BYNARS (Star Trek TNG) MAKING PROSTHETICS: 2. Sculpting

Here’s a word of wisdom… DON’T START A SCULPT 2 WEEKS BEFORE A CON.

I set out to make two (matching) sculpts, and really got down to the wire. The result was decent — certainly good enough for a non-competing cosplay — but do yourself a favor and allow yourself enough time to enjoy the process, and to really perfect the product. I already can’t wait for my next sculpting project! This was by far my favorite step!

And a word about materials…

I used Monster Clay for my sculpt, which is a lot more like wax than it is like clay. Generally, oil based clays are used for sculpting, and there is a wide variety available, many of which are cheaper. However, Monster Clay is completely reusable, and pretty fun to work with. The process is more akin to carving than molding. It’s also pretty hard when not warm, which means your sculpt can sit around without any danger of damage pretty indefinitely. If you can splurge on the $30 container, I really think it’s worth it.

MATERIALS:

  • Your lifecast (Click here to see my tutorial for making a cheap, “good enough” lifecast of your head)
  • 1 Monster Clay, 5 lb package, medium hardness (per sculpt)
  • Carving/clay tools (you can get a cheap pack at Michaels or online)
  • Sculpting rake
  • Mineral spirits OR Turpenoid
  • Heat gun or hair dryer
  • Cheap paint brushes
  • Rubbing alcohol (91% or 99%)

STEP 1: Getting started

Being a total newbie, it took me quite awhile to figure out how to get the stupid clay out of the stupid container. I resorted to ripping the container off of it (and into pieces), cutting it down to smaller pieces (which was nearly impossible), and slowly heating small amounts of clay in my little craft toaster oven. It turns out, you can just pop the entire container (after taking off the top plastic) in the microwave for 2 minutes and be done with it. So yeah, do that.

WARNING: Be careful when heating this clay… watch it carefully. The middle of any size chunk seems to melt first, so while the outside may be cool enough to touch, you can easily get burnt by a molten core if you reach in to grab a chunk. Heat in short bursts of time, test in between, and let it cool if you’ve gone too far!

I used the melted clay to cover my lifecast in all of the areas that would eventually become the headpiece. Keep in mind that you’ll be carving into this clay, not adding to it, so you need to build up your clay enough to be able to carve any major details in.

 

STEP 2: Basic Shapes

OK, this was my favorite part… once my head was sufficiently covered with clay, I began hacking away with some of the clay carving tools to get basic shapes in. I started by smoothing the surface…

IMG_5435.JPG

Then I worked on getting basic indentations and creases in the right places. Really think about anatomy… above and below the cheek bones need to be indented… skull shape… ears, etc.

With my basic shapes in place, I started to “draw” details into my clay that I would carve more carefully later.

Definitely pay attention to symmetry… I took a LOT of pictures during this process so that I could reference them while working on the corresponding part of the other side of the head. The ears were especially hard to line up. Be sure to look at everything from ALL of the angles — Don’t just measure from the front, for instance, as your ears might be in line vertically relative to the top and bottom of your head, but not horizontally along the side of the head.

STEP 3: Details

After I was happy with the overall shape of my head and the placement of details, I spent a solid couple of days just refining each feature. (As I mentioned, I was trying to make two identical sculpts… you can see the process a bit by comparing the two.)

IMG_5514

There are a billion YouTube videos about carving Monster Clay, and I highly recommend watching some. People seem to have very different opinions about how to shape and heat clay. Many of them advise against heating the clay on your mold directly with a heat gun… This is precisely what I did, and it was fine. It does totally melt the clay, so just be careful. I carved big shapes with the tools, melted the clay in a small area with a heat gun, and work to shape the clay with my hands after it cools just a bit.

 

STEP 4: Preliminary Smoothing

This is where I really failed— I just ran out of time. You can see in the photos above how much carve marks show in the sculpt, and smoothing out with mineral spirits will take care of *some* of them, but not all. What I think really needs to happen, and what I just ran out of time for, is “raking.” I highly recommend watching some video tutorials online. I have not tried it, and don’t want to lead you astray, but it seems like raking fine lines into your sculpt, then smoothing is the way to go.

But if you are a bum who saves everything to the last minute like me, just try your best to get as many carve marks out as possible by making finer and finer passes with your tools. I also tried using my tools in different directions, and melting really “dented” areas with the heat gun.

