Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Out of this first batch of 1:1 scale releases from the workshop, I started this one first and finished it last. It was the most fun, uses the most “real stuff,” (that being actual metal and such, not plastic crap painted to look like metal), almost kinda sorta pretends to work, looks the best… I really like this one. In fact, I liked it so much that I failed to let her go… originally, like the Guitar Hero controller, my plan was to knock this out quick and give it to a friend to get him all excited about this crap. But then it grew, both on me and my work bench, until I just couldn’t give it up. So now it’s mine, all mine, precious. And I’ll have to find some other way to motivate him. Maybe I’ll let him build a forge out in my barn.
Obviously inspired by Doc Brown’s wacky rifle scope in Back to the Future III, which I can’t actually find a picture of at the moment, the initial parts for this thing just seemed to fall together. The rifle is an old Daisy BB gun – I don’t think they even make these things any more. This one had already stopped firing by the time it came to me. The action still works, the trigger pulls, and it feels like air is getting released somewhere, but it’s been a long, long time since anyone even had the chance to shoot their eye out with this rifle. On the off chance that I come across another one of these classic, mom-hated toys I made the scope completely removable. Since I was working on the thing, anyway, I gave the metal parts a quick paint job. Looking back, I’m not entirely happy with the paint I choose (the color is pretty close to the original, but I tried one of the “hammered texture” paints and sort of wish I hadn’t) but hay, thems the breaks.
I did add one little detail to the rifle itself. Conceptually, I’ve always liked the idea of more-or-less conventional fire arms with outlandish optics and crazy specialty ammo, and that’s what I’m gunning for here. To that end, the only thing I changed in the rifle itself was to add just a dash of the anachronistic to the fore grips. This would be a reasonable place to add things on a real, working gun… and the plastic front grip was slightly cracked anyway. So I dug out an old light saber spoon included in a box of cereal at the time of Phantom Menace’s (http://www.starwars.com/movies/episode-i/ ) release. Don’t fret, collectors – I’ve got a few more spoons stashed away in mint condition. What’s this little glowing thing supposed to do, you ask? Clearly, my good reader, you’ve limited experience in hunting the less-than-visible creatures lurking between this world and the next!
The two main parts for the scope are the rear end of an actual telescope and a brass match stick holder, both picked up at the thrift store. I was holding onto the match stick holder, just because, and saw half a telescope sitting on a shelf. When I picked it up in my other hand, it just felt right to stick the two together. The rest is really all just mounts and dressing. I painted the telescope parts brass and copper to cover the original glittery silver, and wrapped a scrap of leather around the ugly spot where the labels used to be. I wish I’d gone with brown, rather than black, but all the scraps I had on hand at the time were ugly in some way or another, so black it is.
I replaced the plastic focusing knobs with brass drawer handles, but kept the working action so turning the knobs still moves the eye piece back and forth. I also added a small lense to the inner end of the rear most part of the eye piece. The telescope only had one lens left in it by the time I got it, and one lens just wasn’t gonna cut it! There is no proper optical relationship between these lenses, they don’t actually magnify anything, but you can at least tell that they are there.
Next came the big “out board” lens on the front of the scope. Its plastic, scavenged from a child’s bug keeper jar. It was also hollow on one side, so I filled it in with putty. This gave me a nice working area, and I couldn’t resist adding some characters from an old esoteric script I found in an old wicca book, along with a few spear tips taken from Lord of the Rings miniatures. Then I masked off the lens and spray painted it in a hammered finish copper. I’m reasonably happy with the way it looks (except for the bit where the lens got messed up by a bit of putty) but the optics on this thing are horrible, and rendered the scope optically non-functional. At least before you could see a small, upside down version of the world through the scope; now, nothing.
With all the major components in place, the real chore could begin – mounting the thing to the rifle. I really didn’t want to mount it in a permanent way, but I started this project before learning to solder and before I’d built up much of a collection of little metal bits. As a result, there is more steel and epoxy involved with the mounting rail than I’d really like. The rails themselves are copper wire cut from a coat hanger and bent into shape. A copper wire mount at the front and a few steel shelf brackets at the back hold the weight of the scope to the rifle, while the rails keep it all in balance and hold on the out board components, running right through the plastic around the out board lens. I used some copper-painted Legos to fix the back end of the rails to the scope, and later soldered them to the small supports in the middle. Springs and steel nuts and washers keep the alligator clips and out board lens from sliding about. At first it was just resting on the middle supports, with the copper rod under tension, but after I learned how I soldered it on at this point. The entire scope can be removed as a single assembly.
