A behind the scenes look at film and television Prop making peppered with everything else creative we do!
When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIREsoftware, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.
The Purex toilet paper car was framed up from 3/4" plywood. I had our Techno cut all the pieces, and as per the design, they all pretty much clicked together. I do love the Dog-bone fillet tool that Aspire has, it makes assembly a snap!
All the sides of the car, with the exception of the away from camera side, were skinned in 1/8" plywood. This added a fair amount of strength to the frame, without much weight. And as our car has no engine, it would need to be carried into position.
Using the layout from the 3d model, we clad the frame with the appropriate packages.
The only "not factory packaging" things we had to do was miter a couple of packages for the windshield and rear window areas. The second hardest thing in the world has to be mitering a package of toilet paper, while still retaining the look of the package. The first hardest thing being pulling a truck with your teeth. In fact, I think mitering toilet paper should become a new challenging sport on TSN!
We decided to add a side-view mirror, and the 4 pack was almost made with that in mind, like Purex knew somehow............I also believe that the bumper is now rated for 60 km/h impact!
We decided to turf the original wheels, as they just weren't working in real life aesthetically. And we went with a couple of six packs. The support structure will be unscrewed once the car makes it to the location shoot!
I hope I can find the finished commercial online, as Purex is a Western Canada product, and the commercial won't air our way.
I seem to be very good at manifesting the kind of jobs I want! For the longest time I have wanted to make a full size custom car. And that's exactly the job that we got called about!
As the production designer was discussing the car they wanted, my mind whirled with excitement. I was miles ahead of the conversation on the phone. Would we use fiberglass, would we cnc machine from foam with a hardcoat? What about the engine and drivetrain? However, as good as I am about manifesting my dream projects, I find I actually need to be specific.
It turns out that the custom car needed to fabricated from toilet paper. Not something that looks like toilet paper, but the real deal, packaging and all. Not exactly the shiny, futuristic, Mad Max, alien, steampunk, back to the future, Night riding General Lee vehicle I was dreaming about on the phone!
After I hung up the phone, I got to work laying out the actual vehicle we would be making.
The first step was to get each toilet paper package size we had at our disposal, into the computer. They also wanted a quick 3d render for approvals, so it made sense to build it accurately in 3d.
Designing a car from toilet paper packages is pretty much the same thing as building a Lamborghini from 9 pieces of Lego............very limiting, and very low resolution.
Once the one and only design option had been created and approved, I exported the 3d model out to DXF, and brought it into Corel. Once inside Corel, I could start laying out plywood structure that would support the toilet paper facade.
The toilet paper showed up right on time. However, all the toilet paper showed up. 4 skids piled 7 feet tall to be exact. They ended up sending all the toilet paper for the entire commercial shoot to the shop. That's alot of wiping!
The nice thing with using Aspire with 3d printing is it will triangulate and output a clean, watertight mesh, and 3d printers love a watertight mesh!
The surface deviation from the original model to stl format is very accurate!
The coins printed very well, and the support structure under the coin were a breeze to snap off and clean up. I much prefer the SLA 3d prints versus the FDM extruded type of 3d printing. Less cleanup, and better resolution!
We painted the coins out with several thin coats of gloss black, and when the time was right, we buffed silver powder onto them, making them read brighter than paint alone could achieve! Unfortunately, we couldn't leave them that polished looking, we needed to weather them considerably due to the "supposed" age of them. So all the coins got a glaze coat of a dirty brown, then wiped off to reveal the tarnished silver underneath.
Well, we don't actually have a license, but we're printing money anyway! Try and stop us Canadian Mint, in your face!
A little over the top for Tuesday, but that's how I roll.
We got a call to create 4 old silver coins with the actor Wallace Shawn's face on them.
These are just single sided, only heads.
The art department supplied us with this image they wanted on the coin, as well as some really old coin reference images.
The first step was to crop out the background noise, so I'd have a clean reference image. I thought about modelling the head in full 3d, but as the coin was only 1.5" in diameter, that seemed like a waste of time for this
The model was solely created in Aspire, and underwent a few changes before agreeing on this version. I did some sculpting in Aspire to add a bit more dimension than Aspire had originally created it with. We are 3d printing these on the Form1 sla 3d printer, due to it's seriously high resolution, and the models small size! Due to the size, I actually had to over-emphasize the features a little to be sure they would read on a close up shot. We actually printed 3 of the coins, but production decided they wanted to add a hint of shoulders to Mr. Shawn's head profile.
So with a little bit of tweaking, this would be the hero coin!
