Which brings up another thing that made my year already! I always write up these blogs, number the photos, and send them to @geekyfanboy to post. I usually go to the blog after he does so, to make sure I have the right link and double check that I didn’t make any mistakes (which I always do and for some reason never find them until AFTER it’s posted!) But I never go back to the blog after that. So it was a total surprise to find that people have been leaving comments! Thank you again for all the compliments, and apologies to all those who asked questions and have been waiting for answers! I never bothered to look cause I never imagined anyone would ask! But now I know, and will do my best to answer. Its part of my New Year’s resolution! That, and trying to actually blog more than once a month!
And on that note, lets get to the good stuff! The Clara Mommy and Me cookie jar and keg tap! Originally just called the Clara cookie jar, until Guild director Sean Becker dropped by the studio and pronounced it with its current moniker. I laughed out loud. Then I stole it! But now I give him credit, which makes it more like borrowing. Hopefully it made you laugh, too!
The concept of Clara being merchandised as a cookie jar/beer tap made Felicia Day laugh when I pitch the Guild Xmas to her, and I really believe it was this product idea that won her over and got me the green light to make the parody commercials. So Clara will always have a special place in my heart, because she opened the door to a very fun project. And then opened her head to some very tasty cookies!
I’m not saying these items aren’t good art (I’m actually thinking about buying the Wicked Witch of the West! Whatever, dude. Don’t knock the Wizard of Oz!) I’m just stating that from what I’ve seen as a collector, most celebrity cookie jars have a strangeness to them. Which was the part I was really researching. I wanted to capture that feel in my Clara cookie jar. I couldn’t take the exact approach I did with the Vork bank. Especially since I found that in order to fit the mini-keg, Clara’s head had to be life sized! If I tried to make it too realistic, it would end up looking more like a severed head from a horror movie than a cookie jar!
Photo 02: The next step was to comb back through my Guild cast photo shoot pix, and find the perfect set of turn-around images of Robin Thorsen. As with Vork, I assembled the front, 2 sides, and back images as a line up in Photoshop, then printed out 2 sets: a small combined set, and individual full size images.
Photo 02a: The real joke of this cookie jar is that you can put a mini-keg into it, so in order to make the joke work, you actually HAVE TO BE ABLE TO PUT a mini-keg into it! I can’t think of any other project that made people’s faces light up the way they did when I asked someone to go buy a mini-keg in the middle of the workweek. It’s for measurements, people! And it really was. I decided that it was all sorts of wrong to sculpt around a full keg, and all sorts of other wrongs to ask my crew to empty it mid day! So I decided to find a piece of PVC pipe that was close to the outer diameter of the keg, and sculpt around that. This would insure that I could never carve deep enough into the clay that it would prevent the keg from fitting inside the final Clara head.
Photo 03: I went straight in with Roma plastilina #3 again. Nick Carmichael jumped in to help, as roughing out something of this size in Roma can take hours, if not days! We warmed the clay in an oven to soften it up faster than hand kneading, but it still took about 5 hours to pack this all on. Larger projects are often sculpted in clays that are cheaper and easier to build up, like WED clay, but the Roma gives me sharp, clean details, and despite the slow start, the finish work is actually faster than with water clays.
Photo 4: Here I made my center mark, and roughed in a chin. The reason why I started there was because this was the deepest point back that the sculpture could go due to the pipe, or keg, inside. So my next step was to set the eyes in place, which is where I usually start, but I based their placement on the neck position.
Photo 5: I really don’t want to bore anyone with another blog about face sculpting, because it kinda is the same thing every time (If you didn’t see the Unbreakable Vork Bank, check it out for face sculpting info!) so I’ll skip ahead to things I did specifically for this product.
Photo 6: In case you were wondering, the final product is NOT made of ceramic! I laid it up in fiberglass, with a BJB 1630 urethane skin. But I wanted it to look like ceramic, which means that it really needs to be perfectly smooth. I did a lot of raking to make sure all the surfaces were very geometric. I also made sure there weren’t any massive undercuts, like along the hairline or under the collar and lapels. I say “massive undercuts” because I cheated a little, and had some subtle undercuts to make the end product have slightly more definition than her real ceramic sisters.
