Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Nausicaa Project: Blue Plumage

My Post this week is going to be on how I made miniature feathers for Kai. This was my main reference for the overall look and colour:

I considered some different methods of how I might make the feathers - silk fabric, tissue paper - in the end it made the most sense to use actual feathers, as you can't get closer than the real thing! The only issue was scale, as this puppet needed to be covered in 2cm long feathers, with stalks that were very thin. 

I experimented with cutting down the top of a regular sized feather and found that it looked like the perfect miniature:

So now I had to work out how many feathers I'd need to cover Kai, and order a bulk lot of the same type for consistency. I ordered 600 white goose feathers, with the intention of hand dyeing them blue myself. I considered buying them pre-dyed to save time, but for the right colour match and a natural variation I figured that mixing the colour myself was the best option.

I then spent 10 hours dyeing 600 feathers! I discovered two valuable things: one, the waxy surface of feathers don't like to take dye, so you have to give them a really good wash in soda ash first. Two, rit dye doesn't work very well, silk dye works much better. I guess that's because it's made for a natural material. I ended up using a combination of rit dye and silk dye in the vat, in two different shades of blue.

By changing the consistency of how long I dyed different batches of feathers for, and how concentrated the dye was (or varying the colour - I dipped some of them in a separate purple vat) I ended up with feathers in a myriad of blue and purple tones, just what I wanted!

I started by building up the tail, as I'd need larger feathers for this part. My aim was to get the 'fan' look, similar to Miyazaki's artwork:

I started at the base of the tail and built backwards, starting with smaller feathers and working my way out to the very large ones.

The feathers are glued to the nylon skin of the bird puppet with a dab of UHU glue.

I was able to build up a lovely fan shaped tail, similar to the artwork. My only thought is that it could be held higher, so I might revisit that at a later point and see if I can get the larger feathers around the edge to stick up more.

For the main feathers on the body, I'd need hundreds of teeny tiny feathers. I worked out that 2cm was a good looking standard size. One by one, I started cutting the large feathers down, production line style! Unfortunately half of each feather went to waste, because it gets to the point where the stalks are too thick and out of scale.

I started by layering these on the back, once again using a dab of UHU glue on the ends to secure them to the body. At this point I really began to appreciate the effect of the colour variation.

I used the most fluffy, downy feathers for Kai's chest, as they have a lovely fluffiness to them.

The build up process was surprisingly quick! Although repetitive, each new patch of skin covered was very satisfying.

I also used the downy feathers for the bottom of the legs, where they'd likely be smaller and fluffier.

I like how the feathers have an almost armour-like quality to them when they're layered up. The trickiest part was the top of the legs, as I had to get that curve looking natural.

The stalks on the feathers got a little thick here, as I was running low and having to use offcuts. I think they'll look just fine if I paint out the white stalks individually.

From the front, nearly finished and looking noble!

The head was the last section that needed covering, and required the most detail. I made the feathers smaller on the face, especially around the eye. As you can see at this point, he's got a silicone skin piece that sits around the eyeball. I sculpted this, made a plaster mould for it and cast it.

It got to the point where I had to make my own feathers by glueing two sides cut down from a large stalk back together again, because I'd totally ran out of feathers in the right scale. Can you tell the difference between the fake and real feathers in the photo?

Kai isn't 100% covered yet because I ran out of feathers, leaving half of his belly naked. I've ordered some more and will be dyeing them soon to get him finished and ready for prop decorations - his saddle, bridle, saddle bags etc.

Thanks for reading and following my project!

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