Tuesday, June 27, 2006

StopMoShorts is new again

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Yes, it's hard to believe, but yet again my sister site StopMoShorts has a new look! It seems it gets totally redesigned for each of the quarterly short film events! The purpose this time around was to allow me and the rest of the SMS admins to be able to get in and do stuff, so it didn't always have to be Eric. The last incarnation of the site looked great, but Eric had to spend a lot of time working on it to keep it up to date. Now, thanks to some great PHP scripts by Photokorn, we have a nifty new interface and all of us can go in and ease Eric's workload. It was unfortunately another masive workload for him to set it all up, as previously he was the only one with real administrative access to the site, but now at long last it's open to all of us. There are also a number of new features, some still under construction, my favorite being a gallery of trailers for classic stopmtion flicks!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ahab gets a T-shirt

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Hey all,
I just created a T-shirt design with Ahab's grinning mug on it over at a site called Zazzle... it's basically like Cafe Press, but where as CP just started offering black T-shirts in beta recently, Zazzle offers a few dark colors. I was hoping to find a nice burgundy shirt, so he'd feel at home, but no go. After trying him on all the dark colors I decided he looks best on the black after all. Oh well. *Actually, I just checked, and he looks pretty darn good on Navy Blue! Might have to get me another one!*

Here's the link to my store if anybody wants to get one: Darkmatter Gallery at Zazzle

Now, let me explain.... don't think that by buying a shirt you're helping me out or anything. I'll make like 2.50 every time somebody gets one... no big dealio. I'm not doing this for money at all, I just thought it would be cool to have my own Ahab shirt, and thought some other peeps might like one too. So, if you want one, feel free (you can modify the design if you want... knock yourselves out if you feel the creative impulse). But don't do it if you're just wanting to help me out.

I'll be creating some more (less expensive) products in the near future too. I gotta have me a Ahab mug!

...And (hint hint) I sure would love to be able to get my own Nola shirt in basic black. Or maybe a nice big print.

***IMPORTANT NOTE!!! - I haven't yet recieved my 'artists proof' shirt, so until I do (in about a week) please don't order one! I'll give my full and unbiased report of how good the quality is when mine comes in. There are a few known issues with digital printing on dark garments, but i believe my design circumvents them. They mostly deal with white areas and gradients, which are nonexistant on my design.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Presents from Halfland

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My good friend Shelley Noble runs a little blog called Notes from Halfland where she's detailing her adventures in creating her own unique stopmotion series. It's been a while since Shelley has graced us with a glimpse into the heart of Halfland, but today I recieved a package that's like a slice of Halfland itself, in the flesh! Above is the hair sampler she made for me, in her own creative way. Everything Shelley does she does with style. And below is a veritable Pumpkin Patch in a box, loaded down with all manner of thread, pins, needles, buttons, etc. As you can see, Shelley really purts her heart and soul into everything she makes, and it shows.

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Her hand-made cards and gifts like this one are beautiful and bestow her grace on anyone fortunate enough to recieve one. I can only imagine at this point how wonderful her greatest gift to mankind will be when she unleashes it on computer monitors all around the world!

Tech bits

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Here's what's going inside the puppets I'm getting ready to make. Most of the stuff above are components of Juergen Kling's StopMo Tech plug-in armature kits, that I bought from Animateclay.com. He recently re-tooled the blocks to be a little smaller, to fit in smaller puppets (like the ones I make). Right in front in the above pic you can see the older and newer chest blocks stood side by side for comparison. I had two of the original kits, and now I discovered Marc is selling the blocks individually for only 12.95 apiece, so I just bought 4 chest blocks. I figure those are the only parts I'll really need, since my design won't really allow for the pelvis block, and most of the puppets need to have tie-downs in their backsides for mounting to their barstools. I can't believe it, but I managed to pack all those parts into this one cannister!

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In the top pic you can also see the thumb screws and thumb nuts I got from Smallparts.com to use for tie-downs. Nice!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Stop-motion..... Games???!!!

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Ok, I know I'm getting really tired of all these little rubber arms and boring explanations! It's time for something more fun! Here's something I've been discussing with.... an imaginary friend. ; ) The image above is from an incredible film called Balance by Christophe and Wolfgang Lauenstein... in fact, thanks to YouTube, it's also a link to the movie... click it to see one of my all-time favorite stopmotion films. And the one below takes you to a film on Google Video called Quest, by Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach. Go ahead, click through to both now, they'll open in separate windows and start loading up. Then you'll be able to watch them both about the time you finish reading this. Oh, the following does contain spoilers... so you might want to hold off on reading it until after you've seen both films. Your call.

