The bad son.
09/03/17- Sometimes, the hardest part of a project is just getting started. This is one that I should have started 18 years ago when I was doing other Excalibur projects and my eyesight was a heckuvalot better. Nevertheless, here I am revisiting armour (with a "u") because I bought some new toys, which inspired me to dust off my old ones, which led to a re-watching of John Boorman's Excalibur from 1981. Despite its mixed critical reviews, I've always liked it and especially the design of its fantasy armour by master armourer, Terry English. The film's armour, being constructed using traditional armour techniques, have a somewhat utilitarian, real-world look with fantasy flourishes that perfectly fits the world of the film. Mordred's distinctive armour is a weird blend of classical Greek and 15th century armour elements.
I don't remember why I didn't make it back then. It may have been that I didn't have adequate reference photos. Now, in 2017, there are good pictures of the actual Mordred armour on the 'net: Apparently, it's been up for auction, and appears to be for sale to any fan with deep pockets.
At first glance, the Mordred armour design looks pretty straightforward. I considered my options: tapping it out in metal, epoxy putty, vacuformed styrene, Worbla, electroforming... The only technique that I ruled out was electroforming and electroplating because polishing is tedious, dirty work and I'd need to buy new chemicals. The price of gold plating solution has gone up tremendously since 2000.
The movie armour was made of aluminum, painted gold. I couldn't tell from watching the film, but if that's how they did it, why not? Gold paint's not as cool or show-offy as actual gold plating, but paint is a practical solution for giving mixed materials a uniform color so they look like they're made of the same material. This meant that I could use any or all of the techniques mentioned above. There are many shades of gold, but Rustoleum's Metallic gold spray paint is very close to the color of sheet brass and has very good reflective qualities, almost like polished metal. The main downside of paint is that it's a fragile finish that scuffs and scrapes off (as it did with the movie's armour).
I chose a slim-build Hot Toys True Type figure for this. The Mordred actor, Robert Addie (R.I.P.), had a slim build and the original suit has a dressed height of 71". Armour always adds a bit of girth, so starting slim helps control the pudge.
Okay, now what? Actually starting a project is sometimes like getting in a pool with water that feels too cold. The impulse to put off diving in is strong... I usually question whether I want the end result enough to endure the journey. Once you get started, you have to be willing to persevere, to "git 'er done". I've found it helpful to resist working on the signature part first (usually the headsculpt) because it gives me something to look forward to as I slog through the less fun parts.
The Arms: I didn't realize it when I started, but the most logical place to start is the arms. The reason is that armour always reduces the figure's range of articulation; preserving as much of it as possible is a worthwhile goal. This may require modifications to the figure so that the arms covered with armour can be posed parallel to the body instead of jutting out at an angle. This is especially important if the figure is made of hard plastic and doesn't compress like squishy flesh.
The arms were challenging to design. The upper arm of the movie's armour is sculpted with odd musculature that would add bulk at the inside of the upper arm, where it would interfere with parallel arm posing. The elbow articulation would need to swivel side-to-side within the upper arm armour, as well as (ideally) allow a greater than 90 degree bend at the elbow. Too much material on the inside elbow bend of the upper and lower arm armour would reduce the range of articulation. However, it wasn't worth getting too concerned about since the range would be reduced by the guard that crosses in front of the opening in the elbow, as well as the chainmail, or any material underneath (I left the elbow pit uncovered since the armour was designed without an undersuit: Because of the armour's coverage, it's barely visible behind the cross guard).
I shaved the sides of the figure below the arms to help with the parallel arm posing problem. I used split brass tubes for the top and bottom segments of the elbow articulation; this would allow expansion to slip over the figure's wider elbow joint. The upper arm armour was formed of Worbla, to fit over the brass tube and allow it to swivel under the Worbla. The musculature was sculpted in epoxy putty over the Worbla, not following the sculpting of the movie's armour to make it thinner at the body-facing side. It wasn't planned to be removeable (but it is).
