Help with Super Intricate Shapes

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#1 Sinstrumental on 7 years ago

I am about to embark on a long journey of work for a costume that I hope will be the very pinnacle of anything I've ever done before. Previous to this moment though, my experience with the construction of costumes is mainly with swords and from wood, though I think the results were pretty darn good for a beginner!

Regardless though, this next thing is a bit out of my range so I turn to the forum for advice!

Source Image - [URL=""]Guan Yu, Dynasty Warriors 7[/URL]

At the moment, I'm just focused on the Green Dragon Crescent Blade. I figure I'll start there and move onto the rest of it later. I figure the shaft will be easily enough represented by either a long dowel or a broomstick or something similar; A crumpled spiraling roll of aluminum foil will represent the curving body of the dragon (Which will be eventually covered with something like tape, then gesso'd and bondo'd and painted, etc). The blade itself I planned to construct via the method detailed in this post by another member: [URL=""]Here[/URL]. Then just slam the two together.

The big question I have though is... How can I possibly make that incredible dragon head where the blade meets the pole? I was thinking that I could try to carve or mold it out from a material, then cover it in a resin or something similar to give myself a hard shell in the shape of. Afterwards, I could cut the whole thing in half, remove the original mold leaving the shape hollow, then piece it back together somehow over the meeting point. I see some rumblings in other places on the forum about Sculpey: Would that be a suitable material for this or should I look for something else...?

I also figure that however I do this, I could do the same for the dragon shoulder guard and lion center piece.

So... Any thoughts? Does this sound alright?

#2 ~BloodCaduceus~ on 7 years ago

Hmm...maybe some kind of sculpting material, such as clay or Sculpy? You could also try carving something from hardened expanding foams (like ones used in pipes).

#3 Zil on 7 years ago

I don't know much about casting, so my suggestion would be paperclay. Build up the basic shapes, then sculpt up the details with the clay. I've never done something so detailed with paperclay, so I'm not sure how durable it can be made, but it could be worth a try.

#4 Faiga on 7 years ago

Sculpy and paperclay are good but would end up weighing down your sword so much just by the shear size of the dragon.

Plus, Sculpy is a bake will you bake it attached to the dowel since it shrinks as it bakes?
You physically can't.

Paperclay is an air-dry product. What happens 6 months down the road in the summer and the last few moisture particles from the center decide they want to evaporate through your gesso, paint, and clear coats?
It bubbles like the plague. (remember, even the Hoover Dam center cement is still hardening to this day)

Solution: Kamui
Watch videos 2-4.
Make your awesome dragons with the light-weightness of expanding foam and paper mache.
All the swag. She has all the swag.

#5 Sinstrumental on 7 years ago

First and foremost: A huge helping of thanks to all three of you, BloodCaduceus, Zil and Faiga for responding. This is an intimidating project and it's good to know other people know what they're doing because I certainly don't!

I was spending some time thinking about Sculpey and considering some pros and cons, though Faiga's latest post seems to have made that somewhat less relevant. Which isn't to say I still don't have questions...

I should start by saying that I didn't watch the video tutorials yet (I'm at work, kind of frowned upon) but I was looking through the written guide and one little bit of it jumped out at me:

"The foam itself is very breakable and for smaller parts a finishing layer of newspaper and paper mache wouldn't be enough to save it from damage."

In my mind, I would carve this dragon out of whatever substance, expanding foam currently being the best looking option, then cut it in half down the middle, carve a little trench into the center about the size and shape of where the blade and dowel meet, then glue it back together surrounding that. I'm not sure if I could fit any sort of cardboard or anything into it to help keep it together... And this thing is likely to sustain a bit of damage just walking around a crowded con-space.

Do you think that the bulk of the dragon, along with paper mache and shellacing and what not, is enough to keep it together? Could I/Should I get some bondo in there too? The little antennae things are of specific note... Might have to take a hit on accuracy and remove them or jam a wire in there as a base...