Photo 7/7a: I think the biggest challenge of this sculpt was the hair. Not in final execution, because there is very little that had to be done, but in the design process itself. I had photos of Robin on the show, from the “Date my avatar” shoot, and my reference shot by the Bui Brothers, and her hair was different every time. And Clara’s cartoon rendering from the Guild opening is REALLY different! So I needed to create a hairstyle that looked like Robin’s, captured Clara, and at the same time never lifted off the face or neck of the sculpt so it could be molded as if it were ceramic. The challenge was to have it not end up looking like a helmet!
Photo 8: Here’s my final Clara sculpt. I made all the surfaces as smooth as I possibly could without spending days more on it, then added details like the necklace and the gems. The costume is part avatar drawing and part Sara’s interpretation from the video. I kept the hair simple, using the Marilyn and Dorothy jars for reference. I thought about getting a little more stylish with the bangs, but since they were running along the part line for where the top would come off, I didn’t want any separated hair exposing skin. That would just make it weirder than it already is! Too Frankenstein-ish. So she kinda has bowl-cut bangs!
Photo 9: Ah, yes, the lobotomy! This, too, proved to be a challenge! I needed to be able to cut the top of the head off perfectly level. I tried it freehand, then with calipers. No luck. I tried a lazy Susan, a cinderblock and a dowel. Nope. Ultimately, I asked Nick to cut a hole in a large board, and brace it up on 2x4s cut to the height I wanted the line at. We lowered this over the sculpt so the top of her head poked through the hole, then I ran my dental spatula all along the board, scratching this line into the clay. It was a long way to go for just this marking, but I wanted it to be level, dammit! I regret not taking a photo of the rig, because it really was pretty wacky looking…
Photo 10: It was Colonel Mustard in the living room with a…putty knife? No, this is not CLUE. Or THE GUILD meets FRIDAY THE 13TH, either! This is me trying to cut off the top of the head without displacing any of the clay. I pushed a putty knife in until I hit the PVC, carefully removed it, and repeated every few inches. I considered molding the entire sculpt as one piece, cutting the top off in the casting, then building the inner lip in Bondo. But I had this sneaking suspicion that I might need to make a few more of these, and I didn’t want to have to do that process every time. That aside, this way will make a better end product. I just need to get this off without destroying or distorting the clay!
Photo 11: Viola! Got it off safely. And suddenly this whole joke seems very, very morbid!
Photo 12: Careful not to disturb the true edge of the sculpture, I sculpted in a ledge and a lip for the top to sit along. The yellow stuff is rigid foam I filled the PVC with to help keep it firmly secured to the board. If you were wondering…
Photo 13: Clara is ready for molding! I Crystal Cleared her, as I did Vork. But this time I used the Triple Thick version. Since I wanted Clara to be porcelain smooth, and she has very little subtle detail, this spray built up a film skin that really helped create the polished, flawless surface I couldn’t do by hand.
Photo 14: I was surprised by how much feedback I got in regard to Vork’s molding process. I think it’s awesome that so many people out there are making molds. Especially since that means I can step it up a bit and get to the next level of mold making: fiberglass jacketed silicone matrix case molds! Molding wise, its pretty much the same principal as Vork’s 2-part box mold. But we use a fiberglass case shaped to the sculpture instead of a box, so the silicone ends up being an even 1/2” thickness all around. You can mold any size object this way, but it is most practical on larger items.
The first step is to “clay up” your sculpt. This photo shows the tools I use:
A board, slightly larger than a brick of water clay, with two stacks of paint sticks glued to it. Each stack is 3 sticks high, and they are spaced apart just wider than a full brick of water clay.
A cutting wire. Found at most art supply stores with a sculpting or pottery section. I get mine at KitKraft.biz. Or you can make one from an old guitar string, or fishing line, wrapped around two Popsicle sticks.
And I don’t know what the last tool in that photo is actually called! It’s a sculpting tool, with one side shaped like a chisel, and the other usually pointed or rounded. I don’t know, think of some descriptive key words and Google it! Then let me know so I can be more informative to everyone else next time…
Photo 15: Next I covered Clara in wet paper towels. I usually drape dry ones over the top and sprits them with a water bottle until they cling to the sculpt. They don’t need to be drenched, just clingy.
