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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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Star Wars Republic Commando Helmet Part IV: Now it's Just Getting Ridiculous

A while back I posted a series of articles about the creation of my Boss helmet from Star Wars Republic Commando.  In the first article I explained how I built the prototype.  In the second article I detailed the process of making the mold.  In the third article I walked through the painting process.  Here's what it looked like when it was done:
Boss Helmet Painted 3

The problem is, that was only the leader of Delta Squad.  There were three other guys in the game too.  Clearly I had work to do.  So I made the other three:
Delta Squad Family Portrait

If you'd like to see oodles and gobs of additional pictures of the building, painting, and wiring process, read on...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Current Works in Progress

It's been a while since I've had anything finished to the point where I can post an article about any of my projects, but I don't want anybody to get the idea that I've been slacking off.  In the past month I've made small progress on all sors of things.  Here's the current state of a few of them...

As a follow-up to my build of the M-3 Predator heavy pistol from Mass Effect 2, I've been working on a master for the M-9 Tempest submaching gun from the same game:
M9 Tempest Smooth in Black Primer
I should be molding it sometime in the coming week.

On the subject of weapon props, I made a trade for a lighting effects kit so I can make all of the indicators on one of my HALO assault rifles work like they do on screen.  Here I am mangling one of the castings so I can install all of the bells and whistles:
AR Lighting and Wiring Project Begins

While I'm continuing my apparent mission to fabricat nearly everything in the HALO universe, I'm also making a health pack to use as a handy place to store my workshop first aid kit:
Health Pack Makes Everything Better 2

I've also continued making the helmets for the members of Delta Squad from Star Wars: Republic Commando.  I'm currently fabricating the ear antenna attachment for "Fixer," the squad's tech expert:
RC Fixer Ear Attachment Fitted

I'm also cleaning up a few helmets that I've picked up as kits from other makers.  Here's my Commander Cody helmet from Star Wars Episode III:
Commander Cody Helmet WIP from EVO3 Kit

I'm still working on the forming bucks for my vacformed Space Marine armor costume:
vacformed chest armor test fit

If you were looking closely at the picture of the Fixer helmet above, you might have spotted my build of the Warhammer 40K Terminator Marine helmet in the background:
SM Terminator Helmet Resin Coated
When I finish that helmet, I'll be posting a phototutorial about using the Pepakura program to make a wearable costume helmet from paper.

Since all of these things cost money, I'm also tinkering with a couple of marketable projects to cover the material expenses.  Right now I've got a couple more versions of my Combat Garden Gnomes in progress.  First, here's the gnome officer with a pistol:

Finally, I'm making a bazooka-wielding gnome:

I've still got a lot more detail work to do on both of them before they'll be ready to mold, but I'm expecting to be able to offer some for sale before the end of the year in my Etsy shop: http://etsy.com/shop/thorssoli.

Stay tuned for more details as I finish up these projects and more...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Custom-Pierced Tire

The other day I borrowed a truck from my dad so I could run around and pick up some materials I needed.  At the end of the day I returned it and he noticed that I'd picked up a nail in the right rear tire.  I don't know how I managed it, but it looked like so:
Mystery Nail Piercing

He tells me it looks cool enough that he's just going to leave it there.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

FrankenBarn, the 2011 Barn Raising Project

For years now my father's been complaining about his shortage of indoor parking spaces and workspaces. He's been converting all of his outbuildings (mostly disused 100-year-old chicken barns) into garages and putting up tents and lean-tos wherever he can hide them out of view from his house. Still, this isn't enough.

He's also been compulsively squirrelling away a respectable stockpile of heavy timbers and leftover lumber from wherever he can find it.  He's been finding leftover construction materials on Craigslist, rooting through recycled concrete forms at the used lumber yard, and even pulling large chunks of wood that float down the river and dragging them home.

All of this hoarding has been aimed toward one day, someday, building a new workshop.  Doing my best to be encouraging, I've been telling him for the past couple of years that he'd be better off just hiring a construction company to come in and erect a steel building on a proper concrete slab. 

Finally, something goaded him into action.  Here's the finished result:
Frankenbarn Finished

If you'd like to see pics of it all coming together, read on...

Friday, December 2, 2011

At Long Last: Sailing Home Aboard the Heart of Gold

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you may remember that I dropped my boat, the Heart of Gold, off at Svendsen's Boat Works back in June so that they could replace the mainmast damaged in a disagreement with a drawbridge.  While she was there, I went ahead and had them haul her out of the water for new bottom paint and some much needed maintenance.  Five an a half months later, having missed a gorgeous sailing season on San Francisco Bay, I finally got a chance to go sailing again. 

