Monday, October 31, 2016

Sailor Pluto!

God, this has been a hell of a project.  So, continuing on with the staff.

I knew I wanted to coat it in some good solid glue type stuff to protect it, all signs pointed to gesso being the best option, but also kind of expensive. Luckily, I found a recipe for homemade gesso. Well, I say homemade, mostly it just told me to mix regular joint compound and Elmer's glue all until I liked the consistency and go. I described this in my last post. So that's what I did.

White goo! So I smeared it all over the staff, let it dry, and then sanded the hell out of it, and then did it all again. And again.

 It was a lot of sanding. And it ended up all white and smooth and pretty.

I also needed to make some changes to the heart for the head, the garnet orb wasn't fitting correctly, it didn't look right and I couldn't figure out why. I eventually realized it was because the orb is supposed to go directly where the two sides meet at the bottom point, not inside the heart.  So I had to cut a section out of my heart.

It was a little terrifying cutting into my heart like that. Seeing a cross section of the inside was kind of cool though. I used the hacksaw to cut and then my dremel to round out the cuts to neatly fit the orb.

I then gesso'd and sanded my hearts as well.

While my various layers of gesso were drying I went ahead and made my paper clay that I planned to use to make the cone at the top of the staff that the heart rests on, and for other little details on the staff. If you look in the above picture where the orb is in the heart, you might be able to see that I added some paper clay to the ends to mold perfectly around the orb so that it actually fit perfectly. It worked pretty well. If you're wondering, the recipe for the clay came from here:

As you can see, it has a pretty rough texture. I made a cone out of toilet paper rolls to be the size and shape I wanted and then covered it in the clay. I had intended to use the paper clay for the little bits along the outside of the heart just below the gold balls, but it was too sticky and difficult to work with, so I actually ended up making those out of Sculpey, interestingly enough, the leftover Sculpey I bought to make my earrings for this costume.  That worked way better.

I just sculpted them while looking at reference pictures. I put the cone in the oven with the sculpey because it goes in at a pretty low heat and I was quickly running out of time on this project, I couldn't afford to wait two days for it to dry. I then managed to completely forget about these things and left them in the oven for like an hour. Luckily due to the low heat nothing worse than a little discoloration happened.

Haha, oops. Since I planned to paint everything though I wasn't too concerned.  So then lots more sanding and dremeling happened. It took some effort to get that cone smooth and then get the grooves carved out in it, but I did it. I also had to cut grooves for the key pieces to fit in the side of the staff, which was way more difficult than I anticipated so the grooves weren't as deep as I planned, but I got them deep enough to work.

The cone is a little lumpy but I'm not entirely unhappy with it. It just got hot glued to the top segment of the staff and then I cut a thick craft foam circle to fit inside the top to cover it. I glued it to the top of the wooden segment inside the cone and then all around the edges to get it secure and make a nice platform where the head of the staff was going to rest.

For these I basically dug the grooves with my dremel, and then filled them with glue and wedged the key pieces in there, making very very sure to line them up straight with each other.

I had thought I would use my dremel to dig small grooves at the top and bottom of each Styrofoam ball, but I ended up not doing that, I liked the way it looked and I was tired of working with the dremel.

I finally attached the head, I basically just hot glued the shit out of it. I went with hot glue for all the attachments just because of how quick it sets. I didn't attach the gold balls yet because I still needed to paint the staff. I knew I'd have to repaint the garnet orb, but it just worked better to have that in already.

Finally on to painting! First was priming. I loved this primer, it went on so smooth and nice, made everything look good. And I could sand it when it was dry, although I didn't really need to. By the time all my coats of primer were dry it was getting dark out so I had to relocate to the garage to do the silver paint.

I did two coats of the silver, it was just one of those metallic silver paints. Didn't have any issues here either. Spray painting is usually pretty straightforward and easy.

Finally I got to put it all together! Painted the garnet orb, glued on the gold balls. It all came together so neatly. I love the way it came out. (Don't you love the contrast of the first attempt at the staff just leaning there all curved by the pretty straight staff?) I  mean, I can still see flaws and some day I think I'd like to redo this when I have better tools, but for what I was working with I'm pretty pleased.

