Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Zbrush vs Paper Mache', Mr. Peanut

Rather than re-extol the virtues of Zbrush, I'll let the pictures tell that bit of the tale. When I first started with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Studio, all large sculpture was done in paper mache' and covered in fiberglass. The paper mache' was formed over rolled tissue that was tucked into chicken wire which in turn had been formed over a plywood or steel armature. In Mr. Peanuts case the armature was both plywood and steel. The hat was entirely plywood. I love the challenge of building armatures not only for the romance of welding but, more because armatures embody all of the most elemental geometry that will determine the liveliness of the piece. On the other hand, shaping chicken wire will turn your mitts into hamburger meat. Once done with the wire it's time to turn your tattered finger tips to the paper mache'. First, you roll large sheets of packing tissue into tubes which get tucked into the chicken wire. The tissue had two purposes it seemed. The first was to pad the form while providing and absorbent surface that is locked into the chicken wire, acting as a stable substraight for the brown paper layers. I believe that the second purpose was to efficiently absorb the blood as you are punctured by the tucking process more times than you'd be able to count. I can assure you that if any of these sculptures still exist, much genetic evidence may be found therein. Next, there is the brown paper stage. 18"x 24" sheets of thin brown tempered paper with a longitudinal grain are folded 8 time to create a 16 ply strip. So many strips are required in this process that when it came to folding time, the entire shop staff would be employed for this task so as to do 20 hrs. of folding in 1 hour. Time to mix the paste! The studio would stock 35 gallon drums of wall paper paste. Derived from wheat, it is directly related to what folks whom are my age may remember as preschool paste. To a young palette it was yummy but for some reason the teacher always discouraged our eating it. The paste would be paddle stirred with an electric drill in a bucket with water until it attained a smooth, whitish, semi translucent, sticky slurry. If that description evokes visions of industrial scale animal husbandry, then you are imagining correctly, buckets of the stuff, sloshing and spilling, getting all over every thing, up to your elbows, on your face, in your hair. Please remember, we're talking about glue. The buckets would be placed into custom built stands that would accommodate both them and and a box of the folded brown paper strips. One at a time, the strips would be dunked into the buckets of paste. Excess paste would be removed from the strips by pulling them through you your fore and middle finger. Yes, paper cuts between my fingers were often involved. For Mr. Peanut, we had run out of our typical paste and resorted to an alternative brand just to get the project started. For reasons unbeknownst it stank like spoiled milk or, more accurately, infant's vomit. So, there I am, up to my elbows in what seems like bull seamen mixed with baby puke, symmetrically applying the brown sticky strips in a chris crossed configuration, creating herring bone patterns that bare great resemblance to wooden parquet floors. As the glue dries, the brown paper shrinks along it's grain and pulls itself tightly and smoothly over the shapes. When the paper mache' is completed it is time for fiberglass. That's a process I'll describe in another post in the near future.
Tragically, this is the only shot that I have of the elephant. It is easily one of the coolest things that I've built and without question the most complex armature that I'd ever welded together. It was 20' long, 16' wide from one outer tip of the ear to the other and 16' tall. On the deck and it's platform it rose to 23'. It's skin textures were studied and fastidious, it's gestures sublime. It took me 3 months of acutely focused energy and attention to complete.

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