Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The process

Disclaimer - This is a long boring part that will only interest a handful of people. I get asked frequently about the process that goes in to making these sculptures so I'm attempting to answer all the questions at once and it's a long story. I'm trying to give some insight in to how muc hwork goes in to every one of these sculptures. For those of you that want the short version; I do all the work myself. I do all my own sculpting, molding, casting, painting, fabricating, design and decal work. I'm a one man band.
People also ask about my materials so here's a quick breakdown:
I sculpt in wax. It's called castilene and I mix it with carnuba, bees wax, and hardener pellets. This was McFarlane's recipe.
The sculpting is primarily an additive process. I'm not carving away at a block. I start with rough, generalized masses and actually add little by little until it's defined enough that I can start on the details. The wax melts and can be worked very quickly at about 300 degrees. I use a wax pen (kinda like a little soldering iron) for this. At room temperature the wax is very hard and is self supporting. I can handle it all day without wiping away details.
I sculpt with a lot of metal dental tools. I use a little alcohol torch to heat them up. I also us a wax pen. Couldn't live without that.
The molds are made from GI1000 silicone rubber. It's the best stuff available and it costs me roughly 100-150$ to make the molds for one figure.
The castings are made using two part urethane resin. Much like what our skateboard wheels are made from.
Paint is done using exclusively acrylic products. No fancy brand or any weird tricks. Most of the time I actually use primary colors and mix my own paint.
Decal work is done using Photoshop, water transfer decal paper, and a laser printer.
Most of the fabrication work like the bases and skateboards, trucks, wheels etc. is accomplished using styrene plastic.
For those of you that want all the details... here you go.

The process begins with a concept. You pick the the subject for your sculpt (in this case Jamie Thomas). Then the pose - smith grind.

At this point I begin gathering reference. The more the better. I usually create a folder on my computer for the subject I am sculpting. Then I spend hours browsing the Internet gathering photos that I feel will help me. It's actually more difficult than it sounds because every pose is so specific to the subject that is being sculpted. Good portrait reference is especially hard to find. In order to sculpt a decent portrait you need as many angles as possible to sculpt from. It's often impossible to find exactly what you are looking for and you have to fill in the blanks.

Sometimes if I'm really struggling trying to capture the anatomy or clothing, I'll try to approximate the pose myself and take pics. My wife is very patient and she never tells me I'm weird. ---

Once the reference is gathered I dive in to the sculpting. I usually start with a generic body that I sculpted specifically for this process. It's 12 inches tall (1/6 scale). I cut the body up and re-pose it. It's usually a big mess at this point and I spend a lot of time re-establishing the anatomy to make the basic structure of the figure correct.
Early on I also need to start thinking about the base for the sculpture. Particularly the terrain that needs to be duplicated in order for the figure to look correct in the pose that I've chosen. Whether it's a hand rail, pool, ledge, whatever, I really try to get everything correct. It's important to consider how the skateboard sits in relation to the feet and the object that it's being ridden on. If this isn't established early on, it will not end well.

So now that I have the basics established and I'm happy with the pose, I start sculpting some details. Roughing in the clothing, tuning in the anatomy etc. Making my final tweaks to the pose.
I'll then really go nuts with the detailing. I try to capture the movement of the fabric, and the specific type of material that I'm imitating. I try to make sure the anatomy is as realistic as possible. I often find myself struggling to sculpt these skinny skaters after spending so much time sculpting huge muscular comic book characters for McFarlane. I do my best to get the sneakers correct too. Sculpting laces and tread patterns on the shoes is a pain but I find it necessary to get the look I'm after.
The portrait is always the hardest part to nail down. As I mentioned before, finding good portrait reference for these guys is not easy. Especially because I really need perfect profile, 3/4 and frontal views. Your average skater isn't going to be posing for beauty shots. So I do my best with what I can find. Ideally I'd love to take photos of the person I'm sculpting so I can have exactly what I need, but I haven't been this lucky yet.
The sculpting usually involves a lot of back and forth. I make tons of mistakes and often rework areas 3 or 4 times before I'm satisfied. The final detailing of a sculpt eats up a lot of time. I'd say the average sculpt takes about 90 hours to complete. (That's JUST the basic sculpting.)

Once the sculpting is all done, I double check to make sure that he fits correctly on the board and the base (stairs, rail, whatever). I then cut the figure apart to prep it for molding. This step is needed to assure the best possible castings. Without going in to a lot of detail, if this process is not thought through well, you can have big air pockets get stuck in the mold or it will just be impossible to pull the casting out of the mold.
So I make a box for the pieces I'm going to mold and I pour silicone rubber over them inside the box. Once the silicone cures, I cut the mold open and pull the wax original out. I then seal the mold back up by wrapping packing tap around it and pour liquid resin in to the cavity. I pressurize the castings in an air tank to assure no air bubbles get trapped. Once the resin cures, I pull the casting out of the mold and clean up the seams and flashing. Just like cleaning up a model car kit.

After it's cleaned up I get right in to painting. I use all water based acrylics. Nothing fancy. I custom mix most of my own colors and spray the larger areas like pants and shirts with an air brush. I brush paint a lot of stuff as well. I use a lot of washes to create a natural 'painterly' look on the figures. I like adding some dirt, grime, and even a little blood on the elbows or whatever. Anything I can do to give the piece some life and realism.

If there are graphics on the shirt or skateboard to replicate, I also do that myself. I basically grab the document I want, scale it down in Photoshop and print it using a laser printer and decal paper.
Again, this is super tedious but it's gotta look right!

I fabricate my own skateboards from styrene plastic. I custom build all my own trucks and wheels. I spare no attention to detail and this is super hard because every sculpt varies just a little in size and that means the decks have to vary as well. Especially the old school decks because so many of them were unique in shape.
I also fabricate the bases from styrene sheet plastic and loads of super glue. I take careful measurements and try my hardest to keep everything in scale. The handrails are also made from plastic tubing. I paint the bases with acrylics. I try to emulate the gritty textures that you see in concrete and asphalt. I occasionally use real dirt or textured paint to simulate that effect.
Mounting the figures on the bases is always a pain. I generally use 3/16" steel rods. I'll drill a hole in the figure and try to get the rod in at least two inches so it'll be as stable as possible. Then I'll usually take a big hunk of plastic and glue it inside the base (this is obviously done before the base is finished.) I'll drill a corresponding hole in that piece of plastic and insert the other end of the steel rod in to it. It usually works ok but this is an area that I need to improve upon. I feel that one of the weaknesses of these sculpts is the fact that many of them need to be supported by these rods. And it can look ugly if not planned right. The trick is hiding the rod so it doesn't interfere with the aesthetic of the sculpt. But it also needs to be self supporting. Not an easy task. This is probably my least favorite part of the process.
So I guess that's it. LOL The whole process takes anywhere from 100-200 hours depending upon size and complexity.

1 comment:

  1. "My wife is very patient and she never tells me I'm weird."

    ya right!

    keep up the great work.