About Me

My photo
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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Normal" is Just Shorthand for People You Don't Know Anything About

So I'm out of town for a little while visiting the Lady Shawnon over the holidays.  But since I'm a busybody and I'm perpetually running behind on everything, I've still found ways of tinkering on various costume projects while I'm away.

The other day I ended up going for a walk to get some fresh air as well as a bunch of supplies.

Among the stops I had to make were the fabric store and the hardware store.  Since I try to plan my errand-running routes as efficiently as possible, these were both on my way back home. 

The fabric store was first.  I picked out a few different things, but most importantly I grabbed one yard of each of their most believably realistic fake animal furs.

When I went to the checkout counter, the nice lady who rang me up apologized for the fact that they were out of the larger size of shopping bags (this being the Christmas season) and would instead have to put my huge pile of fur into a large, clear trash bag so I could carry it home.  Since I would be on foot and it was likely to start raining before I finished the walk, I figured any bag at all was a good idea.

Then I went to the hardware store.

Picking out the handful of items I needed was only a matter of minutes.  Then, as is often my habit, I wandered around the store for a while to see if there was anything on the shelves that would seem like a solution to any of a number of problems simmering on the backburner of my to-do list.

The staff at this particular store was exceedingly helpful.  In fact, I was asked "can I help you?" so often that it started getting annoying.  Eventually I realized that this wasn't the "I'm asking because we have great service" version of "can I help you?" so much as the "would you please leave my store because I don't want you here" version of "can I help you?"

Somewhere along the way I also noticed that people were giving me occasional dirty looks.  Things were getting weird.  Had I left my fly unzipped?  A quick, discreet check verified that it wasn't the problem.  Was I wearing a t-shirt with something on it that was considered offensive by the locals?  No, I glanced down at a plain black sweater.  Did I match the description of some locally notorious sex offender?  I had no way to know.

Feeling unwelcome, I made my way to the cash register.  The girl behind the counter was courteous but curt and things still felt a bit strained.  Then, after rushing to get me out the door, she finally asks me, "What's in the bag?"

"It's a bunch of fake fur for a costume project," says I, "why?"

"Oh my God," replies she, "the manager said there was some guy wandering around the store carrying a bag of dead animals.  Looks like he was wrong."

I guess I can see where he got that idea:

Apparently it's not unheard of for folks to bring roadkill into the hardware store.

If nothing else, the reactions I got from a handful of strangers made me appreciate the suppliers and local shops that I normally deal with.  Every time I walk into the local shops back home, the folks on staff tend to ask what I'm working on and no matter what my answer is, it's never too weird.  Whenever my the representatives from my various supply companies stop by the workshop to discuss new products, the conversation is always fascinating, off-the-wall, and nobody ever bats an eye.  

That said, I kinda miss the little bits of shock value that used to come with the normal goings-on in my projects.  I think I need to start making things weirder.  Or weirder things.  Either way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Building Captain Phasma Part 1: the Helmet

Alright, so I have a problem.  I told myself I wasn't going to make anything from Episode VII until I'd actually seen it.  Then I made the Flametrooper helmet.  I'm pretty happy with it.

But it turns out I can't just leave well enough alone.  Mixed in with all of the other awesomeness in the trailers was this beauty:

A chrome stormtrooper?  I'm listening...

 Folks who've known me for any length of time know that I used to drive a little car that was chrome.  Not the whole thing, mind you, just the outside.  So when images of the chrome stormtrooper started popping up online, I started getting flooded with messages from folks asking me when I'd be starting this project.  Clearly it was right up my alley.

Still, I resisted.

Some time later there was a photoshoot which showed off a lot of the neat new things from the upcoming movie.  The best part was that they actors names were listed next to each of the characters.  This is when I found out that the chrome stormtrooper was named Captain Phasma and was being played by none other than Gwendolyn Christie.  If you don't know who she is, she's the actress who's best known for playing Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones:

So not only is this a chrome stormtrooper, she's woman.  A tall blonde woman.  And they didn't do anything silly to make the armor look sexy or feminine.  No nonsense, just the same gear that the rest of the troopers wear in a different color to make it clear that she's in charge.

Now I was hooked.

After that, all it took was having the Lady Shawnon offhandedly mention "I'd wear that." and I was off to the races.

So far the helmet is done: 
Finished Phasma Helm Front Left

For details about how it was made, read on...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Force Awakens Flametrooper Helmet Replica

It turns out there's a whole new Star Wars movie coming out.

