Tail End #greatbustard #sculpture

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I know I only have a half day in the workshop to day so decide to focus on getting the tail covered and as smooth as possible, unlike the head which is disappointing.

After the success of the back of the bird yesterday I work harder and with more water into the dipped area which would be the space between the feathers on a real bustard but is more like a gentle dip on my sculpture.

It takes such a long time, but the results do come and I work a few strips from the centre to the outside with the forethought that when I move onto the outer tail feathers I will bring the strips over the top and on top of these.

It takes a lot of modroc just to do the inner dip and I have to buy another kilogram for me to continue onto the sides.


I work methodically along the tail, doing two sections at a time and cutting the modroc to the right size, this works really well and I get a lovely smooth finish on the feather sections, if only I could have achieved this over the head!


Eventually the tail is completely covered and looking good.




I cannot resist putting the body onto the legs and having an overall visual check.


It’s looking better and better all the time, it still seems to balance well and of course will dry and lose a little more weight, although the wings are yet to be plastered.
As the workshop shuts at 12.30 on a Friday I need to jiggle work to get myself two more half days, hoping to finish the sides in half a day each.

At this point I decide it will be best if the sculpture stays in two pieces until the week before the show, I might even see if I can manufacture it in two parts that perfectly fit together so that it can be easily transported after my show as well.


Smoothing and getting the Bustard plastered #greatbustard

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Day 4 begins with the base, I start by using a light scrim and plaster dip to lay over the chicken mesh, I crisscross the weave to make a stronger based after 4 layers I’m ready to add smooth plaster over the surface.


It’s tricky with the scrim fibres sticking out and the chicken wire being very angular, but after a first light layers the second layer gets it covered.

Whilst doing the plaster base I need to be aware of which way the Bustard is facing, making sure there is enough space for his 14cm long toes to fit on and I haven’t accidentally made a hillock in the way!


The weight of the base has increased dramatically… I’m hoping I’ve not been too free handed with the plaster and made it impossibly heavy.
It looks good though, a bit like a meringue, but a good solid base and having the extra weight means it will be more stable.

I start on the legs with ‘modroc’ which is a plaster infused fine bandage.


I’m hoping that by using small strips I can utilise the natural texture which will mirror a birds legs, the ridged effect by wrapping and the leathery effect with the weave of the bandage.


I try and cut as many strips as I think I will need to cover the first leg – you do not want to be cutting the mid roc with wet hands, as any small drips will trigger the plaster to set – and start the process of dipping, laying onto the leg steels and smoothing as I go.

It needs to be worked almost continuously until nearly fully set, it’s awkward trying to go around such a thin diameter, but I slowly move up the leg getting the finish and thickness as I go.
Whilst still wet if you add more water and smooth again you can get a good even finish, it’s amazing how much plaster will come out of the bandage.

I add more width to the top of the legs, but realise quite quickly that it would be best to make a polystyrene former for the top of the legs, as modroc is not a cheap material. I form the knees and then turn to adding the feet on.wpid-dsc_0179.jpg
I place the metal toes in situ, they look incredibly long and I go back to my reference grid to double check, but yes they are that long, it’s only as long as the beak and overall will probably balance out.


I decide to partially cover them before attaching at the ‘ankle’ point and try and make a toe shape, in and out and wider at the nail point.


Adding the toes requires an extra pair of hands which I don’t have so use the mod roc to almost tie the toes on, actually that works quite well and I stuff the knot into the gap to bulk it out.
Once onto the leg they sit very well together and no longer outsized, but I need to make the toes more realistic.


I use the modroc to hang from halfway down the toe, knowing that once dry it will be set hard and this makes the look of tendons on the toes.


That is much better.

I decide to move onto the polystyrene Bustard, starting with the head, and continue with the modroc, unfortunately I now encounter a real problem, the polystyrene keeps falling off and creating lumps on top of and underneath the beautiful plaster, this is so annoying, plus the modroc keeps shedding fibres so getting this smooth is turning into a frustrating exercise. The head of the bustard is lumpy bumpy and not working as it should…


Jim suggests trying to put a fins skim of ordinarily plaster over the surface to try and smooth it out, but I’m very aware of adding too much weight to a delicate area of the sculpture, it would also make it too front heavy for the legs and base, so I tentatively skim it, but am not sure why this has gone quite wrong, I’m hoping I will be able to sand this area back a little as well, once fully dry. I manage to get the neck smooth, but the head is almost pockmarked… Very dissapointing…

I move onto the back and realise that I have just not been working the modroc hard enough and maybe that’s why the finish is not as expected. I know the back is a wider flatter space, but I manage the media so much better this gets the results I was looking for from the neck.


