This was the prop that marked the conclusion of a difficult but prosperous year. It felt good to finish on a solid note and cap off 2018 with something I’m really proud of.
Every year, the wonderful Prop Tarts of Punished Props host a Secret Santa event. It’s a brilliant chance to make something for someone else without an exchange of funds. I haven’t ever participated before because I had so many fears about not making something good enough to give to someone else and not being able to stick to deadlines. Last year I decided to challenge myself and those fears and boy am I glad I did! The Secret Santa event was super fun and I encourage you to join the group and try it for yourself this year!
I’m sure you all know how Secret Santa works, but long story short, you fill out a little form and list your skill level and 3 things you’d be happy to receive from your Santa. My “kid” had a real penchant for Skyrim and listed “anything, literally anything, I FREAKING LOVE SKYRIM!!!!” I felt the same, so that was a no brainer. But what to make?? There’s so many AWESOME things one could make from this giant of a game. Then I saw that my “kid” specifically said it would be cool if they could have something on their desk at work. That made things a lot easier. What could I make that would look really cool on a desk, be easily identified as Skyrim, but still look really cool to people who had somehow never even heard of the game? I landed on the Golden Claw.
If you’ve played Skyrim, you know the Claw. If not, it looks like a really cool golden dragon foot. Win win! It’s the perfect Skyrim thing to put on one’s desk to look super cool to geek and non-geek alike. Except for one problem: The Claw is HUGE. If you look at it when (if) you return it to the proper owner and he sets it on the counter next to him, the Claw is actually the full length of the shopkeeper’s forearm, from elbow to finger tip. That’s well over a foot in length! Way too big to put on a desk, for most reasonable people at least. So I settled on 8″ in length, which is how I always envisioned the Claw being sized when interacting with it as my character in the game.
To start my journey making the Claw I needed some screenshots, so I opened Skyrim while repeating my mantra “I just need screenshots, I will not play the game. I just need screenshots I will not play the game!” I made to sure grab all the basics: top and bottom, back and front, and both sides as well as some detail shots of those crazy toe swirls. Popping open Photoshop, I formatted each screenshot, making sure all the dimensions lined up with an 8″ long foot, then printed out my reference for sculpting!
Sculpting The Claw
Not shown: me restarting this sculpt 4 times. I can’t convey strongly enough how critical it is to sculpt from reference that is TO SCALE. I tried 3 times to sculpt just looking at my screenshots in a collage on one piece of paper and it just wasn’t translating right. The 4th time was when I bothered to print out my reference at the right scale so I could use it to guide not only my armature, but my sculpt as well. It helped so much I couldn’t believe it. I also went in with colored marker after failing the toes three times to help myself see all the different faces on them. Fun fact: none of the toes are the same, all the faces are different and BIZARRE.
I started with an armature base made of twisted aluminum foil, modeled directly over my to-scale reference images. This acted like the bones of my sculpt and gave my something to bulk the clay onto while keeping all my proportions correct. Once I was happy with my aluminum skeleton I started adding little pieces of Monster Clay that I’d warmed up in my oven at 200 degrees. I put a layer on the underside of my wire, then set it directly on my top-down reference image and added clay on the sides until I had the silhouette I wanted. Then I lifted it off the paper and looked at my side reference to make sure I had the height and general shape of the body right.
After that, it was more of the same as I alternated between bulking out the body and shaping it down with tools like this one. Finally, it was down to the fun part – details! I decided it would be easiest to add details to the body of the claw before adding the toes. The toes reach down below the lowest part of the body, so I wouldn’t be able to handle it the same once I’d added the toes. All the details were added using similar tools to the one I linked above, in various sizes. For the bottom animal shapes, I actually printed a second version of my bottom view of the claw and painstakingly cut out each animal so I could lightly trace it in the clay, giving me an outline to work from. I did the same with the ring shapes surrounding each animal. Then it was more carving and shaping! Periodically I would sweep over my whole sculpt with a heat gun to help smooth out elements and level the clay surface.
Then came the toes. Boy these were interesting. I ended up tackling them in parts, starting with the first length of toe between the knuckles. I roughly bulked out the shape in clay before doing a little refining with my wire tool. Then I bulked out the main knuckle. Using my thumb to press general angles into the clay, I refined the whole toe with my wire tool. I did this on all three toes before adding the claws themselves. They’re the most delicate parts of the whole sculpt – I wanted as few opportunities to mess them up as possible!
The claws received the same treatment – bulk on clay in a rough shape, refine with tools, then add details, using my heat gun along the way to keep the clay nice and smooth. Plastic wrap laid over the toes and an old broken dentist tool helped me to make the swirly details in softened clay. All final details were sculpted and smoothed, and it was time for mold making!
Making The Mold
This was my first attempt at a brush-on mold. I was terrified to try and mold something with such a strange shape, but determined to give it a try. Fortunately, my friend Bill Doran was happy to help!
This mold was… An experience. But we’ll get to that later! To start, I popped over to the shop and Bill and I spent 3 hours creating a beautiful parting line – AKA the seam – around this sculpt. We used Plastalina, and did our best not to mash it too hard against the original sculpt so that the two clays wouldn’t stick together. In hindsight, it would have been better to try sealing my sculpt with varnish or a similar sealant to try and create a different surface and further reduce the stickiness. But here we are!
It’s always worth it to have minimal seams on a sculpt, but in this case we took extra special care because I wanted to be able to cold cast this piece. When cold casting, the layer of metal powder on the outside of the cast is so thin that you really can’t sand it down, or the resin underneath with show through, so it’s critical to make your seams as clean and minimal as possible. This parting line turned out beautiful – Thanks Bill! Once we added a butt-load of registration keys, we were ready for the first layer of silicone!
