Howdy y'all!

My name is McKinlay. I work in the model shop at Laika Studios. I've been a professional model maker for 10 years or so and have been at Laika for four. I posted in the "introduce yourself" thread, but I thought I'd give a wave in a couple different sections.

I enjoy helping others out, so feel free to ask me any questions about making models or props. Can't talk too much about things going on at Laika, but I have plenty of other knowledge to share.

I'm also writing an ebook about model making for stop motion, and so may ask some feedback from anyone interested in giving it at some point.

Thanks everyone!

P.S. Since a few people have expressed interested, send me an email at animationmodelshop@gmail.com if you'd like me to let you know when the ebook will be available for purchase. It'll be a few months. I'll give a free copy to the first handful of people who want on the list, in exchange for your initial thoughts and opinions. :)

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The ebook sounds like something I'd definitely be interested in! I look forward to it 

Hi McKinlay. Thank you for offering to share your expertise.

I'm looking to make a set of blacksmith's tools, and have been wondering how to go about it. They don't have to work, just look reasonably good. Maybe just one working... They are sort of long-handled pliers presumably made by blacksmiths themselves. I was considering making them in square aluminium wire and trying to bash them into shape Any tips?

Hey Simon,

It kinda depends on how large and clean you want the finished tools to be. "Clean" as in straight and sharp, not clean/dirty. Aluminum wire could be a way to go for the background tools. You could bend them into shape with needle nose pliers (jeweler's pliers work well) and just lightly hammer them flat. Hammering the aluminum will work harden it and make it stiffer. If you wanted to sharpen and square them up, small files or nail files work well for fine shaping aluminum. Superglue can kinda work for aluminum in a pinch, but JB weld is much better (although not perfect).

Styrene stock is another method you could use. The stuff they use for model railroads and such. You can cut it with an exacto, bend it with a heat gun, and glue it with super glue or a solvent like weld-on. 

For the animatable one, I would make it out of brass for strength and hinge it with a pin (a small diameter rod of brass). That's the way I'd do it at work, but if you're ginger, you could maybe get away with something less sturdy. Professional animators can be a little heavy handed. :P

I'm not sure what's common knowledge, as far as tools and materials go, so here are some links.

styrene - http://amzn.com/B0006O6TSC

jb weld - http://amzn.com/B0006O1ICE

pliers - http://amzn.com/B0015YKBAE

Let me know if that helps any. There's never one right way to build anything. :)

McKinlay

Simon Tytherleigh said:

Hi McKinlay. Thank you for offering to share your expertise.

I'm looking to make a set of blacksmith's tools, and have been wondering how to go about it. They don't have to work, just look reasonably good. Maybe just one working... They are sort of long-handled pliers presumably made by blacksmiths themselves. I was considering making them in square aluminium wire and trying to bash them into shape Any tips?

Hello McKinlay, 

This is so interesting, thank you so much for offering to share your knowledge!

I'd love to become a model maker but I have no idea where to start - do you have any tips for aspiring model makers? If it's not too personal, can I ask how you got to where you are? Did you do any courses or specific model making training? 

I'd be really intrigued to read your ebook when you finish it. 

Thanks again!

Becky

Hey Becky,

Before I dropped out of college, I was actually majoring in Journalism (long story). The only art class I took was stone carving (actually quite useful). I pretty much learned all I know about model making from scouring the internet, trade magazines like Cinefex, and being mentored on the job.

The longish version is: sculpted as a hobby, started selling on the side, learned to mold and cast to make selling more lucrative, got a production casting job at a model shop that made museum displays, hated it, almost got fired but was instead moved into the model shop to take advantage of my sculpting skills at minimum wage, learned all about model making, was laid off and worked a month at an animation studio called Bent Image Lab, got rehired making museum displays but kept thinking about Bent for the next year, quit my job to be available as a freelancer at Bent, freelanced and ate ramen for three years, friends I made at Bent who worked at Laika dropped my name and put my resume in several hands, got hired on Paranorman, and have been here since. Whew!

There isn't really a solid path. Some of the guys I work with studied art in college. Many didn't. One guy just made model trains as a hobby. One guy was a set designer and jewelry maker. Another had auto body skills that helped him get this start.