This is my inexperience working with this particular medium, but I must keep in mind that the sculpture is not my Master piece, it’s the experience I’m hoping to give with the Augmented Reality, projection, animation and the trigger to bring interactivity in a non-destructive way.

This birds got legs aka the Bustard stands again…

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Day 3 in the workshop carving my bustard sculpture as I arrive in the morning, the first thing to check is how well the pieces have stuck together… Unfortunately it looks like the glue really hasn’t had time to set overnight, on the main body and where the head and tail attach…I can’t afford to lose anytime at all just sitting around waiting for the glue to go off, so I strap up the body with a belt and decide not to touch the head or tail for as long as possible.


I use the big saw sparingly as it vibrates the whole structure, and instead use my trusty Japanese rasp, which is a beautifully constructed thing…


I work steadily through the sides to bring them in a little as my Bustard was looking too round past the widest point.


I quite like the rough marks left by the edge of the rasp, almost imitating feather edges.

I start to work on the head, gingerly and then I get a big shock as the head join comes apart and the head almost flips back on itself… this is not what I need to happen at this point, I can’t make glue dry quicker!

Making sure I am even more gentle and keep even pressure on the top of the head, I carry on, dreading that happening again.


I manage to get a good Great Bustard head shape carved, they have quite angular features and no more scary flip top heads, but it’s the glue, it’s still not dried!


After lunch I move onto the tail, I know full well this is still a wet join as the two parts were sliding a bit and I had to turn it back round as the middle was not matching up with the centre piece on the tail, but gently and slowly work my way round the outside.

wpid-dsc_0163.jpgit’s looking quite good, I’ve trimmed the sides, shaped the head, managed to smooth the tail and get the shape right, but I’d like to cut into the tailpiece, rather than have it solid. I decide to cocktail stick the two parts together in the hope it might help and start to cut into the very centre of the tail.

In a real birds tail like this it would only be a couple of feathers thick, obviously working with this polystyrene I cannot make it that thin, it will just tear or break, so I try to mimic the outer shape at least to give a hint of the real tail.


And that’s about it for carving.

I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have now found a reason to have big shoulders…carving! The best work out for your upper arms you’ll ever have, 3 days solid of sawing, cutting, pressing and rasping.

But no time to stop and admire my handiwork, I need to get the steel armature done so I can start scrimming the shape with plaster tomorrow.


Using a giant set of bolt croppers I cut my steel to length, for both legs, the 3 toes and the base platform to affix it too.



Jim welds the base for me and we tack the legs on and then put the sculpture on top of the steel for the first time, it looks great, it actually transforms it!


I am really pleased with how it looks, I’m just completely knackered! With me in the picture you can see for the first time, just how big the sculpture is when standing. It measures at just over the 105cm mark, but the feet and the base probably take up that extra 5cm, so it’s all good…

So I can get going straight away on the plaster work, I need to get a mesh onto the base, so the plaster has something to sit on, and my Bustard has something to stand on.


Chicken wire does a grand job, even though I get scratched to heck and bleed over my metalwork,  we add on the cradle at the top and another strut on each leg in anticipation of the extra weight the plaster will bring and I manage to get it all attached in time… But then I remember we haven’t put the toes for the feet on…


I know what the first job tomorrow is going to be!



Bustard Making – a day of 3 halves

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The pieces of the Bustard that I glued yesterday have had varying results… The larger body pieces are still mostly wet and don’t seem too rigid, ie, the glue has not set on such a large set of layers.. However the head pieces are pretty solid, I guess it’s just the size of the body section that has prevented it from drying fully.

I leave them in the hope that a couple more hours will help and set about outlining the shape for the tail section. I need 6 layers to achieve the maximum width of 30cm.