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Both films were made as student works at a German university. And they share a few factors in common that I think are worth further scrutiny. Here's my nutshell analysis of why they're so effective.

First and foremost they're simple. That's key to why everything else works so well. The puppets are very stylized and simplified, no attempt to give them realistic features or proportions. They're cyphers. And the worlds they inhabit are almost featureless. For this reason, any object that exists takes on a special significance. The floating slab in Balance, hovering enigmatically.... where is it? In space? High in the air? Why do these men live there? Are they prisoners? Have they always been there? These questions lie just under the surface of your mind as you watch, but because the action holds your attention you don't get too caught up in them. The story unfolds with simple, undeniable logic that keeps your interest. And as you watch you begin to make connections.... oh, the slab represents society or co-operation... they have to work together or they'll all fall off. Brilliant! The whole environemt... the whole narrative world - becomes a metaphor! And the best thing about it is the fact that it remains unexplained. If there was some involved sci-fi explanation of why the slab is there and how the men got there, it would lose its mythical power. But as it is, the film plays out like a game. One step forward, tilt the slab... somebody must step back. Power politics in action. It's so broad in its interpretation that it could represent world powers or individuals or anything in between. One thing that smacks me in the frontal lobes every time I watch Balance is the brilliant use of moving composition... every frame is beautiful!

Quest has the same kind of simplicity, though not carried to the same extreme. There are a few environments, and they're more fleshed out, but still every object carries power. A pile of rocks, sheets of paper, automatic welding machinery... it's like a surreal dreamscape where nothing extraneous exists. And again, the fact that nothing is explained forces the viewer to think in broad terms, makes everything a cypher carrying great power, the way images in dreams do. In order to create something with this much power, you have to do away with extraneous detail. It's almost as if each prop comes into existance only when it's needed and for a very specific reason.

Neither film really follows traditional narrative form - introduce the character(s), reveal a problem they must solve, and show how they do so. In each case, we don't really know anything about these characters or their situation... the fun lies in the discovery. Along the way, as we watch, we're trying to figure out what's going on. And in each case, the final shot puts a new spin on things. It makes you reconsider everything, adds a layer of meaning and depth to it all.

Another thing they have in common... I could easily see them as 2d cartoon animation, done in an international style. In fact, I noticed in the credits to one of them a few repetitions of the name Prof. Paul Dreissen. If you're not familiar with that name, he's a great cartoon animator, and I suspect had a strong influence on these films.

If you're interested, there are a few really short follow-ups to Balance, as well as some other clips, on the Lauenstein's site

Ok, sorry for the Introductory Film Analysis 101 lecture, it's just me trying to grasp ways to make cool stopmo flicks. Now back to your regularly programmed scheduling.

Intrinsic coloring test and a new casting technique

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I asked about the bubbles on both the Sculptor's Forum and SMA, and got some good answers. The concensus is that the bubbles were already there, just under the surface, and that the solvent softened up the silicone enough so when I rubbed over it I broke right through the thin skin. Apparently when you mix the catalyst into the silicone you create lots of tiny little micro-bubbles, and they stay in the mix, just under the surface, or they can rise to the surface. My thought is that I avoided similar problems on the other arm castings because of the way I made them... I partially filled each mold half and baked them separately, and the bubbles rose to the surface, which was toward the center of the arm. But now I've tried my next experiment, which is getting close to the results I want for the actual puppets. I'll detail the process, partly so I can remember, and also to help anyone following in my footsteps.

I started by painting in a layer of pure Dragonskin, no softener added, no pigmets. This is much thicker than the softened silicone, and will stay in place on the mold walls rather than just run right to the bottom, plus is translucent, so the pastel powder will show through. It's important to actually brush it into the mold to break up any bubbles. As long as you have this thin skin it doesn't matter if there are bubbles inside... after all, that's what foam latex is, just a thin skin and inside it looks like a sponge. Ok, so with a thin skin brushed up in the mold halves, I then ground up some pastels on my trusty sandpaper, a few colors to create the mix I wanted, and I sort of tapped on the piece of sandpaper while holding it tilted over the mold halves, so pastel powder sprinkled down into them. I was hoping it would stick to the silicone, but it really didn't, so I decided I needed to paint another layer behind it. This got really messy, as it sort of gummed up and tried to pull the first layer out and ther pastel dust kind of turned into a bunch of thick lumps. Maybe next time I need to cure the outer layer first. But it worked surprisingly well in spite of this.