This was the last step, the wig for my costume. I wanted to combine the two wigs I bought to make one really thick wig. I almost didn't do this, but I got the staff done Friday night and had all day Saturday before the Halloween party to kill, so I went for it. It was tangly and tedious but I got it done. 

Oh, another random accessory I threw in since I had some extra time, I made a little chain key belt! It doesn't look anything like the one Sailor Pluto actually wears, but it gets the idea across and I did  make it with my little Sailor Moon pendants that I have, so they all fit the theme at least. Just a fun little bonus. If I ever take this to a convention I'll make a more accurate one.

The End Result:

Dude, I look pretty hot. Everything came together beautifully and I was so happy about it. I did learn some things I'd like to alter, the snaps in the crotch of my leotard are the biggest pains in the ass in the world and I need to change that, they come undone super easy but are damn near impossible to snap. And I think I should just sew the skirt on, I hated worrying about the snaps coming undone all night. I had to take the boots off towards the end of the party because heels like that kill my feet, but that's was expected. All in all it came together really well. And I won the costume contest. Got me a new shot glass. :D  My staff took a little abuse at the party, it has some dings and scratches, and one of my friends accidentally knocked the small heart off the top, which is an easy fix. I actually had fixed it, but the staff fell over this morning and the heart fell off again along with two of the gold balls. :P  Still easy fixes. I think I'm going to take my super fine sandpaper to the staff to smooth out the little dings, repaint the silver, and then coat the whole thing in polycrylic just to protect it. I didn't have time to do that for the party, but I think it needs to be done. I'd like to do some detailing and weathering with some black paint anyways. So I'm still gonna touch up the staff a bit just for my own entertainment. But all in all it was a success.  I'm so freaking proud of this costume.

Before I go, Bonus Pic! You can kind of see my red contacts in this one. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Prop making can be FUN. But not for me.

So, I've been working on the staff, naturally. There's been a few... shall we say... hang ups along the way.

So I showed you all the cut out pieces. I was able to successfully drill holes all the way through my wooden balls for the metal bolts to connect everything, that wasn't too bad.

This was my work space and tools. Yes, that is a clamp attached to a bar stool with a kettlebell to weigh it down. A bit ghetto, but it totally worked. The glass of water was there because I learned a lot about friction and the heat it generates here, and I needed to be able to cool the drill bit and to keep my sawdust from being lit on fire. I definitely made some smoke doing this.

So I drilled the wooden balls. After that I needed to cut down the metal bolts I was using, they were pretty long and I didn't want to have to drill holes quite that deep. I tried my dremel first with a cutting attachment, with the bolt secured in the clamp. It worked, but it was difficult to control. So next I went to my hacksaw.

This little guy. He's just a mini saw, but I figured he'd be big enough for my purposes. (That's what she said!)  It was very difficult cutting the bolts with this, but easier to control than the dremel. But then halfway through the third or fourth bolt the blade on my saw broke. It was just the one that came with it in my tool kit, and I'd bought more some time ago so I'd have extras. I replaced the blade, and holy smooth easy cutting through solid metal, Batman! Apparently the blade that came on my saw was a shitty, shitty terrible blade, and when I replaced it with my decent ones, it just melted right through those bolts. It was wonderful. I got everything cut pretty easily. 

Next, I went on to drill my holes in the wooden segments. Figured it couldn't be much harder than drilling the wooden balls had been. (That's what she... said?) But I was wrong. (Foreshadowing! Dun dun duuuuuunnnnnn!)

I realized almost immediately something was different. I was drilling and drilling and drilling and almost nothing was happening. One quick google search later I come to realize the dowels I bought were OAK. Which is apparently an INTENSE HARDWOOD that usually requires INTENSE TOOLS and SPECIAL DRILL BITS to drill. Well that's good to know. So those were useless to me.

So the next day I went to the craft store and bought some new wooden dowels made out of some kind of generic garbage wood I'm sure, I couldn't find out what but it didn't feel like oak. This meant of course that I had to cut the pieces apart myself since my step dad had done the others for me on his table saw and I didn't want to take the time to take these over there again. Luckily I had a hacksaw with a spiffy new blade on it. So I marked it out, clamped the dowels down and cut them my own damn self. It wasn't too hard, which reassured me that this wood was much softer. (Awww, that's what she said. :(  )  I had a few somewhat crooked cuts before I got the hang of it, but it wasn't too bad. And I was able to straighten those out with my dremel and a sanding bit. I then proceeded to drill the holes for the metal bolts in each segment. It all took me most of a day, what with having to recharge the cordless drill occasionally.

