Sunday, 30 January 2011

Design works visit

To gain more insight into the sculpting profession I visited a company called Design Works. Design Works is a company that works with many different clients on an array of projects, ranging from product design, concept development, modelmaking and sculpting. The business has studios in London and Australia and a mass production unit in Hong Kong.

During the visit to Design Works my questions were focused towards the sculpting side of the business. The company is employed by production and advertising companies to make toys and figurines for Harry Potter, Doctor Who and other well known characters in the television and film industry. They also work with clients who want prototype toys sculpted. 

At Design Works it is estimated that it should take a professional sculptor around 5 days to finish hand sculpting a likeness for a toy figure. Not everything is hand sculpted though. Depending on the budget and the time factor 3D scanners can be used to get a turnaround of an actors head. This can then be worked on in a program called Freeform which is a computer sculpting program which uses a haptic arm so that the user is sculpting on the screen but can feel the virtual clay using the stylus. 

With the digital sculpting side to modelling it also means that a master copy is 3D printed. This is done using a photo polymer wax which then goes through a UV oven. A prototype is always made in England which then has to be signed off by the actor and or advertising company. The digital version and physical model, gets sent over to Hong Kong for mass production, where they put in the joints for it to move. Of course the sculptors and designers have to think about the manufacture when then are doing their job. You cannot make changes to a sculpt without knowing how it will be made. Hundreds and thousands of pounds go into getting a toy through mass production efficiently so that It can be sold for £7.99. It takes 9 to 12 months to get a figure in to store and on the shelf.

Friday, 28 January 2011


Aardman is an award winning studio famous for its model animations, short films and more recently feature films. Started by Peter Lord, David Sproxton who were lated joined by Nick Park, it has become famous through characters such as Wallace and Gromit, Morph and its series Creature Comforts. These films are all made using stop frame animation. Most of the characters are sculpted around a metal ball and socket armature so that they move but hold their position. Some models have pre-sculpted and cast parts to their bodies, for example the chickens in chicken run had lots of different mouths which had different expressions so that they could be changed easily.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Millenium Fx

Millenium effects is a company which was founded by Neil Gorton who is an industry renowned prosthetic artist. The company works mostly for films, television and advertising being part of shows such as Doctor Who and Little Britain. They have specialist make up, moulding and casting and fabrication facilities which make them one of the leaders in the industry.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Here are some of the key tools that I have been using for this project and that sculptors find useful.

Boxwood tools are light and easy to use. the smooth surface make them brilliant for carving fluidly

Calipers are important for measuring distances. They are used extensively for head sculpting to obtain as much accuracy as possible.

Loops come in all different shapes and sizes you can get sets with multiple loops or one handle with interchangeable loops. They are good for scraping and removing material.

The dentist tools and the shapers are good for getting into all the smaller areas and parts that need more detail. The shapers can be used to soften lines. Some of the sharper and more pointed dentist tools can be you to cut material away.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Making of the Sea Monster

I started my sculpt by making a wooden armature which I could then build onto, giving it a sturdy frame for the clay to sit on. Next I bulked out the main shape which was easy to do using the WED clay as it is soft and smooth to work with which meant that I could do it faster. Then I began refining the sculpt, putting in the gills roughly and shaping the brow and jaw. After some advice from a tutor about the brow bone looking too heavy I decided to slim it down more, making it more skeletal. I studied pictures of Cats skulls for reference and also had some fish pictures to study for the lips and jaw. 

Another thing which I did was to draw centre lines on the sculpt to help me recognise what was lop sided and uneven. I messed around with the jaw line quite a bit after I did this, trying to get the undercut of the bottom lip right and the jowls at an even level. 

After some deliberation, I decided to build back the brow bones again as I felt that they should be more fleshy and more similar to the original sculpt that I had done as a test. Once I did this I was much happier with the sculpt. I used a mixture of wooden tools, metal loops and metal sculpting tools to work on this model. I found that I got attached to certain tools and would use them for more or less everything although a lot of the time I used my hands and fingers. 

Next I put in all of the wrinkles and saggy skin, using a cocktail stick to get in to the folds of skin and paintbrush and water to smooth things out and give it a smoother finish. I also added the nostrils and eyes which took me a few attempt to get right. The eyes were inserted as clay balls which I positioned and filled in around the edges. They had to be shaped with a scraper once they were in as they didn't match each other properly at first. The nostrils were difficult as I had to get all four of them to line up properly and be the same shape.

