Video Post! LED Lighting for Props

While I continue to work on the Blender particles-of-particles post (I maybe sorta kinda forgot how I did it so I’m having to reverse-engineer it), here’s a video I published yesterday on installing RGB LEDs and building a diffusion box for light-up screens on prop builds!




The Borderlands Episode: Commercial Recasting

(The following issue was resolved shortly prior to publication, but if you’re interested in the legalities of replica propmaking, feel free to continue!)

Well, that escalated quickly. First from Abby Darkstar, then Harrison Krix (post deleted), and most recently at time of writing is Steven “SoloRoboto” Meissner sharing Steven K “SKS Props” Smith‘s Twitter spat last night with the BusDev and Licensing exec at Gearbox, David Eddings (no, not that one). It started over the image at the top of that back-and-forth, Glitch Gear’s PAX announcement of their “Psycho Mask prototype”, which SKS claims as a recast of his own. I can’t imagine it’s going to get better from here unless the Gearbox marketing department starts swinging, but all’s quiet on the western front, which indicates that emails are privately a-flying.

Naturally, “no recasting” being rule #1 in the cosplay community, everyone piled on Glitch Gear and David Eddings to defend their fellow maker. Is it as simple as that, though? Since I don’t identify specifically as a propmaker but more as a general physical and visual creative, I tried to think my way through the tangled web of our broken IP legal system as best I understand it, with the facts that I’m aware of. I haven’t played Borderlands (though I did rather like the 2003 Halo PC port) and don’t really know Steven in any meaningful way, so I don’t particularly have a horse in this race. The usual “I Am Not A Lawyer” caveats apply, as well as “I am not a long-time professional propmaker” and others. Feel free to disagree with my points.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that the mask IS a recast, since if it’s not, and it’s simply an SLA print of a high-res asset (which would have been the logical way to do it) the entire argument is moot and Steven’s drawn some unwanted attention for naught.

1) The Commission System

Commissions are used in the cosplay community to legally mask the appearance of mass-production of unlicensed works. That may be an unpopular opinion, but as best I can tell it’s a fact. I may even be guilty of it myself, if a run of five- three kits and two builds- from silicone moulds would be judicially considered “mass production”. The idea is that commissions of popular IPs are individual artworks unencumbered by copyright and trademark law, since they’re built from scratch as one-offs by clients who are paying for the skilled labour, not the object. Big difference, legally.

Continue reading The Borderlands Episode: Commercial Recasting

TIL: BR85HB-SR Edition!

AKA. The First Mistakes Post of Many!


I was just reflecting on some of the things I’ll be doing differently on future builds and/or kits, and realised that it might make an interesting post. Currently I’m in the unique position of being still just about post-first-build, and therefore the things I’m reflecting on now are likely to be “obvious”, overlooked by builders further on in their pursuits.

Here’s the top five that I think about regularly: Continue reading TIL: BR85HB-SR Edition!

The Value Proposition of Craftsmanship

Harrison Krix (Volpin Props) recently tweeted,

which set me to wondering. Not so much about cat condos, as entertaining (and potentially yet slightly disappointingly profitable!) a concept as that may be. But it is distinctly noticeable that the world of propmaking, just like the world of “professional photography” that I also have a foot in, has been becoming increasingly crowded.

Bubbling Up

I think the reasons for these two “bubbles” is both the same and entirely different. Photography has boomed primarily thanks to the democratisation of the hardware. You can pick up a camera that’ll happily compete with the big boys for $500 used (or new, in some cases) and Chinese OEMs have flooded the accessory market with affordable gear- I have three Yongnuo speedlights myself as well as my American-made StudioMax and Einstein strobes. Having the gear is one thing, but it’s the education and sharing that has really accelerated the trend. Continue reading The Value Proposition of Craftsmanship

HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Master Complete

So a couple of days ago, after two and a half months longer than originally anticipated, six months to the day since the original post here, the battle rifle master was complete! The master is the finished original build that doesn’t get used, but gets moulded so that the final strong, lightweight plastic resin versions can be cast from the moulds.

The delay was simply a lack of experience on my part- it turns out that if you want to finish something to a professionally high standard, all the layers of priming, sanding from 220 grit on up to 2000 grit and clearcoat applications take just as long as the build itself. Of course, I was entirely unaware of that going in.