The day started off great on the bay.  The night ended with me and my father freezing cold in a thick fog with barely any working navigational electronics before running the boat aground in my own slip in the marina where I keep her.  If you're up for a somewhat painful story about a good trip turned bad, read on...

We got underway around noon from Alameda.  As we were leaving the berth at the boatyard, we passed another Islander Pacific 41' like mine only not as pretty: Homecoming Sister Boat

On our way out of the Oakland Estuary, we were keeping pace with this snazzy little motoryacht:
Homecoming Pace Boat

As we were heading out, I noticed that the depth sounder wasn't working.  This will become relevant later.

Clear of the channel, we hoisted the sails and did a bit of tacking back and forth south of Yerba Buena Island just to make sure the rigging was all in good order.  The wind was going exactly the wrong direction for the transit North, so we cheated a bit and motored under the eastern side of the Bay Bridge:
Homecoming Bay Bridge Approach

I know there's plenty of room for my little boat to fit under this bridge, but I still find myself getting nervous when I pass under bridges now.  It doesn't help that the perspective always tricks you into thinking the mast is going to touch:
Homecoming Bay Bridge Clearance

Once we were clear of the bridge and past the lee side of Treasure Island, I killed the engine so we could finally enjoy a bit of proper sailing.  It was only a couple of hours worth of beating into the wind, but I can't tell you how happy I was to finally have my boat back.

As we made our way north, the wind slacked off and the current picked up.  Eventually it was all we could do to hold our position against the current.  Before too long I had to admit defeat, point straight into the wind, furl the sails, and proceed under power.  Here's a quick shot of the Golden Gate fading into the mist behind us:
Homecoming Raccoon Straits View

Passing Red Rock:
Homecoming Red Rock

Dad spent most of the day bundled up in the cockpit and hanging out:
Homecoming Dad Camped Out

Meanwhile, I got another chance to exorcise my bridge clearance paranoia under the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge:
Homecoming SR Richmond Bridge Clearance

As we passed marker six, I snapped a pic showing the wake from the current rushing past the buoy:
Homecoming Buoy Wake

It was slow going across San Pablo Bay on the way to the Petaluma River Entrance Channel.  We reached the first daymarker just after the sun had set:
Homecoming Sunset

The channel transit was pretty uneventful.  It wasn't until we passed under the Highway 37 causeway bridge at Black Point that things started getting interesting.  Suddenly the fog started to close in and visibility dropped to about 100 yards.  Unable to see the river ahead, I had to steer by gauging the distance to the bank on either side as we headed up the river.

Earlier in the year, a sailboat sank about halfway up the river in the middle of the channel by the tiny community of Lakeville.  As luck would have it, visibility opened up and the tide was so low that we had no time spotting the mostly submerged wreck and avoiding it.  To make it even easier, someone in a parking lot ashore had left their headlights on and they were pointed right at the mast of the sunken boat.  Thank you, whoever you were.

After clearing Lakeville, things got much worse.  The trickiest part of the upper Petaluma River transit is a turn called Cloudy Bend.  At high tide the river looks to be almost 200 feet wide at this point, but there's only about 80 feet of that width that's deep enough to transit.  The rest is only about knee deep at high tide.  At low tide, it's a huge peninsula of soft mud.  If there was any place we'd get stuck, that was it.

As we were coming up on the turn, I slowed to about 1.5 knots and started to favor the left bank of the river to give the shallow part as wide of a berth as possible.  As we were making the turn, the fog thickened.  There are two buoys that mark the edge of the shallow at Cloudy Bend.  We only saw one of them even though we had to have passed within about fifteen feet of the second one. 

Once I was confident that we were clear of the shallows, I picked up speed again.  Just as I was remarking about how we'd gotten through the worst of it, the boat ran aground.  I never even saw the bank where we touched bottom even though you could reach out and touch it from the deck.  As I backed off, the rudder got stuck in the mud astern.  In the darkness and fog, there was no frame of reference to tell when I finally started creeping forward again, so just when I noticed that I'd gotten headway again, I managed to slide right back into the mud ahead.  The tide was so low that the boat barely fit in the river sideways.  I ended up going back and forth this way three or four times before finally getting the boat turned enough to clear the banks on both sides.

