Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Build a Dinosaur, part II

Links to the other posts in this series:
Part I
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Having done the top of the head, the bottom jaw came together much faster.  
Once I put 'em both together I had proof of concept and some reassurance that I at least had the skills to make something look the way I wanted it to.  What I didn't have was any assurance I'd have the ability to finish the whole thing.
That's better.
After a heck of a lot of carving and sanding, and a garage floor that looked like this:
I managed to assemble some of the torso.
Body starting to emerge.
At this point the body was still a little too large, the neck was mostly unfinished and I didn't have a clue how I was going to attach the legs and tail yet.  I was still entertaining the idea of allowing the legs, tail and possibly the arms to be detachable to make the whole thing a bit more portable.  That didn't eventually happen.  I should also mention by this point I had the aid of some hot-wire sculpting tools I had ordered to help shape the torso and neck.

Before I moved on to the legs, I needed to figure out how they would be affixed to the torso.  I settled on carving and sanding a flat space on each side of the Deinonychus body.

Using measurements from the sources I mentioned in the first post, I drew the legs on stacks of styrofoam and cut them out with a Hotwire Foam Factory hot knife.  
Time to make some legs.

Testing for fit.

Not too lifelike yet...
Since they were flat on the inside (well, on both sides at this point), there was plenty of surface area to attach them to the body.  I used Foam Fusion glue and wooden skewers to attach them and held them on with clamps.
Clamping the legs in place.
After some time carving them away, it became apparent to me that the legs were too long!

Due to me accounting for too much space above the femurs, the upper part of the legs was just way too long.  Because it was so obvious to me, I had no choice but to fix it, so I sawed them off at the seams, took about 4 inches off the top to the legs and reattached.  After a lot more carving and sanding, mostly with the sanding sponges, this is where I was:
1st leg almost done.

I should mention that by this point I was about two weeks into sculpting, having not worked on it every day. But now, things were going to get tricky, as it was getting too big to hold in one hand and carve with the other.  I needed to start thinking about a stand...

Check out Part III.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Build a Dinosaur, part 1

deinonychus sculpture closeup

Links to the other posts in this series:

Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

It seems like every year since my thesis year (2008 for those keeping score) I've been able to manage at least one major project.  In 2009 I completed my Bozeman Main Street sketchbook.  In 2010 I finished the San Antonio panoramic sketchbook.  In 2011, I had a solo show at East Central University thanks to my good friend Aaron Hauck, for which I had to build a ton of frames and shadowboxes.  But this year I had to do something pretty far outside my comfort zone.  I built a dinosaur.  Deinonychus, to be precise. 

Obviously, I'd never built a dinosaur.  In fact, I'd never really done any kind of organic sculpting before outside of grade-school ceramics.  So naturally I decided to tackle a life-size, museum-quality dinosaur for my first-ever major sculpture.  So where did the idea come from?  My boss Xavier texted me with a link to a guy named Ken Forbister who carved a T. rex head out of styrofoam.  I think it was more of a "check this out" text, but I immediately responded with a snarky "I can do that."  To Xavier's credit he called my bluff and told me to go for it,  and I started researching immediately.  My initial plan was to see if I could simply have a digital model scaled up using rapid 3D prototyping.  I had sculpted a small T. rex on some digital sculpting software a month or so earlier and had it printed in 3D (at a very small scale) by a company called Shapeways.

Well, it turns out doing something large scale from a digital file is super expensive.  A full-scale T. rex was out of the question, and Xavier wasn't keen on just doing the head.  So we decided I would hand-carve a raptor instead.

Fortunately, it turns out there are a few quality resources on the internet about carving from foam, including one fantastic site from a guy named Rich, who builds just dinosaurs out of foam and fiberglass.  Once I had begun and started posting pics, a few other folks on Flickr had some great advice as well.

After marshaling as many resources as I could find, there were still plenty of technical gaps in my plan, but I had figured some improvising was going to be necessary, so I went ahead and jumped in.

I ordered some supplies from Hot Wire Foam Factory, which is not only a great place to find foam sculpting tools, but a great resource for techniques and strategies.  Finally, it was time to quit stalling so Linda and I went to Lowe's to buy some blue foam insulation.

Using Foam Fusion glue and acetone-free spray adhesive, I glued a small test block together, then carved it into a round, neck-like shape using an orbital sander and some flexible sanding sponges.  It worked pretty well, so I set about gluing a huge stack of foam together to make the torso.
One laminated block of foam

Glue to hold the foam together.

While that was drying I glued together a smaller block that would be the head.
Another block of foam.

I used measurements from John Ostrom's original paper on Deinonychus and skeletal reconstructions from Gregory Paul's Predatory Dinosaurs of the World as my primary resources.
Reference material

Taking shape:
Begin carving.
At some point I found it was easier to carve away big chunks with a bread knife and a snap-blade utility knife full extended.  A lot less messy than sanding, too.
Meanwhile on the big block...
The further I got on the head, the closer to reality the whole project was starting to become.
Carving away
Getting there...
Hey, it's a dinosaur!
Finally I took my Dremel to it and started to gouge in rough details, and that's when the whole thing seemed like it might actually work.
Check out Part II!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Welcome to Denver

So, here I am in Denver.  A bigger, younger city than San Antonio, with a fantastic collection of older building stock as well as a bunch of sleek, modern buildings in the CBD.  With the surrounding landscape, and the sprawling city and burbs, it's almost as though I've moved to a combination of Bozeman and S.A.   Lots to explore.

denver skyline from city park

fossils at denver museum of nature and science
Got me a membership at the Museum of Nature and Science

living room june 2012
Our new living room

foster the people concert at red rocks
Concert at Red Rocks, courtesy of Linda's brother.  Unfortunately it got too dark too soon to capture the stage and surrounding landscape.  Maybe next time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's been going on

Yup, it's been a while.  A lot has changed.  I no longer live in San Antonio, Texas.  I'm now in Denver, Colorado.  Linda got an amazing opportunity to work here for  so we relocated in May, and I had to leave my dinosaur job behind.  But not before I finished a huge project, which I guess I need to blog about soon.  I've also been published in a couple of books since the last blog post, and I'll blog about those, too.  I've done some commercial work, some I can talk about and some I can't, and tried to adjust to living in an even bigger city with only one car and a very busy girlfriend who works long hours.  We've seen a lot of cool stuff here in Colorado, and survived a record fire year along the front range.

But first I should include some stuff I did before I moved.  This stuff's from way back...

at pete's eats, fiesta texas
At Pete's Eats, Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio

brad and meghu in my parents' living room
By dad and friend Meghu at the house 'round Christmas time.

christmas get together in the living room
Christmas party

los festivales
Another building at Six Flags Fiesta Texas

room at michael and melanies house
New Years Eve party (the folks were in another room)

Stay tuned, there's more!