Monday, 21 March 2016

The Nausicaa Project: Saddling Up

My blog post today is going to be about how I made the saddle for Kai. It's probably the most complicated accessory he has, and took a week to make from the scale drawings to the final covering in leather. 

Once again I've been using several references from the manga and the movie, but this one was key to the overall aesthetic I wanted:

I started off by going back to my original scale drawing of Kai and adding a sketch of the saddle, to get a sense of the size and proportions.

Then I made some more specific sketches, working out the sizes and shapes from all angles.

Once I had finalised these, I transferred them to tracing paper and cut them out to transfer the shapes onto plastazote.

The idea was to carve the saddle 'tree' out of plastazote, which is the hard central part of the saddle (most commonly made out of wood on a horse's saddle in full scale). It's a lightweight material which carves easily with a scalpel, and can be sanded and filed. I initially tried breaking up the elements of the saddle tree, but decided after this experiment that it might be easier to carve it as one solid block. It was useful just for getting a sense of the shape and size on Kai himself.

I then decided to make a quick wire outline model of the saddle, to get a more solid idea of the size, before carving the final tree.

It was still easier at times to build up pieces, so I had to fill in some gaps with milliput. 

The piping added to the saddle tree is to create the decorative ridges you can see the artwork. The two flaps on either side of the tree are made from felt.

The lower flaps were then added, also made of felt. At this stage the main shape of the saddle was finished and ready to be covered!

The leather I used was from a coat I bought in a charity shop and cut up. It was already thin but not thin enough, so I tried to skiver the back with a scalpel. This got messy and I kept on stabbing holes through the material, but then a miracle happened - I discovered I was able to peel back the top layer, a paper-thin sheet of leather...perfect for covering such a complex shape on this scale.

As you can see, the leather was so thin that it picked up every tiny detail. This is just glued down with UHU glue.

I removed the side panels to covered them, same principles involved in covering the curved shapes. Just gluing small sections at a time and pressing it well to make sure there were no bubbles in the surface.

At this point I just needed to cover the base. It was lovely to see it at this stage, starting to look like a real life tiny saddle.

I discovered near the end of the covering process that a layer of nylon (my favourite material ever) stretched over the plastazote helped to smooth out any imperfections that might show up in the super-thin leather. So I covered the whole base of the saddle in a layer of white nylon first. It's also very thin, so didn't make the shape bulkier, just smoother!

Sitting it on my hand like this, I was thinking that it would be nice to make it a little wooden saddle stand...with all of the free time of have!

I'm really happy with the final saddle, and it fits Kai's back beautifully! It just needs some finishing touches now like stirrups for Nausicaa to put her feet in and straps to hold it onto Kai's body.

Thanks for reading, and check back in a week for my next instalment!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Nausicaa Project: Tackling Hair

This week I'm going to explain how I went about making Nausicaa's wig, which was my first experiment in wig making. I spent quite a bit of time prior to this looking for good tutorials and thinking about how I could apply different elements to building Nausicaa's hair up. Transposing the design of her hair shape from 2D to 3D was another challenge to consider - how would I emulate the hand drawn look in a physical model?

I began with the most obvious stage - making a wig cap to build the hair up on. It's a couple of layers of a stretch mesh fabric, sewn together with invisible thread. The elasticity gives it a nice stretch so it fits well on her head with no slippage. 

My initial decision for hair build up was to make wefts of hair which would be attached to the wig cap in layers. This involved spreading hair across a strip of mesh material and glueing it down with Gorilla Glue. By the way, the hair I'm using for Nausicaa is Saran, bought from I managed to find a great colour match.

I made multiple wefts, which were then glued to the wig cap in layers, starting at the bottom.

The problem is that the hair slipped when I glued it to the wig, and also the stiffness of the Gorilla Glue once the wefts had set made it hard to shape around the skull. So instead I tried glueing the hair in sections, directly onto the wig cap. I tried using a different glue as well - Aleene's Tacky Glue. It's very strong but not as industrial as gorilla glue, and dries clear as well. I stuck sections down, coated them in glue with a tooth pick and then trimmed the edges straight.

I kept building up the hair until I began to reach the centre of the skull.

I then cut a fringe across the front of her head to the rough length the final hair would be. It was immediately evident that her hair was very flat on top of her head though - Nausicaa has a big mass of hair on top of her skull, so it didn't look right. 

