Monday, January 20, 2014

Starbase 1. The Great Experiment!

Every Christmas, my brother puts up a Christmas tree. With the advent of LED light strands our most beloved ornaments, the Star Trek ones, no longer light up. This insult to nostalgia prompted him, quite correctly, to create a new separate Christmas tree just for Star trek. This tree is all black and adorned with not only Hallmark ornaments, but custom created ones, like Micro Machine Star Trek ships with eyehole screws mounted into them to hang them on the tree. For a while now, DS9 was the tree topper, but it didn't feel right. We all knew there was only one true tree topper for a star trek tree; Starbase 1. He bought a solid resin kit online, but we both knew it had to be lit. I have been tasked with the mission of creating a clear cast resin version of this model for lighting. But I have taken it upon myself to go far above and beyond this calling. I will attempt to install LEDs, Fiber Optics (which I've never used before) Aztecking and door decals, all while maintaining a hollow inner space and a single hollow brass tube that will not only be used for mounting to the tree, but will cleanly hid ALL the wires!!!

Pictured above was the first step. I glued together the main body of the starbase. I wanted to keep the top section hollow so I could add as many lighting effects as possible, but I also wanted to keep the number of pieces I needed to mold down as much as possible. So I settled on making everything three simple pieces: a single body piece, and two upper shell halves. 

I glued a short plastic tube on either side of the model so that when I went to make the mold, the tube could be integrated seamlessly inside. Here you can see the first half buildup. When making a two part mold you always find your seam line, usually the center of the piece. You want each half to have as few undercuts as possible. Latex or silicon rubber molds make this less of an urgent need, but it's always smart to do so anyway. You then build clay up on either side of the sculpt, until you hit your seamline. It's always hard to explain what your doing to beginners since your literally sculpting the opposite side negative space of the mold.

Next step is to build a box high enough around the sculpt to allow an inch or so extra space in all directions. You want the silicon mold to be strong, but not waste a lot of material. Being a cheap person, I have learned that any cardboard or cereal box will work fine with this. In fact, the glossy side of the (in this case eggo pancake box) helps the silicone not stick when taking it all off later.

I call this the great experiment, not because I've never done this before... but because I've never tried to do this for as little money before. I found an air dry latex at Micheals Hobby store that you had to layer on for as little as $11. DONT EVER BUY THIS CRAP. Each layer takes a full day to dry. It takes up to 12 layers to get a good thickness. I would have been fine with this IF it ended up working well, but the latex, for some reason, didn't let the clear cast cure correctly when all was said and done. GRRRR!

I realized a cheap way to save material is to make a shell of bondo, then fill up the rest with a can of expanding joint foam like 'Great Stuff'. This actually worked quite well. 

Here's the final 1st half of the mold!

A colleague of mine at work informed me that Reynolds was only 4 miles away from work and sold starter kits of Smooth On silicone mold material for only $25. Being sick of layering each day, I decided to up the cost of all this, and bought myself some Mold Max 30. Above your can see the cereal box and straws to release air.

I didn't take pictures for a while, so I'm sorry I have no photo of this as a clear resin piece. But in this photo, it's all been sanded, sculpt apoxied, then sanded again. In this stage, specifically, I've taped off guides for the windows. 

The plastic tube worked better than I imagined it would! Not only did it not melt ( a fear of mine, as curing resin tends to get VERY hot), but it cleanly removed from the sculpt! I could have used it again if I needed to! Notice the brass tube right next to the main hole. The main hole will be used for lighting, the brass tube will be used for attachment to the tree, and running all the wires through.

I used the tip of an exacto to carve out each individual window. 

Next, I measured templates for the azteking decals. I scanned them and made photoshop patterns. Next step was to print them on decal paper and viola! Decals!

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