Friday, April 20, 2007

The Roc takes flight

First the body and head were roughly cut from various sized blocks of foam with a large bow-shaped hot wire. The pieces were bonded together and smoothed out to create the main torso. Aluminum rods were bent and welded to provide the armature for the wingspan and the skeleton of the claws. The larger feathers were cut from 1/4" plywood, given a veined texture with a grinder and based out with a black primer. These feathers were then glued to muslin and attached to the metal armature. Note also that you can click on any of these pictures to see a larger version in a new window.

Fabric called "cocoa fiber" was cut into sized feather shapes to cover the rest of the wingspan and also dress the head and body. These pieces were then glued into place.

Using a pulley system the Roc was hoisted up in order to test its stability and rigging capacity.
The rest of the dressing and sculpting was finished in this position inorder to be able to work with the object as it would be seen in presentation.
This was certainly an exciting day at the shop and we all got to see the Roc transformed from something that looked like a giant holiday turkey into a fearsome predator.

Cocoa fiber feathers once glued into place get based with the same black primer. The talons were dressed with a wrapped fabric to give them girth and coated with a workable hardcoating that allowed for their detailing. At this time the placement of the eyes was plotted out and the beak carved and shell coated.

Finally the paint process of black primer, a dark brown first coat and a couple layers of lighter dry-brushed highlights tied all the fiber and wooden feathers together. Painted detailing to the eyes beak and claws was added and the Roc was ready to be delivered. All this in about 10 days from a full time crew of two, myself and Chris Bertolf, the art director at Tom Carroll Scenery in Jersey City. We were able to draw on the help of the shop welder Adam Carretta who fabricated the armatures to our specs and we also had the aid of painter, Tim O'Neil to help apply coats and finishing applications. Meanwhile things were also crackin' on the Kraken.

All three of the large scale sculptures you will be looking at were crafted from reference to clay models (at a scale of 1" to equal 1' ) supplied by the design staff of the Museum of Natural History. And it is a regret of mine that I did not photograph those as well. It would have been an interesting study for you to note how faithfull the translations were and in what cases they were perhaps improved upon - or not improved upon. There is a good amount of open objectivity when working in what amounts to a group concencus design and often at the end of a project a lot of seemingly arbitrary changes can be decided upon by the clients who comissioned the work and the project is never really finished until they are happy (or they run out of money/time). Certainly though the feather technique we devised for the Roc added a fantastically real dimension to the object that could never have been indicated on the raw clay model we were given to work from and everyone was quite pleased with the results.

Birth of the Kraken

Simultaneous to the Roc workings, Chris and I were constructing a 28 foot long plaster mold in which to pour our sucker shapes which are the liveliest visual portions of the Kraken's four
enomous tentacles. We fashioned some template suckers by placing a stick into the middle of a slightly overflowing cup of two part expanding foam as it hardened. We made about six of those
in a couple of graduated sizes. They were then pressed at varying angles and depthes into wet plaster poured in segments along the tapering expanse of a 28 foot long wooden trough. When dried this became the negative mold into which we poured a two-part expanding flexible foam
which we then backed with muslin as it cured. Popped from the mold this soft and pliable giant
black nightmare was quite believable and ready to be attached to the styrofoam tendrils.

The tentacles were fashioned out of circles of six inch thick foam cut on the bandsaw in diminishing diameters. With a hole cut in their centers, these discs were then stacked upon each other by sliding them down the length of the bent aluminum piping which formed each tentacle's basic shape, rather like beading a necklace. During this process each segment was bonded to the other with a foam adhesive. A wire brush and rasp was then taken to the overall form to smooth
out the whole tendril. Once the shape were pleasing the whole expanse was covered with "erosion cloth" which is similar to a very large weave type of burlap in order to give the Kraken's skin an undulating veiny texture. And finally it was coated with tinted "SculptorCoat" to which some sawdust was added to give some extra surface variation and provide help in making the dry-brushed paint highlights.

The head of the Kraken was built out of successive layers of four foot by three foot slabs of six inch thick foam. These were cut first to the rough outline of the figure and then detailed and smoothed by a combination of reciprocating saw, wire brush, razor knife, and rasp. The horny, gnarled appearance of the eye-ridges was achieved through a controlled application of spray-foam shot onto quarter inch plywood templates that were inserted in the foam above the eyes. The eyes themselves, once they were shaped and smoothed with sandpaper, were coated
with "Magic Smooth" a water based hard coating that can be further slickened with a wet sponge during the cure time. Finally the same application process of erosion cloth and SculptorCoat was used to finish the skin texture.

And then it was on to the painting...

Dragon Evolution