The elbow articulation was made of brass to make the screw-nut hinges more durable: Two tubes, joined by the center elbow piece (couter). The placement of the elbows' double hinge screws were a guesstimate/trial-and-error thing. The priority was to make sure that the elbows could bend (!), and that the center-back armour piece was big enough to cover gaps when the elbows were bent. Surprisingly, almost the full range of the figure's elbow articulation was retained until I added the front guard.
I used Walthers brass hex bolts and nuts for the articulation pins; they're oversized for the scale, but about the smallest fasteners I've found. Pinheads look better for scale rivets, but I don't know a good way to make them function reliably as fasteners for sheets of metal. (Nigel Carren fabricates his own 1/6th-scale fasteners, but then he's in an entirely different league!)
I wanted to make the guard out of brass and knew that it would be a difficult metal-shaping job. The actual armour has the front guard and rear dished elbow in a single piece. That was too difficult, so I split the job: The dished elbow would be made of epoxy, blended to the brass cross guard. This let me focus on the hard part: Hammering out the flanges on a strip of brass in the shape of a semi-circle. I started with a 90-degree fold along the length of the strip, then tapped the flanges diagonally along a metal rod to gently add the semi-circular shape. Lots of hammering and tapping. The first one took a long time, but turned out okay. I rushed the second one and tried to force-bend the circular shape too soon, which caused the brass to fold. Ugh. Difficult to fix, so instead of starting over, I left the imperfection. (I knew that wouldn't be the only one!)
The other parts of the arms were much easier. The lower arms were made of sheet brass, simply rolled into a tube shape around the arm-- no hammering. (This works because the figure's hands are removeable.)
The gauntlets were spares from a Coo Models knight doll; much easier than gluing brass plates to the fingers of a bare hand, plus they were flexible for gripping weapons. I added sheet brass at the top (articulated with pins) to mount the spikes and the straps.
The shoulder armour were rough-shaped with Worbla, then coated with epoxy putty. I later decided to vacuform them to make them lighter. I took liberties with the design and only approximated the movie's pauldrons, which are riveted to the upper arm armour (and strapped to the cuirass to support the weight of the arms). It seemed like they would limit arm movement, so I attached them to the undersuit's shoulders with Velcro. Dolls parts are much lighter so you can get away with things that wouldn't work at 1:1 scale.
The first step was wrapping the body in aluminum foil so I could sculpt the armour over it with epoxy putty. This would be vacuformed with styrene. I sculpted the cuirass in epoxy putty instead of Sculpey because the sculpt wasn't very difficult and worked with epoxy's relatively short cure-time. Vacuforming tends to trap the master form in the styrene shell, and has to be carefully extracted if you want to keep it intact. Unlike Sculpey, epoxy putty cures rock-hard so you get a second go at it if a vacuform doesn't go well or the sculpt needs to be tweaked (as I did to relocate the nipples).
I didn't follow the reference photo's shaping closely because I didn't like the armour's "pot belly" look, and thought the nipples were a bit too high up on the chest. One thing that I hadn't foreseen was that vacuforming would make the nipples bigger than they'd been sculpted!
As I mentioned, starting with this piece was a mistake. At the time, I didn't know that I'd need to thin the figure's sides for arm clearance. Fortunately, the vacuformed styrene pieces were relatively easy to reshape (with heat) at the sides to better fit the thinned figure.
Unfortunately, I didn't account for the thickness of the body suit that I later dressed the figure in. Although the suit was made of a thin fabric, the velcro closure at the back increased the thickness and created a gap at the sides between the front and back armour pieces.
The Scale Skirt: I hadn't thought of how I was going to make a bunch of identical scales, or what I'd make them out of until I got there. I made the scales out of sheet brass because brass is brass-colored (duh!) and would be immune to paint scraping from movement, plus they could easily be bent to the slight curved shape. Brass is heavier than styrene, so they would hang more naturally.
The easiest way to make a bunch of identical scales was to create one in a drawing program, duplicate it many times, print it, glue the printout to the brass sheet, and cut them out.