The things that will help the most at a place like Laika is having a great portfolio and making friends. Knowing someone who can help get you in the door is almost essential. Interning seems to be the next most successful way, but you already need mad skills to land that slot.

So, I guess I'd say learn as much as possible about how everything is made. Learn carpentry, plastics, mold making, soldering, welding, sculpting, painting and just how to work yer bunz off. Take as many fabrication and art jobs as you can. They'll add up. You'll work for shit wages, but keep at it. All the while, keep making stuff on your own. Stay creative and curious. Be prepared to pick up and move to where the work is. I kind of lucked out that the biggest stop motion studio in the world decide to spread it's wings in my back yard. :P

I hope that's helpful. If not, feel free to ask me specifics!

McKinlay

Hi McKinley, 

Thank you so much for your detailed response. Wow, that sounds like quite an adventure!

I definitely want to gain all those skills. I find that I'm struggling a bit with where to access the resources and teaching to learn the skills though. I don't feel that I'm at the level where I could apply for arts jobs yet. Do you know of any specific websites or books/magazines or courses (obviously you're in the US and I'm in the UK, so I don't know if you'll know anything about these!) where I could get a start? 

Thanks again!!

Becky

Another quick question, sorry!

Out of curiosity, where did you find your casting job and arts jobs? Was it mostly through word of mouth or are there sites dedicated to these? 

Becky

Hi Becky - I'm no master crafter, but I do have some skills, and here are a few things that will get you well on your way. McKinley, hope I'm not stepping on your toes - this is just basic getting started stuff - I'll definitely leave anything beyond that to you! 

You want to start small, start building up your tools and knowledge base as you can. Start off with a few essentials like a glue gun, a jig saw, and a belt sander, all of which are completely indispensable for general miniature building. Stock up sandpaper in various grades, files of different sizes and types, different kinds of epoxy putties (you can find some in the hardware stores that set up in 5 to 20 minutes, some filled with powdered steel, plastic, or other materials, or from art supply stores that set in around an hour for much finer work). Also get some super sculpey and modeling clay and learn how to make molds using plaster (the process will be pretty much the same for any gypsum product, such as Hydrocal or Ultracal) and silicone, and learn how to make castings with plastic resin. There are tutorials all over the web for this stuff. X-Acto knives are also essential, a set of steel sculpting tools, and I don't think I could live without my Dremel! Stock up on disposable nitrile gloves - they're similar to latex but tougher and much more resistant to certain chemicals (always wear them when kneading epoxy putties by hand). For using tools like the belt sander or jig saw I have some goggles and gloves from the hardware store - the gloves have some nice abrasions where they saved me some scrapes and cuts. Also a nice big shop apron and a big oversized denim shirt or something - I also have a really big pair of scrub pants I can pull on over whatever I'm wearing - they're like xxxlg  so I don't even have to take off my shoes to put them on. I find acrylic paint is great for painting most things. 

That's all I can think of offhand - I'm sure McKinley or others can add a lot more. Just wanted to get the ball rolling on how to get yourself set up and move forward. Oh, I also highly recommend subscribing to the Tested youtube channel (< that's a link), and watch a bunch of videos of Adam Savage (yeah ,the Mythbusters guy) building stuff. Super inspirational, he gives great tips, and there's just nothing like watching a really motivated craftsman at work who obviously loves what he does. 

I learned a huge amount from this website - mainly from Nick and a few other stalwarts. If you spend a lot of time reading through old threads you'll fid some real gems of information and links to some excellent videos and websites. But then I have no idea how long you've been here, for all I know you already know all this stuff! 

Thought of some more stuff to add - beginning with an apology to you McKinlay, for spelling your name wrong last time! 

And again, let me stress that I'm far from any kind of pro, so somebody correct me when I get things wrong. But making stuff requires several different kinds of approaches. Basically there's shaping, joining, and finishing. Shaping can be done by sculpting a material like modeling clay or super sculpey, or by cutting and sanding materials like wood or plastic. I've found in general for organic forms it's usually best to sculpt (but not always, and even sculpting is best done over an armature that can be made partially from wood or something else), and for manmade stuff - the hard-surface stuff - it's often best to start with blocks or planks of wood or plastic, cut them and then sand or file them to refine. 

