Big Sister final orthographics

Big Sister final orthographics
Photograph by Drew Crozier. Model Lindsey Lewis.

Bleep Bloop interview

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We made it!

Yesterday was the shoot at the aquarium, and also the first time I had the full suit on in its entirety. It took the full three hours to get the suit on me and to talk about the various parts. Man, that sucker was heavy. But it didn't fall off or slip around. The tank, while a beast, stayed solidly attached. Excellent work on everyone's part.

I'll be putting in more details soon, but now it's time to rest up and give my shoulders a break.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Big Sisters drink at Starbucks.

This was kind of ridiculous.

I decided I should eat something yesterday on my way to the SCAD shop, so I ran over to Chick Fil A, which was closed, and made me sad. The only other place nearby was a Starbucks. A $20 sandwich was better than nothing. I'm not a big coffee drinker so I rarely go to coffee shops, but there I was at the checkout absently staring down into some Starbucks-branded tchotchke basket, and it was like finding the Holy Grail. A 2.5" x 7" clear, unprinted plastic water bottle that would be perfect for the ADAM bottle. The cashier asked me if there would be anything else and I was like oh heck yeah there will be. Yoink!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Finishing the helmet, and all the crap that I do

Yesterday was two days long, so I'll try to piece it back together as best I can.

No Tools For You
We had some shop access drama. Apparently there was a public art competition going on in the SCAD sculpture studio the next day, so we couldn't make a mess or use any machines. Well heck. That just about takes the fun out of the world. I don't know why they hate fun.

This effectively cut another day out of our already way-too-short schedule. So we did what we could with hand tools. Joe and Adam had picked up the Dow board and some great-looking gauges, so they were cranking away at carving the tank's metal rings. Riki stayed home at her and Chris's shop to keep making molds. I took apart one of the gauges and scraped off the brand name logo, then took some thin pipe threads, steel wool, and various other rough surfaces and aged them. One of them looked like it had a glass face plate, and I wondered if it had a protective film over it, and hence I could crack it and get a nice spiderweb pattern. I grabbed the extra one and found myself a hammer and chisel: Nope. No film. Just glass. Busted glass. Glass that would probably stab and kill me if I put it on the suit.

Cold Plaster
We cast a mold of my back and my right forearm (already did the left arm the other day) to sculpt the lower back plate and have forms upon which to construct the gauntlets.

Red Valves and Nipples
We set Danny to sculpting some new chest rope threads, as the ones Chris made turned out to be too large for the scale I wanted. They're the two nipply-looking bolts on the breastplate that rope gets threaded through from a crane or other structure, then the diver crouches down out of the helmet. They weren't quite tapered enough, but at this point we don't have time to redo them a third time.

I also had Danny take one of the stock pipe rotary valves and modify it with clay to get the three-pronged nuclear-looking symbol in the valve handle on the concept art. That's one of those seemingly insignificant details that I think helps sell the illusion and cohesiveness of the suit. If it just looks like we took a plumbing handle and slapped it on there, it takes you out of the world we're trying to create. Same thing happens with gloves and boots I see on a lot of costumes. There can be great sculpting and detail on the upper body, but then you see some store-bought un-modified footware and it kills the costume. So Chris will take the modified handle and cast a fiberglass copy, and it'll look a lot like the actual in-game valve.

Finishing The Helmet, Also What I Do
At a certain point there wasn't much Danny Joe and Adam could do without more supplies and tools, so I sent them home to rest up for the final push over the weekend. That left Chris and I to finish the helmet, and I finally got to do some sculpting. I've been wanting to get my hands in the clay, but I've so far spent all my time liasing with the client, building the team (of cats), designing and rescaling templates for fabrication, researching and ordering supplies, enforcing quality control so that everything is as real and accurate as possible in appearance and material, assigning tasks (to said cats), answering questions, solving problems, soothing the cats when they get testy, making tough decisions about not using a fabricator's handmade work that wasn't quite the look I wanted and who would have difficulty finishing on time with their particular methods and tools, and starting over with someone who has the equipment to get exactly what I need and done faster, to engineering how to make a non-existant conceptual design that needs to have no structural integrity or pay any attention to physics or human anatomy into a wearable system that keeps the proportional feel of the original and yet a real person could actually wear and would hold up to multiple wearings and be structurally sound and practical not to mention above and beyond on the awesome scale. Also, to make really long run-on sentences.

