I have been working for many months on my Kurlan Naiskos project from TNG’s “The Chase”, and I’m happy to report that it is nearing completion. I thought I would take this opportunity to document the project from beginning to end. The project was supposed to take just a few weeks, but it was plauged by numerous problems on the sculptor’s end, along with a number of special casting challenges on my side, and it has ended up taking nearly a year. However, I’m very excited and pleased by how things are shaping up.
An exhaustive collection of reference photos can be found in this thread.
As usual on a project like this, I asked @Eric_Ardros for his best guesses on the size the prop. @hms also shared this image, based on knowledge he had of Patrick Stewart’s hand size owing to a Borg arm prosthetic they HMS made for them during TNG.
Together, we came up with a set of dimensions that (to my relief) almost precisely match the actual dimensions, which I later obtained from Don Coleman, whose company MEL made the original.
From Don Coleman over at the RPF thread:
[The small figurines] are 2" wide, 2 " tall and aprox 1 3/4" deep.
[Large outer shell]
Base at the widest is 12 1/2"
Width is 10"
2 1/4" tall
Top is 11" at the highest
The front design element is 3 1/2" tall x 3 1/2" at the widest
Tip of wing on side is 6"
Overall height is 13"
I comissioned Etsy sculptor Troy Parson to make the naiskos in clay to my specifications and provided him with extensive research, photos, and screen captures to use to guide his work.
He was originally going to sculpt it in clay, fire it, and send the master to me for casting. However, as the time for firing approach, Troy started to get nervous that the piece would get damaged in the public kiln he uses or that it would break in shipment to me. So I proposed sending him the materials to do the molding and send me the molds instead. He went through a surprising amount of Rebound 25 and Plasti-paste, but ultimately he was able to get the molds to me.
Here is what the sculpting and molding process looked like
Unfortunately, casting proved difficult and the molds somewhat problematic. Here was the first pull out of the mold on the day it arrived in the mail:
(The pouring sprue is still intact in that photo, which is why there is such a large gap between the two halves of the shell.)
Even when using liberal amounts of petrolium jelly as a lubricant, I had a very difficult time getting the silicone to seat perfectly into the keying system in the mother mold. This resulted in consistent deformations in the castings that I had no way of avoiding, especially around the eyes and in the back ridges. Fortunately, the flaws aren’t severe or particularly problematic (the fact that this is supposed to be a 12,000-year-old artifact, combined with the fact that it will be extensively weathered with thick modeling paste, hides all manner of crimes), but I did find it a bit frustrating. To try to keep myself from stressing out too much about it, I try to think of this as a naiskos from the workshop of the Master of Tarquin hill, not necessarily the exact same one we see on screen and that belongs to Picard. But in any case it’s actually a very close match.
I think the master before molding on Troy’s end must have become somewhat deformed in a few places as well, since there are some discrepancies between what comes out on my end and what I see in the photos above. For example, all my castings have some slight pinched curves around the back of the head that aren’t present in the above photos. He may have just spotted something that looked like this in the screen captures and added them before finishing the master, however, so the differences could very well be intentional.
Another particular problem was the fit between the upper shell and base—or, more precisely, the lack thereof.
The base mold was never in particularly good shape anyway and should have been done as a block mold:
So I took the opportunity to resculpt the base a bit with my Foredom to create a lip for the upper shell to fit into:
(The bottom one is my reculpted version before I did some final sanding.)
This was an improvement:
I then made a simple block mold:
According to Coleman, the original was cast in concrete.
They were made of Hydrocal FGR 95 Gypsum Cement to give them an authentic look. The small pieces did not open,they were cast solid. The FGR 95 was reinforced with fiberglass cloth.
However, Mike Moore suggested using resin, not only because it’s easier to work with but also because the final castings would be much less likely to break during shipment. I was all for this, so I went with Smooth Cast 322. It has a nice long pot life that allows me to go through the many steps of mixing up the resin batches, which I’ll cover in more detail in the “simulating terra cotta” section below. But first we need a little detour.
Updated interior figurine
After casting the whole set, I realized that 12 of the interior figurines supplied me by Troy weren’t going to fit inside the bottom shell. We were originally working from an auction dimension that gave the object’s measurements at 3"x3". This was either an error in the listing or the object being sold was an early model that was sold at auction but never used in production.
Using the updated measurements from Coleman, which I had by this time, I tested out that figures of that size would fit inside the base:
Troy then made me up a new master in Super Sculpey (which allowed him to harden it quickly by baking and send it to me by post without fear of its being damaged).
Here is a size comparison between the original and updated figurine:
I made a simple block mold in Dragon Skin. Because of its long elongation-at-tear strength, Dragon Skin allowed me to make a simple block mold without having to worry about the undercuts around the jaw of the figurine.
I then made more, and I am actually planning on making a set of twelve molds so I can cast a full naiskos set all at once. Because of the enormous amount of work that goes into measuring and mixing the resin recipe for this project (see below), I want to minimize casting sessions as much as possible.
Weathering and pigmentation
As with most props, the apparent colors vary with lighting environments
Sometimes the colors look very pastel and muted
And sometimes darker:
There are also photos of other castings made by MEL, but these were clearly not the screen-used artifact.
This is the one that sits in the MEL lobby (photos again thanks to Coleman via the RPF):
In any case, the interior pieces are clearly darker and more uniformly pigmented than the outside (which, if we think of this as an artifact that was worn, buried intact,and later discovered, makes sense)
I think it also makes sense to think of the naiskos as a piece of fired terra cotta earthenware that was originally glazed in dark green. The glaze then faded to a light pastel green and wore away over the years, exposing some of the underlying fired clay, and also become dirty on top of everything else.