The last step was to create scales on the skin as this monster sculpt is a cross between a fish and a lizard. I got pictures of various scales and lizards but the best was of a monitor lizard. To create this texture I squashed on tiny balls of clay to the surface, starting with the face and working my way round the jaw line and eye sockets.Once they were all lined up and on the surface I went around them blending the scales in with each other and making them more of the hexagonal shape that they were in the reference pictures. I was doing this at first using a cocktail stick to roll the edges down but i then changed my tactic to using a flat head screwdriver which happened to be the exact shape and size that I needed. This shows how it is up to you what tools you use and what works best in certain circumstances.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds in London has been around for about 200 years. Since then it has grown into a world famous attraction. Over 800 hours of work goes into completing one figure, from sculpting to moulding and casting, painting and costume. The process starts with precise measurements and photos of the celebrity being taken. Next they make a metal armature that the clay is sculpted onto. The sculpture is actual made at about 2% larger as the wax shrinks. Once finished the clay is moulded and cast out into wax the finishing touches are added like hair, which is punched individually and teeth and eyes. The skin is painted on in layers to gain a realistic effect and the correct colour.

This sculptors blog gives some information about the processes involved and is something was helpful to me.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Wood Carving

Popular woods to carve 

Basswood (a.k.a. Lime) is by far the most popular wood used in carving. It is relatively soft. It is easy to work with hand tools. It is white in color with fairly close grain pattern. It is hard to distinguish between the heartwood and the sap wood. The only problem with basswood is that there is no gain pattern in the wood making it look bland if you use a clear finish. Most wood carvers will paint their finished basswood carvings.

Butternut (a.k.a. white walnut) is also a popular wood for carving. It is soft and easy to work with hand tools. It has dark brown heartwood and a beige sap wood. Butternut has a beautiful grain pattern, which looks good with a clear finish.

Cottonwood is a regional favorite wood for carving (in the Midwest). It is softwood with a straight grain. Indians would use Cottonwood roots for carving dolls. It may be difficult to get in some areas.

Walnut (a.k.a. black walnut, American walnut) is almost exclusively used in gunstocks. Walnut has dark brown heartwood with tan sapwood. It is straight grained but can be very curly. Carving on walnut is usually done with a chisel and mallet.

Mahogany (a.k.a. Honduras Mahogany, American Mahogany) is a a reddish colored wood. It has a relatively straight grain. It is a suprisingly strong for its light weight. It is well suited for carvings that have thin sections. It is easily worked with hand tools or power tools. If it is finished clear, the wood will darken with age.

Jelutong is a soft wood that is imported from the Philippines. It is straight grained. Jelutong has “latex pockets” in the wood. However these “latex pockets” can be easily removed and filled with wood filler. Some people consider it easier to carve than Butternut or Basswood. The main disadvantage is the fuzzy fibers that lift up when using power tools on it.

Tupelo (a.k.a. water gum) is a soft wood grown in swampy areas of the United States. It has a good looking grain pattern, which looks good with a clear finish.
It doesn’t have the fuzzy fibers like Basswood or Jelutong.

In a similar way to carving stone a sculptor must choose a piece of wood that is suitable for the type of sculpture they want to create. Different woods act in different ways so it is important to understand what wood you are using. The techniques involved in sculpting a piece of wood are based on using the correct tools for the job. One of the websites which I have studied is which has a pictured list of some of the tools that are needed for carving wood and what each one does. A sculptor starts by taking the bigger bits of material off and then chisels in using smaller tools for the detailed areas. Depending on what finish is needed the last stage can involve sandpaper and a layer of sealant such as 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Stone Carving

Stone and wood carving are techniques that involve cutting into the material without being able to add on more when needed so it is much more precise and important to get it right. With stone carving the main technique is to plan out the shape with sketches and detailed drawings and sometimes using lines on the stone, then rough out this shape and finally refine it. A sculptor must assess what material they are working with, thinking about the brittleness and texture of the stone. Professional sculptors now days use pneumatic chisels to get rid of the large bit of material that they don't want, making the work time faster. Its is then a case of chisels and rasps to take away a shape the material. Some sculpting companies make full scale clay versions of their intended to work in order to show clients and they use this to work out measurements, sometimes make a rig that they can transfer across to the stone when needed to check the size and shape.

