“You want teeth, I want answers.” – Batman, Arkham Origins
One of the things I truly enjoy about this hobby is that there are so many different versions and looks like Batman has been represented with throughout the years. As most of you know what got me started on this crazy costume adventure was my interest in the Arkham version of the character form the video games. I have always tried to make my own costume pieces like accessories, capes, and other miscellaneous pieces (Mainly because of the cost of commissioning other people to do it for you!) but was always afraid to tackle the centerpiece – the cowl. A cowl can literally make or break your entire costume! Whenever I wanted to tackle a build I always found other prop makers that already produced their own cowls and grabbed a copy. This time, However, I decided to take the plunge and try to build one myself! I tried to document everything so if someone else wanted to try! maybe it could help them Or at least give them a start point!
Step 1: The 3d
Okay, I’ve tried to sculpt using clay in the past and let me tell you. I’m horrible at it! I very quickly decided to move into a medium that I am familiar with – computers. Those of you that know me in real life will know that I am a big computer geek. So the decision to try to create a 3d printed version of the mask was a no brainier for me. I recently bought a printer, a Zortrax m200, so I may as well put it to work! The first task was to get the model out of the game….
Now the biggest issue with ripping models out of their respective video games is the lack of smooth surfaces. a 3d print doesn’t care what the surface skin of a model looks like – it only cares about the mesh. Normally what a game will do is to reduce lag is create the minimum amount of sides on a mesh and then add a skin or texture to it to high how blocky they are. the process works very well and unless you rip the model out of the game you will most likely never see it! I tried ripping the model out of the game but came up with nothing but silly low polygon versions. After some serious google searching I found someone at CGtraders that selling a ready to print model. The designers screen name was Connorwilding – he was offering a 2 piece mask that I jumped on.
After receving the file I needed to merge the back and the front together and then smooth the entire thing out using Blender, a 3d modeling program. Took several hours to learn how to use the program, but after I was done I was ready to move to the next step!
Step 2: The Print
If anyone ever tells you the 3d printing is easy… hit them. Hit them hard! There are so many things that can go wrong when printing it will make your head spin. But we’ll get to that… First thing is first, we need to prep the model. My printer was not able to tackle this mask in a single piece, which would have been idea. My Zortrax m200 print bed is capable of printing a maximum size of 200mm x 200mm x 180mm which means I need to break this thing into 4 parts. Lucky the software that comes with the printer has a very easy to use slicer. So once I had the software done I fired up the printer!
I made about 4 different prints on this mask before I got the sizing right. What was really painful was each mask took about 3 days to print, so when I got to the right sizing I was pretty happy. Each piece was then welded together using ABS juice. What is ABS juice? Its easily the best weapon you have when it comes to gluing and even filling ABS prints. It’s created using a mixture of acetone and left over scraps of filament. Simply put the left over bits of filament into a glass jar (ideally with a metal lid) and allow the filament to dissolve into the acetone. The more filament you use the thicker the juice – and that juice is ideal for gluing pieces of prints together!
Step 3: Cleaning up the print
Everyone has these illusions that when you 3d print something all you do is hit a button and you have exactly what you envisioned in front of you. Well I can tell you from experience that this isn’t quite the truth. The technology isn’t to the point where it can come out looking perfect. There are always print lines, places where the filament didn’t stick properly and, god help you, sometimes even warping. This is the stage where you need to clean all that up so no one knows they existed and all those horrors are a thing of the past!
First thing I did was sprayed it down with some black primer to see where the problem areas were. Once I did that I could see where I needed to fill and sand…I used automotive bondo as filler as it has a quick cure time. that allowed me to work on this cleanup in short quick stints so I didn’t go crazy. I’ll be honest, this print was far from idea. I had gaps that I could literally stick my finger through because of some of the Nasty warping. But tenacity and many, many tears can get you far in this world! I won’t bore you with the details of the 20+ hours of sanding I needed to do to make this thing presentable, but I will tell you that it was a lot of work.
After I managed to get the majority of blemishes off of the mask I moved into priming it for molding. One trick I’ve always loved when working on props is to use a heavy flexible rubberized paint call Leak Seal. Leak seal was designed to water proof things but I found it to be a fantastic tool for adding durability to a prop as well as adding a really unique texture to what ever I am working on. it was also helpful in cleaning up the print lines that the 3d printer left behind. I always try to use a fresh can as they seem to provide the most texture.
Once I had the mask all painted up and looking pretty I was ready to move into the molding process.
