Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Borderlands 2

Early this summer, I was contacted by my friends at gNet about doing some prototype mask work for a test shoot they were planning for a live action commercial to promote GearBox's new release of Borderlands 2.

Photo 1: I created a version of the bandit. It's a hand painted fiberglass mask with real stitching and a rubber outer gasket.

Photo 2: The shoot was a series of still images composited into backgrounds, with digital effects added. The final look was very convincing, and the mask, the make-up, and the wardrobe all helped assure the client that the commercial was possible. 

Photo 3: Right before San Diego Comicon, I got the call that there was an official greenlight on the full blown spot. Except this time, they would need more masks. A lot of them!

Photo 4: Luckily, with the week long SDCC creating quite the time crunch for me, I had left my original Psycho mask sculpture in tact (I had to turn the project around so fast, I only made a quick alginate mold for the one-off prototype. This peeled off easily, so the clay was unharmed). I made some refinements to it, including sculpting the individual stitching onto it, as the hand stitching through pre-drilled holes in the fiberglass took forever on the original. 

I created a silicone matrix mold with a fiberglass jacket so I had a sturdy negative to mass produce positive pulls from. 

Photo 5: Once the mold was finished, Red 5 led the team on a multi-day fiberglass excursion while I started sculpting the other characters. 

Photo 6: Each mask had to be done in multiple layers, dried, then trimmed with a cut-off disc on a dremel. The eyes needed to be hollowed out, and the entire interior mask had to be sanded smooth for actor comfort. 

Photo 7: Next the masks were primed and base coated. An entire day was spend painting the fiberglass to look like leather on each mask. Intern Samantha tediously hand painted every sculpted stitch to look like woolen twine. Then the masks were washed in thinned out acrylic paint in several tones of brown and black, which were blotted away with paper towel to create a grunge, weathered effect. 

The last painting procedure was applying the chrome metal trim to the goggles and the filter. The masks were finalized with the black L-200 gasket and a series of leather straps. The hero mask got black scrim in the eyes, and a set of LEDS with a micro switch and tiny hidden battery, wired up by Anthony Thompson

Photo 8: I started roughing out the Marauder helmet, which originally we thought was just a bandana and goggles. But closer inspection of the 3D game assets (which I'd love to show you, but I don't think GearBox would want that out there before the game release!) revealed that there is actually a metal helmet under the cloth. I decided to go with vacuformed plastic shells that held some of the wrinkle shapes, so the end result would be as stylized as this screenshot from the game. 

Photo 9: I kept it subtle, as I didn't want every wrinkle on every helmet to match exactly. But the overall structure of the mask would help me achieve the extreme shape of the in-game character. You can see how sharp the nose is in the profile screen cap behind the sculpt.

In the end, we had 4 days to create 13 helmets and masks, which is pretty tight even for us nutjobs at the BarnYard. So I decided to call in some help, and went right for the big guns. Jim McPherson joined in and finished this sculpt. If you think I have an impressive resume, check out what Jim has worked on!

Photo 10: For the sake of time, Jim shimmed the finished roma plastilina clay sculpt and made two halves of a mold in alginate, with plaster bandage casings. These days, aliginate is almost as expensive as silicone, so there is not a lot of saving on this single use mold. But, the dental impression material does dry within minutes, so we did save a lot of time. Once Jim had the sculpture prepped, he made the mold and had plaster positives ready to be vacuformed within the hour!

Photo 11: The positives had to be poured solid, as vacuforming buts hundreds of pounds of pressure on the "buck", which is what the positive is called for vacumforming. Any low spots had to be vented to the bottom, so suction can still pull on the plastic even after it contacts the surface of the buck. I usually drill them out, but Jim did this neat trick where he greased up some brass rods and stuck them into the alginate mold, pouring the plaster around them. When the plaster cured, we pulled them out, and had perfect vents with minimal effort!

Photo 12: Another thing that has to be taken into consideration when vacuforming is the thickness of the plastic. And for multiple reasons. The first is that when pulling plastic over a positive, your final outer surface will them be the thickness of the plastic larger than the original. So if you are trying to achieve an exact measurement, you need to create the original at a size less the thickness of the plastic. Make sense? Just in case, since I think I am even confusing myself, here is a clear example: if you want to create a vacumformed shell of a square at a final outer dimension of 6 inches on all sides, and you plan on pulling it from a .125" plastic sheet, you need to create your original square buck at 5.75" per side. See, simple...

The next thing to consider is "draft". The term has multiple meanings in the process of vacuforming, one being the angle of which the buck hits the vacuum table. But in terms of the plastic, it means how much "stretch" the sheet has to undergo to reach the table. The higher your buck extends from the table, the bigger the draft. If there is too much draft, the plastic will split, the suction of the vacuum will be lost, and the pull ruined. This is prevented by calculating the proper thickness of the plastic used, so it stretches down to the desired end measurement. For example, you may want to use .080 plastic over a steep draft to end up with a .060 thick part after its pulled. We went with .100 to get an .80 result based on a 24"x24" table. Oh, yeah, you need to factor that in, too. Ugh, so much math...