I have since developed a strong hatred for cordless tools. Having to stop to charge a battery is just the worst thing ever.

Look at those pieces starting to connect! It was fun to get a better visual for how it would look all put together.  My joy was short lived however.

The next day, I began to assemble the pieces. Basically I'd dump a bunch of wood glue in the hole, put the metal bolt in, squish glue everywhere, and then slide the next piece over the bolt, with it's corresponding hole also filled with wood glue. Glue would just squish everywhere again, effectively covering both sides of the connecting pieces as well as the metal bolt. I went through so many paper towels cleaning up excess glue. I eventually got my proportions down so I didn't squish quite so much. I ended up having to give up on the idea of having it screw apart in segments for transporting because I needed a bigger drill bit to install the hardware for it, and I didn't have one, I'd been using the biggest one my brother had for his drill for the bigger posts for the joints anyways, and I didn't want to go buy a new drill bit. So I just glued the posts in without the extra screwing hardware.

As I assembled the pieces though, I began to realize that not one of these holes was drilled straight. And most of them didn't line up with each other. I mean, in retrospect this isn't surprising. I'm only human, with my imperfect unsteady hand, the chances that I could drill a bunch of perfectly centered absolutely straight holes are basically zero. If I'd had a drill press maybe I could have pulled it off, but I did not. As the pieces went together I just felt this horrible sick feeling when I realized how drunkenly crooked this thing was going to look. I almost quit halfway through, but I finished assembling just to see how it would turn out, all the while coming up with a plan B in my head. This was the result:

Look at that nasty, drunken curvy piece of crap. It's like it's not even trying!

 Wildly off center.
Trying for a goddamn 45 degree angle there? What was this?
I just... How drunk was I while drilling? (Zero. The answer is zero drunk. I have no excuse.)

And upon further inspection after the glue had set, it's not even a sturdy hold, the whole thing bends and warps even further than this if you leave it standing. It's own weight warps it! UUUUUUHHHG.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.

There was no way I could use it. Stu and Rachel (my roommate) tried so hard to convince me that it didn't look as bad as I thought, and maybe it didn't, maybe I'm just sunk into that creative place where all you can see is the flaws in your project, but all I knew is I couldn't live with this. I probably could have improved it with some sanding and gesso and more sanding, but at this point I didn't even want to look at this thing, much less put more effort into it. So I ditched it. I had another plan.

Luckily, plan B was an inexpensive and fairly simple one, and even more luckily, I had enough leftover pieces from the first one that I could return to stores to get enough money back that I wouldn't have to spend anymore to restart. Nothing could give me back my time and effort though... Sigh....

So this time, I bought the same wooden dowel, and a big bag of 1.8" styrofoam balls. Using my dremel I hollowed out the balls, making a hole big enough for the dowel to pass through, and just slid the balls into position, after I had measured and marked out every segment of the staff on the new dowels.

 I had to trim them down a bit to get the right length, and I had to do one join in the middle since I couldn't get just one dowel that was long enough, but by drilling very carefully I was able to make that one join pretty near perfect.

Look at that beautiful son of a bitch. It's ever so slightly off center, but that's easily fixed with some gesso and sanding. It was also a little crooked, but apparently they were crooked in opposite ways because I was able to twist them to make them align and stand up straight. You can't see it here, but I actually took a small piece of cardstock covered in wood glue and stuck it in between the two segments on one side just to make sure it was perfectly straight. Then once the glue was dry I just trimmed and sanded the extra cardstock away so it's totally invisible. I also drilled one more wooden ball for the one that's on the base of the staff, I knew styrofoam would be completely unacceptable for that one, the weight resting there would crush it. Luckily I had extras. And I was just using the pieces of metal bolts I had cut off earlier for support, they worked perfectly.

