July 29, 2014

Skyrim: Dawnguard, Part 1

I have been a long-time fan of The Elder Scrolls games. I still boast that my all-time favorite single video game is Morrowind. Oblivion kind of put a bad taste in my mouth, but Skyrim made it all better. But with the almost infinite character variation, it’s difficult for me to settle on a costume or prop to build from it while still maintaining an identifiable appearance at a convention. It’s just a personal thing for me, but not everything in the games is terribly distinguishable among other games in the genre. So it’s taken me several years to muster up the effort to make something from TES. After buying the Legendary Edition for PC, I worked toward the Dawnguard campaign and fell in love.

Since a full costume is going to be a nightmare to write about, I’m only going to write about the main features of the costume: the helmet, the armor, some of the main cloth components, and the weapons. This blog post will discuss the helmet and the pair of Nordic Daggers I opted to build for Dragon Con.

The Dawnguard Full Helmet

The helmet started off as a 3D model I designed, based on my own screen grabs. I’m not into pulling game models because they are often low-poly, or the polygons don’t match the implied shapes that the graphic skin display. It can be like a bowl full of chips – my intent is to replicate the lump of chips, but the bowl doesn’t work for me. That may be a rough analogy, but I don’t know how any other way to adequately describe the experience from my POV. Anyways, the 3D model was designed purposefully simplistic, so that my Bondo sculpting would be what you see in the end. The model was then processed through Pepakura, which shouldn’t be anything new if you’ve been following our build write-ups. So I won’t go into depth there.

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After the paper model was printed, built, and slushed in resin, I took to the Bondo work. This ended up being rather tricky for me. I’m used to sculpting something that’s supposed to be perfect and smooth, either with graceful, gentle curves, or hard, flat edges and faces. I set out to sculpt this helmet to appear as if the blacksmith who made it had to crank 15 of them out in a day, so I had to reel in the quality on this one intentionally – not to be lazy and produce a bad sculpt, but rather to intentionally make it slightly misshapen, rough around the edges, imperfect. You know, government quality. So this meant grinding in a flattened, semi-faceted surface throughout that would mimic the appearance of metal roughly hammered over a beat up anvil. I also wanted to intentionally weather it from the get-go, since all the Dawnguard stuff is super beat up hand-me-downs from a bygone era, kept up by a lone blacksmith.

That’s not to say there isn’t careful detailing involved in it, however. I’ve been trying to integrate laser-cut components more and more into my builds, and this helmet gave me a perfect opportunity. In addition to the thin crosshairs logo on the forehead, this thing has too many rivets in it to remember a correct count, so I opted to laser cut a ton of little circles out of some sintra, glue them on, and then beat them up with some rough sandpaper. This would make every rivet unique, but would also give them the appearance of being soft metal hammered into place.

Overall, nothing terribly new was happening here. There was your typical Bondo work, which included the masking tape method wherein you peel up the tape while the Bondo is still wet to reveal a sharp edge. This method was used extensively throughout this build. There was also plenty of hand-crafting plastic sheet involved, primarily around the eyes and forehead details. The laser cut work was opted for out of time and labor considerations for the most part, but also just to make certain details less stressful to deal with.

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When the base helmet model was complete, the real work that would bring it into the world of Skyrim would begin. Prior to molding, I decided to weather it so that all the scratches and dents would be embedded in the model. A lot of people would frown upon that, since it would make it tedious to fill in if someone wanted to do a “clean” version. However, I decided that as the builder, I would play the part of the game and just give myself an old, beat-up helmet from the start. That’s how it is in the game, so that’s how it is in the sculpt. The weathering details were accomplished by “drawing” them in with a metal grinding bit in my dremel. I basically just sat there for several hours, scrutinizing my reference images while scratching it gouges and pits. It was really fun to do, and I think the effect worked out pretty well since they mostly disappear when viewed from only a few feet away. So it’s not like I took a pick axe to it; it’s a really subtle effect that will only bolster the painted weathering later on.

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Then I took to molding the helmet. I decided a simple two-part mold with a seam right down the center would be easiest, based on the types of undercuts this thing had around the faceplate. Undercuts can be managed well enough if you plan for them ahead of time and work out ways of getting resin into them effectively. On this helmet, basically all the edges around the faceplate were undercuts in some regard, but they weren’t harsh enough to warrant some kind of crazy mold. Being able to peel the mold off in left and right halves made it easy to deal with. Molding material used was Rebound 25 from Smooth On, and fiberglass mat and cloth for the mother mold.

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I look around for new molding techniques all the time, but oddly enough I hadn’t come across this until I saw Frank Ippolito (I think!) do this on his Zoidberg head mold. You sculpt a little wedge shape into the mothermold so that you can insert a pair of flathead screwdrivers into it. It makes demolding way, way easier, especially when you’ve had the mold cranked down tight onto itself for several hours during casting. The mothermold can lock up on itself, and the screwdriver slots remove unneeded stresses you might otherwise put on it by trying to twist, tug, or bend it.

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And ta-da!

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Next came paint. Luckily I was able to find two rattle cans that had the right colors for it. I don’t have any sort of fancy paint setup, so right now I just stick with rattle cans, hand-painting, and a little airbrushing. I’ve switched from Krylon to Rusoleum in my paint work, and their metallic are pretty nice. After a solid base coat was applied, I hit it with several black and brown washes, selectively adding in some minor rust effects and other isolated dirty spots. To really drive home the point that this helmet had been around for a while, I used some Rub N Buff on a lot of the edges to highlight the really worn areas. The key to using Rub N Buff in a weathering capacity is to use it very, very lightly. Both in how you apply it, and in how much you apply.