Photo 15a: Take your block of clay and lay it length wise between the stacks of sticks. Use the wire to cut a slice of clay by running along the sticks on both sides. Make sure you pull the wire tight so the slice is perfectly even. I always use WED clay to do this, although most of my friends at the big FX houses prefer white clay. The white clay is way cheaper and less sticky. But I find the stickiness useful, and the fact that the WED is glycerin based, not water based, allows more working time.
Photo 16: Take each slice of clay and lay it over the towel-covered sculpture. The object is to encase the entire sculpture in an even thickness of clay. Be careful not to push on your clay slice, as you can damage the sculpture underneath, and lessen the thickness of the slice. This clay represents the silicone that will ultimately mold your sculpture, and if you get thin spots, it can affect the final casting. As I mentioned in the Vork blog, when in doubt, always go thicker. It’s safer to spend a few more dollars in rubber than it is to have a mold that produces bad castings of you art.
Photo 17: Here is Clara completely encased. I made an extra slice that I cut into wedges and cubes to fit between the places that the full slices didn’t cover. Never “blend” your slices together if there is a gap, as this will thin them down. Always add more material. And don’t conform to every contour of your sculpt. You want to keep the rubber even, but in general terms. Think of it more as the vacuum formed clear plastic insert that holds a new action figure into it’s packaging. The general shape is there, but not every detail.
Photo 18: This is the grid, or “matrix”. Yes, it was called that way before Keanu moved in bullet time! This clay represents keys that will lock the rubber mold into the fiberglass casing. There are no set rules or formulas for this pattern, and every mold maker will have their own “signature style”. A few general pointers I follow:
Try to have a key along the wider, most positive points of the sculpture. Never make the grid too tight (ask me some time to tell you the Babylon 5 mishap…) it will make your mold difficult to take apart. Never let any one surface span too long without a key. It will allow the rubber to sag in the casting process. Even when you are in a rush to get the mold done, take the time to make the keys clean and sharp. It affects the productivity of the mold, and a little extra time here will save you endless headaches later. Trust me on that one…
Photo 19: You might be able to tell that the sun is starting to go down in this picture! To speed things up, I am “shimming” this mold. Instead of building a clay wall to divide the two halves of the mold, similar to Vork’s clay bed, I am inserting sheets of tin along the part line. This will allow me to fiberglass both halves at the same time. Note that the tin sheets on the top and both sides are bent. I did that to create registration keys for the fiberglass. After the tin is stuck into the clay covering (deep enough to stay put, but not so deep that it hits the sculpture!) I used paper tape to cover all the edges. Avoid duct tape or plastic tapes. They melt into the fiberglass and make a mess.
Photo 20: Ah, the fiberglassing process begins! First, I have to say WEAR A MASK! A respirator would be better. This stuff kills brain cells for sure. Just ask my spell check! Second, douse yourself in baby powder. The powder clogs your pores and prevents the fibers from getting in there. You can jump in the shower when you are done and not go to bed itchy!
Here I have just applied the gel coat. A super reliable home recipe for this is a mixture of Bondo auto body filler and fiberglass laminating resin. Use more Bondo than resin, so you get the consistency of thick maple syrup. You will still have to use both catalysts: the red cream and the MEKP. Coat the whole surface with this catalyzed mixture, tin wall and all. Make sure to build up some thickness. Use several coats if you need to.
Photo 21: The fiberglass casing needs to be rigid, so its better to use fiber matting as apposed to cloth. The trouble with mat is it doesn’t like to lay down around corners. To avoid this problem, I go in with straight Bondo and bevel all the corners out! Wait till the Bondo/resin coat is firm, but not fully set, and apply some Bondo into any area that has a severe change in surface. Feather out all the grid keys, and the bottom corner of the tin wall. I usually mix small amounts of Bondo and do a few keys at a time. The material sets very quickly, and its better to go at an even pace than race the catalyst. It doesn’t lay down smooth as its kicking, and you can make fiberglassing worse by adding more irregular surface to go over if you don’t keep the Bondo smooth.