If you’re interested in the details of that finishing work, I produced a video guide on it while working:

That was, admittedly, a not-insignificant portion of the delay in finishing, since 30-minute videos are non-trivial to put together even when conceptually simple, but since I hadn’t really seen any information on it prior to starting I thought it was important to share at least my initial experience with others in that position. My techniques may change over time, I don’t know. If they do I’ll probably do another updated video.

I think that’s about it, so let’s get to the photos!


Continue reading HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Master Complete

The Bondo Workflow

As you can see, there isn’t much in the way of updates  on the BR85HB, though that’s not due to a lack of progress- in fact, it’s almost complete and ready for moulding, just a couple weeks of work left to do:

The night of "completion"
The night of “completion” after ten hours of straight work. Slightly loopy from exhaustion!
After some more work.
After some more work.

If you want to see how that’s been coming along, check out the 405th update thread here: Major recent updates are around pages 4/5/6. The lack of blog updates is primarily due to the fact that building a piece like this mostly consists of doing the same general things over and over again but in slightly different shapes, not exactly a grand learning experience on every part like I’d originally anticipated.

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today, as you may have inferred from the title.


Needless to say, over the course of this build, I’ve learned rather a lot about the use of Bondo body filler. It’s an incredibly useful material, and unsurprisingly a staple in the prop and cosplay maker’s arsenal. I’ve seen the question of how it’s used come up numerous times over the last few months, and since the specifics are usually glossed over in favour of general advice, and I’m now in a position to be able to offer a fairly comprehensive beginners’ guide, it seems right to do so and pay it forward.

So, here we go with my typical Bondo workflow, going from bare surface to the beginning of surface prep for finishing.

Continue reading The Bondo Workflow

HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Barrel Jacket Assembly Complete

This took about three weeks and innumerable individual actions and solutions, so I’m going to keep it fairly abridged and streamlined.

I now have a picdump thread up on the 405th where almost all my pics will be going, and you can see these at a little higher resolution. The disadvantage there is that the embeds aren’t 600px wide like on WordPress, so you have to click through the lightboxes to see clearly.

Here, I’m going to stick to a general overview with a handful of more interesting events. Let’s get started!

First I did the cylindrical parts because they were the easiest:




The anchor at the front of the frame snaps into this part very satisfyingly. I made it so that the finished piece can be moulded and shipped in pieces which should theoretically glue together nicely with minimal need for careful fit and alignment.


Continue reading HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Barrel Jacket Assembly Complete

Creating Abstract, Textured Studio Backdrops

While I love my seamless, sometimes I wish there were another option in the studio than flat colour. Sometimes I feel like a subject, particularly one simply lit, would have a little more depth if the background had some texture to it, something for the light to “catch” on and “anchor” the image in something real.

Usually this is achieved by shooting on location, particularly with a shallow depth of field. It can be achieved by lighting the background through a gobo, throwing patterned light on the background. But none of this quite achieves either the right level of reality, or the right level of texture uniformity and colour/tone control required for the shots I envisage. While they both have their uses, there just isn’t anything like a proper backdrop to blend “real” and “fake” in the right quantities.

So, how to create the right backdrop? Be warned: I go into detail… This is 2800 words of research and experimentation. You might wanna skim from section to section.

Painted Backdrops

Enter the painted backdrop. More specifically, fine-art painted backdrops; those painted according to very specific criteria with some degree of skill for a fairly specific spectrum of purpose. These can include scenery, skies, abstract or even full-blown Hollywood matte paintings. Not those generic printed school-portrait backgrounds!

The real deal. Gorgeous? Yes. Worth the cost? If you can afford it, totally. I now know first hand how much work goes into this.
The real deal. Gorgeous? Yes. Worth the cost? If you can afford it, totally. I now know first hand how much work goes into this.

My inspiration here is, perhaps entirely unsurprisingly to some, Oliphant Backdrops, a small company producing fine art backdrops for high end clients from Hollywood studios to Vogue that are consistently beautiful and inspiring. I Googled the prices on these, and found a couple of forum discussions between previous clients placing custom work in the low four-figure range and rentals in mid-three-figures. Firmly out of my budget levels for the near future.