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After painting, I spruced up the inside with a hard hat liner for comfortable convention wear, and a little black paint. Here’s some glamor shots on the final product.

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The Nordic Daggers

For the record, I do have Dawnguard weapons in progress, but with the full costume taking up a substantial amount of my time and financial resources, I needed some kind of smaller weapon that wouldn’t take long to build so I’d have something ready for Dragon Con 2014. I opted for a pair of Nordic Daggers from the Dragonborn expansion pack. Their dinky, cheap, practically harmless weapons in-game, but they are very dynamic looking items, and they share a design lineage with all the other Nordic weapons and armor throughout the game, the Dawnguard stuff included. So I felt it would be a nice to sport a pair of them with the costume until I’m able to produce a better weapon later on.

And here’s where I totally cop-out on you guys. I’m not going to tell you how I built it, other than a few highlights. Instead, I’m going to let my time-lapse video do the work for me. Part of the reason for the build was specifically to shoot a time-lapse video of a build, start to finish. Prior to shooting the video, I designed the daggers in Adobe Illustrator and used the vector files to laser cut some layers of plastic. Since the daggers have a sharp, finely detailed appearance, the crisp lines of produced by the laser cutter would be suitable for the build. During the rest of the build, I utilized plenty of Apoxy Sculpt when sculpting the grip. After making a mold, the castings were finished off in much the same way the helmet was, except for the addition of a little (synthetic) fur and suede on the grip. Enjoy the video, and check out some of the glamor shots below!


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For all the progress photos for all things Dawnguard, check out our flickr set here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/2storyprops/14067345436/in/set-72157640552352423/

June 20, 2014

Peter Pan's Dagger

While this year has been very busy between building our new vacuum former, refurbishing the Dalek, and looking for a house, I had a commission come up for Peter Pan’s dagger from the Disney classic. Seeing how David has made some really awesome bladed props the last few years, I thought it would be a fun reason to try one myself.

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The first step was to sketch out a template for the dagger. Most prop builders I know nowadays use Illustrator for this step, but I still like to use graph paper and a pencil. Using several screen caps and a kitchen knife for size reference, I made a full size sketch of the dagger in 2 views. The drawing was then scanned and sent to the client so she could verify if scale would work for her. Once I received approval it was time to start cutting.

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The build started with two pieces of ¼” MDF glued together to form a ½” piece, which would be my blade thickness. The pattern I created was printed full size and traced onto the wood, then cut out using a scroll saw. The centerline was then transferred to both sides of the blank.

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I stated shaping the blade by adding the curve as seen looking at the side of the blade. Reference lines were drawn on the sides then the blank was shaped with a belt sander and the mid line replaced. Using a dremmel with a sanding drum, I carefully shaped the blade to provide a knife edge. Once it was rough shaped with the dremmel I cleaned it up with my palm sander.

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For the handle and guard I added two more layers of MDF to the handle, and then shaped it using a combination of belt sander, palm sander, and dremmel. One I reached a shape I was happy with, I added bondo to the guard to create the taper that goes to the edge. The dagger was then puttied, primed, and sanded until it had a smooth surface finish.

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Originally I intended to paint the dagger using Rustoleum Metallic paint from Home Depot (the stuff with the trigger on the can). I painted the blade first, let it cure for a day, then masked it off and painted the handle. When I removed the masking, I found that the paint was still soft and the masking left texture in the paint. After 3 days the paint was not getting better, and I ended up sanding the entire thing back down to wood. After this nightmare, I used automotive paint from O’Reily’s for the handle and Rub’N Buff for the blade. The knife was then weathered with acrylic paint.

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Although it wasn’t requested, I opted to make a matching holster for the dagger since it allowed me to use our new vacuum former. I started my making a buck for each half of the holster with the same outline. The buck for the back half has a raised surface so I could mount snaps as attachment points for a belt loop. I then pulled a sheet of styrene over both bucks, then leaving the first layer of plastic on pulled a second sheet. This gave two sets where one shell can fit into the other. To minimize any appearance of seems I decided to use the set where the back shell slides into the front shell.

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Three layers of felt were glued into each half using Goop, then the two halves were glued together with super glue. The seam was blended with bondo. I went through a lot of back and forth on how to finish the holster. In the cartoon, the holster is the same color as the belt, but other than that there is not much detail on if it is leather or a hard shell. Initially I thought about covering it with faux leather, but that may not have matched the client’s existing belt. I then considered making it look like wood, but again found myself wondering what wood, light or dark, would match the existing costume. I eventually decided to play it safe and make it the same color as the handle. That way, it looks like one complete set regardless of the belt. As with the handle, the holster was weathered to give it an aged, antique appearance. Once this was done I took the project over to David’s for a photoshoot.

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Our normal shipping method for finished props is to enclose them in a wood box lined with foam padding or pink foam board to increase the chance it will make it to its destination in one piece. On this project I wanted to try something a little different to improve presentation of the prop. Taking a trip to Hobby Lobby I found a wood box that was the perfect size for the dagger. I finished the box with stain and polyurethane then lined the inside with green foam and stretch velvet (same stuff I use on the fabric mau5 heads). The result was a storage box almost as impressive as the items stored within it.

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It was a fun little build and now we can add “Disney Classics” to the ever growing list of source material we built from. I also learned a few things I hope to implement with an upcoming project I’d like to build from the web series RWBY or Loki if I ever get around to it.

While things are a bit hectic with the move and Dalek upgrades I was able to finish one more prop this year. Be on the lookout for Marshall Lee’s axe guitar build write up coming soon!

More build pictures here!