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I make toys for kids who don't want to grow up. I'm on the lookout for new projects. If you're interested in commissioning me to build something ridiculous, shoot me an email.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stopping By at Moss Landing

Coming back from my sister's place in SoCal, my folks decided to stop and visit my old marina neighbor Levon.  He and his wife have moved their boat to Monterey and are now living aboard in the Moss Landing Marina.

Once we got there, the girls wandered off in one direction while I wandered the docks with my father and Levon looking at the wild selection of boats:
Visiting Levon

The view at Moss Landing isn't the greatest:
Moss Landing View

What is great though is the wildlife.  Right outside the marina is the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  This is a massive area where fishing and other harvesting is prohibited.  As a result, there is an overwhelming proliferation of sea creatures.  While we were walking around I stopped to watch a sea otter cracking open crabs and eating while floating around on his back:
Sea Otter

While I was watching the sea otter, I was being watched as well:
Chillin Sea Lion

I could've spent hours there just snapping away at all of the random critters, but it was getting late:
Moss Landing Sunset

I'll have to make a road trip down that way again soon.


Thanksgiving Visit to Socal

Now that my sister is stationed in the San Diego area, the rest of the family has been taking advantage of the chance to go and hang out at her place.

This latest visit took me out of the shop for a full week, but after doing our part to support the traditional nationwide turkey massacre (with supplemental Twinkie frying) we did make a trip to Disney's California Adventure.  It's a much smaller theme park than Disneyland proper (right next door) but we still got to managed to ride a few roller coasters and net ourselves some winning photos like this one:

(that's my niece hiding in terror in the seat next to me)

The unexpected bonus was that they were doing a major promotional push for the upcoming Tron Legacy film.

Among other things, I spent a few minutes snapping pictures of the Lightcycle mockup they had parked outside the theater where they were showing the sneek peek clips (which only make me want to see the film even more).

Given the tricky lighting arrangement, it was a difficult subject to photograph.  Here's a few of the shots I got:

Looking at the lightcycle, it wouldn't be impossible to build one, but it would be seriously uncomfortable to ride.  What's more, there's an outfit down in Florida that's already making seven of them.  I'm starting to think I'd be better off making one in the original style from the old movie instead.

Back to the theme park promotion; after 6pm much of the park was dressed up with TRON-themed lighting and a DJ had set up shop complete with gogo dancers in costume.

Unfortunately, this was the only photo I got of any of them:

The lighting on the costume was achieved by the simple expedient of some retroreflective tape.  So in normal light the costume didn't light up at all, but with the use of a flash, everything came to life.



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Project Overload: a Brief List of Things I'm Currently Tinkering With

Since I'm mostly finished with my HALO costuming project, I've stacked all of the molds in storage, swept out all of the resin sanding dust, and started looking around at all of the things I've been meaning to get back to for the past few months.

First up, I rolled my miniature Sherman tank back into the workshop:
Tank Restart

My wee tank is just over eight feet long, about four feet wide, and has a 7hp electric-start engine under the hood. I've assembled one of the tracks (visible in the lower edge of the picture) and I've made the components I'll need to assemble the other one (stacked on the bench in the back) so now all I've got to do is have Lopez the Robot Whittler crank me out some drive sprockets while I'm building the transmission.

The tank takes up a lot of space and it's a huge inconvenience to walk around it in the middle of the shop.  I'm hoping that will motivate me to make progress and roll it out. I've promised myself that the next time it leaves the shop will be when I drive it out under its own power and start shooting things.*

That's not even half of what I've got going on though. While I was cranking things out for Halloween, I also made a child-sized Predator bio helmet for my nephew. It was just a drop in the proverbial building bucket when you consider all I had going on then. Here's an early shot with a test coat of paint on it:
Beginning Nephew Helmet

It got several iterations of sanding, priming, bondo, and sanding again before I decided I was happy with it. Here's what it looks like now:

The sad part is that my nephew didn't make it to visit for Halloween. The good part about the sad part is that I have time to refine the sculpt a bit (I need to add the targetting pod on the left temple), make a mold, and build the final version in resin or possibly durable lightweight fiberglass.