I promised I wouldn't get myself excited enough to build any of the stuff from the film until after I'd actually seen it.  Then I saw this guy:

That's a stormtrooper.  He has a flamethrower.  This is who I want to be when I grow up.

Since the State of California has very specific restrictions on the ownership of flamethrowers,* and the action figure just isn't quite enough, I'm going to have to settle for just dressing like this guy.  As luck would have it, the Lopez twins (my Carvewright CNC machines) were sitting idle in the shop.  So I hit up my friends at DO3D.com and had them crank out a quick 3D model for me:

After the Lopez twins were done chewing it up and spitting it out, I molded it, cast it, and painted up a rough-draft version like so:
flametrooper Rough Draft 1

For more (better) photos, the final draft version, and a step-by-step explanation of how it was made, read on...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Famous Again

The other day Wired.com sent a video team out to the workshop to interview me and see my mess.  Here's the result:

Sadly, we ran out of time before we could get footage of the rest of the huge stack of costumes we had lined up and ready to go.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gearing up with Dad

Every time I start thinking that my crazy projects are getting out of hand, I take a look at what my father is working on and it makes me feel better.

Case in point, the other day I stopped by the folks' house.  Dad's car trailer was parked out front with this thing on it:

Dad's Gears

If you don't recognize it, you're not wrong.  This is the reduction gear that used to drive the pivoting railroad bridge next to the Petaluma Marina.  You can see it in action here:

That bridge had been in place since 1903.  So for the better part of 112 years, these massive steel gears have done the job of swinging the bridge into place so trains could cross the river and then back out of the way so waterborne traffic could get past.

This year, there's been a lot of construction and improvements on those tracks in order to make way for the new SMART train.  This is a long-overdue commuter train that will carry passengers from as far south as the Larkspur Ferry terminal to as far north as Cloverdale.  

Since there will be a lot more traffice on the SMART train, the powers that be have decided to retire the old swing bridge in favor of a secondhand drawbridge that was relocated from somewhere in Texas.  The new bridge is this shiny green work-in-progress:
Railroad Bridge at Haystacks Landing

So while the construction crew has been slowly dismantling the old bridge, Dad has been watching the proceedings from his office next door.  When he saw the gears being pulled out he wandered over and asked the crew what they planned to do with them.

It turns out that they were slated to go to the scrapyard.

Dad decided that he had some other use for them.  He didn't know what, but something better than the scrapyard.  So he ran home, hitched up the trailer, and went back to pick up the whole kit and kaboodle.

After much deliberation, he decided to park the whole rig next to one of the barns.  After a bit of rearranging the other stuff tucked away under the tree, he parked an A-frame on the spot, then backed the trailer under it:
Dad's Gears

After a bit of wrestling it around with the help of a chain fall, the gears had found a new home:
Dad's Gears

Of course, a lot of folks might wonder why someone would want such a thing parked in their garden, so I suggested a use that dad decided was good enough:

It works.

Monday, October 19, 2015

2015 Rip City Riders Car Show (AKA "Shopping for Cars I Can't Have")

For those of you who don't know, in addition to making props and costumes and my one weekend a month in the Navy Reserve, I spend a bunch of time volunteering as an adult leader with the local Sea Scout ship.  Sea Scouts, for the uninitiated, are essentially the nautical branch of the Boy Scouts of America.  A co-ed program that teaches young adults all about teamwork, leadership, responsibility, and all sorts of valuable things while aboard ship.  It's a great program.

It's also an expensive program with a lot of high-maintenance equipment involved.  In order to cover the cost of running the ship and keeping everything in safe working order (without having to resort to constant bake sales and whatnot) the unit does much of its fundraising by running the parking concession at the local fair.  We've gotten pretty good at it over the years and our problem-free management of the lot means that the kids get invited to run things every time there's a special event at the local fairgrounds.  