I wasn’t sure how accurate I was going to be with a bread knife to carefully sculpt my wing tip shapes, but after the first one, it was clear I wouldn’t need the hot wire, the knife was doing a grand job, as long as I came at the curved bit from both angles it exceeded my expectation.


I quickly glue them together with a bit cocktail stick trickery to pin them in place, then turn to the biggest shape to sculpt.



I thought it would be best to start on the body, as it’s so big I’m hoping I can’t make too many big mistakes, having never tried to carve polystyrene before, but I couldn’t resist just popping the pieces in situ to see how it was turning out.



Massive is what struck me!

Jim gave me another two tools to add to my arsenal of sculpting weapons, a whacking great wood saw and a beautiful Japanese rasp – apparently it’s the best tool in the workshop – to be taken care of!


I have not got an aerial view of the Great Bustard to work my width measurements on, all I have is any of Dave Kjaer’s photos and a working knowledge of traditional birdshapes and mechanics.


I sketch out where the front and back measurements take me, and try and put together a reasonable outline, a quite rotund but powerful set of shoulders, gently sweeping arc down to the wingtips, which almost overlap at the rear end.


I use the wood saw to do the big blocks of cutting, but turn to the rasp to smooth and gently shape.


It is a lovely tool to use, with both a rough and smooth side, it’s a work of art in it’s own right, it seems to be made up of hacksaw blades that gently wide in and out to make a close set diamond grid that works beautifully to sculpt my Bustard…


It also covers me, the bench and the floor with lots of polystyrene snow, which also seems to stick to my hands and arms!

All too soon lunch comes and the workshop shuts for an hour – don’t they realise how precious any time an MA student has in a workshop – and I have to down tools and sit about until it re-opens…

It takes such a long time to carve I start to doubt I’m going to get onto the plaster at all this week, let alone the welding for the legs… I think Jim realised I wasn’t going to have time and he has offered to do the legs for me, a bit of a shame when I was looking forward to having a go, but I know what he means when he says, “it would be quicker for me to do it than for me to teach you…”

After lunch I plough on, finishing the initial carve of the body, and manage to get onto carving the head too, this looks particularly nice when ‘finished’. All of these first carves are only to minimise how much I will need to finish when the model is together as it’s going to be slightly unwieldy and I don’t want bits to break off.


When nearly finished on the body one of the sections fully came away from the rest of the layers, proving how unstuck the whole thing was… a little worrying when it was left overnight, but all the way through the carve I have encountered wet glue in places.

Time is running out again and I need to get the tail and head stuck to the body to try and give another overnight for the glue to set, fingers crossed all round I think…


I quickly mark up the tail and roughly using the saw hack off the larger portions, as we glue it to the body I am really concerned about what is going to happen tomorrow, when I get into it I don’t want to be worrying that it’s going to slip apart!

Jim can completely pull the layers apart on the body, so adds some more glue and resticks it whilst we have the chance. He also tells me that I shouldn’t be a worrywart, but I can’t help it, this is going to be part of my show!

Putting it together I am pleased with the shape, it still looks absolutely massive, but I’ve tried my hardest to use any measurements I can get my hands on, and there we have it!



Making my very own Great Bustard #greatbustard

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Today started my week devoted to the sculpture making part of my Masters Installation. I’ve been working on some measurements and have the finished workup ready to go. I have already been donated 5 sheets of polystyrene from a BA student who had finished all of his work and no longer needed the extra sheets he’d bought, but when Jim and I measured up, it struck me that the Bustard was looking absolutely massive and I had nowhere near enough poly to make the barrel chest of the bird. So I dashed off to B&Q to buy another 4 sheets, which I then dropped back at College, before going back home and revisiting my original measurements. Good job I did as I had the Bustard 1.2metres at it’s tallest when it’s only 105cm! The same information also had the body length at 115cm, but this was way too long. So with my new designs I returned into college for an afternoon of polystyrene sawing! BustardScupt_measurements-04First I marked out the biggest shape, that being the oval of the body which would be the biggest section, I would need to add on the head and the tail to fit in the pieces of poly I was working on…


In hindsight, maybe I should have put as much as possible onto the sheet, ie, moved the shape to the bottom to have more neck and tail and just finish with small top sections, but it’s cut now…


This is the first one cut, not too bad, the bread knife gives quite a good edge, makes it easy to follow the outline although it’s always going to be a bit messy with polystyrene!

