beru seijin headsculpt, 30cm/12in/1:6 size, from Ultraseven

The "nose" is the epoxy putty part that I used to thermoform the clear part at the beginning of the project. I hope to use it if I ever finish this project!

01/04/18- For over a week now, the Beru Seijin head sculpt has been in front of me to the side of my monitor, speared on a Sharpie like a headhunter's trophy, taunting me. Polymer clay, unlike epoxy putty, exerts little pressure to work fast. Until it's baked, anything can be fixed or tweaked with little effort... and there's always something to tweak. When I'm in the mood, I can spend hours tweaking stuff until I get bored or the spirit of OCD wears off... and know that I could spend many more hours on it. So how do you decide when it's time to bake it? It's the perfect stoner's hobby when you're not doing it as a job with a deadline and there's no one to crack the whip!

What Me Worry? I believe that the most efficient (least time-wasting) way to approach sculpting something like this is to concentrate on the general shaping and then concentrate on the details. Well, duh!!! That's an obvious point: When you start with a lump of clay, you can't do it any other way! However, I think it's natural to want to continue onto detailing and finishing too soon, treating it as one continuous process. Taking a long break gives you a fresh view of your work, and you may notice bad stuff that you didn't notice before.

Working on details is like tunnel vision: You focus on one part to the exclusion of the whole. That's the wrong time to step back and notice that something fundimental is wrong; you're supposed to do that before moving onto the details. Fixing a fundimental flaw usually means wiping out detailing work you've done, and that's a hard pill to swallow.

Short-cut fixes to the detailing can sometimes make a fundimental general proportioning error (too long, too squat, etc.) look less noticeable, but are often unsatisfactory; you'll always see that something's wrong. It can make the situation worse because you've invested even more time, making it even harder to accept going back to square one.

Yeah, it's a cheesy bit of advice, but it's an old sculpting tip that I need to keep reminding myself of: Take your time, don't try to do it all at once. Come back after your eye/brain has had a chance to reset so you can assess your work from a new perspective.

Another bit of advice is to expect very fine cat hairs in the clay if you've got cats. Ours love to jump in my lap while I'm working. I only notice those tiny hairs when I'm sculpting with magnification, and some can be maddeningly difficult to grab with tweezers.


Damn, it's crooked! Or is it just the lighting? Naw, it's crooked.

Actually, it's not very important because I'm only interested in getting a good casting of front (because of the lighting gimmick). Besides, .I only have a vague idea what the sides and back should look like because I don't have any clear photos of them. These are based on mentally stitched-together interpretations of a few off-angle shots and shots that provided only a few indistinct shadow and light clues. The odds of me seeing an actual Beru Seijin are mighty slim.

Sculpting With Magnification: Magnification can be helpful when sculpting whether you've got good or bad eyesight, but it does have some major downsides: Magnification reduces your field of view (how much of the "big picture" you see) and the depth of focus (reduces the range that things are in focus; things in front of and behind are out-of-focus). When I had good eyesight, I never thought to use magnification because I didn't need it. When I got my Optivisor (head-mounted magnifier), I thought it was helpful and began using it more and more often.

These days, I can't sculpt without the Optivisor, and I finally got battery-powered LED lighting that's mounted around the lens-- very helpful! I also installed an Opti-Loupe that can be swiveled in front to give even more magnification.

Having lousy eyesight does make it harder to sculpt. During the early general shaping phase, I frequently need to look back and forth between the clay and the reference (usually my monitor); the magnification and lighting make it harder to switch quickly, unless everything's adjusted just right: To peer under or over the magnifiers without shining light on the monitor. It's much easier and faster if you can do both with natural good eyesight.

Once I'm sculpting details or working on the finish, there's less switching between the two views. My Optivisor is fitted with the mid-range magnification lens (5?) because if the magnification is any lower, I can't see sufficient details and if its too high, the depth of field is too shallow. The Opti-Loupe boosts the magnification-- which is sometimes helpful, but makes it even harder to judge depth and see the surrounding area, so I'm more likely to accidently nick surrounding clay with my sculpting tool.


  When To Bake It: 01/14/17- I believe that the best time to bake it is when you realize that you need to move on, if you ever intend to finish the project. Baking it is fast and easy, but to me it feels like a milestone, to be delayed as long as possible. After it's baked, you can still add new clay, remove clay, and make modifications-- it's just a little harder to do some modifications. Baking it may actually make it easier to do some modifications because you can handle the sculpture without distorting sections that don't need additional modifications. I think the only caveat about baking is to make sure to let it cool slowly, to avoid cracks from thermal shock.

Misadventures With Molding & Casting (How not to...): I use polymer clay only when I intend to make a resin casting; in my opinion, clay's too heavy and easy to damage as a final form material. Resin can be slush cast in the mold which makes a thin, lightweight shell. That's perfect: I want to fit LEDs on the inside/back of the shell to diffuse the light.

Personally, I don't like molding and casting, mainly because I'm not very good at it! Because of this, I usually do simple 1-piece molds with mold putty. It's a two-part putty that's kneaded (thoroughly) and pressed onto the sculpture. It has a very short working time and because it's a putty, air trapped between the sculpture and the material can't escape and will create voids in the mold. This is something that I concentrate on when pressing the mold; detail areas that are harder to fix (like eyes), should receive priority. It's quick and easy, but castings often have have flaws that need to be fixed: I use it to get in the general ballpark and always assume that the casting is going to need a lot of cleanup and resculpting, usually with epoxy putty.