Photo 22: Fiberglass mat can come in rolls or sheets, but if you do a lot of glassing, you can use a chop gun and roving. Roving is a spool of fiberglass rope that threads through the chop gun, and shoots out the other side as splintered fibers.
23: The fibers allow air to pass through easily, so they lay down faster and speed up the whole process. It also makes it easier to do unusual shapes, as the sheets of mat don’t really like to bend in too many directions at once. The gun is messy, and you have to shoot more layers to get a good thickness, but it yields a better result, and still usually makes the process faster.
Photo 24: After covering the Bondo/resin with a layer of fiber, apply catalyzed laminating resin over the entire surface. Use a chip brush to stipple the resin into the fibers. Don’t “brush” it, because you will just end up wiping all the fibers away. Mix the resin in small amounts, and follow the instructions on the container for exact catalyst amounts. Manufacture, temperature, humidity, and volume all greatly effect the ratio to get your resin to set right. It will thicken up as it starts to set, and if you feel fibers begin to lift with your brush, either stop working on it or make a fresh batch. Overworking the resin will make more of a mess.
Photo 25: As you can see, it got pretty dark out! It usually takes a few hours to fiberglass something of this size, and there isn’t really any resting point from start to finish. You don’t really want to walk away between layers, as fiberglass can delaminate from itself if it’s not all done at once. It takes a bit of practice to get the outer surface really smooth, but it’s a good goal to strive for. Fiberglass splinters hurt really bad, and it makes it difficult to handle a mold while you’re bleeding!
Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of resin you use. Your fibers should be fully saturated, but there should be more fiber than resin. Too much resin actually weakens the mold, and makes it susceptible to shattering and warping.
Photo 26: I let the fiberglass sit overnight, mostly because it was a little chilly out, to make sure it was fully set. In the summer, or indoors (but only glass indoors with a massive ventilation system!) it would only need a few hours to fully cure. Then I used a saws-all to trim the flange. Keep as much of the flange as possible, because the next step is to drill a series of ¼ inch holes around the entire casing. If you cut too much flange off, it makes placing the holes difficult. I try to line them up about an inch away from the edge of the sculpture, and about an 1 ½ apart. It may seem like overkill to have so many bolts holding the mold halves together, but remember that we are going to fill this thing with liquid rubber! It needs to be locked up pretty tight to prevent it from all leaking out!
Photo 27: Once the casing is all trimmed, it will be easier to pry a few flathead screwdrivers between the two halves and pop one side off. It is EXTREMELY important that ONLY one side comes off! Usually, if your part line is done well, there will be a side that just naturally falls away. But sometimes you may want to chose which side you deal with first. At this point in the mold, the sooner some part of the sculpture ends up under rubber, the safer it will be! So pick the side that is most precious to you...
I chose to get the face of the casing off first. It helped that the fiberglass was stuck to the board I sculpted Clara on, so by prying the front side free and not the back, I pretty much insured only the piece I wanted would come off. The reason why it’s so important for one side to stay in the mold is that the next step is creating the separation for the silicone. The clay that covered the back now becomes the “bed” that the sculpture lies in. The front of the casing has an exact spacing for rubber to flow around her face, and had Clara popped out of the back half, too, there would be no guarantee that I could have set her back into the clay exactly right. You run the risk of thin spots in the silicone, or worse, edges of the casing matrix grid nicking your sculpture when the front gets put back on.
Photo 27a: I pulled all the metal shim and tape off the back casing flange. Then, using my dental spatula, and some extra WED clay, I continued the level of the flange across the clay bed right up to the sculpture. I smoothed it out with a little water and a soft brush, then used a loop tool to cut a trench all along the sculpt, about centered in the clay wall. This will create a key within the silicone to help register the mold from the inside.
Photo 28: I cleaned out all the WED clay from the front half of the casing and scrubbed it out really well. It’s a good idea to keep all of that clay around for a bit, as you can use it to judge the volume of rubber you will need to make to fill the mold. Since the clay didn’t fill every crack and crevice in the sculpture, it won’t account for ALL the rubber, but it definitely will get you closer than guessing.
If any of the metal shim stuck to this half, I pulled it off, along with as much of the paper tape as possible.