Look how lovely and straight it is! I just brushed wood glue over the places where the balls went and then slid them in place. Worked like a charm. I then coated the styrofoam balls in a thick layer of mod podge which has made them significantly stronger. The next step is coating them in gesso to smooth them. Well, when I say gesso, I mean what is essentially homemade gesso, a combination of joint compound and white glue that serves the same purpose as gesso and is a million times cheaper. 

I have also put a few more layers of papier mache on the hearts for the head, and I've painted the smaller balls that go in various places, as well as the actual garnet orb.

Those are just terrible pictures, my apologies. But you get the idea. I have also done away with the idea of trying to make the orb light up. I bought some dollar store LED candles with that thought in mind, but I cannot come up with a way to make the candles invisible while also being replaceable for when the battery runs out. So due to the time crunch, I'm not worrying about that. Maybe some other time if I redo this.

It was almost offensive to me how much easier this was. This version took me a quarter of the time and a tenth of the effort of the other terrible one. I should have just done this from the beginning. It would have been much cheaper too. Well, a little cheaper, I wouldn't have needed so many metal bolts, but those were like a buck each. The price difference wasn't really that much. Mostly it's the lost time and effort that I'm unhappy about. I have a Halloween party this Saturday and I have my doubts about whether Sailor Pluto is actually gonna have her Time Key Staff in time.  Man I wish I could really stop time...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

So much costume progress!

Okay, so we're getting somewhere now. For reference, I've been using mostly this tutorial for making the costume:  

So, I cut down the fabric for the skirt, I ended up cutting it to 12" long total, the bottom was already hemmed, so that's 12" with the hem finished on the bottom. I repleated everything and stitched it down, and then, based on the tutorial I was using, cut the V shape into the front and back, but I didn't cut my V as deep as the tutorial did. I believe in front I cut it to 10" and in back I cut it to 11". I have very long legs, I didn't want the skirt to end up too short.

I made the padded hip rolls with the same tutorial and sewed the skirt to it, it turned out to be kind of a perfect length. Still short, like it's supposed to be, but not so short I'm uncomfortable in it.

Ignore the dirty mirror. I should really learn to clean my mirrors before taking selfies in them, this isn't the first time I've made this mistake. Anyways, this is before the skirt was fastened down, so it's hanging a little low. I did end up sewing the collar to the leotard, I had intended to just do snaps so it could be removable and replaced with a different colored collar if I ever make a Sailor Jupiter costume, which is the next one I'd want to do, but I decided I didn't want to fight with it. But it only has two lines of stitches going down around the collar in front, it would be really easy to remove and replace if I wanted to.

For the bows I used this tutorial:  There is one for the bows with the other tutorial, but I like the look of these ones better.

My front bow is roughly 13"x11", with the tail being 15"x9" or so. I think. I honestly don't remember, haha. I'm just pretty sure I added an inch on the measurements in the tutorial because I wanted a little more oomph. I think the back bow is 15x13 with the tails being 17"x11". The front bow is pretty perky, but the back bow droops a bit, I'm thinking about adding a few hidden stitches to the bow to make it stand up, but I haven't decided exactly how to work that yet. I was worried the front of the collar was too narrow, but I think it looks fine. The skirt is attached with four snaps, one on front and back and one on each hip. So far the one snap in back holds up the bow just fine.

With that, all the sewing is done. I only need two more accessories:

Jewelry! I made the earrings myself out of Sculpey using a youtube video I found ages ago. The choker gem I bought off of Catzia's Collectibles on Etsy, which is the same place I bought the tiara, although I realize I don't have a picture of it. I had to attach a little metal loop to the back of the gem so I could attach it to the choker, which is just a black ribbon with eyelets in it to connect everything. So now, technically, I can dress as Sailor Pluto more or less completely. I still want to pump up the wig by sewing the two I have together, but technically it works as it is. And of course, I don't have the staff yet.


Staff work. 

Man, this thing is a hell of a project.

I already showed you the paper pattern for the head. Well I traced it onto cardboard twice:

Twice for front and back of the big main heart piece and the little one that goes on top. My experience with expanding insulation foam is that you want to do it all in one go, there's no spraying one side and letting it set then spraying the other because the foam hardens in the nozzle of the can and then that can is just done.

