Underhill and over the top, my Unexpected Journey to Middle Earth and back again.
Way back in 2011 it was announced that Peter Jackson would be releasing his adaptation of The Hobbit, which for one is my all time favourite piece of literature and two PETER JACKSON IS BACK IN MIDDLE EARTH BABY!! Being a diehard Lord of the Rings fan I awaited its release eagerly like a small child on Christmas morning, only able to paw away at the shiny paper of the teaser trailers. Finally, it was time to Imax it up in all of its three-dimensional, 48 frames per second loveliness. Long story short, The hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did not disappoint and proved to be the proverbial cake to my inner fat kid. Well done Sir, Well done.
Jump forward a couple of months to a seemingly innocuous email in my inbox. An email that once clicked initiated an unstoppable series of events that sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole... Correction, Hobbit hole to today.
So what was in this email I hear you ask? well... That right, you guessed it.
United Cutlery, The makers of some of the finest movie replica swords, had secured the rights to produce STING. Now this was not a purchase that I could take lightly. First and foremost this is quite a pricey bit of kit considering its mass produced nature, secondly up until this pivotal moment I am not a collector of such esoterica and finally where would it go? I'll get to that final point in in a moment.
Reading every review, I decided I had to see whether this tasty little orc early warning detection system could live up to the hype and low and behold it is indeed very beautiful. Heavy in the hand with a good balance, Elven scroll work in the iconic leaf shaped blade and a very apt "Sting" in the tip. one drawback of this otherwise fantastic collectable is the grip which has a hollow feeling to it and flush "onlay" decals instead of inlay like its on-screen counterpart. I was aware of this factor beforehand and had planned from the beginning to replace the grip with a custom solid inlaid version, but that's a post for another time.
Back to my earlier dilemma; where to display it? Well those who know me well, also know that I do not do anything by half measure and started sketching some ideas for a themed frame that would suitably highlight all of the attributes that make this weapon such a show stopper on the big screen.
I present exhibit A: Preliminary drawing from one of my sketchbooks. and the first glimpse of the idea percolating in my mind.
Now I feel that I should preface here and share with you a quick note on the scale, this was going to be huge, just how huge? Full size, 1:1. Many would wonder what need I would have for such a large, albeit hobbit-sized door. Well, that's where the lovely people at Weta Workshop came in, providing not only 5 'Buttons of Bilbo Baggins' featured flying through the air as actor Martin Freeman narrowly escapes the clutches of Gollum but also something very 'precious' indeed. The one ring.
So I had in my possession, all at the same moment in time, Sting; the sword of Bilbo Baggins, 5 buttons of Bilbo Baggins and by far the most important; 'The One Ring'. so what was I meant to do? It began, I embarked on my mission to create the very same costume that saw our protagonist across the Shire, over hill and under hill, to the very gates of Erebor. My challenge, to make this costume as screen accurate as humanly possible. I will share with you the finished articles of costume in a future post.
Fast forward again to present day, and the mammoth task of creating a working hobbit door to display the finished screen accurate costume and weaponry is nearing completion. It is at this point in time that I would like to share some progress photos from the journey so far and also cover some of the steps and techniques that I will go through in the coming weeks.
Circles of MDF were cut out using a router and custom jigs to ensure all pieces had the same internal and external dimensions. over 50 pine spars were cut to equal lengths and squared up with the frame pieces before being glued and finally screwed together to give the frame the desired depth.
A hardwood jacket hanger was cut to fit 3 top spars before being permanently screwed in place. This hanger will form the only mounting point for the costume and will allow all the garments to hang naturally within the finished frame.
The door was made in the same way as the frame carcass, a profile cutting router bit was then used to shape the edge into a decorative beading.
6mm acrylic sheet was then laser cut to be accepted into a channel in the reverse of the door frame, a second channel was routed around the first so that L.E.D stripping could be implemented around the circumference of the plastic to act as edge lighting, the reason for this will become clear later.
9mm Kerfed MDF was glued and pinned to form a solid outer wall, this will be painted with a coat of PVA glue to increase adhesion ready to accept my mix of filling plaster, PVA and water to create a realistic stepped brickwork pattern.
The inside wall of the frame was skinned in the same 9mm kerfed MDF and a notch cut out to fit snugly around the top of the wooden jacket hanger this was a dry test fit as the inside wall will be removed again to install the electronics.
A mixture of plaster filler, PVA and water was mixed to a firm consistency, the resulting mixture was then worked into alternating sized MDF moulds. An X-acto was used immediately to release the edges and then lift the mould from the surface leaving a raised textured brick. care was taken to ensure each brick was left with a unique 'fingerprint' differing in texture from the last.
This process was repeated around the perimeter of the frame and was allowed to set hard. It was important when applying the MDF wall previously to make sure plenty of pins and glue are used to avoid any major headaches, as the moisture from the plaster mix will attempt to swell the material, forcing open gaps in your hard work.
Upholstery foam was applied to a removable back plate within the frame, this will later be marked up and cut with a rotary cutter to accept the green satin diamond tufted interior. This can be made up of several pieces as it will be covered by fabric.
Here you see the inspiration for the entire build, replica sting sword with satin tufting applied, I opted for antique brass upholstery tacks as I felt they added to the story of a 'well to do' hobbit such as Bilbo Baggins.
Another batch of plaster was mixed up and applied between the bricks as pointing, once that had set it was painted with a mixture of sharp building sand and white emulsion paint to give the illusion of cement and render. This effect will become clear after painting and weathering has been completed. Gloss paint in my favorite shade of hobbit green was applied to the door frame, this bright green will be 'brought down' later with oil paints during the weathering stage of the build.
Next it was time to break out the vinyl cutter, I penned Gandalf's mark in Adobe Illustrator and sent it to my cutter. The vinyl was applied to the bare acrylic, masked off and then hit with the sand blaster to etch the graphic permanently into the plastic. Here you see the effect of the hidden blue L.E.D's edge lighting, this will look amazing in low light.
Here you see the effect even in the daylight, a section of the plastic protective film was removed during this process, this will now be covered with low stick vinyl to ensure it doesn't get any unwanted damage before it receives its final fitting.
More from this project next week
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