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.

http://www.405th.com/f21/halo-4-br85hb-sr-pic-heavy-first-major-project-43577

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:

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It was put together literally section by section, like thus:

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Using the template for drilling. I just flipped it over to do the other side.

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This is where I switched over to drawing diagrams rather than printing templates. Faster, easier and more accurate, I’ve found.

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Masking tape and foil are pretty handy tools to have around for Bondo work:

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Foil allows you to make easy jigs, too:

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Positioning the jig with the remainder of the template.

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Then there were numerous days of priming and clean-up:

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Here’s some pretty pics of current progress:

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And since this is also a photography blog, here’s the setup pic:

YN560-III into 3ft reflector umbrella in front, bare YN560-II in back
YN560-III into 3ft reflector umbrella in front, bare YN560-II in back

The rear speedlight was floating, I kept it opposite the camera for specular highlights and edge differentiation. The main reflector umbrella was pointing down at first, then for the last pic I had it shooting horizontally, still high up so that the light feathered off nicely towards the bottom. The lighting was all about detail preservation, really.

The barrel jacket section has been a monster. Here’s hoping for some smoother sailing from now on!

~Rob

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?

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.

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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:

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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. :D

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!

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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.

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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. :D

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

All for now.

~Rob

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.

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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

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!

~Rob

HALO 4 Replica Build: BR85HB-SR… Scaling and Chassis

Once I had my blueprints more or less put together, I needed to figure out the scaling (hence the use of vectors and not just tracing).

After a full two hours of research on the lengths that other people use for their props, the appropriate scaling to move from SPARTAN (6′ 10″, plus 4″ in armour) to human (let’s say 5′ 10″, I’m somewhere around there), the lengths of real life battle rifles like the G36 and M16, use of BR55HBs by humans in-game, etc… I decided not to bother scaling at all. 991mm for a scoped medium-range service rifle doesn’t seem to be unusual at all, and the pictures of scaled versions always seem a little small to me. Of course, the asset itself is variably scaled in-game and in cutscenes, depending on scenario and user, so some research materials may dictate scaling for some people.

That’s the theory. What about practice? My only concern in practice was getting my hand around the grip. It  seems rather fat compared to real-life assault rifles, which seem to have skinny, straight-box grips. The only way to be sure is to print it at actual size and try it!

A partial blueprint print for testing.
A partial blueprint print for testing.

My concerns weren’t without merit. While I could get my hand around the grip, and even relax enough to wrap the imagined full 3cm width of the 3D grip, it wasn’t exactly what I’d call comfortable. So here I have my first decision. Do I scale the gun? Do I just scale the grip, risking it looking disproportionate? Or do I leave it as-is, and relegate it primarily to “showpiece” status?

Work gloves to see if it would work with armour. Seems to be ok-ish.
Work gloves to see if it would work with armour. Seems to be ok-ish.

Since I can actually get my hand around it to begin with, I’m inclined to go with the latter solution- do nothing. Given that the project is fairly complex to begin with, I don’t want to add complexity with partial scaling as well as the risk of the result looking strange. It’s not intended to hike around a con for hours anyway; probably just a photoshoot or two and spend most of its time on static display.

So it’s settled… I’ll just build it as-is, full-size. If I cast it (in multiple parts), I may break off at the grip to allow smaller ones to be used for comfort.

Chassis

Now, onto the chassis. I’m not building the gun like a typical prop is made; starting with a full outline in ~1/2″ MDF and build detail outwards and inwards from there. Due to the fact that the shape of the gun, with its long chunky carry-handle and complex barrel cooling geometry, is more like two separate barrels and it doesn’t have a consistent “center thickness”, I want to build a skeleton frame in various thicknesses of MDF, appropriate to the location on the gun. I’m typically putting internal seam lines at the same point as external ones, so that the plates being added onto the outside are getting glued to a single flat surface.

This overall process is a little more time-consuming in the blueprinting, but should make actually designing and attaching parts relatively straightforward, and also allow me to have parts mounted at various angles- not just laterally. I don’t know if this method is used in the industry, but it makes sense to me and the way I think in 3D space.

Don't forget to account for hidden geometry!
Don’t forget to account for hidden geometry!

Some things have to be taken into account when designing the skeleton, like leaving space for cylindrical sections, which will likely be some form of tubing (or some Delrin bar I have lying around, if it’s the right diameter… I don’t yet have a lathe) that I can stick straight in place, and leaving space for the magazine to fit. This isn’t visible in the external model, but I’ve separated out many of the parts of the OBJ and I’ll just use its vertices’ coordinates to work out the spar for the top of the stock.

I tried to maximise the red parts because 13mm is more or less 1/2" MDF, which I have plenty of.
I tried to maximise the red parts because 13mm is more or less 1/2″ MDF, which I have plenty of.

This is what I’ve come up with, it’s just a case of transferring to appropriate stock and putting it all together.It’ll need some care in handling until it gets more built up, of course. I’m going to clear off a dedicated assembly area to avoid moving it too much.

