Thursday, August 15, 2013

Creating Castings for Fun and Brain Damage

I told you about my tiki room in an earlier post, and one of the last big touches was the creation of two tiki totems made of Minions from Despicable Me.  I worked on the original and the sequel.  Those little yellow freaks essentially paid for the tiki room, so I thought it would be fun to have them represented there.

The process began last fall, after a conversation with my old friend Shannon Shea.  Shannon has worked in special effects for thirty years, and has done tons of sculptures and castings for live action films.  He gave me a grocery list to take to the hardware store which included  Bondo, resin, plaster, car wax (yes, car wax), burlap, fiberglass tape, and a cardboard form tube - the kind used for making concrete footings.

I also needed a buttload of Super Sculpey and mold strength latex.

I cut the cardboard tube to a three foot length, then bisected it.  I would lay Sculpey on this.    

I did a bunch of sketches searching for a design.  In sculpting it flat, I needed to compensate for the curve.   I made a paper tube to scale and drew a design  on it.  When the paper was flattened out, it revealed the amount of distortion needed in the sculpture.

Flat sculpture.  Could an art store carry two boxes of the same color Sculpey?  Nooooo!
I sculpted while listening to each of the presidential debates.  It did not influence the sculpture, but it made the debates much more interesting.  I don't sculpt often, just enough to remind myself  how hard it is.  When I see maquettes by guys like Ruben Procopio or Mike DeFeo, I think, "How did they make it so clean and tight?"  My sculptures look more like Gumby after a fight with a thumb.  I  enjoy sculpting, but have no delusions that my creations are anything more than craft projects.

Sculpture placed over form tube.  
This was not my first attempt at mold making and casting.  In 2003, for a grade school reunion, I made  bobble head dolls of our 4th grade teacher, Sr. Anne.  She was the quintessential sadistic sister of nun lore; an intimidating control freak with a anal regimen covering every moment of our day, from how we lined up to how we entered the class, hung our coats, where we sat, and for God's sake, DO NOT rest your head on your hand. "Bricks or brains?!"  she would shout. She was universally feared and despised by her students.  Well, this one's for you Sr. Ann. Enjoy it from your lectern in Hell....
Sr. Anne bobblehead.  1 of 30 made.
Even though it had been 29 years since Sr. Anne, these were a huge hit with her former students.  For mold and casting advice,  I consulted the super talented Shaun Cusick, who I met at Blue Sky while working on Robots (ugh).  Shaun was doing his own tiki sculptures and casting them back then - great stuff.  He directed me to the online store Smooth-On and walked me through the process.  Because their liquid plastic was so expensive, I decided to make Sr. Anne using casting plaster.  They came out a bit lumpy, and needed a lot of work with a Dremel to tidy up.

My second go-round was in 2005, when I made my own Christmas ornament, a little guy I call "The Spirit of Liberal Giving", this time using liquid plastic.  Shaun gave me the tip to fill the mold half way, then shake it until it sets (a few minutes).  The final piece is hollow, making it lighter and using less plastic.  There are two dozen of these floating around....

Getting back to tiki totem, I made a mold box out of one-inch plywood.  I used screws so it could be disassembled later, and caulked the seams to make it leak-proof.  I've poured latex into a leaky mold box before. This time,  I would try to avoid creating a mess worthy of The Three Stooges.

I bought a couple of gallons of mold strength latex online from Smooth-On.  I really needed six gallons to make a really good mold, but this stuff was really expensive, so I had to pour judiciously.  Having the viscosity of paint, the latex quickly ran down the curved sculpture and settled at the base on either side.  Using a paint brush, I kept redistributing latex to the top of the sculpture until it thickened up enough to stop running.  Probably not how the pros do it.

After the latex set, I poured plaster over it to create a mother mold for the latex mold to rest in.  This took a month to totally set, because I over-guestimated the amount of water to use.  Again, probably not how the pros do it.  As per Shannon's directions, I cut strips of burlap and laid them in the plaster to add structure.
Sculpture in mold box, left, and latex mold and mother mold, right.
Once set, at last,  I unscrewed the mold box and separated the sculpture from the mold carefully.  Real carefully. The mold had some thin spots, but looked pretty good.  The mother mold weighed about fifty pounds.  Yikes.

Good ol' Shannon Shea gave me a great alternative to the hugely expensive Smooth-On liquid plastic: a combination of Bondo - a material commonly used to in the auto body trade to fill in rust holes - and resin, both available at the hardware store. He recommended I do a test:  take a small quantity of each and mix them to see how long it is malleable before setting.  I did this test in my basement - BAD idea.  Bondo and resin each have a caustic smell that, together, created a Justice League of chemical stink.  The odor shot right through my medulla oblongata like snorting flaming wasabi.

I called Shannon.  He yelled at me.  "Never, NEVER do this inside!"  he said. "I thought I told you that."

"Uhm, I don't remember.  Anything."

It was now late November, and New Jersey weather made it too cold for casting.  Time to hibernate.
First casting!
Cut to spring.  With garage door open for ventilation, car wax rubbed over latex mold to help with separation, ventilator mask on, I poured the caustic resin-Bondo combo over the mold, brushing it into the crevices.  As per Shannon's instructions, I cut strips of fiberglass tape and placed them in the casting to give it some structure.  By the way - I wore rubber gloves and a lab coat which my wife completely mocked, calling me "professor".  Fashion be damned!  You do not want to get this shit on you.
Painting in progress.
I poured two castings before the thin mold was wrecked, but two was my goal.  I did a little touch up with Bondo and a Dremel, then painted them first to look like wood, then to look like painted wood.

They now proudly frame the bar area of Steve-O's Tiki Lounge.  The very cool thing about castings is that they are permanent.  The minion tikis are physical manifestations of  a silly idea I had.  You can't buy them anywhere.  I would encourage anyone who wants to create a special object to try casting.  But I think about the massive amount of work and the gooey, stinky mess it made...... I'm glad I don't do it for a living.

No comments:

Post a Comment