For this you'll want a few good hand saws of various types. I find a lot of uses for a coping saw, and you might want to get a couple of different types. There are deep-throated ones for thicker materials and normal ones for cutting thinner things. And people swear by the Japanese flush-cut hand saws. I've always wanted to get one or 2 but haven't yet. I also just have a nice standard duty hand saw and a keyhole saw. 

You also need to stock up on certain useful materials. Basswood is a good carving wood because it doesn't have a pronounced grain and is soft enough to cut and shape easily. It can be bought in various forms, blocks, planks etc, through sites like National Balsa. That link goes to what they call miniature lumber - it's essentially miniature versions of typical building lumber like 2x4s or 4x6s. Very useful for making sets. It can also of course be carved or shaped into smaller stuff. For larger shaping material get some MDF (medium density fiberboard) from the hardware store. It's like particleboard but much better - it's basically small wood particles pressed together under great pressure in a plastic resin to bind them, It doesn't have a grain or splinter apart when cutting and drilling the way plywood can. 

A good set of wood carving knives or one of the X-Acto woodcarving handles with interchangeable blades is also really nice to have. 

I mentioned a hot glue gun. The nice thing about them is the hot glue bonds instantly so you don't have to clamp or hold pieces together. But you'll also want some other adhesives. Carpenter's glue, regular white Elmers, tacky glue, and some kind of cyanoacrylate (superglue, crazy glue, or Zap-A-Gap). For the cyanoacrylate you'll want the thin runny kind for bonding flat surfaces or tight fitting parts, and also some gel for filling in between pieces that don't fit so tightly. Plus there's a little spray bottle of zip kicker that will make it set instantly. A little trick to know about - if you put cyanoacrylate glue on something and then immerse it in baking powder it forms a strong fillet - basically the glue and powder join forces and create a dense plastic substance. 

Ok, running out again...

Hey Strider,

No sweat! That's all great information. Sharing knowledge is what it's all about, so getting the discussion going with everyone is awesome.

Becky,

What he said. ;)

If it seems overwhelming, I'd skip the power tools and specialty stuff for now. Start with a few sculpting tools and some polymer and/or oil clay. An exact knife is a tool you will use 80% of the time. Zap a gap and kicker will be used often, too. Mold making and casting will be essential skills.

I'm afraid I'm of no use with website recommendations, so I would take Strider's recommendations. As for courses, if you have local community college or art/craft college, I would take some classes in jewelry making, woodworking, and perhaps sculpting. Teaching yourself to sculpt just takes practice, but it's hard to learn metal and wood working without access to the tools. I find old issues of Cinefex magazine inspiring. The one's before computers took over.

Also, try putting together a few model kits (not the snap together kind). Cars, airplanes, robots, whatever. It's a good way to learn about working with plastic and working at small scales in fine detail.

As for jobs, I found that first casting job on craigslist. Every other career move was through word of mouth or from friends. Try an internet search for model shops in your area. Look for places that do prototyping, museum displays, theater prop houses, sign shops, etc.. Just try to get in the door or in any sort of job where your making something or putting things together. Even if it's not ideal, you'll be learning some sort of skill. Once you've stopped learning, look for another place to work.

Hope that helps.

McKinlay

 Here's a video showing basic moldmaking and casting using silicone and plastic resin:

Haven't watched the whole thing, but I'm betting it's pretty good. You can buy the kits of silicone and resin (they probably explain this in the video) on Amazon or Smooth-on.com or other similar sites. Very simple - 2 bottles, a part A and a part B. Just mix them together at a 1 to 1 ratio (for the simple kits - they also sell more advanced ones where you need to carefully weigh the parts out and get like a 10:1 ratio or something), mix thoroughly, and dump it in the mold box (or the mold, depending on whether it was silicone or resin). 


Instead of a 3d printed object, you could sculpt something from modeling clay or super sculpey, and learn loads from one simple project.

And here's a demo of a 2 piece mold, the next step up in complexity and another valuable skill for model makers:

Oops! Hey, I never saw that last post from you McKinlay! Honest, I didn't mean to just blow off everything you said! Yes, I just listed a whole bunch of stuff, you definitely don't need all of it for starters. Probably best as he said to save the power tools and specialty stuff for later, to be added gradually to the toolkit.

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