Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Metope Tutorial

Last summer I had the opportunity to do a set and lighting design for the play Oedipus.  This is a play that I have wanted to work on for twenty-five years.  I actually became a real fan of Oedipus when I was a psychology major.  But that's a topic for another blog post.

For the set design, I chose to create an acropolis, not The Acropolis.  I found that most Greek citystates had the center of their government on the highest point within the city limits and they were called acropolis'.  The palace dominated the set but the temple of Apollo was also present, upstage right.  We also carved a pair of winged sphinxes to flank the steps down to the chorus.  The theatre department already had two large Greek-esque sculptures, so I designed the set around them.

Set design for Oedipus
On a Greek temple, there is an architectural feature called a Metope.  The Metopes on the Parthenon showed something like 92 scenes from the mythical war between the centaurs and the Lapiths.  I wanted to create a Metope story similar to the one on the Parthenon for the architrave on the temple. 

Sometimes the Metope was carved from a single piece of stone, and sometimes background elements were carved in the main stone and complimentery sculptures were fashioned and placed in front.  These were the Metopes we chose to craft.

The first thing I did was create a prototype because I wasn't sure it was going to work.  The prototype worked very well so I was encouraged and created eight panels of the centaur story.  Here's my process.

Step 1.  Create the story.  If you haven't got a story the panels won't make any sense.  Our story was to be broken up into eight panels.  The story we created was:

Panel 1.  The king and queen give the warrior the charge to slay the centaur
Panel 2.  The king sends the warrior on his way
Panel 3.  The warrior and centaur confront each other
Panel 4.  They grapple
Panel 5.  The centaur tries to impale the warrior on his spear
Panel 6.  The warrior stabs the centaur with his sword
Panel 7.  The warrior decapitates the dying centaur
Panel 8.  The warrior presents the head of the centaur to the king and queen

Step 2.  Acquire a whole bunch of GI Joe, Ken and Barbie dolls, plastic horses and such.  I had to scour several thrift stores for about a month to come up with enough dolls to complete the Metopes.  Our collection featured an Edward doll from the Twilight series.  I figured we needed 17 or 18 male dolls, 2 female dolls and 5 horses to tell our story.

The raw material with the prototype in the background

Step 3.  Prepare each of the dolls for demolition.  This step consisted of cutting the hair on some dolls, cutting out the boards for the Metopes, designing each scene on the board and marking the dolls with a Sharpie Pen to get the saw cuts just right.

Giving Edward a haircut
Marking the Ken doll

Step 4.  Cutting the dolls and doll parts.  I wanted to show different angles of bodies so our Metopes were more dynamic.  I chose to use a bandsaw to cut them because I felt I had more control.  If you choose to make a project similar to this, you must always keep your fingers behind the blade and away from the blade, and pull your work through.  You should also wear safety glasses when using power tools.  Some of the bodies I trimmed to be shown straight on, but most of them I showed at three quarters or profile.  It's all in how you cut them.  The most important part of this is to make sure your cuts are straight so you have as flat a surface as possible to attach to your board.

I also found that you have to cut a flat spot on arms and legs to get them to look right when mounted on the boards.

Cutting up Ken

What Ken looks like inside
Cutting up a horse
Step 5.  Attaching the doll parts to the base.  This is where good composition comes into play.  It's important to lay all your parts out before you begin attaching to make sure everything looks right.

On the prototype, I tried five minute epoxy and E-6000 first.  They worked ok, I guess, but the plastic parts tended to break out of the epoxy and the E-6000 took forever to cure, so I tried good old fashioned Hot Melt Glue.  It worked instantly and the best of the adhesives I tried.  When we were attaching the doll parts to the wood, we discovered that certain parts, such as free legs and arms had to be shimmed up to keep them in place.  Cutting a length of a hot glue stick worked very well.  On several panels, I needed the warrior to have a shield, so we found some cheaply built escutcheons from some hanging lights and screwed them to our boards.

Attaching the doll parts to the base

Attaching the modified escutcheon

As you can see, they are naked

Step 6.  Accessorize.  During this step, we added the stools for the queen, the swords for the warrior, the spears for the centaur and clothing for all.

The clothing was made from air hardening clay.  The stools were made from carved blue foam, random wood turnings and beads.  The swords were made from popsickle sticks, cut out and the spears were merely dowels.  These were going to be seen from afar so some of these details did not need to be completely rendered.

If I were to do this again, I'd probably attempt to find a substitute for the air hardening clay, as it tended to be brittle and also cracked a bit when it dried and cured.  That being said, it worked fine for something that was static.  If it were a moving prop it would have to be a little more robust.


Step 7.  Mastic and painting.  The plastic from the dolls takes paint differently than the wood on the stool.  The wood takes paint differently than the blue foam.  The blue foam takes paint differently than the air hardening clay.  That is why I use a mastic for a substrate before I paint props like these.  I like the product, Jaxsan 600 or Poly ViCryl, which I have referenced in other tutorials.  The mastic is white and creates a Gesso like texture on which to paint.

The paint job consisted of three or four colors from the set, painted in a scumble pattern.  A scumble is a spotty wet blend.  After the scumble, the last step before installation was a raw umber wash.

Mastic and scumble
Panel 1:  The queen and king give the charge to the warrior
Panel 2:  The king sends the warrior into battle
Panel 3:  He meets up with the centaur, prepared to do battle

Panel 4:  They grapple
Panel 5:  The centaur attacks with a spear
Panel 6.  The warrior stabs the centaur with his sword

Panel 7:  The warrior decapitates the dying centaur
Panel 8:  The warrior presents the head of the centaur to the king and queen


Ashley said...

SUCH a phenomenal set! I loved being able to see the metopes closer up! Also, I like that you felt the need to specify that one of the dolls was Edward. LOL! :P

Shaela said...

This is phenomenal. I LOVE how detailed this is!! :)