Photo 13: And after all that calculating, we covered it up with a bandana! Expertly crafted, though, by Lauren of Castle Corsetry.

 Photo 14: I used 3M 77 to adhere the bandanas, starting at the nose so I could line up the white arch perfectly. Then I gathered and folded the rest of the fabric to look like the art, tying it off in the back and stitching it together. Then I hacked it all up with scissors, and used watered down acrylics to age it up.

Photo 15: The final step was to attached the leather goggle straps with brass buckles, and glue in brass nose bridge. 

 Photo 16: But wait! There's more! The production company asked me to build the masks, and the next day they told me they were having trouble locating a costume designer that could handle bringing the rest of the characters to life. I recommended Shawna Trpcic, who you know from Firefly, Dollhouse, The Cabin In The Woods , and everything else cool. We had collaborated together on projects such as Dragon Age: redemption and Husbands, and I love working with her. She took the job, and production piled on the characters! At the top of the new list was the assassin Zer0, and I begged Shawna to let me make the helmet. Which she did. She's awesome!

Photo 17: Coincidently, I sculpted Zer0 on the bust of Doug Jones, who was the villain in DA:R. This was the hardest character to do, since the game art makes him so spindly, and much more robot than human. I had to take certain liberties to even make the design fit around a human head.

 Photo 18: The finished Zer0 sculpt. The spot called for 2 versions, so I didn't go crazy with the battle damage in the clay original. I figured I would dremel some into the final fiberglass castings, so they could be unique.

Photo 19: In the wee hours of the night, the Zer0 helmet was clayed and shimmed for a silicone matrix mold.

Photo 20: We were desperately short on time, so McPherson convinced me that we could pull off a single silicone pour, as opposed to the traditional multi-part pour. This is usually done so that the rubber would separate with each piece of fiberglass jacket, making it easier to remove from the positive, and also allowing more control of the airflow in pouring the liquid rubber, so the chances of capturing air against the sculpture are minimized. It was a risky proposition, but Jim's a pro, so I knew he would pull it off. And in exchange, we each got 3 hours sleep that night since we shaved so much time off the workload!

Photo 21: The mold cured perfectly, and Jim and Red5 began working on the fiberglass positives. 

Photo 22: Once they were ready, I started doing the finish work to the hero helmets. This is where I carved unique nicks and dings into each helmet.


Photo 23: Obviously, the actors needed a way to see, so I vacuformed clear lexan into a plaster negative of the Zer0 visor, and fused it into a hole I dremeled out of the helmet.

Photo 24: The trick was to not make it LOOK like there was a clear plastic viewscreen in the supposedly solid visor. I feathered gray primer as far over the clear as I could while still making sure it was possible to see out. Then I taped off the window and sprayed the helmets black. I did a series of washes over that, tape removed, so I could model the aging around and over the clear window.

Photo 25: Once I was done, the clear section was almost invisible to the naked eye, and there was still 90% visibility from inside. It was the equivalent of looking through dirty sunglasses.

Photo 26: To help insure that light didn't reflect off the actor's face and illuminate the clear window, I hung a small curtain of sheer black tool behind it. The final stage for Zer0 was aging with paint, and using chrome model paint to accent battle damage. 

Photo 27: It was super late, or super early, depending on how you look at it, and I was getting delirious painting all of the chrome streaks and spots to look like metal exposed through sword chipped paint. I decided to hide a few tiny Easter eggs in the scuff patterns, a tribute to my favorite geeks. One helmet has The Knights of Good shield on it, the other sports the Team Unicorn logo!

Photo 28: Had enough? Well, we're not done yet. You don't seriously think I'd just do a mere 13 helmets for an awesome production like this, do you!?! I mean, once you've been awake for 4 days straight, what's another sleepless night! Let's build some props!

gNet decided that they really wanted to have a loot box in the commercial, but didn't realize that one wasn't commissioned until the first day of shooting when it wasn't there. They called me up and asked if I had one more piece in me, and well, it was cool looking, so I couldn't say no. It was scheduled to shoot the very next day, so there was no time to lose. Amish scaled up the 3D model we got from the game developers, and we started building the finishing details before we even started the main structure!

 Photo 29: The end result was pretty cool, though. We finished around 4am, and it was going to shoot just outside of Palm Springs at 8 that morning. So, if the delivery truck drove really fast, it would be right on time!

Photo 30: Based on the proportional dimensions from the game asset, this prop was NOT small!