At this point I put both halves in the oven to cure for half an hour. I didn't bother making an armature for this one, I just wanted to test intrinsic painting using pastels and a solid pour technique for filling the mold. In my first few attempts I tried to fill each half of the mold and then slap them together, which never quite worked the way it does with foam latex, which is light and fluffy and holds its consistency... so this time I cut a channel to pour silicone into. After pulling the mold halves out of the oven with the cured skin inside I strapped them together (first I had to trim a little stray silicone out that would have kept them from closing completely) and then I poured the rest of the silicone in, after adding the thinner and some pigment, white with just a touch of flesh. I was really expecting silicone to come pouring out the bottom of the mold, or maybe to wait until I stood it in the oven and then run out onto the bottom heating element, but amazingly it held! And when I demolded it 30 minutes later, I had the best casting yet.

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Here you can see one problem I still want to address. Because the skin is made with unthinned silicone and the stuff inside is much softer, it has a tendency to wrinke. But there might be a nice solution.... possibly if I mix the pastel dust right into the initial layer of silicone it might become thick enough to stay put on the mold walls, meaning that I can use thinned silicone even for the skin. A little more experimentation is called for, then it's on to actually making some puppet parts!

Wow, I can really lay on the blablabla without saying the important stuff, can't I? The sweet thing about this intrinsic coloring technique is that now I don't need to spray deadly toxic solvents all over in the basement. That's all I was trying to say.

Friday, June 16, 2006

1st painting experiment

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The first Dragonskin painting experiment is a success... sort of. It was quite an experience, and involved dredging up materials and equipment bought in some cases decades ago. I mostly wanted to try something ToxicPapa suggested, which is doing the coloring with pastels and then sealing it with a coat of clear Dragonskin thinned down with a solvent and applied with an airbrush. Gathering my materials I had to dig through cabinets and boxes I haven't looked into in many years... for instance the respirator I bought when I first started making airbrushed T-shirts but never ended up using. Glad I kept it sealed away in the original packaging, with instructions still intact! I also dug out a couple boxes of pastels I had bought and used only a few times. And the Paashe 'H' airbrush I picked up used from some guy at work long ago... this was the first time it's seen use since then. First time I've fired up my compressor in a few years too. And the worst part was the fan.... I wanted to set up a good positive draft through my work area to carry the solvent fumes outside (I haven't set up a Sven-Approved ventilation system yet!). So I trudged up two flights of stairs (several times actually... it was a decent workout) and carried my fan down from my bedroom and had to crawl under the deck, through heavily spider-infested territory in the semi-darkness. The things I do for my art, I tell ya! And these basement windows, they're ancient... iron frames set right into the concrete, no screens.... you just open them wide and let the insects start coming in. I swear, if I do this again It'll either be outside or I'll set up something a lot better.

Anyway, back to the real focus of this entry, the painting experiments. I started by grinding up some pastels on a piece of sandpaper and I picked some up on the corner of a paper towel and tapped it onto the silicone arms. They're slightly sticky anyway as really soft silicone will be, but I had powdered them to reduce that. They took the pastels fairly well, but it was pretty hard to work with. Not at all like a decent pastel paper. But with a little effort I was able to get some very nice gradations and blends. For these arms I don't need much color, just maybe a little red at the elbows and maybe the wrists, and on the fingers when I make the real arms. But I tried to blend colors to approximate the painting Scott Radke did on the heads. Here's the pic again from my old blog at www.darkstrider.net:

Lots of nice color blending there! Pastels are perfect for those kind of blends, which is why I wanted to try out this technique in particular. I tried a couple of others as well, but they weren't successful for reasons I'll go into in a bit. But back to last night's test. Here's what they came out looking like:

