Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gravity Gun for Child's Play

Last year, I got it in my head to put together a Portal Gun for the Penny Arcade Child's Play annual charity dinner in Seattle. Child's Play is an awesome cause, and one I am very happy to support. Gamers often get a pretty bad reputation in media and the public eye, but this organization has been pulling together millions of dollars for children's hospitals for years now and has really shown what our community is capable of. 

Well, last year went fantastically, and the auction is coming up again tomorrow. I really went down to the wire on this one, but this year I'll be bringing a Gravity Gun from Valve's Half Life franchise for auction.

The Gravity Gun has been a little bit of a combination of white-whale-unattainable and Sistine-Chapel-level-intimidating for me ever since I thought about getting into propmaking. Its complicated, intricate, and if I didn't get it just right, I'd have about a million gamers ready to tell me exactly why.

Normally I don't toss up show-off posts with just pictures, but as the auction is tomorrow, I really wanted to get the word out about this piece. If you'd like to contribute, certain lots will be available for proxy bidding over the phone. This means you don't necessarily have to be at the dinner in order to bid! If you're interested, please contact Jamie Dillion at to learn about remote participation.

I should note that the Portal Gun fetched a little more than twice what my car is worth, so if you're planning on proxy bidding then be prepared!

I will have a process blog post about the build of the Gravity Gun, as per my usual style, in the coming weeks. Until then, please enjoy these fantastic photos by my friend Dan Almasy. (Facebook in the link, Flickr here)

Finally, thank you to everyone in the gaming community for making things like this happen.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thrall's Doomhammer, Warcraft

A friend of mine who takes costume commissions (Check out her work at God Save The Queen Fashions!) sent me an inquiry a few months ago asking if I had any interest in helping her put together a few accessories for a World of Warcraft project she had coming up. The character was the Warchief Thrall, and he needed his iconic Doomhammer.

There are a lot of versions of this weapon floating around, but it was decided that the source would be the Doomhammer as it was shown on the cover of the novel "The Shattering"

From this reference and a couple others, I put together some blueprints in Illustrator. The finished result would be formidable and quite large, but just a bit shy of gigantic. 30" tip to tail, to be specific.

To keep things as lightweight as possible, I decided to construct the head of the hammer in hollow sections. I used 3/8" sintra sheets to make the main box of the head, then angled the sides with a 45ยบ router bit.

The diamond-shaped faces of the hammer head started out as this styrene block. This was then molded to make 4 copies that would become the hammer faces. The mold is made from Smooth-On's Mold Max 30 silicone.

After pulling castings, the seams were taped shut and more resin was poured into the hollow inner cavity to join the two halves together. This created a little bit of cleanup after the fact, but the finished part is lightweight and hollow.

An early mockup. Fancy!

The bands on the hammer were made from more 3/8" sintra. Countersunk holes were made before these strips were glued in to house the large gold rivets which would be added later. With sintra, the best adhesive is cyanoacrylate - super glue. It actually melts the parts to one another, fusing them into a solid part.

To get the hammer faces to mount to the main body, more sintra was cut into a plug which would be glued in place after painting.

More mockups! Coke can shown for scale reference.

More details were added with styrene sheet. To get these parts symmetrical, 4 sheets were adhered together with double-sided tape. The part was then cut on my bandsaw, then the 4 sheets were separated. Instant symmetry!

After a coat of primer, I spent the next 2 days painstakingly carving cracks in the surface of the hammer head. While the sintra is easily carved, the styrene put up a pretty good fight. The results of this process were well worth it though!

In the shot above you can see the top nut placed on the hammer head. This was lathed from a single piece of casting resin. Unfortunately, the blank it was tooled from was not degassed properly, so I had a lot of tiny little air bubbles to fix before it was ready for paint

Filling said bubbles. I also added more accents with half-round styrene bar.

Other lathed bits included the handle, head stock, and pommel. The first two were cut from laminated maple boards, while the last one was cut from another block of casting resin. After the maple was turned, the parts were stained dark brown and sealed with urethane varnish.

Its worth mentioning that these started out as 4"x1" planks. After laminating, cutting these shapes from 4" blocks was a nightmare on my crappy Harbor Freight lathe. This project really did a number on the lathe head, so I think now is a good time to upgrade.

