Part Four: The Cuirass of Damnation

Last modified:
Tuesday, November 26, 2002 6:15 AM


11/23/02- Unmentioned, but obvious-- The 1:1 helmet inspired the 1:6 one. Another obvious point-- With sculpting, there's no substitute for having the 3-D object in front of you. Of course, that's not always possible, so we make do with as many photos from different perspectives as we can get, and try to interpret and integrate them. It's hit or miss, sometimes resulting in sculpts which look best from a certain angle. Getting the exact look of my 1:1 bascinet wasn't particularly important because armour wasn't factory standardized; While there are recognizable styles, the individual proportioning and details often vary. I've seen pictures of hounskulls with much sharper snouts and more angular eyehole ridges.

But having access to the real object can give you important construction information that may not be obvious in pictures. It can show you how a mechanism works, and knowing that can be important in planning whatever you're making. My most recent brush with this fact-of-modeling occured while constructing the breastplate. This particular style was called "laminated armour" and I had a single good reference photo from the front. It looked straight-forward enough: a rounded plate with a bunch of reinforcing bars with rivets. I was deep into the electroforming disaster when I happened across some other photos with text which described the armour. This armour was supposed to be constructed in panels which were riveted to a leather backing. Thus and therefore, the armour was in a sense, articulated, and capable of being resized to fit the wearer. I was also treated to side shots which showed a version of the armour wrapping partially around the back with nine panels (instead of the five I made). This isn't actually a fatal flaw, and the five panels may be a legitimate design. Furthermore, the articulated feature could be corrected with some sawing and replating (sigh... again).

The story of the breastplate is more pathetic than I've let on, hinted at by the phrase "electroforming disaster". Yep. Unfortunately, I electroformed the breastplate before I realized that I'd been setting the current at about twice what I thought I was setting it at. Just like the bascinet, the breastplate was marred by a bunch of the linear striations. Unlike the bascinet though, this piece had lots of detail-- bunches of rivets and straps had been obsessively rendered in styrene. You can see the problem, right? It's damned near impossible to clean up something like this without wiping out the detail! Unlike putty or styrene, electroformed copper is tough-- Basically, you have to sculpt the detail back in with some kind of tool that's small enough to get in there, and has enough ommmph to remove material, and yet leave the surface relatively clean and smooth. Some Dremel bits almost fit the description; except for the part about leaving the surface clean and smooth. A tiny bit can deburr, but it's not designed to leave a flat, smooth surface. A needle file has a similar problem, although it's more controllable. But because it's a manual process, it's a lot more tedious. And there are a lot of areas which would need to be fixed.

Actually, it would be a lot faster and easier to remake the piece and electroform it properly, but having thrown so many hours into this already, I'm reluctant to abandon it. I can tell myself that it only looks horrible under magnification, but that's difficult for me to accept since it could have been so much better. I'd feel a lot worse about this if I had fewer options (I made four generic breastplates with matching backplates) and if there weren't some major unresolved issues in the future of this project.

The main unresolved issued is the question of historical accuracy. So far, I've been making an effort to keep it within historically accurate lines, based on images of "Transitional Armour" from the web (notably, Valentine Armouries). There's an obvious and inevitable difficulty with following this path: chainmail. This project would require lots of it.

Scott Baker has done a mind-boggling, no-compromises job of creating an accurate 13th-Century Knight, complete with a full suit of leather-trimmed chainmail-- this is a must-see if you're interested in this genre, or just want to see an example of over-the-top customizing. A 14th Century Transitional Armoured knight wouldn't need quite as much chainmail, but not significantly less. As he states in his article (and I concur), there's no substitute for real chainmail. The fabric alternatives tend to look gaudy (Sideshow's Monty Python, Takara's Shadow) and require a hefty suspension of disbelief. My own solution (painted polishing cloth) suggests the texture and detail, but doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. It really falls down when you encounter the edges and inevitable seams.

In anticipation of this, I've been fooling around with making chainmail again. While I do have a supply of ready-made chainmail, I'd hate to use it for this-- the supply isn't unlimited, and I'd rather reserve it for scantily-clad female figures. If nothing else, I want to be sure that I can replenish my supply, and learn something in the process. Making micro chainmail isn't an impossible proposition-- it just takes lots of time, repetition and finding the right tools and materials that you can work with. I've yet to find a good wire to use which is easy to solder-- my craft wire seems like it should be, but it isn't. So I've had to resort to plating copper wire, making rings and soldering them closed. (Naturally, it would be better to use a solderable, silver-colored wire.) There are obvious challenges when working with really small rings-- it takes fine tuned coordination to flip and manipulate tiny rings with small tipped tools (your fingers tend to be too big for some tasks) and for those with degenerating eyesight, magnifiers may be requisite (these days for me, everything seems to require them!) Working stooped over at a desktop invites neck and back trouble. The actual process of "knitting" the chainmail isn't too difficult-- what takes the most time is preparing the rings and repeatedly laying out the existing pattern so that you know where the next rings go. Also, switching tools between hands is an annoyance-- I wish I were ambidextrous.

So making chainmail is an option, and the more options, the better. To be honest though, I wouldn't rule out using the painted polishing cloth for this guy, especially for areas like under the leg armour: The more prominent "hero" areas gets the good stuff. The last thing I want is be stuck on this project for months!

And that takes us back to the bigger picture. Because of time, chainmail is the biggest obstacle to following the historically accurate path. But there are other options. It stands to reason that I can reduce the magnitude of that problem by ignoring the historically accurate part and giving him more plate armour. A backplate. Tassets. Big-assed pauldrons. This would have the advantage of creating a more imposing armour suit (a la Excalibur) which would better fit within the historically-challenged setting of figures I've already made. Who's to say that on another world, knights and apemen couldn't join in battle with 25-foot tall demonesses?

It occurs to me that I haven't selected a figure to decorate with this stuff... have I ever mentioned that no one makes a really good, off-the-shelf male figure? ;)



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