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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, May 27, 2023

Ivy's Hideout, a Retail Theming Project

 A while back the local comic store, Brian's Comics, announced that they'd be going out of business.  Then shortly after that, I get a call from my friend Mike of Batcave Comics and Toys who tells me that he and his partner Amanda are opening another brick and mortar location in Brian's former space.

This time, they've decided to class it up a bit and hire my crew and me to dress the new shop up and make it look like something completely different.  They were naming the new store "Ivy's Hideout" and wanted to make it look like Poison Ivy from the DC comics had been at work in the space, happily growing her plant minions all over the place.

No problem. 

For starters, here's the blank space when we first stopped by to see what we were working with:

Location Before

The store is located in the basement of an historical building in the old part of downtown Petaluma, California.  This means that there are very few straight edges or square corners and most of the walls have a few decades worth of previous tenants' improvements for us to work around.

One particular challenge was this mirror at the entrance:
Location Before

That would be the first things customers would see upon entering the store, but it was in a small alcove they'd pass through before turning around the corner into the rest of the space.  Peeling off one of the mirror tiles revealed that behind the mirror was just a window into the neighboring hair salon.  Not particularly useful for Ivy's Hideout.

So we talked over a few ideas and settled on a scheme to build plant life into the walls and ceiling.  We started by laying out paper mockups of where we could install tree trunk structures:
Since we had no clear blueprints to work from and the oddly-shaped building interior would be tricky to fit pieces into, we made all of the paper mockups in place at the location:
Once we were satisfied that we had a good layout, we went back to the workshop, transferred all of those outlines onto thin plywood, and cut them out:
The plywood flats were then brought back to the store so we could check that everything would still fit.  Then we started adding stringers to stiffen up the thin, floppy parts.  Here you can see Sierra gluing stringers and reinforcing corners while William works on an unrelated project:
For the sections that had to fit around corners, the pieces were placed where they would go on location, then fitted with stiffening frames that were glued in place and screwed together to fix the angles to match the not-at-all-square corners:
With all of the plywood pieces cut and test-fitted and stiffened up, we went ahead and piled on some expanding urethane foam to give them some bulk.  Here's Tia, William, and Sierra rushing through the distribution of the very fast curing, expanding foam:
This ended up taking more than one pass and looked kinda funky:


With the extra mass added on, we did a quick bit of rough trimming at the corners where the wall pieces would connect to ceiling pieces and did another round of test fitting at the store:

We would have to do most of the paint and finish work in the shop, so the goal at this stage was to minimize the patch work that we'd need to do at these corners when it was time to finally install everything:
This meant shaving and shaping everything on site like Tia is doing here:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 004
The fitting process went pretty smoothly.  

Then, back in the shop, it was time to take the weird, lumpy monstrosities we'd made, and start whittling them down into the shape of tree trunks and branches.  Here's Rachel roughing out one of the first pieces:

The single most elaborate part was this archway that would be one of the first pieces people would see upon entering the store.  This is me doing a quick dry fitting to see how they look together without a store to attach them to:

The top of the arch was a complex piece that was custom-sized to fit around a low-hanging structural beam in the building:

Rough shaping was done with a reciprocating saw and a few hand saws:
Then the shapes would be fine-tuned with files, rasps, and sandpaper:      20230227_170200

In order to hold up to public exposure and to smooth the surface prior to painting, the foam pieces were given two judicious coats of Epsilon PRO epoxy hardcoating:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 028
Here's a "during" shot of one side of the shop as some of these pieces were going through the process:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 031
Once the hardcoat had cured, it was time to move on to painting.  This piece was the first test of our color scheme.  I'd been planning on making them all green, but Rachel talked me into doing the branches and trunks in brown.  She was right too:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 045

So while the rest of us continued with shaping and hardcoating, she was responsible for most of the painting:

Once the paint dried, the parts were given a semi-gloss clearcoat and it was time to begin installation.

This was done in stages, starting with the archway at the entrance:

Everything fit as expected:

The first ceiling pieces were fitted into place around various floor joists and looking pretty good:

Each of the seams were filled, patched, and painted on site:

Just in case we'd need to make adjustments later, some pieces were set aside and finished in a second batch in order to make sure the final pieces would fit properly:
Once we'd confirmed that these last pieces would fit as needed, we went ahead and put them through the same process as the rest of the trunks and branches.  Then it was time for green parts.

While the store owners had rounded up a bunch of faux flowers and foliage to flesh out this impossible little garden, we decided we also needed some vines looping their way in and around the ceiling as well.  Fortunately my sales reps from Reynolds Advanced Materials, with no prompting whatsoever, stopped in one day on a routine visit and asked, "hey, any chance you need to make some vines?"

I'm convinced they have my shop bugged.

In any case, they introduced me to Simpact 80A urethane rubber, and a kit that they offer that combines it with rope, a filler material, and coloring agents to make a very convincing version of rubber vines.