#6 koi-ishly on 7 years ago

If you are looking for durability I would look into casting it. I've not done molding for props, but I've done a tone of molding for ceramics. Honestly, the detail that you are going to want it would be best to make it out of clay and cast it. It really depends on how technical you want to get. [URL=""]Volpin[/URL] has some great process shots of casting.

I've done what Kamui has posted in her tutorial. The foam is durable, but the only downside is because of it being a sponge like characteristics, it dents easily when covered. What about making a foam base (the general shape of what you need), place wonderflex over it as a base and then used friendly plastics for details? I've not used this method before, but I feel that with the friendly plastics you can sculpt and have durability. Where you have to add bulk to a foam carving to get durability with paper mache.

#7 Xanarcah on 7 years ago

Volpin is a prop-making god. Just saying.

Anyway, I ran across something called Aves Apoxie Sculpt while I was doing some unrelated cosplay research. This person seemed to be making something extremely similar to what you want to do, and Cachalot's [URL=""]description[/URL] of it seems promising.

I've never actually used Aves Apoxie Sculpt, but I've used Aves Apoxie Paste before. It's expensive but it really does dry rock hard and very smooth and very sandable. When I was making my prop, I coated it with Apoxie Paste and due to some miscalculations, I ended up with some drips that hung off the edge of my suspended prop and they dried that way and hung there like stalactites. Almost stabbed myself in the hand with one and was completely unable to break off the rest with my fingers. Ended up having to sand them down. The stuff is incredibly hard, even in small, thin segments.

It's also pretty heavy.

#8 Sinstrumental on 7 years ago

Koi-ishly, Lady Anathema, welcome to the thread and thank you for your help as well!

I am looking for durability, but I think casting is far far far beyond my technical capabilities at the moment. Just looking at that post and its pictures is making my brain explode. Would produce some out of this world results though, no doubt.

For whatever reason, I never considered using two materials together for the construction of this dragon; I've been running under this idea that I'd have to make it out of one thing (plus a coating and etc and stuff). An Expanding Foam+Detailing Material hybrid approach sounds incredibly good right now. I have a passing familiarity with Wonderflex in a previous project that I never got off the ground though, and I don't remember it being the best material for getting into small corners and such... Maybe I just didn't try hard enough though. Is it?

If Aves Apoxie Sculpt (or Apoxie Paste) dries as rock hard as Lady Anathema says though, I will probably go with Expanding Foam and a layer of the Apoxie Sculpt/Paste as a protective coating while using it to (metaphorically) hammer out the wispy details and final shapes of the dragon at the same time. A question about its weight though... I did some calculations and expect the dragon head to be about 13 inches in length. Assuming a core of expanding foam and a layer of the Sculpt/Paste then, do you think it'll be too much?

At the moment, the process seems loosely like:

1. Create Pole
2. Create Blade
3. Join Pole and Blade
4. Carve Dragon from Expanding Foam
5. Cut Dragon in Half
6. Glue Dragon back together surrounding Pole/Blade Joining Point
7. Cover with [Something] to secure two halves together (Wonderflex, Aves Apoxie, Unsure)
8. Paint and Finish

... I'm intimidated by the scope of all that but excited for it as well.

Edit: This is kind of off topic but still about the weapon and I didn't wanna make an entirely new thread dedicated to it so... Gonna ask something else. When all is said and done, I expect this thing to be 6 feet 5 inches in length (1 inch under the maximum height for permissible props at Otakon). Does uh... anybody have any ideas on how to transport something like that? Short of driving a van or a truck or something.

... Didn't think it through very well.

#9 verdatum on 7 years ago

Apoxie sculpt, and other epoxy putties are lovely, so long as you can sculpt fast enough. I sure as heck can't, my sculpts take days.

You may want to consider skipping the cutting-in-half step. Get a similarly sized dowel and impale your foam block on it (ok, predrill a hole), then carve it. When satisfied, you can slide it off of your staging dowel and onto the staff of your guan dao.

For making a shell over foam, I'm a fan of Shell-Shock by Smooth-on. Polyurethane resin is really nice to work with.