IMG_5469

You can also use sand paper on this material, which is pretty effective in getting rid of lines. The issue here is that, as you sand, little scraps of the clay melt enough to ball up and stick to your sculpt. I didn’t try it, but saw several mentions online about using compressed air to “freeze” the debris, and simply brushing them off. If I’d had more time, I absolutely would have gone this route. My final sculpts, ultimately, had very visible carve marks.

STEP 5: Final Smoothing

I used mineral spirits for further smoothing. (I was too cheap to buy turpenoid, but I hear it’s better if you can spring for some!) The mineral spirits literally melt the clay, making it smooth out a bit. Use some paint brushes, work on small areas at a time, and spray or dab rubbing alcohol on the sculpt to neutralize the mineral spirits when you feel that you are done. You can see the before (foreground/right) and after (background/left) below.

IMG_5579.jpg

Again, I didn’t give this stage nearly enough love. With some time and patience, you can really get your sculpt clean. I relied on paint to cover some of these flaws, and in a pinch, that was good enough.

So there you have it! Sculpting for dummies! Much like the lifecast tutorial I posted earlier, this may not be the “professional” way. But it works… it’s not horrifically expensive… and it’s fun.

Happy sculpting, and check back soon for the next step: Making a mold of the cast!

BYNARS (Star Trek TNG) Making Prosthetics: 1. Life Casting (the complete bum’s way)

For years I’ve put off updating the makeup for my very first cosplay (from over 7 years ago now!) for one simple reason… I didn’t know how to go about getting a life cast made of myself, let alone how to make one for my partner in crime who lives clear across the country. I came across a tutorial by Emmabellish (who does an incredible Asari cosplay that you should check out immediately) that outlined a seemingly simple process for making a life cast that is *good enough* for some basic sculpting. Full disclosure: they look HORRENDOUS. They’re really just the worst. But, as promised, they were good enough to help make some pretty killer Bynar head prosthetics. I’m hoping my process might inspire some of you to give it a try.

I was able to make a decent life cast of Alison’s head while she visited for only a couple of days over Thanksgiving— after all, my Thanksgiving tradition wouldn’t be complete without a good ol’ Alison torture session in the name of cosplay. Again, it’s not perfect, but it worked, and more importantly, IT WAS CHEAP AND FAST. Here’s what you need to make what I will henceforth refer to as a “hobo” lifecast:

  • Plaster strips, cut into various sizes
  • A bowl of water
  • Cling wrap
  • Vaseline
  • ~30 lbs Ultracal 30 (This is a tough one… you can order it online, and the material itself is pretty cheap, but shipping will kill you. I found Ultracal at Reynolds Advanced Materials, which is a chain! Some local hardware or pottery stores around you might also carry it. Do some research before buying online.)
  • Home Depot 5-gallon paint bucket
  • Sand
  • OPTIONAL: Apoxy Sculpt or Free Form Air
  • Clear coat spray paint
  • Face mask (wear while mixing Ultracal to protect your lungs from fine gypsum dust)
  • Latex/vinyl gloves

STEP ONE: Preparing the model

I began by covering her head with the Press & Seal cling wrap, which easily sticks on both itself and the subject’s hair. I then covered everything, especially seams and any exposed hair, with vaseline. This is a super important step, unless you’re looking to skip your next facial hair waxing…

STEP 2: Creating the back half of mold

Plaster is pretty self explanatory… dip strips in water, ring them out a bit, place them on your subject, mold for a close fit. With this particular project, however, keep in mind that you have to make two halves that lock together neatly (otherwise your model cannot escape her plaster prison without destroying the mold).

For Ali’s, because I could actually see what I was doing, I started working from what I judged to be the center point of her head, and worked backwards. I left a small lip and built up layers starting about half and inch back from the edge of the first layer. (So in other words, do and entire layer or two on the whole back of the head, then on your next 2-4 layers, start about half and inch back, leaving a lip along the midpoint of the head that is not as built up as the rest of the mold.)

IMG_2078

When I repeated this process on myself, however, I couldn’t see very well (and I had a not-super-artistic friend helping me). I found it was easier to make little bumps on the first half that I just molded the second half over. These were like “registration keys” that allowed my halves to “snap” in place. I didn’t take any pictures of this, unfortunately, but I just cut a small piece of plaster, dipped it in water, mushed it into a small ball, and placed it on the very edge of my back half cast.