Chris has been invaluable in this regard. On of my favorite parts of the construction process is when we sit down with the artwork and a couple of the Big Sister toys (which all break at some point) and say, what can we make this widget out of? How can we get the tank attached to the backplate, so that it's removable for shipping or transport? How can we make our own braces? How do we make the helmet so that the wearer can move their head like Big Sis does in the game? How do we attach the cage to the tank? What do we make the cage out of so that it will stay still and not flex and wobble around with movement? Could we structure it in a way that if we wanted, we could get an actual little girl in there to play Little Sister? What the heck does this thing here do? How do we get the helmet on and latched? Where do we house the electronics? How heavy is the tank and cage going to be? How do we take this super top-heavy backpack and secure it to the wearer so it doesn't slide off from its own weight? How do we ground the costume in reality? How do we make the boots so that the costume can be worn by multiple people and not be super-uncomfortable?

Patterning and Grounding the Design
I'll talk a little bit more about the patterning and design process. Big Sister is simply anatomically busted. Her crotch is where a normal person's boobs would be. The proportions on her, while looking super sleek and awesome, are just not realistic to use as direct reference for patterning templates. Real people don't have legs and arms that long, their shoulders are not that narrow and their heads are not that small.

So the challenge becomes, how do we make this costume something someone could really wear, but still have the proportionate feel that the character has? This is where I really spend a lot of my time. Reworking and redrawing the reference and concept art to keep the feel but also fit on a person and be accurate enough for me to hand it to someone and say, make it so, and they have all the information they need to be successful. It's not going to be an exact proportion match, and it doesn't always work. We sometimes have to say, just eyeball it so it feels right. Normally, we'd put things together, see how they fit, then rework the fabrication till it's just right. In this job, however, we have only one shot because we only have two weeks [less than that, ultimately -N] to make and fit the entire thing.

Tomorrow is iron pour, and the peanut gallery is off at Casa de Ashby overnight due to the shop being closed for snow. Snow. In Atlanta. I moved south to get away from the snow. I think they lied to me. It's the South! It's Warm! You'll love it! Yay Sunshine!


In other news, Mona made some hot-damn-that's-good cereal bars that we've been devouring. It's like the perfect crunchy chewy sweet and salty treat. They're called MonaBars®.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Holy Crap. Sleep? Nah.

The days have been blurring together. I missed a few days of posting.

For the past week we've been working almost nonstop. Day and night. Occasionally naps are taken in the afternoons. Sometimes not.

My collector's edition of Bioshock 2 came yesterday, but I didn't even have time to play it. So sad!

Fabric and Leather
Turns out Miracole didn't have the equipment to get the leather done the way I wanted, so Lab 604 recommended Cathy Jones of God Save The Queen Fashions to come in at the last minute. Cathy has access to automotive upholstery machines that can handle the heavy leather stitching. Cathy and Upholstery Joe (owner of said machines) came the past two nights for fittings. Me walking around the shop in a corset and hot pants seemed to be amusing to everyone. I can't imagine why. I think they're jealous of my sexiness. Last night Cathy came in again to fit the jumpsuit and stab me with pins. They'll have the cloth and leather done by Saturday. Fricking ridiculous. I can't wait.

Danny brought in two of his Outland Armor guys, Joe and Adam. I had already worked up the design templates and Chris and I had sussed out the engineering, so when they got there they were able to crank out the structure of the tank pretty quickly. The sono tube had to be cut down in diameter (the boys accidentally cut it too short, but we made a quick patch and all is well), and plywood rings and 2x4 reinforced on the inside. They fit removable end caps so in the future we can add a subwoofer. They also cut plywood patterns for the Dow Board rings on the outside, since we still had to get back to the hardware store to get more foam.

Duncan is just about finished with the braces. They're fricking sweet. All aluminum, custom machined disc joints. I tied some to my legs to walk around in and they're spot on, no vertical shifting at all, they're right on the joints. I had the sizing worked out and gave him all the measurements for the joint spacing and he went to town. Not really. Pretty much he stayed in the shop all night.

The steel toes came yesterday. I really really wanted to get a wax mold done to pour the toes in actual bronze metal, but the bronze pour is Friday and there just isn't enough time to get the silica shell done. However, I did make a wax of the dive weight, and I'll cast that in iron on Saturday, just because it's awesome. Chris and Riki already cast an aluminum composite-resin weight from my wood pattern to make the suit lighter, though depending on who's wearing the suit, maybe I'll swap in the iron weight. Mwahaha.