Parts after staining and sealing. Before staining the head stock, oval-shaped recesses were carved with a dremel for rivets similar the the ones used on the hammer head bands.

The pommel after lathing. It was necessary to make this part out of solid resin to counterbalance the enormous hammer head and keep the weight centered on the handle.

Recesses carved for rivets, as with the upper head stock. Not having any woodgrain to deal with, this is much easier to carve out of resin.

The side of the hammer features a snarling wolf, and I know my sculpting skills aren't stellar enough to make the same part look good twice. Instead, the piece was sculpted on an acrylic base and molded for copying. On the right below are the masters for the rivets used on the hammer. I needed 20 round ones and 10 oval-shaped rivets, and there was no way I was sculpting all of them by hand!

Some copies! These were cold cast with aluminum powder to polish them up later. The green ones were cast with brass powder; these were a test for another project. None of these have been polished in this photo - cold castings always look somewhat dull until buffed with some steel wool.

The "compass ring" as I started to call it was made by lathing a disc of resin into the circular shape, then adding the points in apoxie sculpt and molding the part. While the resin was curing, I placed steel bar into the plastic to make mounting points. You can see those poking out of the mold on the left side below:

Same parts as before with aluminum cold cast powder, and with some time spent buffing with steel wool. Eventually I decided to polish these up a little more uniformly to give them less of a "brushed" look.

The hammer head and stock with rivets mounted. Each piece was cast in SmoothCast 320 resin with gold metallic filler. Rivets were glued in place with 2 part epoxy, but fit snugly enough in their recesses that no clamps were needed. 

The upper stock with some carved damage and a coat of paint on the "metal bands." At the top of the shot is the large threaded rod that runs the length of this entire piece and into the hammer head.

Painting this piece was different and a new experience. I haven't painted a rock like texture before, so the whole process took a bit of fiddling around. I started with a coat of flat black, then sponged on layers of acrylic paint, in various tints of gray. 5 layers were used to make a varied texture, then I used my airbrush to fill in some low spots with darker browns and blacks.

The wolf head and compass after polishing. I use aluminum wheel polish for parts like this.

The last part that needed finishing was the handle wrap. I used several long thin strips of pigskin leather braided over top of one another to create the crossed pattern here. Took a long time to get right, and it was kind of a shame to cover up all the pretty stained wood, but it feels great to hold.

I also tossed some little bits and baubles together for the rest of the Thrall costume. If you'd like to see the final result, check out my friend Cathy on FaceBook at God Save The Queen Fashions.


The final piece after assembly and clearcoat! Final dimensions of the piece are 30.5" long, with the head measuring 7"x9"x11.5" - total weight is a pretty manageable 8.5lbs! Not bad for such a giant prop.

If you're looking for more process photos (or the final shots in higher resolution!) check out my flickr page - there's a lot more there which aren't included in this write-up.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daft DeLorean photoshoot!

If you're just arriving on this page, please be sure to visit parts one  two and three of this build, which showcase the sculpting  moldmaking and electronics aspects of the project.  

I haven't done a photoshoot post since 2009 with the Big Daddy suit at the Aquarium, but the Thomas helmet brought in some of the most beautiful shots I've ever had taken of my work. Pair this with the fact that Catherine of God Save The Queen Fashions created an absolutely perfect replica of Daft Punk's "Human After All" era leather costumes, and the overall illusion is simply spectacular.

As with my other entry, I would be remiss to neglect mentioning all the help I had with this project. It would not have come together without the efforts of the following people:

Coding for this helmet (Arduino and iOS) was handled by James Moss
The Daft Punk leather suit, which you see below, was fabricated by Catherine Jones of God Save The Queen Fashions
Chroming of the helmet and gloves was handled by Creations n' Chrome
Photography on this page is courtesy of Dan Almasy
Custom circuit board printing was handled by Batch
Awesome DeLorean provided for the photoshoot by Derek Lukaschus

First, the recap video because if you don't want to read the process, at least you can watch it!

Now, onto the pictures!

Thanks for taking a look!

Want more pictures? Higher resolution? Check out my Flickr stream!