The issue is, if you carefully carve a shape, and then put a thick shell over it, you loose detail. Something thick like wonderflex will cost you a lot of detail. Pushing apoxie sculpt into the foam will likely compress your foam, and it's clay consistency is hard to render into a thin shell.

Because I'm fond of moldmaking/casting, I would sculpt the piece from plasteline clay, and use it to make a mold. I'd then slushcast/rotocast a polyurethane resin shell into the mold, mount the casting on the pole, and "inject" it with expanding foam. Then trim excess foam, prime, and paint.

Concerning weight, so long as you have a foam core, most anything you use as an outside shell will be light enough to not be a bother.

I do recommend considering adding weight onto the bottom of the staff. If the piece is balanced, it is much more comfortable to carry. Without the added weight, the piece will likely be heavier on the one end. I use lead fishing weights for this.

#10 2DLogic on 7 years ago

[QUOTE=Sinstrumental;4089499]Edit: This is kind of off topic but still about the weapon and I didn't wanna make an entirely new thread dedicated to it so... Gonna ask something else. When all is said and done, I expect this thing to be 6 feet 5 inches in length (1 inch under the maximum height for permissible props at Otakon). Does uh... anybody have any ideas on how to transport something like that? Short of driving a van or a truck or something.

... Didn't think it through very well.[/QUOTE]

Cut the pole into halves or thirds, which ever you need, and pick up some threaded inserts for each joint. Ez-Lok is a common brand. You can then make your staff screw apart for transport/storage and quickly screw together for assembly.

#11 Sinstrumental on 7 years ago

Verdatum and 2DLogic: Welcome to the thread and thank you for your aid!

I've been looking up some slushcasting tutorials (Searching for Rotocasting tutorials usually leads to comments about Rotocasting machines, and that is far far beyond me at the moment) and it all seems well and good in theory. In all honesty, I was more than a little bit worried about trying to carve the dragon from a material that was only subtractive, like expanding foam, and the idea of working with something that is additive as well is a huge relief.

Originally, I was hoping that after getting the basic shape of the dragon down in the expanding foam, I'd use the sculpt/paste to get the details down. Verdatum, your comment about the sculpts taking days had me worried... But I think if I just move across the dragon in sections, adding details a little bit at a time day after day, it should be alright.

The quality of a slush casted surface would unquestionably be superior though, so I'd still like to keep it a possibility... The one issue I'm having problems with though is if I go through with it, I will more or less have to go through with the whole 'cutting in half' thing. Or at least, I can't figure out a way around it. Do you have a particular guide I should be looking into for advice or any further suggestions?

2DLogic: I was also worried that cutting the prop into pieces might ruin the finish (of Shellac, I guess. Honestly, it never occurred to me to finish a prop before although after the paint kept getting scratched up on my previous swords, it should've). Really though, I don't have much of a choice in this manner short of making the thing telescoping, so thank you!

#12 verdatum on 7 years ago

If you slushcast the prop, you you don't have to split it. Splitting it would weaken it quite a bit, and make the injection of expanding foam a pain. You just drill out the portions of the casting where your staging dowel was. Since it's a slushcast, the whole thing is hollow, so the drilling is pretty easy. You push the stick through this hole. Then inject the form with expanding foam. Done.

If you're molding the entire length of the cast, so that you incorporate the snaking tail, that might require a substantial rig. You might wanna do the tail in epoxy clay, and just do the head with the molding/casting technique. The weight still shouldn't be a major problem, since it will only be a couple pounds, and only be in the middle of the prop, near the desired center of gravity.

The way most people sculpt is to do the whole form roughly, then go over the whole thing over and over, reaching a higher level of detail with each pass. This means a combination of adding and removing clay. Doing it in such a way that you are only ever adding clay is quite difficult.

As far as cutting the pole into sections, if you take the time to finish it correctly, you'll just end up with hairline fractures, that won't even be visible. If you're just driving, and you don't have to worry about getting it on a plane, it's usually easiest to carefully lay it diagonally in the car such that it fits.