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!

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