Sunday, 24 March 2013

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt6

After much sanding, filling and spraying, the sword was finally smooth and clean and ready for painting:

I began by masking off the blade and the hilt and spraying the crossguard with a matt black:

I then set about dry-brushing it with Games Workshop Golden Griffon Drybrush paint. Not only is it specifically designed for drybrushing it was also exactly the shade of gold I wanted. Result!

Next I masked off the crossguard and sprayed the blade with Halfords' Chrome enamel spray. On my Bat'leth I used Plasticote chrome which really looked like metal (to the extent that some folk, even on close inspection, thought that it was metal!). However I had a nightmare with it because it doesn't really appear to harden, meaning that you really shouldn't handle it - not good enough for a cosplay prop. So I thought I'd try out the Halfords stuff and it appears pretty good. It's not going to fool anyone up close but that's not really a deal breaker.

Next was the hilt. Now this was a nightmare simply because there really is no reference for it. Every shot of the damned thing is covered up by the character's hands. The only clear shot of it is in the plans where it's a sort of strawberry icecream pink and I'm really not convinced that's the colour it's supposed to be. You can see a glimpse of it in one of the original ref pics I had and although it's only a coupld of pixels, it appears to be a sort of grey-brown:

In the end I went for a red-brown. It was richer and slightly darker than the ref appeared but I felt that the red complimented the hearts and went with the gold better.

Finally I painted a dark brown into the grooves of the hilt and varnished over it to afford it a bit of protection from handling.

I then mixed up a hot pink using Tamiya gloss red, yellow and white and painted in the 'heart' inlays on the blade. The pink tip on the pommel was a bit of artistic license but I felt it balanced out the pink on the blade.

The finished sword can be seen in the first post.

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt5

The next and final stage of the build was the decorative leaf pieces on the sides of the crossguard.

I needed two large pieces that curve outwards and eight (2x4) smaller pieces that curve inwards. I also needed 2 identical decorative pieces for the pommel I figured that the best thing to do was to cast as many of them as possible.

I didn't really want to go to the trouble of a two-part mold for the pieces - particularly as I was getting low on rubber and I was almost maxed out on budget. So, I decided that I could get away with firstly hand-sculpting the two larger pieces out of Milliput:

Concerned that it would be quite brittle and fragile, I reinforced them with thick wire, figuring that if they did snap, at least they'd stay where they are for later repair.

Next I sculpted the other pieces from plasticene. I decided that as long as I curved the outer surface, the inner one could remain flat (even if I had to sand in a curve later) meaning that I could cast them in a 1-piece bed mold:

I then Araldited them in place and used car body filler to blend them into the crossguard:

The decorative piece for the pommel I did in two halves so that I could cast them flat and then 'bend' them slightly over the curve of the pommel once they were fitted:   

For the collar I rolled out milliput to the right thickness and then araldited it in place and blended it using car body filler.


The sword was now fully assembled. It required some work to tidy up all the rough edges but it was nearly ready to paint.

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt4

Fill Sand Fill Sand Fill Sand Fill Sand.....

The crossguards needed a LOT of tidying up. If I'd had the resources, I might have polished up one and then made a new mould from that so that I'd get two clean casts that didn't need tidying. Unfortunately, I was out of silicone and so I had to spend a great deal of time filling, spraying and sanding until the surface was glassy smooth - or close enough, anyway.

I then spent a week or so doing bits here and there.
The main bulk of the sword was assembled and filled in.

I still needed to add the decorative leafy bits. After that it's time to tidy and polish before painting it.

One thing I didn't forsee and should have, really: It's HEAVY!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt3

So, next up was the hilt. Once again, I decided to sculpt one side and cast two halves.

As before, I sculpted the piece from plasticine:

I then boxed it in and this time I remembered the vaseline! Yay! \0/

However it made absolutely no difference. The plasticene partially stuck to the silicone in exactly the same way and had to be largely destroyed upon demolding. :/ I'm thinking it's more that plasticene isn't the best stuff to mold with. Note to self for future projects.

The mold did, however scrape clean rather well and I slush cast the hilts to keep them hollow so that they could fit around the tang.

Trouble is, the tang needs to be considerably reduced in order for them to fit and I'm concerned that this might weaken it. I think as long as it's all solid and glued firmly, the outer resin shell should help to re-strengthen it. We'll see.

Anyway, the hilt halves came out quite well. Here they are and also in situ with the blade and crossguard.

Now for a LOT of cutting, fitting, swearing, filling and sanding.

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt2

The crossguard was going to prove tricky. It's quite a complex shape and required some thought about which piece was doing what and where. It's difficult to read certain aspects from the plan and it's also difficult to see in the blurry ref images.

