heinous process; once you think it looks awesome, give it a coat of a light color low or zero build primer. You will now see what a feeble sanding job you did. Add more bondo and sand more!

Do this about nine or ten times until you realize trying to get 1/8" vacuformed styrene perfect is like trying to polish a turd, give up and give it one more coat of primer.

Come to find out it's not as bad as you thought.

Next up, electrocution 101.

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.