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This is actually after sealing with thinned-down Dragonskin and baking for half an hour to speed-cure, but it looks pretty much identical to the way they did before I airbrushed on the rubber. Ok, once I was happy with the results of the pastel application the real fun began. With a growing horde of buzzing things swarming around the light I strapped on my respirator and goggles, feeling like Darth Vader, and cranked up the compressor. I mixed up a small batch of Dragonskin with approximately the same amount of plasticizer (silicone oil) that I used on the arms - about 50%, and then I added a nice big slug of D-Limonene. In his book Silicone Art, Tom McLaughlin recommends using 1 part silicone to 5 parts thinner, so I eyeballed it and mixed it up with my trusty paintbrush handle. Then I poured out a little into my airbrush cup and started spraying it on. If I wasn't wearing the goggles I would have smacked myself on the forehead right then, because I had never used the Paasche H before, and I wasn't sure how to adjust the spray pattern. I should have messed with it first with just some water. But no time for such niceties, so I just learned on the fly. Pretty simple actually. The first thing I noticed is that I couldn't detect the faintest hint of the bitter, eye-burning, throat-burning stench of the solvent. Inside my respirator cocoon I was experiencing a nice spring afternoon in the meadow while around me the buggies were in the gas chamber! Oh, and I had let my dog out a while ago, but the process took quite a while to get underway, so by now she was scratching like mad at the door, adding another layer of anxiety.

It went quite well, but then it was simply a matter of spraying a coating of clear rubber over my pastel work to seal it. Then I bent the wires into hooks and hung the arms in my convection oven to cure. All told, it was a great success up to this point. But something weird happened that I don't know what to make of. First here's a close-up shot of the "good arm" (paintwise anyway) so you can see the subtle color blending and the nice surface quality. Bear in mind I hadn't trimmed the seam lines before starting. I wish I would have.... it was a mental lapse, but this was just a test of the painting process, so try to ignore the ugly seam lines and other problems.

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Ok, that was the pink arm - that one seems fine, but the other one - the translucent white one, did something weird:

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Those little holes weren't there to begin with... they appeared when I rubbed my thumb over it to test the paint. I wanted to make sure it wouldn't smear or peel off the way PAX paint can on foam latex. And it didn't at all... the paint seems to have bonded completely and become an integral part of the rubber. But when I rubbed my thumb over it fairly hard those little bubbles appeared. I could feel it happening too. Weird. I tried it on the other arm and it doesn't happen to that one. Weird. If anybody has any idea what could cause that, by all means please comment! I need to ask a few silicone gurus about it.

Here's something I just noticed after taking these pics that might explain it:

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See the smudges on the table? They came from the silicone arms! Funny, they feel completely dry. But somehow the pigment is coming off. I thought maybe I just missed sme spots with my rubber selaing coat, but it smears off like that all over, and it seems kind of liquid/gooey (though you can't feel it at all on your fingers). So it seems like the Dragonskin just isn't fully cured. Possibly the added solvent slows the cure time. And I've thought of a possibility for the little holes in the one arm - maybe there was just too much pastel powder piled up. I know you're not supposed to put it on thick at all... if you want to build up a few layers you're supposed to seal between each layer. I don't know though... could be any number of things.

I tried a couple other techniques too while I was all set up. One was to mix powdered pastels directly into the thinned Dragonskin, and one was to add some oil paint to it. Neither worked for me. I'm sure I didn't do it right though... Tom McLaughlin recommends grinding pastels into the rubber with a pestle and mortar and using a very specific ratio, but I just sprinkled some in and mixed it with my paintbrush handle. I got a spotty, grainy mess when I tried to spray it. I got much the same when I tried oil paint (actually alkyd, which is oil paint in a synthetic Alkyd binder so it dries faster). With better measuring and grinding I'm sure it would work better. But these were just afterthoughts tacked on to my main experiment, and the buggies were getting thick and heavy by now, and the dog had nearly scratched through the door, so I wrapped it up. It was pretty scary taking off the respirator, I knew the basement was a gas chamber, especially after cleaning out the airbrush which involves spraying pure solvent through it followed by denatured alcohol. I wiped off every surface I had touched with the stinky stuff and put the paper towels in plastic bags that I tied shut. But sure enough, when I peeled off the respirator, it stank to high heaven! I was afraid the smell would linger for a long time... days or weeks even, but tonight it's almost entirely gone. I would have blogged this last night, but needless to say I had to vacate the basment for the rest of the night.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Creepy Crawlers