That's when I looked down at the compass and realized that I'd somehow gotten us turned around and headed back downriver.  If it was happening to someone else, I'd've been laughing at them.

After a bit more grounding and turning and grounding and turning around, I got us pointed back in the right direction.  Proceeding blindly upriver, I'd slowed to a crawl to avoid doing any damage in case we grounded again.

We did.  I don't remember how many times I managed to touch bottom, but the saving grace is that the bottom of the river is soft mud almost everywhere.  Since Dad and I both know the river pretty well, I was confident that we could make the rest of the transit while avoiding the few places where there were rocks or structures along the banks.  Still, the last half mile or so worth of the passage took nearly two hours as we crept along.

As we headed upriver, we kept looking out for any of the lights that should've been visible ahead.  Even a hint of a glow would've been useful.  We could hear the traffic on Highway 101 to the west, but never saw any of the lights ashore until we were at the entrance to the Petaluma Marina.

That should've been the point where I was home free, but the City of Petaluma has neglected the Marina for a number of years and the silt has made it much shallower than it's advertised depth of ten feet.  As we were passing C Dock in the middle of the marina, right in the middle of the fairway, I ran aground again.  Cranking up the throttle, I was able to force my way through the mud to my berth.

Once we were close enough to reach the dock, dad put a bow line around a cleat and I tried to spring the stern in.  Even with the engine running full speed ahead there was no moving.  I was aground in my own home berth where the boat has been moored most days and nights for the past four years.

Having arrived alive, we counted our blessings, passed the rest of the mooring lines over to the dock, and headed home.  That was just after 2330.

At about 0130 I came back.  The tide had risen slightly so I could pull the stern in and tie the boat securely alongside the dock.

Taken for all in all, I'd call it a successful shakedown cruise.  Now I just need to troubleshoot the depth sounder and replace the radar so we can avoid these problems in the future.  I'm done with navigation by the Braille method.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Isaac Clarke Meets His Makers

After pictures of my Isaac Clarke costume from Dead Space 2 started making their way around the internets, it turns out my work was eventually noticed by some of the crew at Visceral Games, the studio responsible for creating the original concept that it was based on.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Ian Milham, Art Director for the Dead Space series, inviting me to come down and visit the development team in Redwood City so I could show off the suit. I drove down there on a Friday and after a quick tour of the campus I went out to the car, stepped into the RIG, and headed upstairs to meet the folks behind the game. Here’s a shot of me and Ian:
Ian and Isaac

Here I am in front of some of the promotional posters:
Isaac Clarke Hallway

And the money shot:
Isaac Clarke Poster Pose

The best part about walking around at Electronic Arts dressed as Isaac Clarke was noticing how few people actually reacted to the costume. It must be fun to work in a place where science fiction characters just wander around all the time. In any case, it was great to get a chance to shake hands with most of the folks who invented the character that I based the build off of.

It wasn't until I was 20 minutes away on my way home that I finally thought of asking any of them to sign my helmet.  Blast!

While I was there, I also got a chance to compare my build to some very high resolution renders of the costume in the game. Given that I was working from screenshots captured from Youtube videos, I’m still pretty proud of how it came together.  But there are a few parts where there’s room for improvement. I’m also thinking I have to put together a few props to carry around. Now that I’ve finished the build and I’m back to having a bit of time for gaming, I’m really in love with the look of the Pulse Rifle.

In the meantime, the RIG will be waiting in the box:
Isaac Clarke Boxed

Stay tuned for more madness…

Heart of Gold Repair Update

The last time I wrote about the ongoing drama surrounding the rigging repairs on board my boat following my disagreement with a drawbridge, I stated that "with any luck I'll have the boat back sometime this month."

That was early October.  I have no luck.  Clearly.

Over the following six weeks or so, I've had two separate occasions to go down to Alameda and look over the work in progress.  I found lots of work and very little progress.  Mostly the boat was just sitting idle like so:
HofG Rigging Repair

Bear in mind that in 2009 it took me about a month to replace all of the standing rigging on both of my masts by myself using a pair of pliers and a bosun's chair.  Most of that time was spent waiting for the rigging shop to cut and swage new wires for me.

For some reason it's taken Svendsen's Boat Works over twice as long to re-rig only one of my two masts even though the rigging shop is on the premises, they've got a crew and a crane to help them, and they had three months to get ready for the job.  I'm not really thrilled about this.