We used Rebound 25 from Reynold’s Advanced Materials and globbed it on with acid brushes. There’s a really great example showing how to do this in Bill’s mask making video, definitely check it out if you’re interested! Once applied, we shoved the whole affair into a cardboard box with a running hair dryer to speed up the curing process. We are highly skilled professionals. Then it was time to flip it over and do it all again!
The silicone cured beautifully, so it was time to make a mold jacket! Mold jackets are important for brush on molds – especially funky shaped ones like this – because they help prevent the silicone from flexing or collapsing or losing shape when resin is poured in. You don’t need them for box molds, since the density of the silicone holds itself. We used Free Form Air for this mold jacket, a super light weight epoxy that dries completely after about 24 hours. First, we needed to create an edge to separate the two halves of the jacket, otherwise I’d have a solid epoxy shell sealing my silicone mold inside.
We used aluminum tape for this division. I sliced a shallow cut all around the edges of my mold – I couldn’t find the actual seam. More on that later. Then I cut small piece of aluminum tape and folded them in half, sticking them into the seam to create a nice divider. Now I could safely add my Free Form shells to either side. Free Form Air is a 2-part epoxy. To use it you simply take equal amounts of each part, thoroughly mash ’em together until they are a uniform color, then apply it as needed! I recommend using a lot of water and wearing gloves to help keep it smooth and not too sticky.
I did both halves of my mold jacket in one sitting, because of how weirdly shaped my mold is. We wanted to have the whole thing sitting up like this to allow resin to get into the tips of the claws without trapping a bunch of air. The PVC pipe happened to be the perfect length to help support the structure as it dried, preventing too much weight sitting on the toes. It would have been better to do these halves separately to guarantee no warping in the toes, as they did get a bit bent out of shape. But I was under a time crunch and the distortion, fortunately, was very minor.
Once this whole contraption sat overnight, it was time to pop off the shells and pull the silicone halves apart to see my beautifully completed mold!
I used mold release.
I really did.
Did the mold gods care? NOT A BIT.
But I would not be defeated! I had a gift to give and I was going to make this mold work, dammit! So with the help of a modified X-ACTO blade, I went to work, slicing this mold apart by hand, completely ruining all the hours of work Bill and I put in to make a beautiful seam. There are registration keys in there somewhere. But they’ll never see the light of day. *sigh*
I’ll be honest: this sucked. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a successful cast out of this thing, and my sculpt was toast after prying it out of the mangled mold. Was I even going to have anything to offer my “Kid” for Secret Santa? I wasn’t sure. But hey, I had this jerk of a mold, I might as well try it! So I slapped the silicone bits together, aligning everything as best I could using the ridge I’d cut around the edge, snuggled on the mold jacket halves, and covered the whole thing in a BUNCH of thick rubber bands. I mixed up some Smooth-Cast 300, measured out a little over 8 oz, crossed my fingers, and poured.
The mold TOTALLY worked.
I had gnarly seams and part of the middle toe wasn’t properly aligned, creating a ridge along one side, but hey, gift horse. Seams could be sanded, and that weird misalignment actually helped sell the idea that this thing is ancient. I was embracing Adam Savage’s mentality of accepting failure and finding ways to use it. I had a successful cast – it was time to make it work!
A rotary tool, patience, some sanding sticks, and a lot of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack later, I actually had a rally great looking cast with no visible seams. Hell yeah!
Time For Paint
My beautifully sanded claw got an air-brushed base coat of Tamiya flat black (for those of you who have painted metallic finished before, this will be a red flag. Just wait, I figure it out!) It looked great. Pat myself on the back. Then I loaded my airbrush with some Alcad II Polished Bronze paint. Bill highly recommended it, so I knew this finish was going to look AWESOME.
Hmm. Kinda lackluster, really. I was expecting more from such a highly recommended lacquer. But I had a claw to ship and weathering to do, so I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, grabbing some Winsor & Newton water-based oil paints. If you’re not familiar with weathering using oil paints, check out this great video! I followed the exact same process when weathering my claw. Sort of. Almost as soon as I started wiping the oil paints off, I noticed something weird. The oil paints weren’t fully coming off, or rather, they were, and they were taking my beautiful gold finish with them! In a panic, I texted Bill, wondering what I had done wrong. Turns out oil paint will strip lacquer paints if not sealed!
Bill also informed me of one other useful tidbit: you should ALWAYS do a glossy base coat if you want your lacquer top coat to be super shiny and beautiful. Ooohhhhhhh. I whipped out the sandpaper and did a rough up on the surface of my first paint job, then coated the whole claw once again in black, this time using alclad II gloss black base lacquer. THEN I did a layer of Polished Brass.
Holy crap you guys. What a difference.
THAT is how the Polished Brass lacquer is supposed to look! I was stoked. This was going to look legit. I put some Model Master Metalizer Sealer in my airbrush and sealed off the whole paint job before trying again with oil weathering. It went way better. The oils wiped off without taking my stunning metallic paint job with it!
Once the weathering was done, I hit the whole thing with another coat of the Metalizer Sealer, and the Golden Claw from Skyrim was ready to ship.
I had such a blast making this piece, and learned a TON about sculpting, mold making, and painting in the process. It was stressful, and frustrating. But deciding to roll with the punches and let “failures” become opportunities made this build easier and become an overall positive experience.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this whole build! I hope you enjoyed learning about how I made this replica prop. If you’d like to view a gallery of all the images posted in this write-up, check out the Project Gallery for this build.