What a great time we live in to be able to have so many ways of fabrication at all of our fingertips!
When it came time to paint our 2 Agent Chevaliers, there was some time spent on the order of things. Most people would think "just paint it" but there certainly has to be a thought out order. Especially because we're using a mix of automotive and acrylic paints. And we don't want to have to keep cutting in, over and over again. So armed with some sort of plan, the agents orange jump suit stripe was the first thing up. We used an automotive laquer for the stripe. This is a VERY durable paint, that dries quick, and we can mask over without fear of it pulling off with the tape.
Once the stripe had dried, we masked it off, and sprayed out the head in a flesh coloured acrylic latex.
The hair and glasses were all painted by brush, as taping a mask to the fresh latex would be far to risky.
The jumpsuit was the very last portion to get sprayed up. This was also done with an acrylic latex colour matched to the requested pantone number. The hairline also went through a couple of further revisions, but it was fairly simple to change.
The raised seam detail on the jumpsuit was the final paint portion to tackle.
With all the colour applied, the final step was 3 coats of an automotive clear coat. We used a satin clear coat, as I can't stand when sculptures like this suffer from "Gloss" :)
I love the surface sheen, and am so glad we went this route!
The very last steps were to use our Aves epoxy putty to attach the hand and gun assembly onto the ends of the arms, and cut the white vinyl graphics for the glasses and the spy wrist watch. No part of me had plans to paint the white on. Cutting vinyl gave a very hard and graphic edge, 100% opacity, and resulted in no brushmarks!
Then it was a matter of slipping them into their custom shipping crates, strapping them down, and sending them off to California to their new home in the sunshine!
This was a killer amazing project to get to work on, the clients were sooooooo easy to work with, and were very responsive to any questions we had, making the build timeline tick along without interuption!
I'd love to do way more of these kinds of projects!
We went with plate steel for the base of the 2 Counterspy agents. It needed to be heavy, but not ridiculous! I decided on 1/8" thick steel. Once the legs and torso were assembled with the armature inside, we welded it to the thick steel plate. This agent won't be going rogue any time soon!
Then it was just a matter of attaching the rest of the appendages. With the exception of the hands and gun. These will get attached at the very end, after it's all painted and clear coated. It would have been way to impossible to spray these guys with the hands in the way. We also left the silencer on his gun as a separate piece, solely to reduce the height of the shipping crate he would ultimately have to travel in.
There was quite a lot of sanding to do at this point. Lots of little spots that needed filler, and doing the final blending between the mated parts. I think Jody must have sanded her finger tips clean off!
The final prep state before paint was the primer. I really like the ease of use of water based finishes, but I really hate the fact that water-based usually means "crappy-based" on some projects. That's why on this job, we opted for a 'new to us' product. It's basically a spray able auto-body filler. Like runny bondo. You mix it with fiberglass resin hardener, spray it on, and it's hard in 30 minutes. Each layer can be sprayed upto a 1/16" thick without cracking when it dries! I sprayed up a nice thick coat on the two guys, then Jody and I headed to lunch! After lunch, I sprayed 2 more coats, giving us a minimum 3/32" hardcoat thickness! This turned our 15lb HDU material rock solid. The final guy felt like you were knocking on a piece of oak! However, it did leave a slightly textured surface (you can see it in the depression of the sunglasses) so that meant more sanding............
I'm comfortable enough in my marriage with Jody, to not let these sort of images upset me. But the old saying "what happens at the shop, stays at the shop" is something we live by :)
Poor Jody did the bulk of the sanding, and as much as it sucked, the final outcome was brilliant!
I had purposely left the hands on Counterspy guy until last. I must have sliced these every which way but Sunday. In the end I decided that maybe having them FDM 3d printed would be the answer. Until I got the estimate. They wanted $1500 a set. That would have been 3 grand for just the hands! Clearly I need to start a 3d printing business....................
I decided to go back to the drawing board and not rest until I had solved it!
In the end, These were the sliced files in STL Slicer. This configuration eliminated 85% of the undercuts that I was trying so hard to avoid.
After I oriented the parts in Hex, I added my own tubular machining tabs, and exported them to Cut 3d for double sided machining!
The machining with a 1/4" BN went pretty quickly on both sides.
I was actually quite impressed with my slicing skills! Sometimes you need to see the finished part, outside the computer screen, to really get a grasp on things.
All said and done I was really happy with the final outcome. There was a fair amount of finishing by hand to remove the undercuts around some of the fingers, but in the end we certainly saved over having them 3d printed, and the outcome was just as good in my book!