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The words of Pat Zung are echoing insidiously through my head:

"I'm skeptical about pouring silicone in the two halves and shutting them. this works great for hard molds and foam but I think it may be difficult with silicone. You may end up with large air bubbles that will combine and make large unfilled cavities"

Wow, was he ever right! I've now poured 3 test arms, zeroing in my technique each time, and still I'm getting huge voids. The third one seemed like it should have worked.... and it might still be possible to make it work, possibly with some patching afterwards.... here's the method I devised:

I first mixed up a batch of Dragonskin with some flesh pigment in it, no softener yet. I use this thicker mix to coat the armature with... I found the softened silicone is so thin it just runs off. I think I'll even try to thicken it with some Cabosil or something next time. So, after coating the armature I then add my silicone fluid (I'm saving the Slacker for actual puppet production). Now I pour some into each mold half. One half is deeper than the other, and this is the key to my approach.... I wanted to avoid slopping liquid silicone when I flip half the mold onto the other half, so I completely fill the shallower mold, and only partially fill the deeper one. Now put both halves into the oven along with the armature and bake for a half hour. When I pull it out I lay the armature in the deeper half and pour silicone over it until it's flush with the top. I use the same batch of silicone for this... the stuff in the cup won't cure for at least 5 hours, so you get the exact same color and softness. Now you just flip the (already fully cured) shallower half onto the deeper one with the armature in it... no sloppy silicone to drip and run everywhere.

But you can see the results above. Not good. You'd need to actually overfill the deeper half a little to make this work, and I don't think you can do it. At least I'm getting tired of trying and failing. But a solution is at hand. It just so happens I found an injection gun in the trash at work!!!

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I have no idea what this was used for, and really I don't want to know, I just hope it doesn't have some chemical residue in it that will inhibit the Dragonskin. The really insane thing is, it's even the same color as the Smooth-On jars! Now that I've worked with the Dragonskin a bit and discovered it's just another silicone, it no longer seems like some mythical substance that requires wizardly powers to use, and I now feel like injection molds are entirely within my grasp. In fact, now that I think about it, I've actually used injection molds before... long ago in my childhood. I had a Creepy Crawlers set! I believe the actual Creepy Crawlers were just one-piece steel molds that you fill with the Plasti-Goop and cook to make little rubber insects and stuff, but there was somthing similar... seems like it was 2-piece molds for little soldiers or something, and you injected the rubber through a conical-tipped bottle into a hole in the mold. Hey, that makes it all seem so much easier... this won't be my first time!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Skin is in!

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My Dragonskin and related products have been coming in from various sources for a few days now, and I've been doing some testing. My main supplier has been www.smooth-on.com, but a few assorted odds and ends have come from www.burmanfoam.com (including the incredible resource Silicone Art, a book giving exhaustive detail on casting, molding, tinting, painting, and finishing silicone, as well as a few other tricks). My first test was very simple... I just wanted to test compatibility of the platinum-cure (extremely touchy) Dragonskin silicone with Chavant NSP (a wax-based, non-sulpherated plasticene, designed for use with platinum-cure silicones) and my preferred super-sculpy/premo blend. So I made up two little thimble-sized cups, one from each material, and mixed up a small batch of Dragonskin that I divided into them. I also wanted to test the difference between Silicone Oil and Slacker as a softener, so I added about 50% Slacker into the NSP cup and a similar (actually a bit larger I believe) amount of Silicone Oil into the Sculpy cup. Patrick Zung told me that he's been mixing up his silicone additives lately with "ever increasing reckless abandon", which sounds good to me, as I'm really not a meticulous person and I tend to work rather sloppily. In fact I was a bit worried that my lax working methods (and not exactly clean room environment) might inhibit the cure of the Dragonskin, but I wanted to find out, so I set to work with some reckless abandon of my own. Let me put it this way... if a platinum cure silicone requires me to transform from Oscar Madison to Felix Unger, then it's not for me. The results.... both batches set up perfectly overnight (Dragonskin takes like 8 hours to set up at room temperature). And I do mean reckless abandon... I only used one cup and just poured out approximately equal amounts of parts A and B, and I just totally estimated on the amount of pigment and plasticizer to add. Both samples came out really nice and soft, in fact once you pick them up it's hard to put them down... you want to just idly squeeze and knead them and stretch them out again and again.

