Hey folks, as promised, I wanted to show you the construction of one of my recently finished commissions, a staff for the Crystal Maiden of Dota 2! For those of you who don't know what that looks like, here:
So where to begin? Well, I started with the request that the staff be potentially modular, and ultimately that it be easy to ship to Canada, as well as transport to & from cons. So I started with a flagpole. I've tried taking dowels and trying to use dowel screws to allow you to screw & unscrew the rods together, but I don't have a machine that lines things up perfectly for me, so that's never turned out particularly well. The additional benefit of the flagpole is that I could have both the crystalline topper as well as the bottom embellishments on the staff both be removable from the center rod.
Construction started on opposite ends, using cardboard to create the gold portion of the topper that would serve as the base for the crystal. Why cardboard, you ask? Well, first of all I needed to have something I could carve the middle out of as I layered it together, because the crystal needed to light up, so I had to hide the battery pack(s) somewhere. Also, my intention was to cover the gold part of the topper with worbla, and while you can cover foamcore with worbla, the heat tends to make the foam expand and makes it a bit more difficult to work with. On the opposite end, however, I did actually use my standard foamcore layering method to create the foot of the staff.
The next bit was probably the most time-consuming: patterning out & making the crystal. Thankfully I did pretty well in high school geometry so putting the pattern together wasn't too painful. I also had some help from this lovely tutorial by Kohalu Cosplay, which gave me some good pointers and helpful methods & supply ideas to use. I didn't follow it quite to the letter as I needed a bit more flex to my crystal, but it's definitely a great tutorial to look at if you're needing a place to start on something like this.
As I always recommend (do I always recommend it? I should because you should always do it, so I will recommend it henceforth), pattern your things out on paper first. Well, cardstock in this case so it actually has enough oomph to keep its 3D shape when you tape it together. Also, once you have the flat shapes made, actually assemble them. I realize that's probably an unnecessary note because you are all brilliant people out there, but testing this part by putting it together with some masking tape can save you a lot of headaches later when you're using your actual materials.
And speaking of said materials, you're probably wondering what I used for the actual crystal. I used these lovely translucent report covers, found at my local Office Depot. They're pretty much the same thing I used for Scarlet Flandres's wings if you remember those go look in the "Prop Gallery" for the big wings with the rainbow of glowing crystals). I even colored them the same way: with lots of Sharpie.
Once you transfer the pattern to your translucent plastic sheets, you'll want to score the fold lines with something; I used the dull side of an exacto knife... just be careful if you do the same, I went a little too deep in a couple of spots and cut all the way through the plastic. A ball-point pen might be a better idea to avoid that issue. After all of your pieces are cut out & scored, sharpie away!
Now, before I actually constructed this monstrosity, I put together an understructure to build the crystal around, so that the twinkle lights that would provide illumination had something to hold them in place, and because once the crystal was built, I wouldn't be able to manipulate anything on the inside. I simply used another piece of the translucent plastic with long tines sticking out to wrap the light strand around.
Now that the lights were in place, I needed something to diffuse the light a bit more evenly in the crystal, so now I got to cut up some white plastic grocery bags (yes, like the kind they put your stuff in when you go to the store... any store) and wrap them around the lights, using a bit of packing tape here or there to secure them.
Voila! Our light has now been diffused a bit, and thankfully the translucent colored plastic will help diffuse it more. Which brings us to the actual crystal construction. This thing is actually constructed and held together using packing tape. Seriously, that's the extent of what's holding this crystal together (Ok, I did use some E-6000 on the edges of the smaller crystal offshoots to help hold them in place, but it's mostly the packing tape).
**A note about this step: put the side you sharpied the hell out of to the INSIDE.
Now you'll notice all of the glare and unevenness from the tape. That's just a hazard of the wierd shapes of this particular crystal. If you're making a more geometric shape (like the smaller crystals on top), that happens a lot less. But you can also help remedy that and make it look more crystal-y by now sharpie-ing the entire outside of the crystal (that's what I did... and you'll want to buy at least two sharpies of the color you need, I killed one and a half in the process of making this). Once the outside layer was covered in an even coat of sharpie, I shellacked the entire crystal. I used this spray shellac for this step, and sprayed about 5 coats on to make sure it was even & well-covered.
See how much nicer that looks? You'll also notice I've already put the worbla over the base at this point too. Now for the last bit, the round parts on the bottom of the staff. I actually should make a little tutorial on how I did this because it was kinda wonky, but I used cardstock & masking tape to make the... I don't even know what shape to call that... round, sharp-edged protrusion. Then once the base was down I slathered it in spackling paste, let it dry, then sanded. Rinse, repeat several times until it was smooth enough for me to be happy.
The only thing left to make now are the round gems the go on the staff head, and then to start painting! With the crystal on top, I couldn't really spray on a base coat without the risk of ruining the crystal, so I brush painted everything. Don't forget my rule of undercoating your metallics! I used a honey brown color under all of that gold and it turned out lovely.
The very last part was taking some fur (it was actually come of the leftover trim from Ashnard's cape) to make the little fluffballs that hang from the branches on the staff head. So here you can see the finished product!
I'm very pleased to say that I've already heard back from the customer and it sounds like everything arrived safely and she loves it. I'm hoping in the next week or so that she'll send me some photos of the whole costume put together that I can share with all of you, but until then, cheers!