I identified the innermost vertices with reasonably consistent distances from the centre plane as each other (+/-0.5mm, say) and then took those sections from the vector blueprint. There were several around 6.5mm out, 11mm and 14.5mm were also popular. I just took the parts that were the least visible from the outside, and then extended those parts some way around the visible area to make up an internal structure.

The resulting skeleton should allow me to pick and choose between traditional rib-and-spar model construction and current prop replica sheet-sandwich construction as appropriate, over the whole body. This should allow some use of alternate materials and fillers that displace the heavy MDF, like polystyrene (EPS/insulation foam), which I found a couple sheets of yesterday, or expanding foam. I can also drill lightening holes along the beams without sacrificing too much rigidity.

Obviously, it also significantly reduces material usage, helpful on a limited budget, and perhaps more importantly, it eliminates all that time cutting around tricky silhouette details. Lots of straight cuts and a bit of sanding and gluing. Should be a snap.

All for now,

~Rob

HALO 4 Replica Build: UNSC BR85HB-SR Battle Rifle

The original design scrap wood pistol is done, which I’ll detail the final few steps of at some point soon:

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…and I think I’ve caught the bug:

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New tools yay! The messy basement is a permanent work in progress.

…so I think it’s time to really test my mettle. By which I mean it’s time to be hopelessly overambitious and not ease myself into this prop building thing at all! But since I wanted to work for Weta at 15, I don’t think procrastination is doing me any good. And thus it’s time to replicate a pre-existing design which I can be judged against; hopefully in a reasonable amount of time, but I’m not going to rush it either.

That prop is, as you may have guessed, the Halo 4 Battle Rifle. I like guns, I like Halo (though I haven’t played H4, only the Bungie ones, but I like its look) and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past with the BR in my virtual hands. It’s an aesthetic I enjoy from a property I love… Hopefully that’s enough to keep me plugging away as the challenges mount.

A little less Vietnam-era-looking these days.
A little less Vietnam-era-looking these days.

My judging criteria for myself are, naturally, going to be more stringent than they would be from other people. This isn’t a halloween costume piece or a cartoony “hyper-real” con prop… I want this to be life-like and photorealistic and believable, even in close up.

I’ve been working on it for two days. The first day was gathering reference material (including the game asset, thanks to the 405th!) and starting the blueprint. Today was the second day, and I’ve completed the side-view outline.

Photoshop vectory goodness. It's more intuitive for me than Illustrator or Inkscape for rapid stuff.
Photoshop vectory goodness. It’s more intuitive for me than Illustrator or Inkscape for rapid stuff.

I started the front/back outlines, but realistically they seem fairly useless for a model as complex as this. I think I’m just going to take spot measurements from the asset mesh and combine these with the side view. I may extract the separate parts of the mesh and build alternate views by part, but overall front/top views don’t really show anything useful.

Materials I have on hand are a few thicknesses of MDF, some EVA foam floor mats, various PVC pipe diameters and fittings, and some alu bar. It’s not a lot, and I’m probably going to need to invest in some intermediate finishing materials like Bondo and filler-primer, but I think it should just about be enough to be going on with!

All for now. Hopefully progress will start soon!

~Rob

PS. Let me know if you enjoy these build logs/updates. I try to put useful thoughts and information out there that I find, experience or invent for those coming along the path after me. It would be good to know that it’s actually useful! :P

Sci-fi Pistol Prop Build Log: Day 8

Day 8: Thursday, May 1st 2014

Lots done on day 8! So much so that writing about it all would take far too long to both write and read, so I’ll do more of a photo essay…

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First thing to do this morning was attack the filler covering the holes in the vents of the front piece, since it stopped the magazine from slotting all the way in properly. I added superglue to the filler so that the thinner material wouldn’t get knocked out so easily. A simple piece of card or thick paper would probably have been better than wood filler, since the area is flat anyway.

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Now I can’t really see anything else to do, I’ve basically filed and sanded every surface I could find, so now it’s officially time to Make It Whole!

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Added lots of wood glue everywhere so that it would connect together over any cavities I’d missed, and hoped it would be enough at the front where it’s hollow above the magazine.

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This was pretty exciting, seeing it all in one piece for the first time.

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But then I found that the magazine had been grinding on the wood filler because that section leans to the side! I couldn’t sand the mating part any more- partially because I’d already sanded it too much and it was affecting the fit, and partially because it was now of course covered in wood glue. So I had to tilt the whole receiver area and try to hold it in place with little dabs of superglue and filler

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This left a rather huge gap, which I tried to stuff wood glue in.

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I also tried to throw in some little shims of scrap wood so that I could fill around them.

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Except, after a couple hours drying like that… I realised that the entire receiver section wasn’t off at all, because now the grip was wonky. It was just the magazine! What an idiot.

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So I had to crack out the wood pieces and then I slid the superglued parts by clamping it up and ramming that pressure until it was back in place, then left it like that for a good long while.

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While it was clamped, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided that it looked too plain and I needed to add some dimensional decoration to it before final sanding and priming. So I dug the scrap box out again and started playing with random bits and pieces.

