The strange things I make for games…

What is it?

For the April 2010 Runnymede Mortals game, my players didn’t realise it, but they were on the cusp of a fairly significant moment. I always try to avoid having to say “you see a…”, so I decided to make a prop for a significant element of the game. I’m not going to go into any detail about what the prop actually is, as that’s a discussion for my players to have in the game rather than on the internet. However, I will tell you that the prop in question ended up looking like this:

I think I’ll call him Arty. This is how I made him.

Stage one – Evening – Spine and Skull

The first step I took in building arty was to make a start on his skeleton – building a basic frame to help him hold his shape. Because I knew I was going to need to suspend him from a fairly flimsy structure, I wanted him to be nice and light, so I settled on a skeleton made of foamboard. I used about one and two-thirds A1 sheets of the stuff, and another A2 sheet. I could have used less, but I was making it all up as I went along… which doesn’t make for neatly tessellating shapes!

Pic 1 - cross sections

To start with, I cut out a cross section of head, neck and torso – like I’d taken a vertical slice through a person running front to back. I then drew round this to cut a duplicate piece. These would make the “spine” section and the start of the skull.

Pic 2 - duplicate pieces

Then, as the next step, I started to make horizontal cross section pieces to slot into the spine (pic three).

Pic 3 - horizontal cross sections

When I did this, I had to take care that the sizes would match up with the spine. I then cut slots into both the horizontal sections and the spine (pic four).

Pic 4 - slots

This shows the first horizontal section slotted into one half of the spine.

Pic 5 - slotted together

Once I’d got started this way, I just cut out new sections and slotted them together until I had something head shaped.

Pic 6 - completed(ish) skull

This pic shows the completed skull section. Or more accurately, it shows the first version of it. I replaced the jaw section and the nose later – I’d not made the jaw long enough to cater for an open mouth, and the nose was too wobbly so I needed to cut a new one.

That lot turned out to be a good three or four hours of work, so I called it a day there. It probably would have been quicker, but stopping to take photos every step of the way takes time. If I’m going to do this, I need an assistant to do the camera work.

Stage Two – Evening – Rest of Skeleton

A few days later, I had an evening spare and time was starting to press on, so I thought I’d better get back on with it. Time being an issue, I didn’t take photos every step of the way, so there are a few stages skipped, and the photos this time are just of the end result.

The next stage of work was to build the ribcage and shoulders. Again, this was achieved by cutting foamboard horizontal sections for the most part. The only exceptions were the shoulders and the collarbones, which were sloped sections, each going halfway in to the body. You can just about make them out in the pic below.

Pic 7 - ribcage and shoulders

After the ribcage and shoulders were done, I added the arms. This was a bit more tricky as I’d decided I couldn’t get a sturdy enough join using foamboard, and I wouldn’t be able to make appropriately round arms. So I made the arms using a couple of tubes made of chickenwire, with a couple of rectangles of chickenwire joined on to cover the top of the joins to the foamboard shoulder sections. You can see these pretty well in the pics below.

Pic 8 - shoulders
Pic 9 - collarbones

Next came a bit that you can’t really see, but which was pretty important. I needed to be able to pour water into Arty’s mouth and have it drip slowly out of the bottom of his ribcage. It’s probably best not to ask why, but it’s very relevant to the game’s plot. So I needed to make a waterproof mouth and throat, and to run a waterproof tube down his middle and out of the bottom. To do this, I found an old, cheap picnic champagne flute and chopped the bottom off it. Conveniently, I had some rubber tubing that fitted neatly over the end that was left – the straight bit where the conical flute had been meant to slot into a flat base.

I then fed the tube through Arty’s body and rammed the flute into his mouth so that its lip was flush with his jaw plate, joined it up with the tube and then gaffered it all in place. Just to tidy it up a bit more, I then used a bit more of the rubber tube to make arty some lips so that he didn’t have a totally round mouth. Naturally, these were affixed with more gaffer tape. There is nothing it cannot do.

The last job I did at this point was to add the initial layer of skin. This was achieved with two materials – the great god gaffer tape and the well known modelling material clingfilm. Wrapping something this weirdly shaped in clingfilm isn’t the easiest job in the world, and to make it hold shape a bit better I occasionally had to hold it in front of a fan heater to make it shrink. Still, it seemed to do the job. I ended up with a reasonable shape that I’d be able to form a better skin onto later. Even though Arty was in a bit more of a fragile state at this point, it was time to call it a day.

Stage Three – Evening, Morning, Noon and Night – Skin & Paint

By now it was friday evening and Arty needed to be ready for … so time was even more tight. I still had to give Arty and outer skin and paint him. Every step of this required not only time to put it together, but also drying time. I can cut corners and simplify construction all I like, but when it comes to things taking time to dry, there’s only so much I can do.

Hence, the only photos after this point are of the finished article. Or nearly finished, anyway. Arty’s back still looks like papier maché at this point, but that’s the last of the photos I took.

Pic 10 - Finished