Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Making Aria - Asari Headpiece - Part 1

Since this whole costume is going to make for one massive write up, I'm breaking it up in to sections. The first 2 parts will be the asari headpiece.

Part 1: Life casting, sculpting and mold-making
Part 2: Casting, painting, and make-up.

I followed this tutorial by tattered-hood on Deviantart very closely, so if you’re thinking about making your own asari head piece, I recommend you check it out! She did a great job breaking everything down in to simple to follow steps, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without her. Another resource I highly recommend is The Monster Makers Mask Makers Handbook. It's less than $7, and the information in the pdf is invaluable for someone who's never worked with molding and casting latex masks before.

Life Casting

Tools required:

Bald cap (And spirit gum to apply it)
Plaster bandages (I used one package, but 2 would have been better)
Ultracal 30 (try and find it locally if you can, since shipping it will cost a fortune.  You can sometimes find it in clay stores, or possibly drywall suppliers.  Just check around!)
Metal files (to clean up your life cast)

The first step in the entire process was getting a life cast so that I would have something accurate to sculpt on. There are two options: Buying a pre-made armature, or making a life cast of your head (either using alginate, or plaster bandages). Since I didn't need a super detailed armature that alginate would provide, I went the cheaper route and got my husband to wrap my head in plaster bandages.

I don't have a ton of pictures of the following steps, since I was getting plaster wrapped.

It basically involved:

Applying a bald cap to cover up my hair
Covering my face and neck with copious amounts of vaseline (especially anywhere there’s hair!)
My husband began covering the back half of my head and neck with plaster bandages (about 3-4 layers thick)
The bandages were allowed to cure for half an hour

More Vaseline was applied to my face (just in case!) and along the edge of the plaster bandages where there would be a seam (they overlapped by about 1/2 inch). Bandages were now applied to the front of my face and neck, making sure to leave an opening around my nose so I could breath. The bandages were again allowed to cure for about 30 minutes  (don’t move while they’re curing!)

The two halves were pried apart and I was freeee!

I set the two halves somewhere safe to fully cure overnight.  The following day they were put back together, and filled with Ultracal 30 to make the head cast.

Since this was my first time working with Ultracal, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, so my life cast came out relatively lumpy, and had odd discolorations.  The ultracal also seemed to expel a lot of water while it was curing (the bucket I was using had a substantial amount of water in it after the ultracal had cured, and there were puddles of water on top of the head cast, and soaked through the plaster bandages)

In retrospect, I suspect these were caused by:

a) Adding too much water to the ultracal.  I had initially tried measuring out the water to ultracal ratio by weight, and I was using a wildly inaccurate scale.  I probably had way more water than I should have.  The next time I used ultracal was to make the mold of my sculpt; this time I used the "dry river bed" method of mixing the ultracal and water, and this technique worked much better.

b)  I don’t think I mixed it well enough, because I was worried about mixing too much air in to the gypsum cement and getting bubbles in my cast.  This is probably what caused the odd discolorations on my head cast.

The good news is that even with the problems that occured during casting, the head cast still came out perfectly usable for my purposes.  It didn’t need to be pretty, since all I was going to be doing was covering it in clay.

I filed down a couple of rough spots where the seams of the mold had met up, and then got to work sculpting the head piece.


Tools Required:
Old based Clay (If you ever plan on reusing this clay for silicone molds in a different project, get sulfur free clay)
Sculpting tools
Texture stamps (Optional; I made mine out of Pluffy Sculpey)
Krylon Crystal Clear

I used Van Aken Protolina clay in medium hardness.  This is a non-drying, oil based clay that was pretty easy to work with.  The nice thing about using oil based clays is that you’ve got a long time to work on the project.  The sculpting aspect took about 60 hours from start to finish (but would probably take less time for someone more experienced with sculpting).

Initial progress while I got used to sculpting; I began by blocking out very rough, basic shapes.

Once the basic shapes were in, I started adding some detail in to the back of the head.

....At which point I apparently stopped taking progress pictures until I had finished the sculpt.  Each of the head tentacles has an aluminum foil core for stability.  It was getting pretty warm while I was sculpting, and the aluminum inside helped the tentacles hold their place, instead of drooping downwards.

To get a smooth surface on the clay, I found that using a clean spoon did wonders for smoothing out lumps.  You can also take 91% Isopropyl Alcohol and rub it around on your sculpture to smooth out things like finger prints.

 Asari have a very interesting, almost scaley looking skin, similar to what you might imagine dinosaur skin to look like.  I could have sculpted individual scales in, but honestly didn’t have the experience or know-how to make them look good.

To make the texture stamp, I used Pluffy Sculpey clay and stamped styrofoam in to it.  I then carefully baked the Sculpey for about 15 minutes, and when it came out of the oven I had the perfect texture. The advantage of using the Pluffy Sculpey is that the pieces are still somewhat flexible after baking, so that you can get the texture in to really small or curved areas.

I applied this texture all over the sculpt.

At this point I gave the sculpt a couple of layers of Krylon crystal clear coat to seal it. This makes it easier to remove the clay from the mold later.

At this point, take lots of pictures and admire your work of art:  You are never going to see it whole ever again.

And we're ready to mold!