The process started with us draping the longest lengths of double braided nylon line we could hang from the rafters in the shop and coating them with the Simpact 80A:
Coating the ropes was just a matter of mixing batches of the liquid rubber and sluicing it on by hand.  Here's Tia, me, and Sierra in the midst of the first glooping:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 046

By itself, this didn't make the rope very vine-looking:
Reynolds sells rubber texture stamps that would help with the next step, but we decided to make our own.  While the rest of the crew was getting the first coat on all of the rope, Rachel was tasked with sculpting out a patch of convincing vine texture:

This rough, barklike surface was boxed in and covered with silicone which cured overnight while we were waiting for the first coat of rubber to cure on the ropes.

The next day we mixed bigger batches of the liquid rubber complete with more color and thickeners, then smeared it onto the ropes with some sand to make the "vines" less ropey.  While that was setting up, the silicone texture stamp was coated with more sand and pressed into the surface to finish the look:
This made for some pretty convincing vines:      20230223_165207 
Diego was instrumental in the process:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 048

I got to enjoy some of it too:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 050

Once the coated, textured vines had cured, Rachel went back over them with some acrylic paint touchups to bring them to life a bit more:

The next day we went ahead and installed the rubber vines in the ceiling:
Things were starting to really take shape.

The next step for the overall project was adding more greenery and foliage.  Mike and Amanda, the store's owners, had already sourced a massive pile of fake plants and flowers, buy we still made two trips to various hobby and craft stores to add to the collection.  Here's Sierra on one of these trips:

Of course, plastic plants do have a tendency to look like plastic plants:
So we ended up doing a bit of paint touchup and blackwashing most of the greenery that we would later install.  Here's one round of vines and flowers hanging while the paint dried:
And here's Rachel in the middle of a round of paint touchups:
Once we were satisfied that we'd made the fake plants look as real as we could, it was time to haul everything back to the site and start dressing everything up.  We started at the entrance archway:
Then continued to add things all across the ceiling:
Eventually things started to get a bit out of hand:
But we kept going...

Mixed in with all of these plants, we'd also 3D printed a selection of cute little carnivorous plant heads:

These were hardcoated with XTC-3D epoxy resin:
Then each one was delicately hand painted:

Those little guys were mixed into a few nooks and crannies to give folks more interesting things to find as they look around the shop.

Going back to the beginning of this project though, there was that weird, useless mirror space right in the entrance:
Location Before
We decided this would be a good place to include Ivy herself.  While there have been a great many reinventions and updates to her look over the decades, the owners were particularly partial to the work of Bruce Timm who came up with the look of Poison Ivy from the 90's animated series.  

I asked them if there was a particular image or statue we could use for inspiration and they offered to loan us the original production prototype from the artist who sculpted the master for this one:

As luck would have it, I now own a couple of 3D scanners, so I decided to give it a go with this statue.  Here's the results:
Clearly I still have a bit of learning to do.

Still, the scan data gave me a good jumping off point.  I tasked Rachel with coming up with a good way to situate this character in the window opening where the useless mirror used to be.  She roughed out a couple of quick sketches and this one was my favorite:
Rachel's Render of Seated Ivy Greeter
Smoothing out my very rough 3D scan and altering her pose was way beyond my own 3D modelling skills, so I reached out to Sean Fields to do the digital sculpting work.  Starting with my scan and Rachel's sketch, in short order he had Ivy looking pretty good:

So once I had the models from Sean, I started slicing her up into bite-sized pieces my print farm could handle and got the robots churning out parts:

Because we were in a hurry, the parts were printed in thicker layers than I would usually use, then smoothed out by hand:
This mostly ended up being Sierra's job while the robots continued churning out parts and the rest of us worked on plant stuff:
She did a great job and in no time at all we had all the seams faired in and a solid epoxy hardcoat to protect the whole thing and make it seamless:
The other pieces of Ivy followed soon after:

Ivy's Hideout Progress 033

In order to mount her to the window recess, we'd need a frame and a backdrop to attach her to. To make the frame, we roughed out all of the parts we'd need in the workshop, then took the parts down to the location to assemble everything right into the hole it needed to fit into:
This meant there'd be no chance that something wouldn't fit:
Ivy's Hideout Progress 035

Back in the workshop, the frame was covered with expanding foam:

Then the foam was carved to shape:

We spent a lot of time test-fitting everything and staring at the results:
Testing Ivy's Fit

Once we were happy with the sculpt, the whole thing was hardcoated:
Then painted to match the other foliage:
Ivy's parts were also painted at the same time:

Once her paintjob was finished, she was screwed down onto the frame and all of the greenery was added in:
We also decided to add this little guy in there somewhere:

Then she was loaded up in the truck for our final installation:           20230303_210134

I was pretty confident everything would fit, but there was still a bit of a relief when she actually slid into place perfectly.

The night before the store was to open, Rachel, Sierra, my girlfriend Shawnon and I spent a couple or three hours adding the final bits of foliage and sprucing up the pieces that were already on site.  

The following morning, the owners held a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the occasion:20230304_115936

Now Ivy's Hideout was open to the public and Ivy was there to greet them:

As luck would have it, KGO 7 news was doing a story about my shop and managed to document a lot of this project:

So that's a thing we did.

The end result is another fun local installation that will hopefully bring the community joy for years to come.

Stay tuned for the next round of madness.  I'm gearing up for San Diego Comic Con and hopefully I can finish a couple of interesting builds before then.