From Don Coleman over at the RPF thread:
Chris Bergschneider and Mark Sisson did the original scuplts, molds and castings.
If memory serves…all the coloring was done in the mold. The green patina was brushed in, not covering the entire surface. The mold was then backed with fgr95 with the terra cotta color mixed in and backed with fiberglass and more fgr95 I don’t recall anything being done to it once it came out of the mold.I’ll check with Chris but he’s out the rest of the week on another job.
i asked Chris about the coloring:
Gold powder was brushed into the mold then backed with FGR 95 tinted in terra coota color with fiberglass matt cloth. The patina was added after the piece was taken from the mold in washes
With respect to the gold, Coleman is referring to the interior figurines having a slight gold patina. This is present in one of their replicas, but I can discern no evidence of it in any screen capture, so I have elected not to add gold to my figurines.
Initial paint test
My first attempt at weathering a cast naiskos was to prime it using Plastikote red oxide primer
And then to spray terra cotta paint on top of that
This worked fine and yielded a nice color. I then mixed small batches of green acrylic into acrylic modeling paste
And started applying that in washes. I normally use Golden acrylic products, but I found that the Liquitex modeling paste in particular had better properties for this project. It is thicker and dries more quickly.
This was all fine and well and yielded a fairly credible result, except that my original strategy was to apply the wash of paste, rub away a bit, dry it with a hair dryer, and then sand away the green to reveal the underlying terra cotta color. However, given that the terra cotta layer was just a thin layer of a couple of paint applications, I quickly sanded through the terra cotta color down to the off-white resin. This required painstakingly masking off those areas, painting back the terra cotta, and then re-finishing the green washes around that region.
This was the result of that first attempt:
It was nicely textural in a way that looked real and similar to the original, but I had two problems
- It took about twelve solid hours across two days to do it, and this was just the top half shell. The issue with sanding was a huge pain.
- The shade of green (Liquitex “sap green”) wasn’t quite right. Or, I should say, I prefer the more pastel look (I know others might prefer the darker), and this was more like the darker green.
I learned some things from these experiments for the second round.
For the second round, I eventually settled on terre verte hue by Golden, in perhaps a 1:6 tint (the modeling paste is white). I’m also using heavy body acrylics so as to not thin the paste too much.
I also decided to try to cast the terra cotta pigment into the resin itself so if I wanted to use an abrasive technique while weathering away the green paste, I could do so. This was more about efficiency than anything else, as the terra cotta paint technique works fine if I don’t mind having to repaint spots.
However, after casting the terra cotta color into the resin, I also discovered an interesting property of the acrylic modeling paste that sort of obviated all the effort to cast in the terra cotta color. Namely, you don’t actually have to use an abrasive if you wear away the acrylic within the first 24 hours or so of having applied it. Just a bit of water on a firm-bristled toothbrush is sufficient, and because it’s a tooth brush, it’s not so abrasive that it wears away the terra cotta spray paint. The effect visually is almost identical. I also found that using coffee instead of water also helps to dirty things up in an very authentic-looking way. The colored paste is applied, by the way, simply by smearing it on with a nitrile-gloved hand. If I glop on way too much, I dry it right then with my hair dryer and then wipe it down lightly with a moistened shop towel.
Here are the results of my second attempt, using the terre verte hue and mostly water-based abrasion.
I’ll still want to lightly sand down some rough spots, but I am largely satisfied by this result so far.
Simulating terra cotta
Figuring out how to cast terra cotta pigment right into the resin was an interesting exercise. I also wanted to give the resin a similar weight and feel to real terra cotta (which is a fairly light earthenware, compared to, say, ironstone china).
Using So-Strong pigments from Smooth-On, I conducted experiments with various ratios of red, yellow, and brown.
Ultimately, I decided on the following formula:
- 1 part brown
- 4 parts red
- 8 parts yellow
Here is the painted naiskos next to my cast pigment test
To make each casting session easier, at the suggestion of @sporak, I decided to mix up a large batch of pigment and then mix that into the resin based on the volume I would be casting.
I bought two bottles of yellow So-Strong pigment and one each of red and brown and mixed them together into a batch as follows:
- 11.25ml brown
- 45ml red
- 90ml yellow
(I based these numbers on the bottle sizes available from Smooth-On.)
Generally, I found that I liked this pigment to be mixed into the resin at a ratio of 0.0023 per 1ml of part-B resin. However, I found that ratios of even twice that yielded credible looking terra cotta, just more intense/dark. (Real-world terra cotta exhibits this same variation in color intensity/saturation, even though the hue is roughly always the same.)
Here is my first colored casting, with that doubled color intensity:
Subsequent castings came out lighter at around 0.0023ml per part B. But I like both results, depending on taste.
Here is what the pigment looks like when mixed into the part B
In order to lighten (and cheapen) the castings, I also decided to add Smooth-On’s Ure-fill 15 “micro balloons” product. It’s a bit tricky to work with and (I think) tends to entrap air into the mixture more than the normal lower-viscosity resin, but the end result somehow just feels right and much more like terra cotta. It simply has the right heft.
Note that I’m mixing both the micro balloons and pigment into the part B first and then mixing that with the part A. This allows time to fully incorporate both before you’re working against the pot-life clock. (And the pigment takes a lot of work to get to incorporate fully, which it never really completely does.)
Conclusion, next steps
I have a number of prop friends with whom I’ve been very happy to be able to share the fruits of these labors. (It’s always more fun when you can make extra for a few friends who are just as excited as you are about the prop.) I’m excited to see what they do with their castings, as many are more talented artists than I could ever hope to be.
I’m still refining my own weathering and pigmentation strategies, but I’m finally starting to see the end of this project. I’ll post my final few “finished” naiskoses as I complete them, but I think I’m about ready to call this project a success.