STEP 3: LET IT DRY.

Seriously, let it dry. Put on some Star Trek, drink a beer… LET IT DRY. We hung out for about an hour before starting the front half.

STEP 4: Building the front half of the mold

Once the back half is dry, throw another layer of cling wrap and vaseline over the seam where the back half meets your model’s head (and vaseline over your model’s eyebrows if you haven’t already), and repeat the process. Leave the eyes for last, and leave the nose holes open completely. Make sure the edge of your front mold piece butts up against the ridge in your back mold (with the thinner lip underneath the top layer). OR, build your plaster up over the registration keys you made. Both of these methods worked for me.

 

STEP 5: More waiting… let it dry… again…

This is a great time to get some killer blackmail photos. Be warned, untrustworthy friends in your presence while YOU are covered with plaster can also take advantage… Thanks, Phil.

IMG_6241

IMG_2084

STEP 6: Remove the dry plaster mold and prepare for casting

  • Fill in the nose holes with plaster. I like to ball up some plaster strips and shove them in the holes a little bit, just so that the edge of the nose is clear on my cast (the balled up plaster will amount to negative space on your final cast).
  • Allow your two halves to completely dry before messing with them. I let mine sit outside in the sun for a day. You can also fix cracks and major flaws with something like ApoxySculpt or FreeForm Air, but it’s not essential. After all, this is a ROUGH product in the end… it may not be worth the extra time to fix flaws.
  • Glue your halves together, carefully making sure they are locking in place in the exact same way they did on your model’s head. I actually completely failed the first time I tried making my own cast… I didn’t accept help, and my two halves didn’t lock together cleanly. When I glued them together they looked fine, but the cast came out clearly crooked.
  • Fix center seam on inside of the mold by applying a couple strips of plastic along the center line where the two halves meet on the INSIDE of your mold. Then apply a few layers of plaster on the outside for structural support.
  • Spray the inside of your mold with a couple coats of clear coat to help protect the plaster from the Ultracal that you are about to pour in.

STEP 7: Casting with Ultracal

Another disclaimer: I AM NOT AN TRAINED EXPERT. This method could be totally bogus, but I’m here to tell you that it worked… TWICE. Here’s what I did:

I filled a 5-gallon bucket about 1/4 full with sand, then balanced my plaster mold on top, pressing it into the sand enough that it would stay in place on it’s own.

I covered the opening to my mold with a damp paper towel, then filled the sides of the bucket (on the outside of the plaster mold) with sand to hold everything in place. Plaster is pretty week… supporting the sides of your mold with sand helps reduce the likelihood of the ultracal busting through and leaking everywhere. It also absorbs some of the moisture that is excreted as the Ultracal cures.

***THIS IS THE TIME FOR FACEMASK AND GLOVES***

I mixed up some Ultracal. I wish I knew what to tell you about measuring; I ended up waisting a LOT of Ultracal because I just mixed what I thought might be enough. Ultimately, I would guess about 1/3 of a 50lb bag will do for your cast.

I bought some cheap plastic containers from IKEA, knowing I would just dump them at the end of this process. I estimated how full I wanted the container to be, then filled it with water to the half way point of that estimation. Then, I used the “dry river bed” method of measuring Ultracal, meaning I sifted in the Ultracal until it reached the surface of the water enough to crack a bit like a dry river bed (middle photo below).

Then mix. I personally like to just put gloves on and mix by hand (hence the long flat IKEA container… the ultracal wasn’t too deep for a gloved hand to mix), but you can also use an electric mixer or drill with mixing attachment. It is critical to break up as many clumps as possible!

 

Last but not least, I poured the Ultracal into my plaster mold, allowed it to cure for an hour or two, and ripped the wet plaster off to reveal my HIDEOUS, but effective life cast!

IMG_3117

VOILA!

—-

So here’s the problem. I have many wonderful friends with incredible talents… none of whom I trusted to entomb my face with plaster and algaenate. I was, however, able to find a willing assistant to at least cover the back of my head, knowing full well that the most important parts to get perfect were around the neck where a prosthetic would attach and the face, both of which I could easily do in a mirror. This process is hardly professional, and it certainly isn’t perfect, BUT IT CAN BE DONE ALONE.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts about sculpting, casting, and painting prosthetics!