Plastic buckets (1 for rinsing your hands in, 1 to mix ultracal in)
Water based clay
Ultracal 30 (+water)
Respirator (for mixing Ultra Cal 30)
Burlap, cut in to strips
Rubber Kidney
Chip brushes (several)
Chisel or flat head screwdrivers

I used a waterbased clay to make the mold walls, carefully dividing the sculpt in half along the center. This is where the two halves of the mold will eventually join. Make sure that the seam where the water based clay meets the oil based clay is as clean as possible, so that no ultracal will seep underneath. I took a small, damp paintbrush and brushed the waterbased clay where it met the oil based clay, creating a smooth seam line.
Water based clay is used for the mold walls because it pulls off easily from the oil based clay and won't mar the sculpture
The round circles on the mold walls are called "registration keys".  These will help the finished mold align.
Following this, I started to brush on a thin layer of Ultracal 30. This is called the "beauty coat" and is supposed to catch all the tiny details of the sculpt.

Add 2 inches of cold water to a small mixing container (I used a 32oz yogurt container) and then slowly sift Ultracal in to the water. Keep doing this until clumps of ultracal appear above the water and start forming cracks that look like a dry riverbed. Mix the ultracal until there are no lumps.

Begin brushing the ultracal on to your sulpture, getting it in to all the cracks and crevices, and make sure there are no air bubbles. At first, the ultracal will just drip down the sculpture, but as it begins to cure and get thicker, it will be easier to spread around. Make sure you cover all of the clay.

I followed this with 1-2 more layers of brushed on Ultracal. The clay sculpture should not be visible underneath.

The final layer of the mold was burlap strips dipped in ultracal, and applied to the outside of the mold. 3-4 layers of burlap were applied. This helps strengthen the mold, and will prevent it from cracking later on. After the burlap layer has started to thicken, use a rubber kidney and smooth out the outside of the mold. Once it has thickened a little more, you can make it even smoother by rubbing a piece of burlap on the outside.

Once the ultracal cured (about 30 minutes; it will get really hot, harden, and then cool down) it was time to flip the mold on to it's other side, and repeat the same steps for the second half.

Before adding any ultracal to the second half of the mold, make sure to put a thin layer of vaseline around the cured ultracal, and inside of the registration keys.  This is super important!  If you do not do this, your mold will not come apart!  You should also make sure to put several pry points along the edge of the mold to make seperating it easier.

I sadly did not take any pictures of the finished mold before prying it apart.  (I guess I was just that excited!).  After the second half cured, I did have some problems seperating the mold.  Some of the ultracal ended up overlapping the seam, and my one of my registration keys had the opposite effect of what I hoped and locked my two mold halves together.  I very slowly and very carefully chiseled away at the edge of my mold (which I do not recommend AT ALL since there is a high chance of you ruining your mold) until I was able to pry the two parts in half.

When prying your mold apart there is a strong likelyhood (especially with something like an Asari head that has a lot of undercuts) that your sculpt is not going to come out of this whole.

Here are some sad pictures of my destroyed sculpt.

But on the bright side, the mold turned out pretty well! It took a long time (about 4 days) and a lot of maneuvering to clean all the clay out from the tentacles. Some of them came out really easily, but about 3 or 4 of the tentacles ended up getting clay stuck in the tips. I had to carefully scrape the clay out with some shortened wooden tools, and then used q-tips and rubbing alcohol to clean the rest of the clay out of the tips of the tentacles. It was a long and arduous process, but well worth it in the end

After the mold was cleaned out, I sealed the mold together along the outside seam with some more burlap and ultracal; I did this because I would easily be able to pull the finished latex headpiece out of the neckhole.

I patched the inside center seam of the mold with apoxie sculpt, and did the same with a few large air bubbles that had occured while making the mold.

Patching the center seam with apoxie sculpt

I filled any bubbles like this with apoxie sculpt

And, once that was finished and cured, it was casting time!

Thanks for reading!  I hope to have Part 2 up shortly after SDCC, where I will be making a video of how to apply the head piece and blend it in to your skin!


Minnie said...

This is awesome! Your sculpt is beautiful and you've made it really clear for latex noobs like me who are keen to jump on the bandwagon! This is a really dumb question I'm sure but I just wanted to ask you about the water based clay you used to divide the sculpt into two halfs: how do you get the ultracal on the part that is covered by the clay? Do you brush the ultracal on one half, let it cure and then pull the clay off and use the ultracal half as a buffer for doing the other side? I'm sorry, I'm sure it's blindingly obvious but I'm trying to work out the logistics! Thank you for any help you can offer!

Unknown said...

Hi Minnie! Yes, what you said is exactly correct. You coat one half in ultracal, remove the water based clay, put vaseline on the ultracal where the seam will be, and then coat the other half. There's a great video here: http://youtu.be/WGyp4RdpV4Q by Alyssa from Propped Up Creations that shows what I mean; she just uses a deck of cards instead of a clay wall, but same concept!

Minnie said...

Thank you so much! That's cleared up a big question in my mind! I can't wait to attempt it now :) I really look forward to following you through this; your sculpt is wonderful and amazingly detailed. The final costume will be epic!

Minnie said...

Haha wow, I got the dates totally wrong and it does in fact seem as if your costume is already done! And it's as epic as I thought it would be :D

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