Even though the large, external crystal was part of the original concept it was one of the last details to be added. Not being one to spend a lot of time in hippy shops, it took me a while to find the right crystal. But eventually I found a few I liked at a convention and mounted them inside a part of goggle inserts. I used a Dremel tool to grind out the center of the inserts and then set the crystals in place with 2-part epoxy. The requirements for multiple focusing crystals should be obvious, considering the different etheric reflectivity properties expressed by the various eldritch horrors with which one might be forced to contend. Perhaps later I’ll make a pouch of some kind, to keep these and any other lenses handy.
At this point I thought I was more or less done, but as I was sorting through a box of old bits I found that little brass eye piece I’d picked up and realized this was the project it had been waiting for. It seemed just the right size to stick on the back end of the scope, and its funky little mounting arm would sort of balance all the crazy out board action up front. So I put it on there, and took a look – and IT WORKED! By a serendipitous trick of the optics, that last little lens tied all the others (four lenses in total) together into something fun. No, you can’t use the scope to better view far off objects, that would be too mundane. But you can look at the pretty crystal. Hay, it’s better than the vague blur you used to see through it, and I’m sure this too has utility to the intrepid hunter of that which bumps the night. This picture is actually the view from the business end of the rifle -- the angle you really don't want to be looking from!
She still needs a decent sling to really be complete, but now that she’s done, I think I’ve found my character’s general use weapon. Anything bigger, like say a machine gun, would only be used on special occasions…
This item comes from the hand of my lovely assistant, Artemiss. All I did was spray paint the thing, all the construction and detail work is hers. Personally, I'd have gone a bit further with the detailing and brought out all the molded hydraulics and such, which she felt would make it look too busy. But it’s a cute little bugger, so here it is.
Inspired by the clock work owl in Clash of the Titans, Artemiss' intent for this piece was to make a cute little pet to crouch on her shoulder. Built primarily from Lego Bionicle pieces, most of the skeleton is stock parts but some were modified – grinding, as the kids say these days.
The wings use the same vinyl contact paper we’ve been playing with lately.
Most of the metallic paint was sprayed on via rattle can, with some detail work done with metallic ink pens. The gold wing spines were done in metallic ink because we weren’t sure how the soft plastic would react to the metallic spray paint.
For final detailing, she added gears, cogs, and various other little watch parts.
And he’s got a watch face for a breast plate.
She’s still got some future modifications in mind. The back opens into a small compartment, and we’re thinking of making something that looks like recording apparatus inside, to better fulfill this guy’s intended surveillance missions. She also plans to fashion him a small leather shoulder perch.
Monday, May 4, 2009
This is the cheeseiest thing I’ve ever made. But it sure was a crowd pleaser!
I don’t have a cool name made up for this or anything like that, it just seemed to make something tongue in cheek seem too serious. I originally came up with the idea to do this for a few reasons:
1. I wanted to test the vinyl contact paper over lager, flatter surfaces
2. I like the idea of making every day item look less lame
3. I hoped to kick start a few friends of mine into doing something, anything, more interesting than downloadable content.
On all counts, I think this was a success: the contact paper worked about as well as I figured it would (re: good enough, but it won’t fool anyone at arm’s length); it definitely looks less boring than the stock XPlorer controller; and the friend I barrowed the controller is currently trying to make an old SuperSoaker look like an anti-tank rifle. And when we brought it out at a recent get together everyone seemed amused, which was nicely gratifying. So, what are we looking at here?
I didn’t do much on the inside. I considered some of the strum bar modifications I’ve read about online, but in the end I decided I was doing too much work making it look pretty to chance ruining it on the inside, so in the end all I did was pad the fret buttons for firmer contacts.
I don’t want to go on at length about design philosophies and artistic inspirations, so I’ll just say this: in researching this project I looked at a lot of SteamPunk and CyberPunk themed guitars. Like, real guitars. On trend that stood out was a general desire to make them look as little like actual musical instruments as possible, while retaining musical functionalist. Since I was starting out with a fake musical instrument, it seemed kind of redundant to make it look less like one. Thus, I went the other direction with it and did everything I could to style this fake musical instrument after a real one. What if there was Guitar Hero, but no plastic? Hence, wood grain.
The big structural change is obviously the exposed steam tank. After disassembling the controller I cut off one of the flying wedges and played with various shapes that might fit in there, eventually settling on an old stand-by, the stick deodorant dispenser. This one came from a recently depleted Old Spice product, with holes hacked into it so the controller’s supports could pass through the deodorant can. The can itself was fancied up with a reinforcing band cut from plastic and screwed into place. The little boiler plate was fun – I cut three circles from scrap plastic, one slightly smaller than the other two. I glued them together like a sandwich with the smaller circle in the middle, creating a thin seam that would be more visible than just sticking the plastic together. I then drilled holes all around the edge and glued in little brass nails. The small mechanical parts are just some Lego Bionicle parts added for flavor.