Naturally, my immediate instinct is to DIY instead. So what’s required to set about that? I spent a month working on that very question, so I could show you…

Getting Started

To clarify, I don’t have a fine art degree or anything along those lines, so I’m not approaching it with any significantly greater degree of skill with a physical paintbrush than anyone else. Given this fact, nothing I produce will likely ever be as good as an Oliphant without years of regular practice. On the other hand, I have a decent idea of how paint works, and I have some muscle memory from digital painting, so it shouldn’t be impossible. I’m aiming for it to be achievable by anyone with a modicum of artistic inclination like me, so my lack of experience is important. Anyone can follow along!

If you saw my blog a little while back, you'll know I just dusted these 2012 paintings off after some time in an old backup archive.
If you saw my blog recently, you’ll know I just dusted these 2012 paintings off after some time in an old backup archive.

First you have to figure out what you’re looking to create. Personally I’m not looking for anything too extravagant, my favourites are the abstract ones which vary between “cloud-like” and “shoddily-painted decaying plaster”. They strike the exact right balance between block-tone uniformity and reality-grounding detail for my aesthetic taste, so that’s the style I’m specifically looking at for this project.

Continue reading Creating Abstract, Textured Studio Backdrops

HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Lower Receiver Complete

Yeah, more of a grip slash trigger assembly, but I’m labelling the build more by traditional rifle geography than by actual mechanical purpose.

I’m also not doing a step-by-step, day by day build. I more or less did that on the make-it-up-as-I-went-along Scifi Pistol build, and ultimately other than some new toys, the process is largely the same. Here I just have dimensional plans to stick to.

So with the frame done, I worked on the trigger assembly section first, because I was procrastinating on the grip, which looked horrible in terms of symmetrical compound curves to carve freehand.

This is where we left off in the last post…

Starting on the detail just forward of the trigger guard. This part will mate with the main body's lowest skeleton projection.
Starting on the detail just forward of the trigger guard. This part will mate with the main body’s lowest skeleton projection.

And now I can fast forward through the boring stick-cut-sand-stick-cut-sand process, with the magic of technology:

I sanded down the large portion of those two side scales. The small bottom protrusion is supposed to be about 5mm thick, where the main section is supposed to be about 3mm thick. I just made it harder on myself, basically.

There isn’t a whole lot to tell, it’s fairly self explanatory. Having a set of various size files and rasps is invaluable, though the winner at everything ever for all time is the table sander. Not even necessarily the belt sander part on top, since that doesn’t have much of a precision guide on it and results aren’t a whole lot better than a hand held belt sander. Just the disc sander. 1/3HP, 6″, 80 grit. Magical! If you’re yet to splash the cash on a bench sander, I’d recommend ignoring the combos and just going for a separate pair of disc sanders, one small and low powered like mine, and then a bigger 10-12″, 1-1.5HP one.

Oh, and a band saw would be crazy useful, but I don’t have one… yet. 😀

Anyway, the single-sided contact cemented paper was peeled off and I started creating some semblance of an assembly, and it looked rather nice:

This is where it starts getting exciting
This is where it starts getting exciting

At this point I couldn’t really ignore the grip any more, so I started wrapping my head around its geometry. I could scratch the centre line in around it with the calipers, and then from there I added spot measurements and joined them together with the pen.

The first part to do was the heel of the grip, where it has an indent for the heel of your hand. It looks bullet-shaped on the bottom, and then it has a fairly established simple curvature on the face, and then up the back it ‘s convex as it gets ready to morph into the wider grip curves.

I've been fairly lucky in my pen accuracy thus far. It could get very confusing.
I’ve been fairly lucky in my pen accuracy thus far. It could get very confusing.

Like the rest of this process, it was a combination of careful bench sanding, resin bonded sandpaper and filing. Because the forms were already drawn on as guides, symmetry only really came into it at the very end to finish up.

I added the side scales to bring it out to around 26mm thick. That’s about 4mm short of its actual thickness, but having to use imperial sized materials whilst working in metric occasionally brings some limitations… And I don’t think being a little easier to handle is a bad thing so I’m not rushing out to find 2mm craft foam!


The back side of the grip I did all in one single go, so there are no progress pics there. I think, unless a model is huge, it’s best to do organic shapes in a single session… Kind of a “mindset” thing to do with the visualisation, it’s hard to describe.