This time, I decided to try a low viscosity mold compound. Ideally, this would reduce the amount of cleanup and resculpting. The sculpture had details that I would prefer not to resculpt, but more importantly, it was a larger piece that had a lot of recessed areas that would be likely to trap air. It would be hard to concentrate on avoiding that with mold putty, given its short working time.

Low viscosity mold compound is a two-part thick liquid that's mixed (thorougly) and poured over the clay master. Ideally, the parts that are likely to trap air face upwards so air bubbles rise from the sculpture's surface and don't create voids that will fill with resin.

Typically, molding an object like a head would be done as a two-piece mold in a container with a removeable bottom; the front half is bedded in clay with registration holes (to later align the two parts of the mold) and the silicone poured. The container is flipped over, the (former) bottom removed to remove the bedding clay and reveal the cured silicone. The cured silicone is coated with a barrier (to prevent the new silicone from bonding with it) and the back half is poured. Ideally, when you're done you have two halves of a mold that mate perfectly.

I remembered one very important detail too late: Don't use plasticine with sulphur because it inhibits curing of silicon mold compound! Sure enough, anywhere the compound contacted the plasticine was a gummy, gooey mess. I didn't have enough molding compound to try again, so I abandoned the plan, cleaned up the clay master and did simple press molds with two-part mold putty.

Yuck. Gooey uncured silicone rubber. The Sharpie outline on the yellow mold putty came from tracing it onto the polyclay master so I could figure out how much of the backside to mold (plus a margin of overlap). As you can see, the backside mold has a major problem!

I'm too impatient even to do two-part putty molding properly: I just had to demold and slush cast the front side first because I was curious. Miraculously, it came out well with no horrible voids to clean up on the casting. The back half of the head didn't come out nearly as well; I got an important phone call while I was making the mold, so the putty cured before I was finished. Not a big deal; I didn't have as much effort invested in sculpting the back of the head, so I didn't mind major reconstruction with epoxy putty.

The problem with molding and slush-casting the two parts separately is that there's no parting line, per se. Even assuming that the second mold was made with some consideration of where the first mold's edge was, the castings are not going to mate together cleanly, with overlap, ragged edges and thin resin at the edges. These have to be cleaned up so the halves mate (approximately) and can be repaired with epoxy when the halves are joined. It's definitely more work and doesn't produce a casting that's entirely accurate to the sculpture... but that's the "ball-parked" kind of brute force simplicity that I'm used to. I sculpt. I have faith that I can fix stuff like this.

beru seijin headsculpt, 30cm/12in/1:6 size, from Ultraseven

The front came out better than I expected. The back's a disaster, but it's cheaper to Dremel and resculpt than to make a new mold.

Looking forward, the plan is to cleanup the front to test/install the LEDs, join the two halves, clean up the join, reconstruct the back, clean up the front, install the neck sleeve. Eventually, I'll get around to making the weird backpack thingie for the electronics.


Finally... 01/15/18- Calling this "an approximation of Beru Seijin" may seem like a cop-out, but it's honest. I don't have good enough reference pics for anything but an approximation; Even if you do have good reference photos, it takes a lot of skill to do an accurate replica.

Being an approximation made it easier to accept things that I knew didn't look right, but would have been hard to fix without starting over: My figure's not pudgy enough and doesn't have the same pattern of scaley skin as the actual Beru Seijin suit. The neck lights are too big. For no good reason, I slightly changed the pattern that surrounds its "face". That's okay, it's an approximation.

Being an approximation, I had the freedom to deviate from the suit design by engraving a honeycomb pattern in the resin in front of the eye LEDs. This made the lighting look a little more interesting, plus I thought it reinforced the insect motif.

Similarly, I needed to do something about the back of the head that had a screwed-up casting. I only had a vague idea of what the actual suit's looked like, so I used the opportunity to engrave something in the style of the insect-like "backpack".

On the home stretch of the head and I still haven't figured out how to replicate the look of the transparent parts in front of the lighted parts-- from pics, they look like they refract light sort of like fractured glass, not milky and not simply transparent. That's a shame, but not a deal-killer. It's hard enough settling on a simple transparent treatment: I considered clear acrylic coatings, clear casting resin, clear caulk, and ended up approximating the look with two-part epoxy (not epoxy putty). It's glossy when cured, forms a thick transparent coating, is viscous enough to spread yet stay put over complex curves (only moderately self-leveling with its cure time, but enough to release air bubbles), and cures in about 5 minutes, which is about as much patience as I have for the slush casting technique that I'd use to "herd" it. The scary part is that it's a one-shot process; epoxy is meant to be strong and permanent, so you can't easily remove it and start over again. Hopefully, it won't yellow (too much).

After painting and soldering a few wires, it was finally ready to test!

lighted beru seijin headsculpt, 30cm/12in/1:6 size, from Ultraseven

Lighting test: The translucent resin diffuses the LED's light very nicely, but balancing their brightness was a challenge. The resin was thicker at the eyes, so the LED's (pin 9) lighting is more diffuse and not as bright (That's the main reason why I did the eye's honeycomb pattern). Other balancing was done through altering the sketch.


Video Light Test: I revised the Arduino sketch (previous article) to slow down the loop and greatly reduce the maximum brightness of the neck LEDs (pin 11)-- they're diffused by thin styrene domes. I also greatly lowered their fadeamount since their max brightness was so low, which slowed down their cycle.

(Annoying audio SFX from the show is dubbed.)