One website which I found useful, gives you an initial step by step for beginner sculptors. Follow the link below to view.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sculpt 1 - Maquette

For my first sculpt I decided to make a monster. This would help me to understand the television and film side of the sculpting industry. For this one I used WED clay which is used by many sculptors in the industry for its material qualities.  It is easy to use, cheap to buy, you can get good finish and detail and it does not dry as quickly as other air drying clays.  I made this maquette before hand so that I had a 3D reference as well as my friends designs to look at when making the actual thing. 

Monday, 17 January 2011

Portraiture Sculpting

Sculpting a likeness is an amazing skill. Different sculptors have their own techniques and it is something that they make look easy but that they have worked at over time. Portraiture sculpting is all about capturing a likeness of someone and making it look realistic.

One technique to begin with is to start with some reference photos of the person that you are to sculpt. This includes a front view, side views, a back view and some 45 degree views of the face. Of course it is good to look at the person you are sculpting in the flesh but it is not always possible, especially if you are doing a celebrity likeness.

Another technique is to take initial measurements of the head and the facial features. Use a fixed point to do this, measuring from the BTE point (between the eyes) to the chin, the back of the head, the end of the nose, the inner ear and so on. This may make it easier to get an initial shape.

It is also important to think about how the face is made up.  Think about the shape of the skull and how it has certain plains and aspects that are the same for everyone. Some sculptors may even start by building up the muscles on the face and sculpting over the top, although this would be a longer and a more specialised technique and is more used for sculpting the body. For my sculpt that I am doing of Sir Peter Cushing I had to think about the way that his cheek bones were very prominent, studying the shape of his Zygomatic arches as shown in this diagram below.

When sculpting patience is key. Sculpting with clay means it is easy to take away and put on material where needed so don't be precious over it, you shouldn't be afraid to make drastic changes. Also take breaks and walk away or cover up your piece so that when you come back to it you can look on it with fresh eyes and it will be easier to spot mistakes. Other advice includes using a mirror to compare both sides of the sculpt and asking the opinion of others who may be able to spot something that you haven't. One thing to beware of is to keep turning it and looking from all angles otherwise you find that your sculpt has a very flat face.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Chavant Clay

Chavant is a highly renowned French company who produce a range of oil based clays that do not dry out and last for months and even years. Originally made and patented by Claude Chavant, Professional Plasteline was a Sulphur based clay which meant that the clay had a silky feel to it and could so the artist could produce a very smooth surface finish.  Later clays were developed such as NSP and Le Beau Touche that were Sulphur free as the Sulphur can cause problems during certain mould making processes. NSP is quite hard and has a higher content of wax than the Professional Plasteline. It can be heated and melted for pouring and some artists and sculptors heat it and use it like butter, spreading it onto an armature. Le Beau Touche is one of the softer Chavant clays and feels quite sticky when working with it. It is possible however to gain a high amount of detail and finish with both clays. These clays all come in soft medium and hard and in three different colours as shown in the above picture.  The hardest of the Chavant clays is used extensively in the car design industry for carving and sculpting in to.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Jordu Schell Sculpting Video

Creature Creation

From the start of this project i knew that I wanted to sculpt some sort of creature as the science fiction, television and film industry use sculpting for a lot of their work.  I knew that I wasn't going to sculpt a creature with fur as fur and hair is something that, if needed would not be sculpted, rather it would be hair punched after the moulding and casting process. In order to design this creature I collaborated with my housemate Louis who is currently studying illustration  I was thinking of a creature that was a mix between a fish and a lizard and the above images are the designs that Louis came up with.  My favourite is the top design on the right which Louis drew an enlarged version of for more reference. Although character design was not part of my brief I still felt it was necessary as it meant that I had something to go by instead of just my imagination.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


The armature is the base of almost every sculpt and is a very important starting block.  It gives the sculpt an internal structure on which your material can cling to, making it more sturdy and secure.  Using an armature can also be a good way to save on material as you can mass out with newspaper, chicken wire, and tin foil. Some armatures for character animation include moving joints so that the sculpt may be positioned and moved.