I tried building it up with multiple layers to get the desired but this didn't work well, so I ended up making an upholstery foam former on top of her skull, with hair lying over it, to get the look I wanted.

As you can see, this made a huge difference to the volume of hair on the top of her head. The former also helped me to make a neat hairline - I made a slit in the upholstery foam so I could fold the hair in and under, making what looks like quite a natural hairline, free from glue marks.

So the final stage was to cut and style the hair. Cutting hair is something else I've never really done before (and it's harder than it looks, trust me!), so I just had to take it slowly and try to work out how to achieved the shape. I layered the bottom to get that curved bob shape Nausicaa has.

Once the shape was mostly right, I had to work out a way to style is and get that clean, graphic look. I experimented with a few things, but in the end a varnish - 'Future Floor Polish', worked amazingly at holding the shape of the hair without making it look too rigid or ruining the finish of the saran.

It meant that I was able to give the fringe more definition, and also taper the ends of hair in places to give it that anime look.

The wig isn't completely finished - I'd like to taper the hair in at the skull more so it flares out at the bottom. There are some other little tweaks I could make to help it match the artwork more accurately. But it's a good start, and for my first attempt at wig making I'm quite happy with the results!

Thank you for keeping up to date with this project, and check back next Sunday for my next post, which will be about how I made Kai's saddle.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Nausicaa Project: Forming The Face

In this week's blog post I'm going to explain how I covered Nausicaa's face in nylon, and my general conclusions about the overall build up of the face, which has been a delicate and frustrating business at times.

First of all, I should mention that I ripped off the soft sculpture and started from scratch not once, but twice...partially because I wasn't getting the results I wanted with the wire, and also because the shape wasn't looking right. It pays to get these things looking as you want them to!

First attempt:

Second attempt:

Third attempt:

There, that's better. So once I was satisfied with how the face shape was looking, I stretched and pinned the first (pink) layer of nylon over the face. Lisa Lichtenfels needle sculpts the face in the same way as the body, but because Nausicaa's skull is a hard resin I couldn't do this. My alternative was carefully glueing down the nylon with tiny dabs of UHU glue. This was only necessary on the details, like around the eyes and nose - the rest could just be stretched over the face.

Snipping and glueing around the eyes was particularly fiddly work. The desire is to get the nylon evenly stretched, so the colour is consistent and the grain is going in the same directions across the planes of the face.

Regarding the wire in the face - by this stage I had come to accept that the only wire working well to animate was the eyelids. Unfortunately the mouth and eyebrow pieces are hard to manipulate, I think because the scale is so small. I have a suspicion that this technique would work well on a larger scale, which is something I'd like to experiment with in the future.

By the time the second layer was on the whole face was looking very smoothed out. I apologise for the poor photo quality, the lighting is awful when I work at home so it's difficult to take good progress photos! I was  trying out some eyelashes here, just to see how they'd change the shape of the eye.

I took a lot of care to glue nice clean seams under the chin that can't be seen. There are darts stitched on the head, but they'll be covered with the wig so it doesn't matter that the stitches are large and visible.

The next stage was making her some ears. This was very difficult, it took me two days to work out something I liked the look of! The final method: little wire pieces that formed the shapes and depth of the ears:

These were then spray painted white and built up in wadding in specific places before being covered in nylon, which was glued down. I failed to take any photos of this stage because I was so focused on making them look right! But here's the first finished ear, pinned on and about to be sewn. I made them to emulate an anatomical ear shape, but with the anime, hand drawn simplicity - so more just concaves in the right places:

Once I had sewn on the other ear I continued to play around with eyelashes and eyebrows. I found that strands of thread, glued together and tapered at the ends, worked well for the eyebrows:

The end result was looking pretty nice! I might experiment a bit more with the brows and lashes, but for now I'm liking how they look.

Overall I'm feeling really happy with how her face is looking. I'm still amazed at the definition and shape that can be achieved with just wire, wadding and nylon. Despite some struggle and frustration it's been wonderful to see this puppet come to life, and I definitely want to experiment more with soft sculpture in the future. It's time consuming and painstaking, but I think the results are worth it in the end!

Next weekend I'm going to write about how I made Nausicaa's wig, which has been another 'teach myself from scratch and hope for the best' sort of journey. Thanks again for reading!