I'd planned to attach the scales to a leather skirt with bent pins and had drilled a hole at the top of the scales for the pins. This looked fairly accurate, but it proved too hard to position all the scales in a clean pattern since they kept shifting and turning on the pins. It was much easier to glue them directly to the skirt. It took a lot of scales (at least 56), and the skirt ended up being fairly heavy.
The Legs: The construction of the legs was similar to the arms but without concerns about clearance and accommodating a sideways swivel. However, the knee joints have more segments to articulate (plus I skipped a couple on the elbows). I made the legs out of brass but articulated them with small brass eyelets instead of screws & nuts. (The eyelets needed larger holes that were challenging to place, but I have many more of them than the Walthers screws.) Unlike the elbows, the knee segments tend to leave openings when the knee is bent to an extreme degree and need to be manually positioned to close the gaps. I may experiment with gluing leather straps on the inside to prevent this.
Although I'd prefer to make screen-accurate stuff, I don't fret much about it. The main reference photos I used were of the armour mounted on a form, not the actor, so they didn't give an accurate "as worn" view. I suspect that made the suit look a little stubbier and vertically compressed. Mordred has very little screen time in the film, appearing only near the end, with no clear shots of the entire suit for researching details. Not that it matters; I have a tendency to cut corners even if I do have good reference photos!
Adding the leg armour to the figure made the scale skirt "pouf out" more than I'd expected... but that's just physics.
I was surprised that Rio Rondo (the buckles) is still around; same for The Ring Lord (chainmail supplies), and Sue's Sparklers (faux rivet heads). Most bookmarks that I've had for that long are dead.
The Helmet: This is the signature piece that I'd saved for last. Until I made it, the doll looked like Anydude wearing fancy gold-colored armour. Once I made the helmet/mask, it became Mordred from Boorman's Excalibur.
I originally considered using the electroformed gold-plated styrene mask I'd made a zillion years ago (right); in fact, it inspired this project. However, after cutting away the jaw and mouth, I saw that it lacked the flared sides at the jawline-- you can't reshape styrene after it's been electroformed, and it would probably need to be painted to match the rest of the armour.
I 'd read that the original helmet was made of fiberglass (and went missing after production wrapped up). This pointed to a sculptural approach.
I covered the head with a generous mass of tin foil at the back to create clearance for a removeable helmet and sculpted it in epoxy putty. The face section was covered with a single layer of foil so that the nose and eyesockets could be sculpted in the right place.
I didn't think the hair detail would vacuform very well, so I didn't even try. The downside of making the helmet entirely with epoxy putty is that while putty cures strong and rock hard, in a thin layer it's brittle and easy to break. Therefore, the mask's walls needed to to be much thicker than styrene or sheet metal. The additional weight wasn't a problem, but thicker walls would make the helmet harder to remove; with more interior space for easier removal, it might look oversized. I tried to find a balanced compromise of looks and functionality.
It was easy to sculpt the hair because I didn't have reference photos of the back and top to copy (so I could do anything I wanted); I just did a continuation of what I'd seen from the frontal view. I suspect that the screen helmet's hair was more stylized than mine.
If I'd been more patient, I would have attempted a Robert Addie likeness headsculpt before sculpting the helmet (It's actually an old '90s GI Joe headsculpt, adapted to fit the TrueType neck post.). I didn't consider that a high priority since I knew I'd probably leave the helmet on... but I wanted to keep that as an option, so I made the helmet removeable.
In an optimistic mood, I bought a bunch of 22 gauge brass jump rings thinking that I might knit a coif... The agony of having done it before has long since worn off, although I do remember and can read about it! When I saw that "Queen Dragon Momma" (below) had a faux coif/neck covering that I'd gold-plated, I took the easier path and attached it to the helmet. I think that shaved a month or two off the project, and probably means that I'll never do an Addie headsculpt.
If I had the space for it, I would have made his armoured battle horse...