After some scribbling, I had what I thought was a plan but the idea of sculpting the thing from scratch was daunting. Sculpture has never been one of my stronger skills and sculpting highly accurately and symmetrically? I wasn't sure I was up to the job. Some well-intentioned folk suggested a 3D printer but that would have been absurdly expensive. There was another way, though. I figured that if I modelled the crossguard in 3D, not only would it give me a much better understanding of the shape but also provide me with something from which I could acquire accurate cross sections. I thought, what if I could build up the base shape of the crossguard first? Like I've seen folks doing on big sculptures, create card cross sections, fill with expanded polystyrene and skim clay over the top. That would help a lot.

First of all I modelled the crossguard in 3D in Maya - this was easy. I'm a 3D artist for a living:

I then took it into Z-Brush and 'dynameshed' it. This rebuilds the mesh as a single, continuous piece without any pieces clipping (this is essential for the boolean process later to work). However, in order to keep the shape from deteriorating, it needs to be a very high resolution mesh.

I then took that back into Maya and using the Boolean tool, converted the mesh into ten slices, half an inch apart:

Using these slices I was able to take screengrabs and in Photoshop, scale them using measurements taken from the plans, print them out, stick them onto Mounting Board for rigidity and construct them into a basic shape:

Once I had the card cross-sections, I used two guides I cut from MDF (11mm thick - half an inch minus 2mm to account for the thickness of the mounting board) to roll out sheets of plasticene to an exact and uniform thickness. I then placed a template over the top, cut around it and put it back in the array:

Once that was done, I took a sculpting tool and started to cut off the excess between the cross sections. With that complete I was beginning to see the shape of the crossguard emerge. I was surprised at how well this worked. It was rough, sure but I could clearly see the broad shapes and in some places even curves. I began applying a top layer of Plastilene. Not sure what the difference is between that and Plasticene but as it's designed for sculpting and using with Silicone moulds, I guessed it was best to use as a surface. Besides, I have a huge block of it lying around from years ago. It's about time I used it:

After many hours of fussing and faffing and scraping and smoothing I have this:

Which still needs much work but I'm quite pleased with it and relieved it's turned out okay so far.

After many more hours of scraping and fussing and measuring and more scraping, I finally got the crossguard sculpt to a point that I was satisfied with and created a mould box for it.

The box is a bit of an experiment. Previously I've used Lego to create boxes and sealed them with plasticine. However, this is a much bigger object than I have experience with and I wouldn't have had enough lego even if I still had it. So something else was required. I briefly considered building up a plasticene wall but I don't have enough. Faced with the option of having to buy whatever it was that I was going to build the box out of, I decided that the sensible thing to do would be to research the best method and buy the appropriate materials.
A quick search of these boards suggested the use of foam core sealed with a hot glue gun. I purchased these items and set about constructing the box. I was a little worried that the silicone would seep through the foam core. It probably wouldn't but to be on the safe side, I laminated the interior surface with some sticky-backed plastic I had to hand to make it 'water' proof.

The box was simple to construct and once glued in place felt pretty solid.

I then mixed up and poured the silicone.

Having poured about 10% of the rubber, just as the sculpt disappeared beneath a veneer of white, it suddenly occured to me that I hadn't coated it with vaseline. I cursed myself for an idiot but had to proceed in the hope that it won't be too much of a problem when demoulding. Fingers crossed.

Well, as I feared, not having the vaseline in there has caused the plasticene to stick to the mould in places meaning I had to destroy the sculpt in order to get it out.

Fortunately the mould is solid and hasn't torn anywhere which is the important thing. I put the mould in the firdge for an hour to try and harden the plasticene in the hope that it would pull out easier. That seemed to help, all that's left in there now are tiny flecks which I can scrape out. It's going to be laborious but maybe I'll remember the bloody release agent next time.

So with some scraping, the mould cleaned up pretty well:

I boxed it up again so that I could roll it about without distorting the mould and then made two slush-casts using G26 BiResin.

They came out quite well, I think. They need a lot of tidying but I'm quite pleased with them.

And here in situ with the blade:

Save the Queen Sword: 'From page to prop' pt1

Despite my best intentions, I've not played FF9 but as luck would have it, I bought the art book many years ago when the game came out because... well that's some mighty fine design work even if you don't play the game.
It's just aswell because, despite googling, images of this sword are few and far between. Another colleague was able to help out but this is the grand total of our efforts:

There were a couple of fan made props to see as well of varying quality, but none particularly accurate.

Fortunately the plan from the art book is pretty much all I need and the elevation doesn't contradict it too much which is a bonus (and surprising too, considering it's hand drawn!).