A couple of weekends ago, the Rip City Riders motorcycle club hosted their annual car show at the Petaluma Fairgrounds.  After a quick rush to get everything set up, we had all of the entrances to the lot manned and started selling parking spaces for the day.  Before too long it was pretty clear that the situation was well in hand, being taken care of by stony-faced professionals like these:

Since it seemed like everybody had things under control, I took a few minutes to walk through the car show to see if there was anything on display that I couldn't possibly live without.  There were all sorts of interesting vehicles on display with seemingly no real rhyme or reason.  One of the first things that really caught my eye was this MG:

It was also pretty cool to see a replica of the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard:
General Lee

Further down the row of 70's muscle cars that didn't do anything for me was this mechanical monstrosity:

It was a bit much.  I figure if you're just looking for attention, this guy's got the right idea:

If shiny is more appealing, this Studebaker was pretty cool:

I really loved the bodywork on this guy:

It seems like every car show I go to has at least a few of these:

I don't really see a lot of these gassers around anymore, but this one was fun:

I really love the color choice on this Vette:

My uncle used to have one of these kicking around in his shop for at least a couple of years, so I have always had a soft spot for it:
'59 Caddy

There were a few other less, interesting things to see in the show, so after walking around a bit I was almost ready to commit and say that my favorite would probably have been this one:
Brushed Metal

Except somebody showed up with a tank:
M41 Walker Bulldog

Tank always wins.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October UFO Sightings in the Workshop

It's that time again.

The time where I realize that I've neglected to write anything new and worthwhile for my blog and have to resort to listing the latest roundup of UnFinished Objects currently being worked on in the shop.  The last couple of months have had me travelling and working on super secret projects with non-disclosure agreements, so all that's left is the hobby stuff I've been tinkering with in my increasingly rare spare time.

Here's a few of my favorites...

A while back I got a wild hair and decided that I needed to have the new flamethrower stormtrooper helmet from the upcoming Star Wars movie.  The paint work is almost finished, then I'll be writing up a detailed article about the building of this guy:
Flametrooper Base Colors

The nice part about the flametrooper helmet is that it is the base shape that ends up being used for the Snowtrooper helmet as well.  It just needs an added plate on the face and a big dome for the top and back.  So I'm making those too: Snowtrooper Prototypes in Progress

It also turns out to be the base shape for the new and improved TIE pilots' helmets.  I was trying to talk myself out of making them as well, but I seem to have failed.  I should have pics of that to show off soonish.

Since I'm on a roll with Episode VII Star Wars stuff, I decided I need to dress up the Lady Shawnon as Captain Phasma, the chrome-clad leader of the First Order stormtroopers.  So far I've made the helmet and I'm in the process of refining the chroming process.  For now, I've got this rough-draft copy painted up with a quick spraycan finish:
Phasma Lens Selfie

Since I can't leave well enough alone, I've also designed the smoking exhaust system for my Death Watch Mandalorian jetpack:
Finished Jetpack

I'll be writing up that project as soon as I actually get it installed in the pack and shoot some video and/or photos.
That's a lot of Star Wars stuff all of a sudden.  Suffice it to say, I'm very excited about the new film coming out.  But a long time before that happens there will be Halloween.

This year Halloween falls on a Saturday and I'll actually be getting out and going places for a change.  Usually I'm swamped with work and end up being too busy to do anything for myself, but this year I've actually carved out a bit of time to work on my own project.  

So I've decided to go as Deathstroke from the Arkham series of Batman video games.  I've got a good start on the mask:
The bulk of the suit will likely be made of EVA foam.  More as a demonstration of how it's done than anything else.  

While that may seem like a lot going on all at once, I've also been building a smaller format vacforming machine:
Smaller Forming Machine in Progress

I really love my big 24"x48" machine, but it tends to cause problems on the many occasions when I just need to form some small piece of something and I have to use up a huge sheet of plastic.  Having the smaller machine means only melting the little bits I need.

It's a build I've been meaning to take on for years, but I've finally been spurred into action because I'm writing a book and needed to be able to show a step-by-step description of building a forming table.

Yes, a book.  A book that will be published.  Here's a pic of the very preliminary cover:

In fact, you can pre-order it now.  Here's a link: http://amzn.to/1PyJu4p


More to come.  Stay tuned...

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hello, America! The 2015 Cross-Country Road Trip

A wise man once told me that the main difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude.

When the Lady Shawnon told me she would be doing her clinical year at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Cornell University, I was really proud of her.  When she said she'd need help moving all of her stuff there, that's when I got even more excited.

As it turns out, for me, this is what an adventure looks like:
Road Trip Map

That's the route we took to get her, her car, and most of her stuff installed in upstate New York.

If you'd like to see photos from the trip and all of the fun along the way, read on...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Old Republic Sith Acolyte Costumes

A while back I had the pleasure of attending Star Wars Celebration: Anaheim, the 7th such  convention in the history of the Star Wars franchise.