After the case is clean and dry, I drilled a large hole at what would be the highest point of the mold in its pouring position (I’ll explain that in a minute…) Then, I use a really small bit to drill dozens of holes along the grid, also at what will be the highest points in the pouring position. And here’s why…
A case mold can be poured from almost any position, but in designing the mold, its important to plan how the air between the sculpture and the casing will escape as the rubber pours in. In the instance of Clara, the obvious choice was to lay her on her back. I could have left her standing, but then would run the risk of trapping air under her nose, upper lip, and hair. Laying down, her front half had no overhangs for air to catch under as it rose up towards the casing. So that is it’s “pouring position”.
The large hole, which I made just under the diameter of a toilet paper roll tube, will be the silicone’s point of entry. It needs to be the highest point in order to get the whole casing filled.
The smaller holes are made to allow air to escape as the rubber comes in. If you hold the casing in its pour position over your head, you will see all kinds of strange places where air can get trapped as the liquid rises. If you just drill holes in the center of your grid key, many of them will come out with air bubbles in the upper corner. A few bubbles aren’t a problem. But if the holes aren’t drilled properly, you could open the mold to find rubber missing over half the face!
The small vent holes also serve another purpose: they act as markers telling you how high the silicone is rising as you pour it in, because the rubber will begin to bleed out as it reaches them. Ultimately you will use a drywall screw to plug it up. So make sure you test your bit size by drilling into a scrap and hand tightening a screw into the hole. It should fit snug with just two turns. Any deeper and you might hit your sculpture!
Photo 29: After all the holes are drilled, hot glue the toilet paper tube over the larger hole. You can use any tube, really, but I use these because there are always some around, and they are the perfect length to provide backpressure without wasting too much rubber. Make sure it is glued very securely. If it breaks off with silicone inside, you will never get it glued back on again!
Photo 30: Carefully place the casing back over your sculpture. It’s best to do this with two people, so someone can be looking inside as the other is lowering. Remember how many paint sticks were used to slice that clay? That’s how close that fiberglass is to all your hard work. And fiberglass is to clay what rock is to scissors!
Photo 31: Now it’s time to bolt it up! I use ¼ inch carriage bolts with wing nuts. Note that the wing nuts are upside down. This helps distribute pressure on the flange, plus, they tighten with half the threading! Trust me, when you bolt and unbolt this mold a bunch of times, your wrists will thank you for every turn you don’t have to make!
Photo 32: Mix the silicone RTV rubber, just like in the Vork Bank blog, and aerate it. Then pour it into the cardboard tube. As the rubber begins to bleed out of the vent holes, plug them with screws. I usually let them bleed for a few seconds before I plug them, just to make sure there isn’t any air working its way out. Make enough rubber to fill the tube to the top. This will create the backpressure I mentioned earlier, and force out any air that may be clinging to the surface. Inevitably, the contents of the tube will drop before the rubber cures. Just don’t let it drop too far, and NEVER let it go below the casing.
Photo 33: Once the silicone cured, I removed all the screws, cut off the pour tube, and flipped the mold over. All the bolts came out, and I pried off the back half. At this point, the half with the WED clay should pop right off, as the silicone has a pretty good grip on the sculpture. Nonetheless, always be aware of what is happening in your mold, and if for any reason it seems like the rubber side is coming loose first, try getting at it from another angle. This is the worst part of mold making: if any step goes wrong, you can lose the mold AND your sculpture. So take it slow. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way. Many early works died to bring me these mold making skills. I only hope my advise can spare you the pain! Makes for some funny stories, though! But that’s another blog…
This photo shows the back of Clara with the clay bed now replaced with cured silicone. This is a view of my sculpture I had never seen before, so I took the opportunity to fill in those rough spots under her collar and hairline.
Then I coated the exposed silicone with Vaseline, repeated the prep work on the back casing, bolted it together, poured the new rubber, and waited for it to cure.
Photo 34: When it did, I unbolted the mold again (see what I’m talking about with those upside down nuts!!!) and pulled out the sculpture. A quick wipe-down with alcohol, and Clara is ready for a fiberglass positive!