Step 4: Molding
I read somewhere once that people tend to be fantastic sculptors or awesome mold makers. Never both. I don’t know how much truth there is to that but they both seem to be completely different skill sets so its very possible. One of the scary things about mold making is usually you only get one shot at it. The originals tend to get messed right up! Especially if they are made out of clay. In this case I thought I would be safe from that fate as the original in this case was made out of ABS plastic…
So the first thing I did was I filled the open spots with water based clay. The eyes, the mouth and the neck need to be water tight so I can cover the mask with silicon. For this mold I used Mold max 40 and a thickening agent. I ran a new layer of silicon after approximately 4 hours of cure time for each layer. After that I let the silicon sit over night. The next morning I started making the mother mold out of Hydrocal plaster. The purpose of the mother mold is so that the silicon doesn’t get the chance to warp while you are casting your mask. Because silicon tends to be fairly soft and flexible you need something strong and hard around it. Hydrocal hardens like cement and I have plenty around as I make alot of molds out of the stuff for latex rubber casts.
With the mold finished I was ready to demold … I was feeling pretty optimistic at this point 🙂
Step 5: The Heartache
Okay time for demolding. I think this is the point where I should let you all in on a little secret. It seems like no matter how hard you try to make a perfect mold there will almost be something that doesn’t go quite right. Now that could be some minor things like a small bubble or an uneven level … or In my case when I was demolding the original literally exploded on me! Not even kidding I had little bits of shrapnel fly at me while I was pulling the silicon off. I Suspect what happened was some kind of combination of heat from the plaster mother mold and the moistness of the clay I used to fill the holes. The two created some pressure and caused too much strain on the ABS plastic causing it to blow up … regardless I was staring at a pile of debris of a one beautiful plastic mask…
I’ll admit, this was hard to see. I had almost a month of work into that mask and to see if in many little pieces after demolding … <sob>. However, it isn’t the piece I needed to worry about. I needed to concern myself with the silicon mold. Assuming the mold came out okay I wouldn’t need to worry about the original as I can just cast another one, right…. Right!? Well, in my case when I inspected the Silicon there were areas that didn’t seal. Around the base of the mask, where there some harder to see overhangs,there where holes big enough to stick my finger through!
A silicon mold that isn’t waster tight won’t be able to create casts. Its very black and white. I needed to find a way to seal the holes! At this point I learned why it is silicon is so popular for mold making. Literally NOTHING will stick to it. I couldn’t glue it, I couldn’t tape it, literally nothing would work. This is when I had a though… Silicon sticks to nothing, but silicon! I ran down to a local hardware-store and grabbed a tube of caulking broke it open and smeared it across the hole of the silicon mold on the outside. I then prayed to god and hoped for the best.
The stuff worked like a charm. Its not the strongest stuff in the world, but I didn’t really need to be. It worked as a glue and a patch all in one… I’ll tell you this was driving me crazy. I was so worried that after all the time I put into this wouldn’t have paid off… however, now the mold could be used! 🙂
Step 5: Casting
Now, if you remember in the last step I had the original explode. So at this point if the mold fails I have no chance to recast and try again. I decided that the first mask I make will be a new master that I can remake if needed. I went down to Industrial plastics and Paints here in Victoria and bought some Smooth-on Reoflex and some Flex-it expanding foam. My idea was to create a rubber coasting and fill the inside with the foam so I would end up with a solid and soft master.
Casting in Urethane rubber (reoflex) is an interesting task. First you never mix too much at a time, and then when you pour the liquid rubber it you don’t want to let it settle. You want to constantly rotate the mold to get an even cover around the mold while its still able to move. It cures in roughly 15 minutes or so… so you need to constantly keep it moving until that point. Once you are confident that its not moving inside the mold anymore … you add more! I did about half of the little trial kit I had.
After I was satisfied that the inside had a decent coating of rubber inside I proceeded to pour a my expanding foam inside. I literally had to just guess how much I was going to need. This was a crap shoot because if I didn’t add enough then I wouldn’t have a solid head. If I added too much I risked have the foam “boil over” the mold and making a massive mess. Lucky I guessed right and was able to pull the head out with a perfect replica! I was pretty happy with the results. So now if anything went wrong I was totally covered… and I had a batman head that looked and felt like a basketball! So if anyone wants to play so weird version of Basketball … you know who to talk to.
With the new master finished I could move in to making a proper mask. I grabbed a product called “Vytaflex 40” by smooth on and a small container of urethane dye and went to town following the same basic concept. Little by little adding layers to the mold… but this time I used no foam so I could actually get my head inside this one after I pulled it out….
Having fun with it…
There you have it! That is my complete mask masking story! I hope someone gets a use out of it as it was a little but more involved then I was expecting to write… I apologize for all the spelling and grammar errors! Here is a couple of pictures of different color variations I have done with the mask mold. All using the same casting method I used for the new Reoflex master!