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The Volpin Project, Part 1: Introductions and What I'm Building

By Harrison Krix

Over the course of this year, talented prop maker Harrison Krix is building something special for Tested, and will be documenting the entire process in a series of build journals. In this first entry, Harrison introduces himself and explains his approach to starting a new project.

Hello there! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Harrison Krix, and I run a little outfit called Volpin Props in Atlanta. If you’re curious, you can read more about who I am and what I do in my conversation with Norm from a few weeks ago.

The short version is that I’m a professional propmaker. About 5 years ago I started making real-life versions of videogame items and since then, I’ve been teaching myself propmaking, learning new skills, and updating a blog on my projects as I finish them monthly over at my website. I met Norm about a year and a half ago to show off some pieces, and we’ve been talking for a few months about doing a guest spot on Tested to show people a little more in-depth view on some of the steps and processes I do when tackling a new project. Here’s what you can expect in the following series, which will document from concept to completion the design and creation of a new prop.

I am largely self taught, and 99% of what I do takes place in a small garage workshop and indoor studio out of my home. I have some fancy tools at my disposal--a vacuum forming machine I built and a hobby laser cutter as well--but largely the process you’ll be following over the course of this year can and will be accomplished by tools that are readily available in most hardware stores, or items that many builders would probably have access to in their own workshop or at a local hackerspace. I tend to do most of my work by hand, meaning you won’t need to know complex 3D modeling software or have access to the highest resolution 3D printer on the market either. In fact, many of the little tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way are simple mechanical solutions to issues that many builders face with aesthetics regarding complex curves, symmetry, and precision angles.

Certain things may require a bit of outsourcing, and I’ll be sure to reference those as well when they arise. Overall, I’m hoping this will be an educational series that will teach people interested in propmaking some introductory processes, and might even have a kernel of knowledge here and there for the veterans in the world too.

For the sake of transparency, I will reiterate that I am a student of the school of trial-and-error, and that means a lot of the processes I have come up with might not be industry standards or the way the rest of the universe gets stuff done. Things I do work for me, but my methods aren’t the end-all-be-all. If you’re more comfortable with an established technique, feel free to wholly ignore all I’m writing!

I’ve got 17 articles planned, and each will be brimming with photos of the processes so you won’t have to endure nearly as much of my art-school-trained writing as you have so far today. This series will update twice a month, and the final project will culminate this August around the time of DragonCon when Norm comes to pick it up in person! Here’s how I anticipate breaking this project down:

References, blueprinting, and project planning. What I’m going to be building and the possible challenges along the way. I’ll also cover some basics of how I gather references and create my schematics.

Making the master sculpt - a 3-parter, these segments will start basic construction of a frame, then progress into more intricate details and finishing elements.

Moldmaking - There have been dozens of books written on the subject, but I’ll try to cover some of the basics here. There will be 2 parts to this - simple “block” molding, and more complex matrix molds.

The casting process - In which we’ll cover how to make 20 of something as identically as possible!

Electronics - Like anything trendy in the DIY world today, I’ll be stuffing an Arduino in here! I’m no EE, but I know my way around a soldering iron and some LEDs. This will be pretty basic, but will also cover things like LiPo batteries, electronic accessories, and some audio implementation into the prop.

Painting - Did I mention this piece will have a very fancy paintjob? One of the questions I get asked a lot about is painting and detail work, and we’ll cover the basics here.

Assembly - This sounds simple enough, but did you know there’s more than one kind of glue out there? What about screws, magnets, clasps? Recently I’ve become a viscosity snob, and I have about nine types of cyanoacrylate in various thicknesses and cure rates. Why? You'll have to read to learn!

Weathering and detail work - Weathering can make or break a piece. It’s what transforms a prop from a static element into a replica that tells a story of its travels.

Project wrap-up - Kind of like what you just read, but I’ll probably have some lessons learned about this process and advice for myself, looking back.

The replica I’m going to be building has been on my “props bucket list” for the better part of a decade, even before I knew I wanted to be making replicas for a living. It is--cue drumroll--the Needler from Halo.

The Needler from the Halo series has evolved a lot over the course of six first-person shooter games and two versions of the XBOX. The version I’ll be tackling is the Halo Reach / Halo 4 model (the only real differences aesthetically are the paintwork.) The Needler needs to look alien, yet still real and not toy-like, in order for me to call the project a success.

The finished replica will be full sized, illuminated, and also play sound effects with the pull of the trigger. Not only are all the spines glowing translucent pink, but the gun itself has dozens of tiny lights buried all over its surface. The finish is an iridescent purple, the kind of mirage paint you’d see on a lowrider, with a subtle hexagon pattern overlay to make things especially difficult. I also have plans to make the piece sealed with a rechargeable LiPo battery embedded inside, so the end user will never need to change the batteries--just plug it in and light it up.

I’m fairly certain I know how to do at least 85% of the stuff I just listed above. Some of it will present new and unique challenges--pressure casting clear needles, painting a color-shift finish with hexagon overlay-- while others will probably drive me up a wall, but once the dust clears I should be holding a full scale glowing alien explosive needle gun. Hopefully.

Thanks for reading along, and I’ll see you here in two weeks! As always, drop any thoughts or questions you may have in the comments section below!

Fallout shotgun photo by Dan Almasy