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So here's my second test. I wanted to sculpt and mold a simple arm shape with a wire armature inside, to check a number of things:

1) will three strands of 1/16" armature wire be strong enough against the resistance of the silicone? (yes, no problem at all)

2) I wanted to test using a stone mold (Ultracal-30) and waterbased clay dividing wall and make sure neither material adversely affects the cure of the silicone, and to just make sure I was using the right mold release etc. (again, no problems. My mold release was 1 part dishwashing detergent in 2 parts isopropyl alcohol. Happily, no matter how vigorously you mix, it won't foam up!)

3) To see how the silicone acts when animated... will it wrinkle and fold bizarrely, or flex smoothly? (see below for the answer)

4) I also wanted to try the simplest casting method I know of, just filling both halves of the mold with silicone, laying the armature on top of one half, and then slapping them together. Pat Zung voiced reservations about this method and has developed a complicated injection technique that scares me to think about. Happily, my initial test of this simple technique worked like a charm, with one problem that can be easily addressed. See below.

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Simple 2-part Ultracal-30 mold.

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The arm casting is hard to see clearly because I didn't use quite enough white pigment and it came out translucent. I want my puppet parts to be opaque white, over which I'll paint in a technique that I hope will end up looking like the Scott Radke heads.

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You can see the silicone bends very nicely with little or no wrinkling. Very fleshlike in fact. I'm loving this stuff! There are a couple of holes where the armature was touching the mold, in fact there's one right at the elbow joint and a couple at the wrist, and these cause some odd wrinkling and puckering. But I think when I try a two-step process that involves painting a "skin" of silicone into each mold half and onto the armature and letting this set up before filling with more silicone and clamping it together I should be able to conquor this problem. There's also a large air pocket on the underside of the forearm... another problem that should be solved by the skinning technique.

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One of the important things I learned from ToxicPapa is that you can speed up the cure time of Dragonskin dramatically by putting it in a 150 degree oven. It will cure in half an hour rather than overnight. I really like this, better than the idea of using an ultra-fast catalyst, which would have the negative effect of giving me less time to work with it before it starts to set up. This way I get the full 20 minutes for mixing in all the various ingredients and carefully painting it in or filling the mold, then I can demold in 30 minutes. I tried the oven cure thing, and it works like a charm.

Next I intend to try another casting, but using the skinning method I described. I also want to try sanding the seam lines with wet/dry sandpaper and icewater as ToxicPapa recommends (Tom McLaughlin recommends sandpaper and alcohol I think). I'll also try ouit painting techniques and some patching for those inevitable mishaps where you trim the seam lines a little too closely.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Thank you YouTube!

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YouTube is one of the growing host of online video um... hosts allowing people to share video, either home-made or captured from elsewhere. A lot of peeps are just "Video blogging", basically gossiping into their camcorders and posting it. But some are using it as an opportunity to share rare, otherwise unseen gems like Ident, an early-ish Aardman effort directed by Richard Goleszowski (or "Golly" as his friends and the memory-challenged like to call him). This is as different as can be from Wallace and Gromit... it has a strong eastern european flavor to it, dealing as it does with the nature of personnae.

Also, I recently discovered someone has uploaded a bunch of clips from Svankmajer and other eastern european/czech animators: Ceska Animace. Scroll down to where it says Ceska Animace (which is Czech for Czech Animation). There are several pages of clips. I think the poster is Japanese or Asian, judging by the characters he types with. Yet another example that the Japanese are lovers of small imaginative worlds and puppetfilm.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

sizematters (redux)

This post ties in with a recent one on my old blog at Darkstrider.net. Something's messed up with the host server or my connection to it there, and I could no longer upload to it, so that's why I moved over here to BlogSpot. Anywho, the subject of this post is Willard Wigan, a sculptor who has an uncanny talent to create art almost too small to see with the naked eye. I don't understand how he does it.... he made a Statue of Liberty inside the eye of an ordinary needle! I have no clue what kind of materials or tools he uses, but apparently he has to go into a deep meditative state and sculpt between heartbeats to keep his hand steady enough. Crazy!

I won't add any pics to this post... just click through on his name and look at his site, but I did join Photobucket (which now has video uploading!). I fleshed out the Jeffrey Roche post just below this one with the pics I originally wanted to use, just to make sure everything works. So, when next we meet, I'll regale you with images of faraway lands, or at least some stuff I made.