Still, after five and a half months of waiting for the insurance claim, the mast manufacturer, the riggers, and a massive pile of mismanagement and delays, the whole thing is done.  I found out it was finished when I was writing a plaintive email asking how things were progressing.  The reply: "The riggers say it's ready anytime you want it. We just need to wash it." 

Almost a week later I finally had a chance to head down to Alameda and do some last-minute fine-tuning.  At first glance, I was thinking that the boatyard really needs to fire whoever they've got washing boats down there.  Upon further inspection, it was pretty clear they just didn't bother.  Instead, the deck was littered with clevis pins and other detritus from the rigging work.  Five months of dust had been cemented to the deck and hull from the recent rain.  The Heart of Gold looked almost as bad as she did after I spent fourteen months away at sea and off to war in 2008/2009.

After a quick turn around the deck picking things up, I decided to hoist the sails and make sure the new running rigging was in good order.  The main sail and mizzen went up easily enough, but when I tried to unfurl the jib, the brand new roller furler bound up.  Only halfway unfurled, the sail was stuck in place.  When I went forward to see what was the matter, I found the furling line wrapped up outside the housing and spent a few minutes wrestling it back into place so I could re-furl the sail.

Here's a shot of how it was set up:
HofG Jib Roller Furler

To avoid binding up, the line is supposed to run through the opening on the right where the cage is designed to lead it onto the drum instead of allowing the line to get caught up under the rotating disk at the top.  It's a bit tough to spot in this picture, but cast into the cage above the opening is an arrow with the word "LINE" imprinted on it.  This makes it perfectly obvious to the most casual observer that this was put together wrong.

Other problems were less of an issue.  The new turnbuckles are stainless steel instead of bronze.  They're pretty, but they don't look quite right next to the few old ones that are still on board:
HofG Rigging Repairs

My main complaint with Svendsen's is that everything took such a long damned time.  I expected some major delays on account of waiting for the insurance company to pay out and for LeFiell to take a break from making missile bodies and jet engines so they could manufacture my new mast (which is gorgeous by the way).  But once the mast arrived at the yard I really expected the whole project to come together in a week or two. 

Instead it took over two and a half months.  When I'd ask about the delays, I was given every excuse you can think of including a backlog of small racing boats that apparently took precedence over taking care of me after all the waiting. 

What really irks me is that they didn't even bother to call and let me know it was done.  I don't know what kind of profit margin they've got going there, but it seems to me that there should be some sense of urgency when someone's waiting for you to finish tens of thousands of dollars worth of work.  Just saying.

On the plus side, the bowsprit is a bit shinier:
HofG Bowsprit and Furler Repair

Now that the boatyard was finally done with the rigging, it was up to me to get the boat home.  The last time I did any work on board, I was concentrating on getting the engine up and running after it's brief submergence back in June.  I hate working in the engine room because it's a bit cramped:
HofG Engine Room Working

Still, with some help from my friend Matt, I was able to fire it up and test it running both ahead and astern.  Everything worked reasonably well, but the raw water pump wasn't pumping any water.  Looking closer, I noticed that the belt was loose and the pump wasn't turning at all.  The fix was a simple matter of replacing one of the two fan belts in the filthy, rusty hole:
HofG Engine Belts

After that, the wet exhaust started puking out more seawater than I'd ever seen. 

With the cooling system up and running, it was a simple matter of scrubbing things down and making ready to get underway the next morning.  I'd been without my boat for far too long to keep waiting.

Stay tuned for bloggage on that little adventure.  It started off as a pleasant day of sailing and slowly turned into a tale of darkness and gloom with impending disaster around every turn.  In case you're worried, I did survive.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dear America, You Missed a Few

Rogue Turkeys

What you're looking at are just four of the forty or fifty wild turkeys that have been waddling around in the street and blocking traffic for months now as I drive out to my workshop.  So far I've been content to sit and wait while conscientious drivers ahead of me stop for however long it takes these moron birds to cross the street in their own good time.  Meanwhile, I idle away thinking of my time wasted.  I've found solace in the knowledge that November is coming and they're about to get what's coming to them. 

Then, the morning after Thanksgiving, I was shocked to see that there's just as many of them still gobble gobbling around the neighborhood.  If they're a protected species for some reason, the protection is no longer needed.  Clearly it has worked.

