Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plastic Stageplay Helmets

The nearest town to where I live, Ronneby, was routed in 1564 by the Swedish king Erik XIV; an event noted in the history books as "The Bloodbath of Ronneby". It's a fitting moniker, since most of the population was actually killed. My home province of Blekinge wasn't Swedish at this point in history, it was Danish, and the Swedes and the Danes were embroiled in a 7-year conflict. The Swedish king hired Finnish and German mercenaries to capture Ronneby, which they did in just one day.
Every year some theatre group stage an outdoor show recounting the bloody events, and this year's production wanted to add as much historical detail as possible. Some years back, a rusty morion helmet was dug up in Ronneby. Obviously someone of the mercenaries had worn it. The play director, Johan Westermark, wanted two morions to be worn in the play, but he didn't want any pristine steel reproductions. I was asked to produce two slightly beat-up morions in plastic, so they'd look right AND wouldn't be heavy to wear.

I did one helmet sculpture in Chavant clay, based on the rusty morion found in Ronneby.

It took about a full day to create a silicone mould for the sculpture, adding layer upon layer of DragonSkin FX Pro silicone. I used a thickening agent for all layers but the first one. I added a two-part support shell for the silicone mould by using thick plaster bandages. After peeling off the cured silicone mould, I could let it rest in the plaster bandage "cradle" when casting the plastic.

I used a plastic called SmoothCast 65, which is sold by SmoothOn. It's quite sturdy and bends rather than breaks. It cures bright white, but I added black pigments to create a greyish metallic look.

After cleaning up the plaster casts I painted them with a high-gloss chrome spray paint. Over that I covered the helmet with an airbrush varnish, which created a more worn, satin look. The chin straps were just second hand shop-bought belts. The studs were also plastic, and created by casting Friendly Plastic thermoplastic into a silicone mould I made from a coat button. Roundhead fasteners were pressed into the curing plastic studs, and then threaded through the helmet to keep the studs in place. 

If I had enough money I'd love to try and create my own fantasy armour, but it'll take a lot of clay and a lot of silicone and plastic. Dracula's crimson armour from the prologue of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was made this way. I've worn real armour and I know how heavy and cumbersome it is. It also takes forever to get in and out of it. The thing is, I have an idea for a video project requiring armour that doesn't look like anything out there, and I'm racking my brain trying to figure out a quick, cheap way of building it. More about that later, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Puppets by Request: Baboon and Greyhound

US filmmaker Mark Beal asked if I could make a couple of animal puppets for his film project "Enchiridion". These animals, a baboon and a greyhound dog, were supposed to look like the genuine articles, but in the film they would be dressed as gangster hit men and walking upright.

I made these puppets fairly large, about a foot long each. Both the greyhound and the baboon armatures had the same dimensions as their real animal counterparts. The armatures were made, as most of my armatures, out of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic and braided aluminum wires.

The baboon skull was sculpted in Chavant clay and cast in plastic from a silicone mould. The teeth were Friendly Plastic, and super glued into the gums.

Only very little of the animal bodies would actually be visible. The rest would be covered up with fabrics. Besides the fake fur added in these photos I also padded the body with bits of polyurethane foam. The baboon face sculpture was created in clay, and DragonSkin FX Pro was used to mould a face skin from a plaster mould. I added a bit of wire to the upper lip and the eyebrows, and two plastic beads for the eyes.

My friend Liz hastily created the costumes; perhaps a bit too hastily, since Mark wasn't really happy with the result. He found another seamstress in the US who totally remodelled them. 

The feet, hands and tail of the baboon were built up with sewing string and latex. The silicone face was painted with a mix of DragonSkin silicone and pigments. I sponged the colours on using very fine sponges and speeded up the curing with a heat gun. The result is never as subtle as when using an airbrush, but it doesn't look too shabby.

The greyhound was another matter entirely. Since these dogs have such a thin and short coat of fur that they need to use sunblock in the summer, there was no question that I had to drop the idea of attaching fur to the puppet. I just tried to simulate the look of fur by sculpting it into the clay used for the head and skin moulds.

I forgot to mention this about the baboon, but both of the puppets had these wires put into their eyes when the plaster moulds were created. Having these wires embedded into the plaster allowed me to put the plastic beads representing the finished eyes into the mould, over the wire ends while casting the latex and silicone faces, creating sockets for the eyes in the process.

The greyhound had a simple latex head, as it wasn't required to show much emotion. As with the baboon, a very basic foam padding was applied.

I think I managed to build a couple of puppets that, while they may seem primitive, still fit into the weird universe Mark has created in "Enchiridion". I'm very excited to see the finished result!