The Lady Shawnon had bought our tickets fully nineteen months before the actual event with the statement that "that should be more than enough time for you to come up with costumes for us to wear."  She was right...   ...kinda.

Among the many outfits I ended up putting together, were these four:
Old Republic Hitting the Lobby

The girl with the blaster rifle was the Lady Shawnon in her Shae Vizla bounty hunter costume based on the trailers for the Star Wars: the Old Republic MMORPG.  I'll get around to writing that one up.  The important thing to know is that she looks even cooler when she's not all by herself.  You can read about that build here: LINK.

The three lightsaber-wielding gentlemen were Sith Acolytes from the same game.  You can see one of the videos that inspired the build here:

Here's a great photo showcasing one of the finished costumes:
Sith Acolyte at Celebration Anaheim

For more photos and details showing how it was made, read on...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

August UFO Sightings in the Workshop

A couple of weeks ago I finished up a major, super-secret project.  Here's the crew with some of the finished pieces:

As I mentioned, it's super-secret.  Hence the pixelating.

Anyhow, after the dust had settled, it was time to clean up the workshop:

It was a daunting task, but it worked out okay in the end:

As often happens over the course of such cleanings, I managed to find all sorts of cool stuff I'd almost forgotten about.  So I managed to snap a few pics of this month's UnFinished Objects.

First off, there was the prototype flametrooper helmet replica I'm making based on the upcoming Episode 7 of Star Wars.  I molded it:
Mothermold 2nd Half

Then I cast and painted a copy. Here's the Lady Shawnon trying it on:
Flametrooper Test Fitting

It looks good, but then again she makes anything look good:
Flametrooper Shawnon

On the subject of prototypes, I've also been tinkering with a Judge Dredd (2012) helmet:
DREDD helmet smooth

There's a lot of helmets kicking around the shop. Here's the "mostly clone trooper" shelf:

There's a War Machine helmet there.  Clearly it's an escapee from the "mostly Marvel helmets" shelf:

There's also a few things I've finally gotten off of the back burner now that I've got a minute.  These are projects that will be used to illustrate a how-to book I'm writing.  Such as this helmet:

I'm also going to be disassembling this heater in order to build a compact vacforming machine:

There's a whole host of other things tucked away in the various corners as usual.  Each more fascinating than the last.

Stay tuned.  I'll get to them sooner or later...

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Giant Outlet in Downtown Petaluma

A while back I was busy doing something, close to nothing, but different than the day before when I received an email from the wife of a local artist which asked the seemingly simple question, "can you build a large, fiberglass outdoor sculpture?"

I replied that I could, but I'd need a lot more information.  How large is large?  Where is it going outdoors?  What kind of budget do I have to work with?  That sort of thing.

We ended up having a brief phone conversation before I was introduced to Joel Jones of Basal Ganglia Studios, who presented me with this concept sketch:


That's a Photoshopped image of an historical building downtown next to an electrical power substation.  Basal Ganglia had been funded to add a sculptural installation to the side of the building.  My role: fabricate a giant rendition of a household electrical outlet with a cord plugged into it and leading into the ground.

No problem.

I had a few other projects in my queue ahead of this one, but once I'd started, it took a few weeks, a whole lot of fiberglass, and a few hundred pounds of steel to end up with this:

For more details and photos of how it was made, read on...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Building the Trophy for the 2015 EVOLVE Proving Grounds Tournament

Back in late May I got an email from my friends at 2K Games asking me if I'd had any time or interest to work on a trophy for their upcoming Proving Grounds tournament.  Within a few minutes we were on the phone discussing it.

The total timeline from green light to completion?  Two weeks!  Here's the end result:


To see how it all came together, read on...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Shae Vizla Blaster, aka How to build a Decent-Looking Science Fiction Weapon in About Four Hours

Somewhere toward the end of the big rush to prepare a bunch of costumes for Star Wars Celebration: Anaheim, I realized that I'd nearly finished the Shae Vizla costume for the Lady Shawnon but I'd neglected to come up with any weapon props to carry around.  If you saw the last entry about the Shae costume you know I managed to solve this crisis:
Shae Vizla at Celebration Anaheim

What you may not realize is that I knocked it out in a mad rush in the middle of the night while my crew cranked out a bunch of parts for the big Mandalorian project.

For details on the blaster build, read on...