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It came out of that little escapade unharmed, so now, I present to you, ta-da! The complete construction!

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I was rather proud of it so I took another picture on a custom photographic background I’d been working on.

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…Except it wasn’t quite the complete constuction. There was a fairly obvious piece missing….

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Yep, the barrel. 1/2″ SCH40 PVC cut with ratcheting PVC cutters to somewhere around half an inch long- I just eyeballed it since I didn’t know how deep it was going to sit yet.

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I then marked by eye a couple of parallel lines and divided them into eighths. I drilled holes at the intersections on the top line, and in the gaps on the bottom line. It came out… Ok. With a drill press I’d have actually taken the time to be accurate, since it wouldn’t tend to skate around like the hand drill does.

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Next I eyeballed where it should sit on the front, based mainly on where the slide is, and drilled a 1/8″ hole in the centre. I worked my way up the drill bit sizes and the hole wandered around a little bit.

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It took a number of attempts with the 1/2″ twist bit, sometimes at speed, sometimes from stationary, but I finally got it to bite dead-on and not shake the gun around or throw itself off. It just so happened that it bit dead-centre, too.

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So I needed it to fit in the barrel like this, between the drilled hole and the marked circle. So I used a Dremel rough grinding bit. It was shaped like a brandy or port bottle with a crisp edge, so depth was easy to maintain. I just kept working my way around, and it came up nicely.

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Then I needed to actually glue it in there despite its imperfect fit. I figured wood glue wouldn’t stick very well to the plastic, even after sanding, so I figured this stuff sitting on the shelf would do it:

Photo May 01, 17 49 30

I only used a tiny amount, but apparently it was way too much, so I had to come up with a use for the rest of it. I decided a nice sculpted curve by the front end would help tie the compound curve and linear design language together from front to back.

Photo May 01, 17 57 36

 

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It was now looking distinctly impressive, for a first attempt, but my perfectionism knows no bounds, so obviously it needed some more detail at the front. Unfortunately, the Dremel router base doesn’t work as well as it seems it should. Or maybe you just aren’t supposed to use the keyless chuck with it. But the bit ended up drifting lower and lower for no apparent reason, so I ended up with this mess.

Photo May 01, 21 17 19

After the chaos of the receiver gluing, this was more stress that wasn’t really needed. However, I decided it could be rescued without too much effort, I just needed to fill the narrow channel in that I couldn’t continue routing out, and create a simple plate to fit over the larger section that would replace the wood I’d just removed.

Photo May 01, 22 35 19

It’s a little hard to see, but this is what I came up with, just superglued on, and decided I’d had quite enough for the day so I left it at that. I could complete it on day 9.

~Rob

Painted Studio Backdrop Mk. I WIP Sequence!

After completing the how-to article for Phototuts, I still have a number of images and sequences to show from the month-long project. I wanted to show my most recent completion as a sort of how-to sequence, showing how I worked it and how the paint builds up over the layers.

It’s not yet perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it and it’s definitely a positive direction.

Photo Apr 30, 14 45 03
The couple layers brushed in, just like I did on a test piece which worked out well.

Continue reading

Sci-fi Pistol Prop Build Log: Day 7

Day 7: Wednesday, April 30th 2014

Aka: “So much for a weekend project”

Not a huge amount was done on day 7, really. Lots and lots of sanding and filing as I approached the final two “big glues”. This being the case, I’ll keep this entry brief and to the point.

First task; filing down the safety switches to make them a little rounder. Not too much, just make sure they’re not too angular.

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Then I grabbed the belt sander and 120-gritted the sides of the magazine. This time it didn’t get all snapped up, thanks to all that glue and filler.

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Then I moved on to the slide, sanding down the faces, which did result in one minor snappage…

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…But that easily glued back in place. I also reinforced the other three, just to make sure.

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Once the slide was sanded smooth, I moved on to the front part. My dry-fitting of all three parts wasn’t going perfectly, so I gave the indents more of a working-over with the files.

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Then I went back to the slide and filled in the bottom to avoid voids and help the gluing later.  Notice how I don’t really work in any kind of order? I’m not sure it’s as fast, but it does alleviate boredom.

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Then I moved back to the front piece, getting all kinds of deliciously crisp angles sanded and filed in on the visible parts:

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Since I wasn’t going to have access to it for much longer, now was the time to make sure those little holes at the front were filled. I just smushed it in from inside, and used a small flathead screwdriver on the outside to keep it smooth. I use that same screwdriver on a lot of filler jobs, either to force the filler into a tight crack, or to smooth over once it’s in.

I didn’t aim for perfection here since it could be filed down later to get a better finish.

Finally, I couldn’t really come up with anything else to do to put it off, so I did a major gluing! Slide to front piece. Pretty exciting way to end the day, I thought.

frontandslideglued

Not much left to go now, just one more major gluing of the grip and receiver section, and then some detail additions, before it’s ready for… Prime time!

Hurhurhur.

~Rob