If anyone would like a turkey for Christmas, I'm willing to trade for ammunition...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Need Cash to Pay for my Projects Again

So I'm selling another batch of my Combat Garden Gnomes.  Here's a crappy cellphone pic showing them all lined up on the table:

You can buy them (and see better pictures of them) in my Etsy shop: http://etsy.com/shop/thorssoli.  Get them while they're hot.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

HALO: Helljumper Update

Those of you following along at home will remember that a while back I was asked to make some props and costumes for a fan-made HALO short film titled HALO: Helljumper.

The other day, they released a new poster:

More impressive, they've also finally released a full theatrical trailer:

I was pretty excited to see the finished product before. Now I'm on the edge of my seat. The pilot is scheduled to drop in January of next year. Meanwhile, I'm just tickled to see my name in the credits and on the poster. You can follow the production on their website or on facebook.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Helmet Display Stands

I spend a lot of time on my replica helmets.  The paintjobs usually involve several layers of finishes in various shades and sheens even before I start on the weathering process where I'll add half a dozen more colors and who knows how many hours of labor.

Then I set them on a shelf or pile them in a box or hang them from the rafters in my workshop until some nebulous future date when I'll have a suitable area to display them.  While I'm not any closer to having a wall or a shelf or a desk to display my work, I have decided I need a way to cut down on the beating that the paintjobs suffer just from sitting on the shelf.  The solution: display stands.

For many collectors, a cheap vertical paper towel holder from the local retailer is good enough.  But living in the earthquake-heavy zone of Northern California (aka, "God's Etch-a-Sketch") means I need something more stable.  Clearly this is another opportunity to flex some skills and use some tech.

First, using the image import function, I've had Lopez the Robot Whittler carve me out a variety of appropriate versions of the bases.  Here's the seal of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars:
Helmet Base Imperial Cog

Here's the Seal of the Galactic Republic that preceded it:
Helmet Base Republic Cog

This is the Mythosaur skull logo from Boba Fett's shoulder armor:
Mando Helmet Stand Base

Once I had a variety of appropriate icons to fit my collection, I poured silicone block molds so I could cast resin copies of them.  Here you can see the plurple silicone mold and a couple of the castings:
Helmet Stand Parts

The addition of a 14" long piece of PVC pipe makes it functional:
Helmet Stand empty

A casting of the custom-machined plug for the top finishes the assembly:
Mando Helmet Stand Assembled

Here's a test fitting with a clonetrooper helmet from Episode III:
Helmet Stand in use

And another with my Jango Fett helmet:
Mando Helmet Stand Test Fit

It's worth noting that I spent a bit of trial and error and a few feet of pipe before determining that 14 inches is the magic height for these.  Taller and you've got too much of the pipe showing.  Shorter and you're back to just setting the helmet on the shelf.  Once I had that worked out, it was time to make many and paint them up.

Here's the Mando' version painted:
Helmet Stand Mando

Here's how the rest look finished:
Helmet Stand Lineup

If you had a sharp enough eye to notice the difference in color for the two on the far left, you win one free internet:
Helmet Stands Galactic Republic Cog Logo

The right one was painted while the one on the left was made with cold cast aluminum, painted black, then sanded to reveal the aluminum underneath.  Next to the aluminum one, they all look somewhat cheap.  One of these days I'll be writing an article about cold casting, but for now it's easy to find plenty of information about it on Google.

You also may have noticed the UNSC logo under the Halo Spartan helmet in the new lightish red color:
Helmet Stand UNSC

I didn't mold it yet because I've decided to redo this one and make the logo a bit smaller.  Either that or just make a circle with the logo on the front half of the base.  More on that whenever I get to it.

For now, these are not too shabby.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halo Spartan Armor Photo of the Month

Tea For One

Photo: Melissa Howell
Props and Costume: Shawn Thorsson
Model: Shawn Thorsson

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Video from the Maker Faire

I did an interview about some of my build processes at the Maker Faire back in May. The video finally posted to Youtube the other day.  They've got me explaining the steps that went into building the weapons, but what's really great is the opening sequence.  Enjoy.

Everybody in costume really looked great, but I can't help thinking I kinda sound like an idiot. Nice to finally see the video.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Isaac Clarke's Engineering RIG Costume

A while back I posted about building the helmet for Isaac Clarke's engineering RIG from Dead Space 2

Wearing the helmet and nothing else looks wrong.  Plus, it tends to disturb the other patrons in the coffee shop I frequent.  This means I absolutely had to build the rest of the RIG.

Here's the end result:

For details on how I made it (and a few better pictures), read on.