Head and Shoulders
Chris has been working on the helmet sculpt, which has a little more detailing then it's ready for molding. Danny jumped in to help out for a bit. It's coming along very nicely. Chris suggested Danny make a little wooden gadget for sculpting weld lines, which works brilliantly. [In the end, due to a technical-oversight issue, Chris had to resculpt most of what Danny and I did on the helmet. I don't remember what the issue was, but I believe it was a molding thing, not a sculpting thing. -N]

Duncan also made the little widget on top of the helmet which seems like it would have housed a speaker, but has a blue clear dome on top of it. I was going to pattern it out of MDF but I seemed to always be pulled away to answer questions or check on progress or solve some problem, so I figured out the dimensions and Duncan turned it on the lathe. Yes, MDF on a lathe. Don't try it at home. He almost died. True story.

Riki has been sculpting the trim on the breastplate, which looked awesome. We've done a lot of research into old diving helmets so we can ground the costume as much as possible. I even harassed Elizabeth at 2K for some Big Sister functionality questions since there are so many discrepancies between different references. She was generous enough to reply and send me an updated concept art ortho even though she was completely swamped, because of course I asked on the day the game actually came out. She rules.

The shoulder pauldrons are done and getting molded.

We had a bit of a setback when a support structure broke on the torso mannequin that held the breastplate sculpt when Chris was transporting it to the storage cage. Basically, we heard a pop, a thud, and an incredibly emphatic and high pitched "FUCK." I actually thought it was a girl screaming, but no, it was Chris. We went back to check on the yelping and I almost had a heart attack. Not only was the breastplate and backplate mushed in a pile on the floor, but all the excellent trim work Riki had been doing for hours on end was flattened.

That sucked.

A couple of things lined up for the perfect storm: 1, the torso hadn't been properly mounted to the plywood base, it was just sitting in the original vintage wooden mounting bracket. 2, there was about 60 pounds of raw clay on the torso, sitting only on saran wrap without any plates screwed in underneath for grip, 3, Chris decided to transport the torso himself, when two people should have been carrying it, and 4, Chris had been up for three or four days straight, with the occasional cat nap. This is what happens when you're exhausted, you make mistakes you normally wouldn't had you been well-rested and thinking clearly. Luckily, Chris redid the whole thing from scratch, this time using bracing, metal plates screwed into the torso to hold the clay vertically, and gave it a foam armature to reduce the raw clay weight. All in like, a couple hours or something.

Blinky Things
The electronics came from Daniel yesterday so I brought them to shop last night to unpack and test them out. This guy is on point. Everything is beautifully wired, labeled, heat-shrinked and completely jacked up. LED ring for the eye, and individual LEDs for the other helmet portholes, blue and green LED clusters for the arm test tubes, and a larger red LED cluster for the ADAM bottle. All of it plugs into 3 ethernet jacksHe even made me a fan control on a potentiometer so I can adjust the speed of the computer fans we're going to mount in the helmet for circulation.


Riki came up with a cool idea for the shoot that I sent over to the client, who thought it would be great if we could schedule it properly. So we'll see how that turns out. No spoiling the surprise.

That's all I can remember for now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Templates and portholes

Got back from studio at 8AM this morning.

I got templates for the helmet made and printed. Making templates for a sphere = suck. I thought about building the head in Maya then printing out the UV map, but then decided I'd spend more time trying to un-distort the map and just tiled out a flat image. Printing out life-sized templates on a letter-sized laser is also no fun. Lots of taping and registration lineup and dealing with laser-printer warmup issues. As a laser printer warms up, the heat expands the paper slightly, so early prints end up mis-registering.

Chris mounted and skinned in clay the fiberglass helmet. That dude can work clay like a mofo. Then at about 5AM we sat around with mush for brains trying to figure out how to find the precise center line for a sphere so that it also lines up with the neck hole. (If anyone knows an accurate process for future reference, I'm all ears. The internets just gave me math equations, which are fricking useless.) We ended up finding the center of the hole cut for the neck using the discarded slice and a 3'-long compass—which obviously wasn't intended for precision work, but for some reason we couldn't find a compass to save our lifes—and then using the right-angle formed from the center-finding process (yay geometry), lined it up with a level, and then measured circumference points with measuring tape and eyeballing the center line with pinstripe tape. A little convoluted but it worked.

Now that we had the porthole measurements figured out Chris made the porthole cylinder extrusion by screwing a circle of MDF to the dome slice from the neck hole, then filled the gap with plaster and squared off the edges. That way, the cylinder fits on the helmet's curvature precisely.