Photo 31: Despite the fact that we had less than 20 hours to build this thing, we still tried to match every detail from the game. And the style. I absolutely love the painterly style GearBox gave Borderlands, and it was a thrill to try and capture that in real life. Red5 made these stencils based on the game renderings, and we matched the exact placement.

Photo 32: this one is dedicated to Red5's dad!

Photo 33: And just to round the night off perfectly, the "delivery truck" ended up being a mid-sized SUV. It took a while to squeeze the giant loot box into the back, but it made to set unscathed, and you can see it early on in the commercial. The rest is pretty hazy, but I think I actually got to sleep after that. Poor Amish had to go get ready for an early morning photo shoot for his wedding invitations! I just got mine in the mail. He channeled a week of no sleep into a total rock star aura! Which is a good thing, since I'd be lost if the future Mrs. Amish made him stop racing the daylight at the BarnYard! Everybody congratulate Amish in the comments below! 


  1. Congratulations Amish! XD

    Also, WOW, those bandit masks are gorgeous! Great work!

  2. Congratulations Amish! (I didn't think any of you guys had any time for any private life)

    And thanks Greg and Red for the dedication. Now to just live up to the reputation.

  3. Oh and congrats amish! Just got married myself in july!

  4. I really wanna get one of those bandit masks!! Do you sell those? or are the products coming out to the market? thanks!! they are beautiful!! :)

  5. Do you have any dimensioned drawings or anything else you used in the making of the Zer0 mask? A buddy of mine wants to make one and It looks like yours was fantastic! If you could post it please do!

  6. I would too like to see if any of those masks still exist?
    I'd love to have one!

  7. Seriously are you selling these???

  8. Just saw the live action commercial on TV
    great job with the props dude!!!
    still lookin around for a way to make the zer0 helmet myself

  9. I would love to purchase a full Zer0 suit. What would something like that run?

  10. I can't say enough on how great these looks and how so much talent went to make them.

  11. i would like to purchase a botman mask email me at anthonyaguilar37@gmail.com

  12. Congrats Amish!

    You all do fantastic work. Is purchasing a bandit mask a possibility?


  13. hello i was just like every one else are you selling the psycho mask and if so how much

    if you can contact me at carloslpz999@gmail.com

  14. would love to purchase a psycho bandit mask if so Cptcrnc@aol.com

  15. When you decide to sell 1 or 2 please let me know mossyaman@Gmail.com

  16. I would really like to buy one the Psycho masks if possible. Will pay top dollar, email me @ jdnchls@gmail.com

  17. I would love to buy a bandit mask. If you are selling shoot me an email. Plantice2000@gmail.com

  18. Psycho Bandit mask? i would love to buy one, sasoriloverella@gmail.com

  19. Like most people here, if you ever decide to produce and sell, hit me up at 'Clydee_fred@live.no', those bandit masks are great, would love to have one for a real costume.

  20. I would like a bandit if you decided to sell ive looked up for a few and there isnt any like yours, if you decide to sell or mass produces please contact me at 'pablo977@gmail.com' thx

  21. If you are able to make a Marauder mask for me, with the bandana and LEDs, please contact me.


  22. Awesome work...how much for the bandit masks? mail me at earl.mulligan@facebook.com i'm keen on buying one.

  23. Hello,

    i'm from Germany and search since the First Borderlands Games for this Psycho Mask. Do you sell them? I would thank you a lot if you can help me to get one of this awsome masks.

    My Email: fdt_damasta@hotmail.de



  24. Hello I think you did amazing work on the psycho mask, I was wondering if I can buy one off you. Email me so we can come to a price on the mask. mikexplay@gmail.com or mikexplay@hotmail.com

  25. Hi there, i'm interested in purchasing a Borderlands II mask, can you please let me know how much they cost? I would need one for an event this coming Friday. Thanks! Annie - adejoy@hotmail.com

  26. Hey i would really like to buy one of the psycho masks off you, if you still have any if not then any of the others, would you be able to let me know how much it would cost me, please contact me at mitchdeagan@hotmail.com.au

  27. my email is apparently bouncing back so if you could instead contact me on facebook that would be great, Mitchell Deagan. if not the too bad

  28. Hey there- I was one of the makeup assistants on the Borderlands 2 commercial spot. Having gotten the chance to see, hold, and examine a lot of these props first hand, I just wanted to congratulate you on an incredible job well done! I know how rushed the whole production was, and the level of quality and detail you guys acheived was amazing. Though I'm concentrating on makeup right now, I would love to work with costumes and props sometime in the future as well. Keep on making amazing stuff!

  29. Wow nice zero helmet/head i want that xD

    I feel the burning

    Eating right through my wallet

    Please take my money

  30. WOW, AMAZING, BEAUTIFUL MASKS!!! Anyway I can purchase one of the Psycho Mask? If so please contact me at charlieperalta32@msn.com or yurdaddy8@yahoo.com