Photo 35: Now I had a negative Clara, so the next step was to make the positive Clara. I brushed up a generous coat of BJB 1630 urethane into each half of the mold. Nothing will stick to the silicone rubber mold, so you don’t need any release or separators.
Photo 36/36a/36b: After the 1630 gels and stops pooling at the bottom of the mold, but before it fully cures, I used the chop gun to shoot in a layer of fiberglass. Using a new brush, I tapped the chop against the sticky urethane. Then I mixed a cup of laminating resin and coated the fibers, shot more chop, resined again, and continued to do this process until I built up a decent thickness.
Make sure you keep the flange as clean as possible, because any build up will cause separation when the two halves of the mold are put together, and that gap will create a really bad seam in the final part.
Photo 37: When the fiberglass stiffens up a bit, put the mold together and bolt it tight. I am often lazy here and only put every other bolt in. As long as the halves are firmly held together for this stage, it will be fine. Just don’t tell people I said it was okay!
This next step is easier with actual fiberglass mat. Rip some small pieces and lay them across the seam. Tap resin on them, and repeat. I recommend at least 3 layers. Make sure you don’t miss any spots, or Clara will have holes in her head! Let this part fully cure. Overnight is best if you can spare the time. If not, be sure it’s done or your piece may still split apart!
Photo 38: Yes, its true. We have to unbolt the mold AGAIN!!!! But this is the last time! Pop out the casting, trim the flashing with a Dremmel, and start sanding!
Photo 39: I used a cutting wheel on the Dremmel to remove the solid surface on the top of the head, following the grove I had sculpted into the original clay.
Photo 40: Now I needed to create a bottom for the cookie jar. I found an old laminated shelf in the woodpile, and traced the bottom footprint of the fiberglass casting onto it with a sharpie. Then I released inside the marker lines with a thin coat of Part-all wax. I put the cookie jar back on the mark, and locked it onto the shelf with a generous bead of hot glue.
Photo 40a: It was important to seal it all the way, because the next step was to pour 3/8 inch of 1630 urethane through the top of the head! Once the urethane cured, I peeled off the hot glue, and popped the cookie jar off the board.
Photo 41: Some more sanding, spot putty, and body filler, and the casting was complete. I made a dump mold for the top of the head (I’ll save that explanation for the Codex Answer Orb blog) and sprayed the whole thing with an enamel high gloss white. I drilled a hole and cemented in the Frost Mage Wand tap. This was a working spigot. I used a cheap kitchen sink hose head replacement from Home Depot as the base, and Nick epoxied some carefully placed bolts onto it to support the jeweled wand. The wand was made the exact same way I made the one for the “Date My Avatar” video. A full disclosure on that process will be revealed to coincide with the release of The Guild Season 3 DVD. Have you preordered yours yet!!! Do it now! http://bit.ly/Guild3DVD
Photo 42: Painting was pretty simple, but the catch was that I wanted it to look “glazed”. I started painted this particular prop about, oh, 4am, which was 3 hours from the Guild Xmas call time! So I couldn’t get too crazy. My non-stressful solution to getting this done was to mix small amounts of Liquitex acrylic colors into clear gloss gel medium, creating a translucent, glaze like paint. I wanted the white enamel to be seen through the color layer to make it appear more like ceramic, and I left the brush strokes in to emulate what I was seeing in the mass manufactured products. It dried really quickly, and as soon as the sun came up, I took it outside and gave it one more coat of Crystal Clear, just to give the paint job a little protection. Then I was off to shoot the commercials, and the next time I saw Clara…
Photo 43: Monica May was eating cookies out of her head and pouring beer from her tap! Ah, the magic of Hollywood!
For anyone who is thinking that the explanations for each step of making a silicone matrix fiberglass case mold need to be more in depth, you are very right. There are a lot of processes mentioned that are much more clear when you are actually witnessing them being executed. Pax was actually around for a majority of the Clara M&MCJ molding, and caught most of the major steps on film. I’m thinking of filling in the gaps and posting a video version of this blog, also, so it makes more sense. Let me know if there is any interest in that!
Hope everyone is having an amazing start to the new year! And thanks again so much for checking out my blog! There will be more soon!