The scale was a bit of a struggle. In the full size image of the character it appears to be about the same height as her, maybe a little shorter as she's hunched, which is going to make it somewhere between five and six feet. However, the crossguard at that scale seemed way over the top, as did the hilt. Considering that Sally is only around 5 feet, I opted for a four foot sword that gave the crossguard and hilt a much more credible scale and Sally agreed too as she'll probably need to be lugging it around. I blew the Art book plans up to 4 feet in Photoshop and drew these plans over it. Drawing one half and then mirroring for perfect symmetry:

I decided to make the blade and tang as one piece. Then sculpt and cast the crossguard pieces, fitting them around the tang and finally either sculpt and cast the hilt or hand carve them depending on whether there was enough (or any) silicone and resin left.

So, first up was the blade. By sheer coincidence, a four foot sheet of 9mm MDF cut into exactly the right number of strips to give the exact width and thickness of the blade:

I cut four of them shorter than the other two. The longer two providing the tang. I then glued them together with wood glue, put heavy weights on them and left them overnight:

First thing I needed to do was saw the taper into the flat of the blade, then from that, cut out the blade's silhouette before finally cutting the edge into the blade. Because the lengths of MDF weren't all exactly the same width, the edges were uneven so I skimmed a layer of polyfilla over the sides using a large L-square to make sure the edges were flat and at a perfect right angle to the flat of the blade:

I printed out the sword elevation, taped it to the edge and prepared to cut:

...and that's when things went wrong.

I needed something that could cut with a depth equivalent to the width of the blade. I couldn't find a jigsaw blade long enough and anyway, this was probably way too big a job for a humble little jigsaw. I couldn't afford to buy or hire a table saw so I was stumped. It looked like I might have to do it by hand. Then it struck me. A circular saw. It still didn't have the depth but it didn't need to and it was much more suited to the size of the job. I bought myself a cheap one and set to work (in retrospect, I might have been able to hire a table saw for the price of the circular saw, I didn't look, and anyway it would have been awkward. Also, I have a circular saw now). If I ever do this again

I reasoned that if I kept the saw square to the block and cut both sides, the cut would meet in the middle.

Not even close.

I ended up with a total 'pig's ear' of a cut that was way off 90 degrees. After cursing myself for an idiot loudly for ten minutes, it occured to me that regardless of the mess I'd made of the flat, the edges were accurate and once the final piece was cut, there would be only a thin line of the ruined surface remaining anyway. If I skimmed the flat of the blade with polyfilla it'd allow me to do the other cuts. It's not the best substance in retrospect but it was what I had to hand in bountiful supply and there would be virtually none of it left when the the blade was finally cut. All it had to do was provide a flat, accurate surface so that I could cut the silhouette and finally the blade edge.

So I skimmed the polyfilla in, waited for it to dry, printed out the blade plan, taped it over and cut it out - this time with the jigsaw. It went a lot better. You can see here, in the image on the right, the half-polyfilla blade flat.

Finally by drawing a line down the centre and along the edge, I was able to very slowly and very carefully cut the edge into the blade. You can see here the end result with most of the polyfilla (which predictably crumbled, cracked and fell apart) removed. No matter. It had served it's purpose.

 So with the shape cut, next came a lot of filling and sanding and filling and sanding and filling and sanding.

Then I needed to seal the MDF. Some research on the RPF boards suggested Shellac as the ideal sealant. The only Shellac product I could find in a store was this:

Zinsser Shellac at B&Q

I'm not sure it's ideal. It's sort of like a thin, matt white emulsion but it's designed for sealing and priming and it contains shellac so I gave it a go - five coats. It appears to do the trick but can prove useless on edges where sanding can reveal the MDF - I'm still getting tiny traces of 'fur' coming through. On the whole, it seems to have worked, though. Honestly, I read a lot of posts where folks recommend rare, expensive and dangerously toxic substances for sealing MDF. I don't see what's wrong with, say, wood varnish or PVA? Both are cheap fluids that MDF can drink as much of as it likes and when dry, provide an insoluable, sandable surface. Maybe I'm wrong. I'll have to test them.

Here's the blade covered in the Zinssler. You can see here, I've also started carving and building up the collar with P38 and I've marked in the decorative inlays on the blade.

Next was more filling and sanding and then cutting in the inlays.
In retrospect, it might have been better to have cut these out of styrene and glued them to the blade. It would have been a sharper, crisper edge and the inlay wouldn't require such awkward sanding. That approach might have provided it's own problems however, so it's 'swings and roundabouts', I guess.

I dug out some fancy lino cutting tools I have, which have proven effective on MDF before. However they seemed to struggle, chewing the MDF instead of cutting it - maybe not sharp enough. In the end I simply grabbed a Stanley knife, cut the shape (using a printed guide) and then cut in at an angle, removing the excess and creating a lip. This then required much sanding and filling to get the inlay to appear smooth (and, at time of writing still requires more).

Next I gave it it's first coat of grey primer then marking any 'dinks' with a pencil, set about filling and sanding and then eventually gave it another coat:

At this point I decided to give the blade a rest for a bit before it became a chore and start having a look at the crossguard.