Pre-Production Update #8: Maquette

Hey, true-believers! It’s been a long time… about 2 years since the last post. Since then, I had to get a day job (paychecks!), a house (adulthood!), and had a daughter (hurray!). It’s been so long that I decided I hated the look of the website, so I switched it up for a more modern look, and the rest of 17 Presidents’ branding will be shifting soon as well.

But fear not, I’ve been able to return to work on “Jupiter IX,” and recently finished off the storyboard!

Now that the entire short is planned out, I’ve been able to start visualizing the characters in three-dimensional space. These rough drafts are called maquettes. I thought a good place to start would be with our mysterious bartender, whom will from here on will be referred to as “Bud.”

You remember Bud, right? Because he remembers you.

The first thing I do when working on a sculpture like this (especially one that requires me to design to specific size) is to quickly sketch out the silhouette of the character at the scale I want. Next, armature wire is bent into shape to create a rough skeleton. I’m using .025″ wire, which is easy to manipulate with your bare hands, but you need to double back and twist the wire together wherever the skeleton needs to support weight (the spine and the legs are the most important areas for this).

Next, I used tin foil to bulk out Bud. This is useful for a few┬áreasons. One, foil is a terrible conductor of heat, so it’s presence isn’t going to throw off any time calculations when it comes time to cook the sculpture. Two, it cuts down on the weight of the sculpture, which gives the added benefit that when the clay contracts when drying, it has the foil to give way, rather than solid clay or wire. And, three, it’s cheaper than clay, so the more foil you can stuff in there, the more clay and cash you’ll have left over. I left a few inches of wire coming out of the foot area, and that’s because I inserted them through drilled holes in a scrap piece of PVC board, letting me tie Bud down, making him much easier and safer to handle.

Now it’s time for clay! I use Super Sculpey for my maquettes, because it doesn’t dry out until baked, meaning I can take my time, even if I need to come back to the sculpture over the course of a week. For bud, most of the smaller details and thinner pieces will be in his head and upper body, so I created his lower half first. This also, obviously, will give the character more support as I additional weight through clay is added up top.

Here’s Bud with his upper body sculpted in and a rough version of his head added. His “mouth” tentacles needed to be created individually, then blended onto the face. Once that was done, and details were carved and smoothed in…

… just pop ’em in the oven (why is it that “pop” is the word everyone uses when putting something in the oven?)! Sculpey ┬árequires low heat, under 200 degrees, so you don’t need a kiln. It doesn’t put off any harmful chemicals while baking, but I wouldn’t recommend making cookies right after, unless you really like the taste of rubber. Bud was able to stand in the baking dish because I was able to use the wire that had tied him to the PVC board to wind up and give him necessary support. I hadn’t tried this before, but will be doing it this way from now on. Otherwise, an area of your sculpture will flatten out under the weight of the clay before it can fully harden.

And here’s Bud, fully cooled and solidified! From here, I’ll be able to know what I need to adjust when creating the final sculpture that silicone puppet will be made from. He’s also ready to be painted, and I’ll be able to finalize paint color and style on the maquette, rather than trying to figure it out on the silicone puppet.

Speaking of the painted Bud, he’ll be making his debut when “Jupiter IX” launches as a Kickstarter project on Tuesday, April 21st. We’ve been putting a lot of work into developing this project, and we can’t wait to share it with everyone. Keep your eye out for it on Tuesday (I’m shooting for 5pm CT)! Let me know if you have any questions about my sculpting process or about the Kickstarter campaign!


P.S. Luke and I obviously had to shave during the last two years.

Pre-Production Update #3: Character Design 3

In this update, we’re getting down to the meat of the film- our hero. Referred to in the script simply as “The Seeker,” JIX’s star fits firmly in tradition as a man with no name, quietly seeing to his business as he pilots the spaceship Searcher 5 on a mission of vengeance.

It’s been several years since I jotted down the first sketches of The Seeker, so I can’t be 100%, but I’m pretty sure it came to me pretty quickly.

The Seeker001

In contrast to Serento’s suit, The Seeker’s is less flashy. It’s worn, and closer to a look that we’re familiar with, which is an indication that it’s old and out of date.

The Seeker003

In this sketch, I just did a little refinement to the space suit from the first thumbnails. I was happy with the overall execution, but something still didn’t quite gel for me: the face. Sure, he’s got the steely determination and world-weariness I needed, but something was definitely missing. So, over the last week, I thought about and worked on the problem…

The Seeker005

… and this is what I ended up with. The key breakthrough for me was changing my figure of inspiration from an admittedly generic Clint Eastwood type to the actor John Hawkes. This design shift gave me two things: one, I’m drawn more so to animated characters with exaggerated profiles (and the vulture-like nose and hollowed cheeks definitely give me that), and two, Hawkes is an actor that bleeds vulnerability even when he’s at his most menacing. As a final touch, I added the large scars across the face, tipping my hat to a past confrontation that The Seeker may have had with the monstrous Serento.

Now that the characters are all designed, I’ll be moving into two new phases in the coming weeks: story boarding the film and creating color profiles for each character. Of course, you’ll be front and center for each new development.


Pre-Production Update #1: Character Design

Wow, it’s been a long time since our last update.

So you’re probably wondering what’s going on with us at 17 Presidents Productions. Well, since our last post, my awesome wife had a baby boy (hurray for Teddy!), we changed website providers, and we moved our family and production offices from Miami, FL to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

It’s been crazy. But, the good news is that now I can focus on getting “Jupiter IX” off the ground. So, in this first Pre-Production blog, I wanted to begin to highlight the first step in artistic development, Character Design. At this stage, I’m in the middle of locking sketches for the secondary characters of the story. I chose to start with these guys for two reasons: one, nailing these characters will help me define the tone and style of the world they inhabit, and, two, it insures that I give every character as much thought and care as I will eventually give the stars.


Our cast includes an android-concierge with a gambling addiction…


… a space station mechanic with an ex-military past…


… and a mysterious bartender.

Expect a new update from me between Monday and Wednesday every week. The project is just starting to warm up, and there is going to be some really cool artwork heading your way.


PS- We got a new light kit delivered today from B&H (! We’ll cover that in-depth in its own update once shooting has commenced.