So I just need to make 8 of those…

Cutting the polystyrene is quite hard work for my little arm and at one point I wasn’t quite sure I’d be able to get through 8 sheets, let alone all the other bits as well… It does take a considerable amount of time to cut the first 4, but then I find a little work groove and by the end I’m finishing them in 10 minutes a sheet.

So I have my 8 body sections and from the left over pieces of sheet I need to make best use of size to fit the tail and the head within the remaining poly.

A little bit of maths later and I’m marking out the head outline.


I only need 4 sheets of this as the head/neck isn’t as wide as the body (about half – 20cm max)

I’m racing against time to get these 4 cut out as I need to get them glued before they close the workshop…


Fortunately Jim helps me sandwich all the layers together and glues them with some strong wood glue and a few cocktail sticks for extra holding whilst they set.


8 bodies, 4 heads, done.


Jim checks out the right kind of rasp on a side section, so that I can immediately start when I get in tomorrow… But first I’ll need to cut 6 tail sections and get them gluing and then I can start sculpting.


It really is going to be massive, the sculpture will stand just over a metre tall and is nearly a metre in length at it’s widest point (crop to tail), I can’t wait to get the sections together, this will (hopefully) be impressive… and it gives me a nice big surface to project onto 🙂


The Illustrated Bustard

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Working on the next step I decided to illustrate the Bustards movements, so that I can easily align and check the movement before creating the final handdrawn pieces. I applied my usual style with illustrated graphics to the images of the Bustard that are my keyframes and as with a lot of the stuff that I do like this, I really like the way the wireframe looks – the way the outline looks before I fill it in.

I work in a particular way, as with my rotoscoped film, I have my base image/footage and draw the outline quickly and fluidly using my tablet and wacom pen, it’s like second nature to me now, but I draw the shapes with a view to what I will then fill them with and the order they sit in my layers to give a sense of depth.


So here is how they turned out.. I really like them and now I can use those wireframes to perfectly align the bodies and eyes to make a convincing bird in flight animation. This illustrated style will be used in the AR part of my installation and on the printed materials.

They also look lovely as a set, reminiscent of Muybridge and Marey.

illustrated bustard


Great Bustard on the move!

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A chance to get into the animation studios and see my artwork on the move.


I lay out the keyframes in sequence, I am so pleased with how they look, but slightly worried by the size of them and the size of the animation rostrum!

wpid-dsc_0029.jpgIf you look at the mac screen in the image above you can see that the artwork is slightly too big for the safe areas of the video capture for the Dragon animation software.

And of course, rookie error, if this is the bird at it’s most up stretched stroke, there is no room at all for the down stretch…

To make this work I will need to make the work smaller, which I’m not really happy about as it’s tricky enough the size it is working with real feathers. I will need to think carefully and plan this.

wpid-dsc_0028.jpgTalking to Sam – the animation technician – if I take it out of the Dragon software that may not be an issue as I can position the images where I want, but will need to check the technical side of that and make sure I can output to the appropriate file type if I do it my own way, also there’s more scope for incorrect positioning if I do it by eye.wpid-dsc_0027.jpg

However I go through the motions with what I have, to see what happens…

It’s looking lovely actually, obviously too fast as I have only got 6 frames, but an encouraging first test. All of the detail is there, it loses nothing, the trails of the dust look good and add texture and movement, just as I wanted it too, so from here I just need to create the full animation cycle frames, plus the take-off, all of which I don’t have reference material for, but should be able to work it out by careful study, totalling approximately 30 frames.

Still with technical issues on my mind,  a quick test using the raw images from the rostrum camera will be in order, then I can decide whether I have to work smaller to fit under the animation software limits, or if I can sort it independently of that, I can work at the size I’m happy too.

I choose my favourite paper stock and get ready for the hard work to begin.




Last 3 test pieces

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Just finishing the last 3 test pieces so I can make a definitive paper choice.

With each of them I feel that my confidence in mark making grows.


The little philips projector is doing a fine job, the spread of the projection itself is quite wide, so I am using a central portion and using my previous drawing to line up the body of the Bustard for registration.


