Sunday, August 9, 2015

Superman Returns Costume - R&D Update

I've discovered that it's important to start a blog post out with an attention grabbing photo, as that is the one that will be displayed if this post is linked to a social media site or something, so I will begin with this picture:

What you are looking at of course is the chest emblem and belt from the Superman Returns costume, in this case these are straight out of the molds. Off to the right is a piece of cape fabric. It's like all the magic is happening in one place!

Let's dig into the meat and bones of this post, which is an update on some R&D work I've done lately on the cape.

For reference, this is the new product I got from Sil-Pak that I am experimenting with. It's called RU-420.

It's VERY soft, with a 20 shore hardness BUT it's an opaque, light amber color, which is very interesting to me.

No surprisingly, when I mix Sil-Pak pigments with it, I get very predictable and nice results.

To demonstrate to you, dear reader, how well the pigments work with it, allow me to wow you with this photo. What you are looking at is a test pour I did of RU-420 into a scrap mold, surrounded by all of the pigment tests that I did a few days earlier, using VytaFlex40. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure much of the problem is me, but what this picture clearly reveals is that I was able to mix together a very respectable red using the RU-420 as a base, whereas I was unable to achieve good results using VytaFlex. Take away from that whatever you will.

As I don't really have a mental guage of how shore duromteres evaluate to real world hardness, I thought it was a good time to do a test pour of the new stuff into the Superman Returns chest emblem. With the color looking as good as it did, I thought it might make for a nice new display piece, along with teaching me what 20 shore hardness feels like.

I had a bit extra in the pour, and that's what is sitting all over the top of the mold.

In a separate brain storm that led to a test, I wanted to try my hand at getting a solid color match across multiple pours of urethane. The secret, of course, is to mix up one batch of Part A with pigment, and then split that into two parts when mixing it with part B. So lets say your mold requires 200 grams of urethane. And your urethane mixes at a 1:1 by weight ratio. You would pour up 100 grams of part A, and then pigment that to your desired color. THEN pour 50g of that into a cup, and mix it with 50g of part B. Then pour that into the mold. Once that has cured, mix up the remaining 50g of part A with another 50g of part B, THEN pour that into the mold.

Here is my mold for the belt, half filled with pigmented PMC-780 Dry.

And here's the mixing cup, still loaded with a bit of pigmented part A.

Now what the loyal reader SHOULD be asking themselves is this: why would you want to do multiple pours of urethane into a belt mold. Why not just do it all at once?

The answer in this instance is two-fold. First, I want to embed in this casting some yellow belt webbing that will be used to close the belt up at the back. Once the first pour cures, I lay the webbing in place, and then pour the next layer on top of it. That way, the webbing is totally encased in urethane. Because the two pours of urethane are going to bond with each other VERY strongly, the webbing will therefore be suspended in the middle of. You may be asking yourself, why not just dip the webbing into the urethane as it pours, and just do it all at once? The answer is that you cannot guarantee the positioning of the webbing in that scenario. I've done that method before, and sometimes the webbing sinks to the bottom of the mold, and ends up being visible in the pull once you de-mold. So by pouring in a layer first, you guarantee that your belt will be pretty from the front, and that the webbing will not be visible. This is also much stronger than say gluing the webbing to the back of the belt.

The second reason for doing this is really just as a test. I wanted to see how the colors would turn out, how the bond would be, etc. When I finally get around to doing a cape layup, I doubt I will be able to do it all in one pour, so by testing this I am able to see if I will be able to do the cape in multiple pours. Which I now believe I will be.

Which brings me nicely to this next picture, in which you can see the belt with the webbing embedded in it.

Nice, Right??

On the right in the above picture is the back side of the chest emblem mold. There are two molds necessary to build a chest emblem. One is for the yellow back plate, and another is for the main "S". What you are looking at is a pull of the back plate sitting on top of the back side of the "S" plate.

Which brings us full circle, and back to the picture that I started this blog post with.

The big take-away here is that 20 durometer urethane is WAY too soft fo the chest emblem. It's extremely soft and delicate, and kind of barely holds it's shape. While this test was extremely valuable in terms of coloring, it did not produce a useable chest emblem.

This is a closeup of the SECOND belt I poured. Why did I pour a second one? Because in my rush to do the multi-pour pigment test, I forgot to powder the mold. As a result, I had a few little air bubbles in the thing. And for those of you who are familiar with my work, I don't do air bubbles.

It also gave me an opportunity to perfect my pigment mixture for the belt.

The belt on the top is my second pour. You can see the difference between the two. The first one took on a bit of an avocado tint, which is not cool.

With those test behind me, and me hot on the trail of some new discoveries, I did a text mix of PMC-720 and tried mixing up a good, deep red using the new assortment of pigments I had purchased from Sil-Pak just the other day.

To skip to the punchline, the red I got was AMAZING!!! EVEN BETTER than the red I achieved with RU-420, which I was already completely pleased with. If you look at the picture below, you can see where I poured this new red mixture on top of the mold so that I could see the difference between my new red and the one I had mixed previously.

The reason this is important is because it re-invigorates my interests in the PMC line of urethanes for the cape. While I originally dismissed PMC780 as a choice for the cape based on the fact that it cures to a translucent dark amber AND I was unable to mix a satisfactory shade of red AND I was unable to brush it into the mold, my recent discoveries of mixing in cabosil/Thixo-HP and the new batch of pigments I've acquired from Sil-Pak have me revisiting this material. In fact, I dare say that as of this moment, I think one of the PMC urethanes will ultimately prove to be the one I use for the cape shell.

For reference, this is the latex that I use on my cape mold, WHEN I'm doing latex tests.

Let us now turn our attention back to the cape, where more experimentation has taken place.

Sadly, I ran out of Douglas and Sturgess "Thixo HP", which is the cabosil replacement I have been using for a while now. Really fantastic stuff. I turned to a batch of stuff I got from Smooth-On, and I'm sad to say it just wasn't the same. It didn't mix in half as well as the Thixo HP, and there were clumps. Not fatal, but I am definitely going to back to Thixo HP right away. I ordered a bunch more from the D&S website just the other day. If you're curious, give them a visit.

Sadly, their URL and website are from 1998, but hey what they lack in internet pizazz, they make up for with great products and really knowledgeable folks!!!

It was time to experiment with the RU-420 on the cape. I mixed up a small batch and threw in some of the Smooth-On thixo, and decided to mix it up with a little blue this time instead of red. Aside from the clumpiness I mentioned earlier, and the fact that the mix ratio is different than the Thixo HP, I think the first tests went fairly well. Here's the first attack:

As you can see from the close up, the first layer is not totally opaque, which is to be expected. You can see the edge of the differently colored mold through the layer of blue urethane.

And that's where we leave things for this update on the Superman Returns suit. Lots of stuff learned, and I cranked out a chest emblem and a couple belts. All good.

In other news, my Man of Steel suit from UD Replicas is here. It's absolutely stunning, by the way. Please check out UD Replicas and my good pal David at their website:

Also in the pipeline now are a couple of pieces from the new Supergirl TV show. I very much like the new costume, and I'm working on the chest emblem right now. I have artwork all drawn up, and am sending it off to the laser cutter shortly. Once I have the laser cut pieces, those will be molded and urethane pieces will be produced.

That wraps it up for this update. That's what's going on at the workshop right now! I expect this next week to be a very busy and productive one, and hope to have more cool stuff to show off. I really want to get a cape out of the mold soon!

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