The whole subassembly was spray-painted copper, then masked to show just the reinforcing band (with its screws removed) which was spray-painted with a “hammered finish” copper. The Lego stuff was brush painted in accenting colors and the whole thing was gloss coated. When dry, I scraped the paint off the nail heads then soaked the boiler plate with several coats of thin ink to build up the stain. During the final assembly of the guitar I ran several nails through hole’s I’d drilled in the deodorant can and the body of the guitar to hold it in place.
The main body and neck are both covered in the same wood grain contact paper as this ill-named blunder buss. As with the earlier project, I heat-stretched the vinyl with a Bic lighter after cutting it into very roughly the right size. All the fittings were painted brass before applying the wood grain. The hardest part was stretching it over the edges around the inside-curving flying wedges. I don’t know if that makes a damn bit of sense, but it took a lot of time to get the wood grain on there smooth. At points, well… I got it on there as smooth as I could. There’s only so much you can do once you get the stuff out to the corners.
The vinyl on the neck is the same pattern as on the body. Before applying it, I laid it out flat and stained it with a mix of brown acrylic inks, then sprayed it with a matte finish clear coat. Without the clear coat, the ink would just come off on your hands. With it, the vinyl didn’t stretch quite as well as it had before, and was more prone to breaking when stretched.
After applying the wood grain I cut slits through it to expose the brass frets, then hit the “front” face of the neck with a very thick coat of high-gloss clear coat both because it looks better glossy and to hold down the edges of the vinyl around the frets.
Details on the neck include faux tuning knobs made of brass-painted Lego cogs….
And these fancy fret buttons. I masked off the edges, both to keep their action smooth and so you could see the original button colors, then hit them with textured spray paint. When dry they got their metallic colors, brass and copper for the yellow and orange buttons, silver for the rest. The silver buttons were then touched up with colored metallic brush paints. I didn’t clear coat them, but I wish I had – after just an evening of play, paint ware is already visible on the fret buttons.
The control panel was a fun little bit, but not involved. The plate was spray painted brass before the wood grain sticker was applied then cut away. The buttons were all removed and sprayed with a metallic black (the D-pad was ground down to a cross first).
The Start and Back keys are old shirt buttons with printed labels applied, then a coat of brush-on varnish to finish the look. I keep meaning to add something cool where the X Box logo used to be, but so far nothing has jumped in front of me.
The strum bar was a total pain in the ass, and went through three versions, each one a desperate attempt to salvage the morbid failure of the previous design. I’m happy with the final version, but if I’d planned on making it like this from the start I could have gotten a much tighter coil on the copper wire. Oh, well, live and learn.
The pic guard is one of my favorite elements of this design. The old guard was removed and cut to match the line of the exposed steam tank, then both parts were spray painted brass. I picked a small section of the Perry Reese world map, printed it out, and fit an interesting bit of coastline onto the pic guard. I cut it to shape so that the beveled edges of the guard would still be exposed, then glued it down. After that was dry I gave it several coats of brush-on varnish.
The whammy bar didn’t need very much, and I didn’t want to replace the bar itself, but it definitely needed something, so it got this little Bakugan, glued into a ball and painted brass, silver, and copper.
The vacuum tubes across the top don’t do anything, but they sure look sharp! I went through my box of spares and picked out pieces with different internal structures and recognizable logos (in this care Motorola, RCA, and Zenith.). I cut holes for them in both sides of the controller, and glued old pen body tubes inside to help support them. After assembling the guitar, I worked 2-part epoxy onto just one side of the holes (important to be tidy here, else you’ll glue the controller shut) and stuck them in.
So, she’s a pretty face, but can she play? Well, yes, in a loose fashion. OK, that’s not really fair. She plays just fine, in the sense that all the buttons still work and everything. And the padding on the fret buttons is an actual improvement over the original, they feel much tighter now. But… I lost a piece. Somewhere along the way, I lost a grommet that held one end of the strum bar firmly in place. The mounting rod still goes through the strum bar, and fits tightly at one end, just not at the other. It still makes the proper contacts and everything – one friend actually claims to prefer this new, looser strum bar style – but personally I don’t care for it at all. In fact, the loose strum bar is a big part of why the Xplorer is my least favorite controller for actually playing Guitar Hero. The lost grommet is something of a disappointment, as this is even worse than factory standard, but hay. Shit happens.
As with any project, there are things you take away from them and things you’d have done better. Not misplacing that strum bar grommet tops the list, and since I killed on Nerf gun in a similar manner I’m obviously going to need to work harder to not loose things when taking stuff apart. It would be nice if the wood grain laid down a bit flatter at the corner tips, but I’m not sure what I can do about that. Keep practicing, I guess. The strum bar and fret buttons both look good, but I feel like they could have come out better, especially the copper coil on the strum bar. If I’d intended to do it like I ended up doing it, it would have been a bit better. But that’s just art, or so my real artist friends tell me.