Sunday, January 13, 2013

Solarian 17

Its not often I get asked to create out-of-this-world creatures. Recently though, I had the opportunity to fabricate some retro elephantine-like aliens. They were one part elephant one part human and one part Max Rebo from Star Wars. I made two heads (that had added animatronic eyebrows and moving mouths) and two sets of creature gloves.

This was the concept art created by my client, Daniel Porter.

The sculpts were done over an armature head that I purchased from CFX. I then built a wire and cardboard armature over the head and started adding clay. I took a life cast of the hands and arms from one of the actors and used that as my armature for the gloves. For the ears, I cut a piece of plywood with a scroll saw in the general ear shape and screwed it up right on another piece of plywood as a stand.

The armature was wrapped in saran wrap for easy cleanup.

I did the life cast in Body Double and plaster bandages. Then I hand roto-cast the positive in Shell Shock urethane (in a few layers), and filled it with foam. Stands were made using scrap wood and some pvc plumbing fittings from the hardware store.

The life casts

The life casts ready for sculpting.

Even though I had over a month to create the aliens, I wanted to use a softer clay that would help speed up the sculpting process but still hold detail. Chavant Le Beau Touche was my choice. To sculpt the wrinkles I placed a piece of visquine onto the clay then used a wooden sculpting tool to press each wrinkle in though the plastic sheet. This gives a nice soft edge to each wrinkle. By varying the edge of the tool and the thickness of the plastic I had a lot of control over the size of the wrinkles.

Glove sculpts.

Alien hand detail. I used a latex texture stamp for the finger nails.

Half domes were purchased from Canal Plastics for the eyes. I used the forms to sculpt around and left them in during the molding process. After de-molding, they were cleaned up to be used for the mask eyes.
The very beginning of the sculpture.

Final sculpt front

Final sculpt profile

The glove molds were made in two parts using Rebound 25 platinum silicone (the first coat in body double) and Ultra Cal plaster and the ears in a two part Shell Shock mold. The mold for the head was done in four parts, the head in two and the trunk in two using Shell Shock Fast Set urethane. As a release agent, Palmolive dish soap and water (mixed about 50/50) was bushed onto the clay before the urethane was applied. The head was untraditionally split down the middle and the trunk was split top and bottom. WED clay was used to make the dividing walls for the urethane. Bolt holes were drilled prior to demolding.

The first coat of silicone

The head mold, with un molded trunk portion

The ear, ready for the second half of the mold

Once demolded, the clay was cleaned out. Next, an inner shell had to be created as a support for the silicone mask and animatronics. To do this each side of the head was packed with a thin layer of WED clay, about 1/4" or so. the halves were bolted together and the inside seam was sealed with a little more clay and the hole where the trunk goes was filled with clay as well. Then, Shell Shock fast set was bushed inside the mold. About 4 coats were needed for a sturdy shell (though it was weak in a few spots and could have used a few more coats. Later on, fiberglas was tapped into the shell for extra support). After the urethane cured the mold shells were taken apart, the clay cleaned out and the shell cleaned up.

WED clay lining the mold

A few coats of Shell Shock

The mold and the inner shell

To cast the gloves, I brushed in a thin layer of silicone to both mold halves. I used Dragon Skin 10 Fast tinted with artist oil paints. After the first layer cured, a thick layer of silicone was spatulated in. To thicken the silicone to a peanut butter consistency a few drops of Thi-Vex by Smooth-on was added to the tinted silicone. I was able to place the silicone inside each mold half, bringing the silicone past the mold edge, then, the two halves were placed together. The extra material at the edges squished together to seal the halves to each other. Once demolded, there were a few areas at the seam edge with a small holes that was easily patched with some thickened silicone.

Right out of the mold with flashing un trimmed

Casting the head was a bit more complicated. First, the trunk was cast by brushing tinted silicone into the mold. After a few layers of silicone the trunk was filled with Flex Foam III, a two part expanding foam. I was careful to not let the foam expand past the seam edge of the trunk.

Silicone skinned in trunk mold

Next, both halves of the head mold were bolted together around the urethane shell and the trunk bolted on as well. The space between the mold and the shell is filled with silicone. I ended up casting each head in a different way. For the first head, injection holes were drilled at the top of the mold and bleeder holes made along the mold from top to bottom. This was incredibly laborious and took a lot of strength (by Rob DeMaio) to inject the silicone little by little using 60cc syringes.

The second head went much faster. I turned the mold upside down and supported it in a cardboard box. I then used some clay and a plastic cup with a hole at the bottom to make a sort of funnel at the bottom (which is now the top) of the mold. The clay was used to direct the silicone right into a space between the shell and the mold.

Filling the mold with tinted silicone

I want to add that I brushed in a few layers of palmolive soap and water to each side of the head mold before the casting process. To demold the heads, the entire mold was submerged in a large sink of water. The soap was able to wash away making it easier to get the cast heads out.

The heads, demolded, flashing cut away

Each pair of ears were cast in different materials. For the first pair I brushed a layer of silicone into each mold half. Once cured (or almost cured) the mold halves were strapped together. More silicone was poured inside and the mold was rotated so the new silicone could fill in the seam. Then Flex Foam V was used to fill the rest of the ear.
The second pair of ears were cast in tinted Soma Foama. An expanding two part platinum silicone by Smooth On. For tinting the rubber I used SilcPig pigments. Interestingly these foam ears were much heavier then the first pair.

The ears filling with two part foam

The Soma Foama ears

To paint the head, gloves and ears, layers of tinted silicone was applied. I mixed up small, and not so small batches of tinted silicone (using artist oils and Dragon Skin 10 Fast) and "painted" it on with my fingers, (wearing rubber gloves, safety first!). Many layers later they seemed to come to life.

About half way through the painting

The first coat of paint

Paint detail

Lastly, the eyebrows had to be fabricated. I sculpted them in clay, made a one part plate mold using Rebound 25 and cast them in Smooth Cast 300, a white, two part plastic resin. These were painted using nail polish and finished with a little loose wool for some awesomely fluffy brows.

Finding the correct placement for the brows

As soon as the painting was done the heads were taken to my friend Rob DeMaio's shop out in New Jersey to get "life" put in them. Rob added more fiberglass to support the inner shell and added a cable pull to operate the movement of the mouth and servos to move the eyebrows. He also installed brackets  in order to attach the eyes from the inside.

The guts!

To get the detail in the eyes, I printed an eye image onto transparency paper. They were attached using spray adhesive. Then a piece of tracing paper/vellum was cut to the size and shape of the eye and attached to the transparency using the spray adhesive, sandwiching the print out. This gave the option of illuminating the eye from behind with LED lights. The tracing paper was able to diffuse the light and act as a screen as to not see the actors head behind the eye.

Once the heads returned to my studio I attached the ears. I mixed up some more Dragon Skin 10 Fast with some paint and Thi-Vex and "glued" the ears to the sides of the head. More silicone was added and free hand sculpted in order to have a smooth transition from ear to head.

Attaching the ears

Ear detail

Rob, of course, was the first to try it on. Then off to set!

Rob trying on the mask

On set, fitting the mask and gloves

In costume, ready for action.

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