I've got a few more helmet projects in the works too. The first one is the continuing improvement on this beauty:
Helmet Stretching 1

Once I've finished stretching it a bit and smoothing it back out, I'll be cutting it into separate components before making a mold and cranking out a few copies so I don't have to decide on the making the Mk2 (silver) version or the Mk3 (gold and hot rod red) version. I'll also be converting the first clean pull into the War Machine helmet. All three of these will have the light-up eyes and hinged faceplate seen on screen in the movies.

On the subject of helmets, I started building a Star Wars Republic Commando while I was out on my last ship. Once I had it back in the workshop I started fairing and smoothing it. Here's what it looks like now:
RC Black Primer

With a little more smoothing and a lot more minor details it'll be ready for a proper paintjob. When I'm painting that, I'll probably also be painting my Episode III clone trooper helmet***:
A Little Short

The continuing challenge with both of the above helmets is talking myself out of making the rest of the costume to go with them.

Since I can't seem to put down the HALO project, I've also decided I need a Mk5 helmet as worn by Michael J. Caboose in the latest three seasons of Red vs. Blue. Fortunately, I was able to find a good 3D file and Lopez the Robot Whittler*** got me a good head start. Right now it looks like so:
Caboose Helmet Test Fit

It's carved out of MDF, so it's pretty heavy. Once I finish smoothing it out and adding the little parts, I'll be making a mold so I can cast a more wearable resin version.

Also HALO related: I've been looking to expand my meager arsenal:

Any day I should have the molds so I can cast up a couple of my sniper rifles. That'll be fun because the prototype was huge:

It was also very heavily detailed:
Sniper Rifle test fitting

While I've been waiting on the molds, I've gone ahead and started work on the BR55 Battle Rifle. Here's a goofy shot of me test-fitting it with the wrong scope:
BR55 Scale shot

I'll be building the mold for this one in a few days.
While I'm expanding the arsenal, I'll also be building a couple more finished suits of armor.  Plenty of people have pointed out that I was missing some key characters from the lineup, so I've still got to make Tucker and Donut at the very least.  Then I'll be getting the gang together for a few photoshoots and maybe do a bit of filming too.

Meanwhile, I also need to get back to the assembly and painting of my two ODST suits***:
ODST begin

So far, the only part I've actually put together are the shins:
ODST Shins

So the main goal now is to maintain focus on these few things and avoid starting any new projects until these are finished. I also need to go back out to sea so I can hopefully make enough cash to pay for it all.

Fingers are crossed, but I'm sure I'll fail on both counts.  In fact, I'm already thinking I should rebuild my vacuforming rig, dabble in some vacuum metalizing, build a powered armor helmet from Fallout 3, sculpt out a Cylon from the new Battlestar Galactica series, have Lopez the Robot Whittler make me a BFG from DOOM, machine some components to build the T-800 Terminator endoskeleton and the M95A1 phased plasma rifle (with 40-watt range), and build the Zorg ZF-1 from Fifth Element, and...

I really need to just hire a staff of fabricators.

*The Sherman has a smoothbore, breach-loading, pneumatic gun that can shoot anything that fits down the barrel. The prototype had a 2-inch diameter barrel and could put a medium T-shirt on target over 150 feet away. I also experimented with paintballs and discarding sabot water balloon rounds, one of which I lost sight of over a tree line some two hundred yards away!

**These are kits that I acquired from other makers.  My creative contribution will come in in the finishing stage.

***"Lopez the Robot Whittler" is the nickname I've come up with for my Craftsman Carvewright woodworking machine.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to Talk to Your Kids About Star Wars

Helpful thoughts for parents struggling with some difficult questions.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rerun: Save the Whales of Afghanistan*

I wrote this while I was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan after a lengthy discussion with some of the other staff officers about all of the many ways that charitable organizations were stupidly squandering money and manpower on frivolous projects throughout the country.  I still consider it one of my greatest hits.  Enjoy...

Over three decades of war have wrought death and destruction across the nation, but nowhere are its effects more apparent than among the Afghan whale population. Their numbers have diminished so much that nowadays most people will tell you that they don't even exist. At the rate they’re being killed today, this common misconception could become a cold prophetic truth as the last species of Afghan whales become extinct by 2025.

In prehistoric Afghanistan, the nomadic Dirkadurka tribes would follow the whale herds across the desert, hunting them for sustenance and living in harmony with nature. But as the world's great empires began to vie for power in the region, foreign invaders with more devastating weapons began to harvest the whales and even kill them for sport.