Christmas in June

I love when I'm starting a new project and order materials and all the packages start coming in.... especially when I get to work with new stuff. Today my Chavant NSP came in, a small box packed full of dense, pungent modeling clay. It smells a lot like regular (sulpher-based) plasticene, but NSP stands for non-sulpherated plasticene, and it's specially formulated to work with Platinum-cure silicones, which are extremely touchy and won't cure if there's even a hint of sulpher in the mold. Or just about anything else, including traces of natural latex or tin-based silicone.

Within the last few days (well, before the Memorial Day weekend, of course) I also got in a few coils of Almaloy armature wire and some thumb screws from Smallparts.com. I foolishly thought the nuts would come with them, since they're shown together in the picture (and because the screws are like a dollar apiece!!!), but no, I discovered you have to order them separately. This is a little trick I learned from Toxic Papa Ralph Cordero, fabrication guru extraordinnaire. Here's what's so great about thumb nuts:

They're ready-made for tie-downs! Scha-weet!

Next I expect to get my Dragon Skin, which is a super-soft platinum-cure silicone designed for use in the special effects makeup and animatronics industry. I really wanted to get a tin-cure silicone, which are just all-around friendlier to use, but it's hard to find one of the super-soft (shore-A 10 or less) effects silicones in a tin-cure that's translucent. Toxic Papa reccommends the Silicone Inc's GI-1110, which I was able to locate at The Compleat Sculptor, but only in light blue! It needs to be translucent so you can tint it with the (expensive) silicone pigments. He says if you ask they'll give you a translucent activator (the part that controls the color... the base is translucent already), but I sent them an email asking if they have it available, and haven't heard back from them yet. Maybe I'd be better off to call.

He also recommended another tin-cure silicone by Silicones Inc called GI-245, which I was unable to find on any website, including Silicones Inc's own site! But he assures me it's still being made. So I dug out a paper Compleat Sculptor catalog, and lo and behold, they have it! Why don't they list it on the website!!??? Actually tonight I went into deep-search mode, and I did discover it on the site, but it's very hard to locate. You have to go into Shopping Cart rather than the Online Catalog and there's a black bar across the top of the page that has a Search button and a listing of thier products broken down into sections. Under Casting and Molding Materials, somewhere on an unbelieveably long page, you'll find it. But there's another problem.... it comes with a choice of three different catalysts and I have no idea which one to use. They don't describe the differences between the catalysts. There's a chart that I think is supposed to do that, but I can't understand it. If I ever figure this puzzle out, I think I'll order some and give it a go. But first I'll play with my Dragon Skin when it comes in.

By itself, Dragon Skin is already quite soft, but for puppet use it needs to be softened still more by adding a plasticizer. The original industry standard for softening is called Silicone Oil or Silicone Fluid, which is what Toxic Papa reccommends, but there's a newer sexier product called Slacker that's supposed to solve a problem associated with the silicone oil. Apparently the it causes the silicone to leech oil... kind of nasty! Who wants to animate a puppet that's sweating oils? And what does that do to the paint, and the clothes? So I ordered both the silicone fluid and the slacker and I plan to test them out. I'm sculpting an arm and I'll try out the entire process, making a mold from Ultracal-30 and casting in Dragon Skin with both products added (separately of course) with a test armature in it to see how it bends etc. I need to make sure if 3 wires will be enough for a Dragon Skin arm, or I might have to use 4.

On the thread I linked to in my last blog entry, I got lots of great advice on using silicone, especially from Patrick Zung, who made puppets for Celebrity Deathmatch and loads of other projects. Unfortunately, the techniques he describes are very complicated and difficult. I hope to keep this pretty simple if possible. Toxic Papa says you can get away with using just a stone mold and filling both halves with silicone, then slap them together and rubber-band it shut till it sets up. Patrick doesn't beleive that will work, and has devised a complex technique using an injection gun and cutting vent holes and making a thin silicone glove mold that fits inside a shell mold of stone. Let me put it this way... if it's going to be that difficult, I could just use foam latex!

Sorry for all the wordiness and almost no pics, but I still haven't gotten around to setting up an account at one of the free image hosts. Next time I'll do that, and I should have some pics of my test arm and maybe some of my nifty new products!