Photo Oct 15, 18 57 13

The end result was fairly promising, next to the on-screen model. The right angle gap at the heel will be filled with Bondo to form the curve rather than cutting the scales oversized and sculpting them down. That should give me a more defined edge at the bottom, and let me blend it better at the top.

I considered chopping the bottom off and creating a DIY-Pepakura replacement using UV unwraps, but that didn’t work so well.

Looks like a Pep frog.
Looks like a Pep frog.

Next up was the “rear grip”, the section behind the thumb which blends into the stock and meets the mag well.

Detail never hurt anyone. :D
Detail never hurt anyone. 😀

I like to notate my templates so I don’t have to keep going back upstairs and referencing each part while I’m building.

Cutting it up at the front now makes a little more sense.
Cutting it up at the front now makes a little more sense.

It came out quite nicely, considering I shaped it entirely separately from the grip without any checking. Only very minor filling should be needed:

I was impressed at how well the entirely freehanded curves merged, if I do say so myself.
I was impressed at how well the curves merged, if I do say so myself.

Then, once it was all put together, the grip fell off! The contact cement hadn’t cured for some reason and the superglue hadn’t seeped in to grip as much as I’d like- I must need less viscous superglue.

Oh noes!
Oh noes!

This wasn’t a bad thing though, since I’d previously decided I wanted to remove the grip in order to get at the trigger mechanism area that I’ll have to cut into it, in order to install a switch and spring and all that good stuff. common sense would have indicated that I’d have cut the recess out of the central slab before attaching the scales, but live and learn.

Photo Oct 22, 16 59 43
The two spots that’ll need heavy Bondo work.

A couple of additions and details and cleanups here and there, and it’s finally ready for Bondo and sanding.

Photo Oct 22, 16 59 58

Photo Oct 22, 17 00 14

And, adding it back into the original structure gives us this:

Photo Oct 22, 17 12 45

Looking promising!

Next up, the upper reciever. That’s what I’m calling the middle black bit below the carry rail, encompassing the barrel cooling area and all that good stuff.

Photo Oct 23, 20 24 12

Not having easy access to a large format printer = Tetris.

All for now.


HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Frame Complete

Another brief update. I’m trying to make these updates not end up as monstrous essays like I tend toward. Anyway, the skeleton is done! It took 3 days, though that probably only equates to around 10-15 hours of constant work, mostly at the weekend.

Paper removed and connected parts glued.
Paper removed and connected parts glued. Not the best shots in this relatively dark basement. 🙁

I haven’t drilled any more lightening holes, since I remembered that some of the parts are actually on external display and don’t want to have to do a load of filling later.

I haven’t gone out and got the DAP Weldwood, which I’m using instead of Barge for at least this project because it’s more convenient to get hold of and I’m not doing much, if anything, with the EVA foam.


So I’m using what’s around already, and that turns out to be Loctite’s version of Super 77 aerosol contact cement, which works nicely on flat planes, and some Loctite gel super glue which I’m reinforcing smaller areas of the super 77 with around the seams. The wife claims not to be a great fan of Loctite, but she bought ’em. *shrugs* They’re working well on fibrous materials so far.


Next up is the grip, trigger and lower receiver area (is it still an LR on a bullpup?), which is relatively straightforward and should ease me into the rest of the body fairly nicely. As the skeleton might imply,  I’m building it up from the inside out, starting with the deeper, black (blued) steel parts and finishing with the grey painted body shell plates.

Starting on the detail just forward of the trigger guard. This part will mate with the main body's lowest skeleton projection.
Starting on the detail just forward of the trigger guard. This part will mate with the main body’s lowest skeleton projection. Also, depth notes directly on your template are your friend.

The middle slice of the grip is also done, since that was just a plain 1/2″ slab. It had to be modified slightly to fit around the LR section of skeleton, which it’ll probably directly attach to. If I do alternate grip sizes, I’m planning on solid casting them and then grinding down from there.

Note: If you’re going to sand a lot, particularly MDF and polystyrene but probably anything really, invest in a shopvac. Even a small one will make your life much easier and avoid killing your regular vacuum cleaner!

This wasn't even the worst of it, and all from one day of sanding.
This wasn’t even the worst of it, and all from one day of sanding.

I think that’s it for the time being!