I worked out the brush gate pattern in two pieces of MDF and chamfered the edges with the drum sander and files so that there is an outer ring, then below that sits the gate. With the edges beveled and placed on the main porthole cylinder that Chris attached to the helmet, it looks like there was a separate piece of metal bolted on, which is how it should look. Then we drilled holes and slid in some bolts and it looks rather awesome.

Miracole stopped by early in the evening to test fit the leather corset (I did a little cross dressing. The shop tech was quite amused). We needed to make a couple alterations for structural support and to add some edging. I'm a little worried about this process and how it will turn out stylistically with the wet molding, but waiting to see how it goes.

Did some conference calls and picture emailing back and forth with Daniel, who's doing the lights. He's rigging up LEDs for the helmet ports, as well as the ADAM and EVE and mysterious green tubes on both arms. He's programming the lights to slowly pulse and breathe from about 50% brightness to 80% brightness. Then, when a momentary switch hidden in the glove is pressed, the lights will flare to 100% for attack mode. RAR!

He sent me some mockups to try to get the light to diffuse the way we want. Otherwise, we'll end up with a ring of Christmas tree lights. The trick will be to get the diffusion but still allow for visibility.

Then we debated on where to put the electronics and batteries. We were originally planning on putting them in the tank, but I think we have room to embed them in the fiberglass underside of the back plate. From there, we'll have to work out some sort of quick release plug for the helmet wiring, so the helmet can be removed. And then we have to consider heat and moisture buildup in the helmet. We picked up some computer fans that we'll mount inside and drill vent holes probably in the smaller portholes, so we can have one intake and one outtake to keep air circulating and hopefully vent some moisture as well. Daniel's going to rig a switch for the fans, so the person inside can turn them off to hear.

Back to studio in a few.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Beach balls and mannequins

We picked up some more supplies and finally got to putting down material for sculpts.

We took some orthographic reference images of Miracole and I've been using those to rescale the concept art and game models of Big Sister to actually fit the proportions of a human being. It's a tricky process because there are four distinct reference models for Big Sis: in-game model, promotional 3D renderings, concept art, and the toy (the toy is actually the best reference). I try to defer to the in-game model as design trump

All have different details and scalings of parts. Some have the leg braces extend above the hot pants, some don't. Some have a larger tank valve, some are missing detail, some have a harpoon on the right arm, some have a knife on the left arm, the red eye is different sizes on different sources.

So without the game or any idea of actual functionality other than what we've been able to made educated guesses on, it's hard to nail down the final design. It's possible Big Sis at some point switches her ADAM syringe for a gun/bayonet combo. The promo rendering has the helmet track running from center to down-right. The concept and toy have it going center to top-right. The toy has a small port on the helmet that's an iron dome, but concept art shows it being a clear blue dome. Does this dome light up? Does it track down the helmet on what looks like treads?

Another mystery is a small green liquid in a tube on her arm. There is the standard ADAM red container, and small (what I assume to be) EVE injectors, but there's also a single small green fluid. No idea what that does.

So I've been taking composites of different source images and sussing out what seems to be the truest or most logical design. From there, I've been making life-sized paper templates that we can use to cut out sheets of wet clay for sculpting.

Last night Chris, Riki and I were at the SCAD studio until 4AM (I should just start sleeping there) casting a 15" rubber ball in plaster to make a fiberglass dome to upon which to sculpt the helmet details, and we got the "bib" and back metal dome where the tank attaches roughed out on a torso mannequin in wet clay. The template needed adjusting to account for Sister's thin and long torso to make sure the bib had the same proportionate feel when worn on a model.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More planning meetings and more team members

I've brought on Chris Donio to lead the fabrication, and through him Cathy Jones to supplement leatherwork and sew an undersuit (the white canvas-looking part). Both are are at the top of their game and I'm psyched to have them onboard. They've both also been amazing enough to squeeze me into their already packed schedules for this intense project. They rulez.

We don't really have room for error or delay, so we got to work immediately last night at Chris' studio in B Complex here in Atlanta breaking down the costume into sections and parts lists that we can assign to fabricators. Miracole came down and braved the chilly shop in a skimpy outfit so we could take some scale reference shots. I can then overlay the concept art of Big Sister and manipulate the image so that Big Sister's proportions match Miracole's and we can build the costume to actually fit a human being. Sorry Sister, no one's got legs that long.

Tonight we're meeting to figure out assignments and pass out budgets for supplies. Then the ball gets officially rolling.