21 July 2013

85mm Resin Scratchbuild Spaceship

The title of the post says it all.  I used scrap plastic to push a rough shape of a ship into modeling clay, then detailed the impression with polymer clay stamps I made some time ago.

I'm very pleased with how this came out, because  I really needed a ship this size.  You see, I was rebasing all my other resin scratchbuilds and with the whole fleet lined up I realized that nearly every ship was 55mm long, +/- about 5mm.  That kind of uniformity makes it hard to distinguish which are the heavy battleships, which are the medium cruisers, and which vessels are the light corvettes.  I plan on focussing on making small and large ships for a while, since I have a plethora of medium craft.

The pictures below show today's ship fresh from the mold, with only some soap and water clean-up.  I still need to take a knife and sandpaper to the edges, and of course base and paint.  Before the paint however I will use polymer clay and epoxy to sculpt the exhaust nozzle section.  I find that the ships look about 300% better with a nozzle section added.

85mm now, but will grow with nozzles added

07 July 2013

Cheap Spacecruiser Scratchbuild Tutorial (Resin)

I know I've done a couple of scratchbuild tutorials before, but as the picture of the primed spaceship miniature above shows, I'm experimenting with techniques that produce a slightly different look.

The ships I've been creating with my polymer clay stamp method have some intricate panel lines, as shown in the last post.  Not only do these look good (to me), the panel lines are super easy to paint by using inks.  The only problem is that if the miniature is really supposed to represent a 300 meter long ship, panel lines would be hard to discern.  The ship pictured above however, really gives the impression of being big; the regular shapes make it look mechanical and vast.

OK, on to the tutorial.  The real reason I wanted to do another how-to post is so that I can really focus on the frugality and simplicity aspects.  My polymer clay stamp method is easy, but requires Super-Sculpey and the oven to bake it in.  This adds time and another layer of complexity.  This new method allows one to make super-cheap ships like the one above using only resin and modeling clay.

Materials needed are Alumilite Super-Plastic (or similar possibly, but this is the only resin I've tried), and a block of Van Aken brand Plastalina modeling clay.  The resin's advertised price is $30 and a pound of the clay about $3 to $4 (get about three pounds).  With some savvy shopping you could get these materials cheaper, paying about $25 for all you need.

For the first step, a shape must be created to press in the clay.  Fold a piece of scratch paper in half.  Take a straight edge and draw one half of the outline of the ship, as depicted below.

No prior planning, just started sketching

Keep the paper folded and use a sharp hobby knife to cut out the shape, pressing hard enough to cut through both layers of paper (use an old phonebook or something underneath so as not to scratch your table).

Pull out the shape and unfold; you should now have a perfectly symmetrical ship outline.

Symmetric ship outline

Find some very thin plastic.  Some suggest buying "For Sale" signs and this is a good option, but I find plenty of thin plastic (especially polystyrene) in food packaging.  I mean very thin plastic, not like bread tabs or hotel key cards.  Use CA glue to glue the ship outline to the scrap plastic.  Once the glue is dry, carefully cut the ship from the plastic, using the paper as a guide.

On the paper side, gently and repeatedly score the ship directly down its longitudinal axis (its spine).  Don't cut the ship in half, but score into the plastic deeply enough so that the ship can be folded up like a "V".

Flatten out a fist-sized ball of modeling clay on a clean surface (paper).  I use a rolling pin to flatten the clay, and stacks of hotel key cards to get a uniform height.

Take the plastic ship outline and place it on clay.  Use a pointed tool (I use a sharpened chopstick) and press along the spine of the ship so it sinks into the clay a uniform depth.  Only press it in 1 or 2 mm, just enough to leave a faint impression of the ship.  Now, press the stern of the ship deeply into the clay, maybe 6 to 10 mm.  This will cause a ramp effect, giving the illusion that the main hull of the ship has a lot more volume.  As you press down on the spine of the ship, you'll find the plastic shape folding up like a book, leaving a deep wedge impression.  When you have the depth you want for the ship, gently press out on the wings, unfolding and flattening out the impression.  Remove the plastic shape to reveal the shape as pictured below.  Roll up some more clay and repeat the steps in this paragraph three or four times so that a whole squadron of ships can be constructed at once.

Plastic shape-guide, clay, sharp pressing tool

Find a bunch of regular shapes, mainly rectangular ones, but also globular shapes and circles.  Examples of shapes I use are the ends of pens, beads, mechanical pencil lead tips, and scrap plastic cut into rectangles.  Take these shapes and press various features into the ship.  Try to keep the impressions subtle but vary the depths, making deeper impressions where you want the ship to have more volume (the bridge, main reactor core, etc.)

When you're satisfied with how the ship mold looks, mix some resin.  Do this outside and even then you may want to wear a mask (I do).  Mix the resin and pour into the mold of each ship individually.  It also helps the curing if you don't reuse anything involved in the resin mix.  I construct my own disposable eye-droppers.  Make sure to vigorously tap the side of the clay mold once the resin is poured to dislodge any bubbles.

The beauty of this technique is the minimal amount of material it uses.  The above ship is 50mm long yet required only 35 drops from an eye-dropper of each part of the resin!  Even that resulted in a lot of flash; I could have done it with 30 or even 25 drops.  As I've noted on this blog before, using such minuscule amounts of resin means I could theoretically make hundreds of ships.  As a side note, I purchased this resin in the spring of 2012, about 15 months ago, and it's still curing just fine.

The hardest part is the waiting.  Don't demold in 10 minutes, even if the resin package says you can in 3 to 5 minutes.  I wait 20 to 30 minutes.  Demold gently and use a soft toothbrush and warm soapy water to clean off any clay sticking to the miniature.  The picture below shows my example miniature fresh out of the mold (after cleaning and flash removal).

Mold and cast

Clean up the flash with sandpaper, files and hobby knife.  If you really want to finish the ship right, do a little "real" sculpting with another medium (epoxy, polymer clay, plasticard) to make the engine exhaust nozzle.

Finally, prime and paint.  Base as per your preferred rules (I use metal washers to enable magnetic storage).  The ships may be featureless on the bottom, but as this tutorial shows they are extremely easy to make.  I mentioned before that with smart shopping the resin and clay could be obtained for $25.  One would need only a few hours over a weekend to make a dozen ships.  That brings the cost per miniature to a little over $2 a piece.  However, I've already made twice as many ships, just through experimenting.  Once you get the process down, it's easy to crank these out, driving the cost down to less than $1 a ship!

Have fun.

50mm long