The little grater works well as I am able to be flexible with colours and only grate as much as is needed, but I need to make sure I pick up any feathers as I am going through them quite quickly.


I have discovered, however, that I can use a wider feather to create the very slim ‘fingertip’ feathers of the Bustard by using just the side round to the top and then moving the feather slightly to make a thinner profile.. This is a bit problematic as obviously when I move the feather over, the conte dust sticks to the underside and moves over too, sometimes making marks where they shouldn’t be, so I am keeping a keen look out for thinner feathers!

wpid-dsc_0398.jpgNumber 4 in the keyframes.



Number 5





Number 6




So all the keyframes are done and the technique is coming on well, the use of colour has developed and is achieving a better look than in the earlier tests. I can’t wait to see it moving…



Paper tests – key frame flight animation #greatbustard

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After a few teething problems with my rotoscope projection I need to test paper and refine the working process… All of this gives me more time to get comfortable freehand drawing with the conte and charcoal I’ve chosen to work in. Being extra careful as it’s a messy business, and a smudge in the wrong place could affect the way my drawing looks. I can’t wait to put the animation frames in between, but essentially I am working on the keyframes currently.

I’m using a small grater to create my own coloured powder as this gives me a little more flexibility to work bit by bit as I could buy charcoal powder, but would probably be tempted to use too much and be too heavy handed with it, but through the testing last night I found that the black conte and the charcoal take to the paper in different ways, I was only able to test 3 of the paper samples as they take a little time to produce.


Putting the paper and projection into the right place I start with light outlines of the body (using the grey conte) and then choose a real feather to work with. I try and match the shape or the curve of the projected photo frame with the real feathers I have, then grate the colour I want onto a tiny palette. Placing the clean feather in situ I swipe a small amount of powder over the edge of the feather and add more or less depending on how it takes and how it looks. This is where I found the conte giving great grip and almost biting the colour dust from me and drawing it into the paper, whereas with the charcoal it could be light and adding a second sweep can move or smudge the original outline, plus the dust does eventually get through the feather, and reprints underneath where you don’t want it and in an unclean fashion…

I tried to use the paper samples just in order as they were rolled up so I don’t know which is which yet but here are the first 3 in the paper test set.



With projectionwpid-dsc_0385.jpgwithout projection


Detail, this is using charcoal dust, charcoal lines and a white conte line to highlight, I also used a yellow conte dust over feather to try and indicate where the coloured feathers of the Bustard are, but it seems a little lost in the final image.


Second frame, with projection


Without projection, this time I added in a few light strokes to indicate the speckled feathers and added yellow conte dust, and some brown dust applied over feathers and this works better for giving indication of the shape and coloured areas.




Third keyframe, with projection


without projection, this paper has a slight cream hue and I tried the white conte for highlight but am unsure as to whether it adds anything, I think the paper would need to be darker… This time I used the black conte dust for the wing tips and it really took well, giving fantastic high contrast. Using the charcoal I was able to smudge for depth in the right places and again the yellow dust over feathers works really well. I was very pleased with this particular combination of marks, but not so pleased with paper choice.


Detail, you can really see how much conte dust works into the edge over the feather here, really good definition. But you can also see a few finger smudges which I need to be careful of.

I will test the other 3 paper samples so that I can make a choice, all the time practising and refining my technique and I estimate I will need at least one full movement of flight comprising approximately 12 images for a second of animation. The best of these images I would like to display gallery style as one of my aims was to make a beautiful piece of animation/art.

I want to test the keyframes when finished into a very short animatic and see how the lines and marks work when animated, I may need to lessen the swipe length, it may be confusing, at the moment, in my head it looks beautiful!


Charcoal, Feathers and printing…

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After testing out getting feather texture into plaster, I wondered how much texture I could get into the hand-drawn section of animation, so with my trusty charcoal and feathers in hand set about experimenting..

I was very pleased with the results, now I have to figure out how to consistently incorporate this beautiful texture into my animation..

One thing I need to bear in mind though, the last set is on the newspaper that I like, and it doesn’t fix quite so well, or have the lovely texture of the cartridge paper…

wpid-dsc_0282.jpg wpid-dsc_0281.jpg wpid-dsc_0283.jpg wpid-dsc_0291.jpg wpid-dsc_0290.jpg

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