A trio of British Army officers posed atop a trophy-sized Kandahar Humpback Whale bull, circa 1881.

Now, as the centuries have passed, the detrimental effects of prolonged warfare, poaching, widespread deforestation, soil erosion, agriculture, and over-grazing have decimated these burrowing monuments to graceful Nature.

Here we see a rare photo of "Kandy," the world's most famous Kandahar Humpback, in mid-broach:

Once great herds of beautiful creatures like her would migrate across the deserts of Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimruz, stretching as far as the eye could see. In recent decades these battle-scarred regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border see fewer and fewer new calves every year. Now she is one of only seventeen alive in the wild today, and there are too few remaining for there to be any hope of repopulating the species.
Click here to listen to her soulful, haunting song.

In 1992, Afghan whalers killed the last Oruzgan Long-Finned Whale the world ever saw:

She was murdered while carrying an unborn calf. Killed only for her ambergris, which would be sold on the black market for use in perfume. Despite being one of the earliest to be placed on the endangered species list, under the lawless Taliban regime poachers were free to kill as many as they liked. Now they are only a memory, the stuff of local legend and the occasional rare photograph.

Despite their impending extinction, the local government has no plans to ban the hunting of whales in Afghanistan. Plus, even as their prey continues to diminish in numbers, Afghan whalers are constantly developing more effective tools to massacre them. Without your help, there will be no end to the carnage.

A group of Pashtun whale poachers (left) sets out for their early-morning hunt. Vehicle-mounted harpoon guns like that shown at right have killed countless whales in the unregulated wilds of Afghanistan.

The Hindu Kush Narwhal, the smallest species of Afghan whale, was completely wiped out as recently as 1997. They were killed for their luxurious hides and their tusks which were believed to have powerful aphrodisiac effects. What finally spelled their ultimate doom however, was the popularity of Dorsal soup in eastern Asian countries. It took five of these peaceful, defenseless animals to make just one quart. Now all that remains are a few scattered bones in the heights of the Hindu Kush Mountain Range.

An anonymous Taliban fighter seated alongside some Hindu Kush Narwhal vertebrae near the Khyber Pass. While they were still alive, these animals were so reclusive that they were never photographed. Now they will never be seen again.
It's not too late to save what's left of the Afghan whales. Every dollar brings us closer to our goal of building the Chakhansur Whale Reservation, a vast expanse of open terrain in the Nimruz Province where Afghan whales will once again be able to roam, free from the predations of Man. There we can continue research to benefit the Afghan whales and educate the world.
To make a donation and help preserve a piece of this gentle giant's natural habitat*, click here:

With your donation, we can ensure that these amazing animals don't become a thing of the past.

An Afghan National Police officer overlooking the sun-bleached skeleton of a Kandahar Humpback whale from his hilltop checkpoint.

*In case you haven't figured it out, this entire post is satirical. While it is potentially in poor taste, it's intended to be funny. There are no whales in Afghanistan. If you're foolish enough to actually donate to this cause, I'll gladly relieve you of your money. Just know that whatever you donate will go directly into my pocket and I will be personally spending it as wastefully and frivolously as possible. Your donations are NOT tax-deductible.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yard Sale Find of the Year: Stan Winston Predator Statue

Monday morning I got an interesting picture from my father via text message asking me if this thing was something I'd be interested in:

As soon as I saw it, I instantly recognized it for what it was.  It turns out that when they'd finished making the production costumes for the original Predator film, Stan Winston Studios (now known as "Legacy Effects" with the passing of the late great Stan Winston) made four of the foam-filled statues which since found their way into the hands of private collectors.  Then the molds ended up in the hands of Magee FX, who made a few more.  When the molds started to deteriorate, Magee FX resorted to selling partial statues with no backs on them so they'd have to lean against a wall.  The backless statues currently sell for $3799 and if this is one of the few with the full back it'd be worth even more.

I told him that if he could get it, but when he asked it turned out that the seller was claiming it had already been sold.  BLAST!

The next day Dad decided he had to go back for a second look at the rest of the stuff for sale and invited me to join.  When we arrived, we found the same wildly eclectic collection of furniture, tools, golf carts, and statues that were there the day before. 

