One on One with Juan Ramirez
February 19, 2002
Juan Ramirez on Sculpture and Casting:
I recently spoke with Bungie's own Juan Ramirez and his roommate Bob Standlee about their sculpting studio and their recent work for us: a Covenant Elite statue.
Juan Ramirez is an artist who has created concept art, 3d models, story boards, character design and comics during his time at Bungie. He is currently one of the artists for the project known only as "Phoenix."
Bob Standlee, also known as the "Master Molder," works in the "sims" group at Microsoft and recently worked on the game Crimson Skies. He also did character concepts for Valve's Half-Life, worked on effects for the movies "Scream 2", "Armageddon" and "Godzilla", and did the special effects, creature effects, make-up and hair for the film "Chasing Sleep."
The Covenant Elite statue is the third Juan has sculpted for us, but the first created with Bob's assistance. Juan's first Bungie-themed sculpture was a Trow, which was used as a prize for Bungie's Valentine's Day Massacre Myth:TFL Tournament. This was initially a commissioned piece which Juan took over and finished in a weekend when it be came apparent that it wasn't going to be ready in time. His sculpting talents were used again later for Myth2 when he sculpted the Soulblighter's Head pencil holder and the better-known Myrkridia statue.
The sculpting process begins with pictures of the subject and sketches of how the final sculpture should look. After we provided Juan with some pictures, he came up with some sketches and began work, sculpting most of the body, head and arms using a clay called "Super Sculpty." Super Sculpty is a "thermoset" clay (meaning it hardens when exposed to heat) made of polyvinyl chloride, which is very clean and malleable and will fire at a relatively low temperature. At this point Bob sculpted the armor and weapon and touched up other parts, adding detail.
The finished clay piece was then baked in the oven at something between 150 and 200 degrees until it had hardened. With his previous pieces, a cast could be made now, but because the Covenant Elite statue is a more dynamic piece than either the Trow or the Myrkridia, Juan needed to cut it up and cast pieces individually. Bob, being more experienced at this part of the process, grabbed a saw and began to carefully slice off the model's head and arms. As small chuunks of the sculpture began to fall off, Juan got worried and said, "Bob! This ain't workin'!" not thinking that "broken" pieces could be glued back on before casts were made.
Once the sculpture was cut into the segments and the broken pieces were glued back on, the sawn ends were cleaned up and given "male" and "female" joints so the respective pieces could be fitted back together. Each piece was then wrapped in plastic and then covered with more clay to create a two-piece clay mold. The inner clay portion of the mold was replaced with silicon, taking the shape of the model pieces inside; the outer portion of the mold was left to harden in order to support the rubber-like silicon. This kind of mold is called a case mold.
With the mold complete, the original model pieces are taken out and set aside in case a new mold needs to be made. In their place, a two-part exothermic polyurethane plastic is poured into the mold. This must be done carefully, to avoid air bubbles and to make sure that the whole mold is filled, but also quickly because once the two parts of the plastic mixture are combined it begins to heat up and harden relatively quickly.
Once the plastic hardens, the mold is opened up, the silicon is carefully cut open, and the newly cast piece is taken out. Before it can be used again, the mold must be cleaned of any bits of plastic that have stuck inside it. Once that's done, the cast can be reassembled and filled again, making more pieces. Each new piece is pretty rough, and usually has some seams or bubbles. If there are bubbles, then the piece will need to be discarded and recast. Seams and excess plastic are trimmed or sanded off and then the pieces are glued back to the body. Fully assembled, the model is painted with acrylic paints, allowed to dry and then sprayed with an aerosol fixative to protect it.
The entire process is exacting and time-consuming, but after seeing the completed sculpture we think you'll agree with us that results justify the effort. Thanks to Juan and Bob for giving us a look behind the scenes.
Congratulations to Tom Van Sinden. He is our winner in the Bungie Store drawing for the Covenant Elite sculpture. Thanks to all who entered. Be sure to visit the Bungie Store soon™ to see our newly revamped store, chock full o' new Bungie paraphernalia.