My weapon of choice. Great Stuff Gap Filler, the kind meant to fill gaps larger than 1". This is actually a leftover can from when I made my sewing mannequin, you remember Space Princess? I kinda wondered if it would still be good. And gloves, because goddamn do I remember what a pain in the ass it is to get this stuff off your skin.

And spray! The little hearts were too small to try and outline them so I just straight up covered them in foam. Too much is better than not enough, right?

Incidentally, the really big heart piece there is for a different project, that is eventually going to be a large replica of Majora's Mask that I am going to hang on my wall. Basically it's just something else I've been wanting to make and I wanted to have something else to do to make sure I didn't waste any of my can of foam, because I knew it wouldn't take a whole can just for the head of my staff. It'll be a bit before I get to really working on that mask, but rest assured, you shall get updates when I do.

I let them sit for like a day, which is longer than necessary, but I just didn't have time to get to them sooner. I brought them in and kind of roughly trimmed them with a serrated knife. As you can see, I still hadn't cut out the middle of the small heart.

Later, I VERY CAREFULLY cut the cardboard away from one half of each piece, and then glued the foam to the cardboard of the other half, making a very thick foam sandwich. You can see the line of the cardboard in the middle of the small piece. Obviously these pieces are way too huge for my purposes, but that just gives me lots of room for error, right?

Still using the serrated knife, I trimmed the pieces down even more. Look at that pile of scrap! I tried to use a utility knife for this at one point, but you really need the serrated blade to bite into the foam.

Haha, god, look how lumpy and uneven and malformed those look at this stage. It's so bad!  My confidence wavered a bit here.

But then my Dremel entered the picture. I just used a basic sanding bit and just smoothed and trimmed and rounded everything. Look how pretty they are now! Not like 100% perfect or anything, but pretty damn good, enough that it made me happy. 

The next step is covering everything in papier mache. This is kind of funny actually, I was trying to figure out where I was gonna get the paper for this step, I certainly don't get the newspaper and I don't think I know anyone who does, and I'm not gonna go out and buy one. And then suddenly it occurred to me, we have had a phone book sitting on our front step for literally months, it's actually less useful than a newspaper and we'd all been too lazy to pick it up and throw it away. It was just waiting for me. So I finally brought it in and shredded a bunch of pages. The paste is just a basic flour and water mixture, boiled. You can find a million recipes for it online. Incidentally the little round thing is a clear plastic Christmas ornament I found at a craft store and it will be my Garnet Orb in the staff. It's covered in papier mache because I want to paint it and I didn't think paint would stick to the plastic very well. 

This is the step I'm at now, these pieces are still sitting on my kitchen table drying. I want to add a few more layers of papier mache just for strength, then everything will be sanded smooth, sprayed with Plasti-Dip and then painted. I'm going to be making paper clay for some of the details on the staff, but I'll document that more when I actually do it. 

I have all the pieces for the rest of the staff ready to go as well.

There's supposed to be one more segment at the bottom, I forgot about it before taking this picture. Basically I will be drilling holes through everything and gluing those metal bolts in the holes to connect everything as firmly as possible. I'm very proud of those key shaped bits too.

I just used lined notebook paper, a ruler and some close up reference pictures of those pieces of the staff and kind of drew it out by hand until I liked the way it looked and felt like it matched the staff pretty well. I traced those onto a plank of wood I bought from the craft store with vague intentions of cutting them out with my Dremel or a hacksaw, but it took all of 30 seconds of trying that to realize that super wasn't going to work. Luckily, my stepdad is very handy and owns just ALL the tools, so I took the stuff over there and he cut it out for me with his jig saw.

They still need some sanding and refining of course, but I'm pretty pleased with how they came out. My stepdad also cut my wooden dowel into the segments I needed, which saved me all kinds of time and effort. Man, I need to get my own power saw...

Anyways, that's where we're at now. I'll be doing more papier mache tonight, and either some drilling or wig sewing. Probably drilling. I can bring the wig to work with me and do it there, but I can't do the drilling.  And somewhere in here I have to find time to finish my daughter's Sailor Chibi Moon costume. Sigh. And here I thought I was gonna have plenty of time. That's what I get for moving too slowly on things.