The same piece was still mixed in with all of the other oddness:
Yard Sale Predator

It couldn't help but look out of place:
Yard Sale Predator Found

Closer inspection revealed that all of the key details were intact:
Yard Sale Predator Details

It made me fell pretty good about the paintjob I did on my costume a few years back:
Yard Sale Predator Closeup

Being taken from the original Stan Winston Studio molds, every aspect of this statue was a perfect reproduction of the screen-used costume.  Unfortunately, to save on reproduction costs, the face was left unfinished and the mandibles were removed:
Yard Sale Predator Unmasked

As I was looking it over, the buyer and his wife turned up and I got to chat with them for a bit before helping them get it out of the pile of random statues and posing for a picture with this great piece:
Yard Sale Predator Portrait
It was originally designed to fit the late Kevin Peter Hall (who stood 7'2" tall) so it's not small.

This is the worst part: there was a base included with the statue that had a pin to insert into the foot so it would stay upright.  When we were trying to attach it, the Predator kept drooping forward at an unnatural angle.  While we were struggling with it, the seller mentioned "I've got another one of those, let me go grab it"

When he came back, he had another base of the same basic design but with the foot pins in different positions.  When asked where this one came from he said that when he got the Predator statue, there was another one with it that was some kind of big, gray animal skeleton, but it was all in pieces and he threw it away.  Given that Magee FX also sells a few other things with similar bases, I'm pretty sure he threw away one of these.

The head alone would've been worth almost $1400!


Sea Scout Trip to the Napa Mini Regatta

Last weekend I went out with the Petaluma Sea Scout Ship Compass Rose so the crew could participate in the Napa Mini Regatta.  This is an annual event where ships crews from all over the San Francisco Bay area get a chance to practice the various events and exercise the skills they'll need when competitive regatta season begins.

Over the last few years, recruiting has been a challenge (I blame the internet) and the crew has been too small to effectively compete.  This year we're starting the season with a solid eleven members, so things are looking good.

On Friday I met the ship down at the Marina:
SSS Compass Rose Moored in Petaluma Marina

We were underway by 1800 and I spent the downriver transit in the pilothouse making sure everyone was on top of their game.  As it turns out, this group doesn't need much supervision and all I was doing was drinking coffee and answering the occasional question:
SSS Compass Rose Pilothouse

As we approached the Highway 37 Bridge at the mouth of the river, the sun set:
Another Petaluma River Sunset

While crossing San Pablo Bay toward the Napa River, Jeremiah (another adult volunteer) grilled up dinner:
Grilling Underway at Night

While the crew waited patiently in the cabin:

By 2300 we were moored outboard of the Rio Vista Sea Scout ship, a restored Vietnam-era fast patrol boat.  Not long after that, everyone turned in so they could be well rested for a full day Saturday.

Saturday morning found me and Jeremiah in charge of the knot tying event.  Our task was to give remedial training to those folks who were less than 100% confident in their knot tying abilities.  Each scout had to correctly tie each of ten knots frequently used in boating.  For those few who were overtly cocky about their skills, we took it upon ourselves to challenge them to a race to see who could tie them faster.  I'm happy to say that despite my total lack of recent practice (I hadn't tied knots for speed in at least fifteen years) that there was only one well-drilled youth who was able to match me in a tie.  The next closest took half again as long as me to tie all ten.
While we were running the knot event, the rest of the Napa Sea Scout Base was crawling with other activities.  Sadly, I only got a few snapshots.  Tragically, this is the best of them:

Regatta Practice

During the lunch break, the crews went down to their ships to eat and socialize:

After lunch I left Jeremiah to the knot tying and went down to check out the flotilla drill training.  This event tests the crew's abilities in precision rowing and maneuvering of an eight-oared rowboat:
Flotilla Drill
From what I witnessed, all of the crews have a long ways to go.

Once the events closed for the day, the crew got cleaned up and headed into town to the awards ceremony.  Four of them are still new enough that they still don't have dress uniforms:
Awards Ceremony

Exhausted, I ended up sleeping through most of the transit back to Petaluma.  Here's a shot of the crew pumping out the holding tank once we were back at the marina:
Pumping Holding Tank
Here's an inspired self-portrait:
Shawn Flag

And here's an angry bird:
Cormorant Standing By

It was a fun trip and went by pretty quickly, but I was glad to be home:
Walking the Dogs

Stay tuned for more adventures...