I have wanted an ark replica to add to my prop collection for the past 7 years. I've had two so far unsuccessful and aborted efforts, one a scratch-build commission in 2002 that ended up taking too long to complete and by the time it was close, at the end of 2004, I discovered that it would never be able to sustain any kind of adequate reflective finish, because the body had been made in wood. When that disappointment set in and the commission was canceled, I held on to remembering any replica, if it were going to have a mirror-like reflective quality, would need to be done in a plastic or other non porous material.
Fast forward to the middle of this past year, when an ark kit was announced and pictures posted in the junkyard, of a very nice looking replica. And it was done in fiberglass and resin. I jumped on the opportunity to order one, and upon receiving it, discovered as nice as the pictures of the completed prototype were, the pieces of the kit were simply cast from the finished prototype without any engineering or thought behind how the lid edges would connect to each other, to inaccurate legs and relief insets on the box panels that were dimensionally off, as well as the details. In addition, the box panels were cast in a very brittle fiberglass resin, with a very rough surface texture, very different than what had been shown in the pictures. While the sculpting talent that went into this was very impressive, and I give the artisan a lot of credit for it, because of the engineering issues and brittle box panels, I knew I was not going to be able to put this together in a way that would be sturdy enough to withstand a plating, leafing or chrome painting process.
So I was then again back to square one, and $900+ in the hole. What could I salvage from this in an effort to build a replica that would be the centerpiece of my prop collection?
Luckily, the dimensions of the kit were of great value, and I felt that the cherub castings and leaf reliefs for the top lid were salvageable in some way (although I still may acquire solid cherubs from another member of the RPF since the ones I have are hollow). From that point on, I decided to use the dimensions as a starting point, and along with photo reference, I might be able to figure out a way to engineer this, and share my progress so others who want to add this kind of a great replica to their collection that could afford to could use the research I've been doing.
First off... knowing the materials need to be resin or fiberglass, I decided upon acrylic plexiglass as the base foundation to build the rest of the replica around. Using the dimensions of the kit, I was able to figure out what I feel are accurate dimensions for the box (unless anyone else who has the correct measurements wants to chime in! ), but I also knew that three detail items that I could not salvage from the kit, were the legs, lid edges and railings. So I decided to consult with a CAD designer to model them accurately in 3D, so that master parts can be created through the CNC process from which I could then take the master leg part and two lid edges, and create silicone molds to cast them all in resin, while I would use the CAD design for the railings and take them to a custom metal shop to have patterns made so they could be made in aluminum.
With that in mind, the only other detail left would be the inset relief panels on the sides of the box, which will be the last thing I create, and I will end up sculpting two master relief panels and then casting each in silicone to create insets for the box. Oh yeah... I'm going to add brass pole rings last also, and although I was able to find an existing item, I have a feeling that while the dimensions are right, I will still need to have a custom set of four made because they will require much longer stems from which to screw into the solid leg pieces that will be made. They will look like this, and screw in to the resin legs I will have made in a similar way to how these samples screw into the wood (these were from the aborted 2002 commision.)
And Agent 5 was kind enough to share a detail picture of the real thing in a thread at the Indygear COW:
So with all that in mind, here is all the research I've done, as well as pictures of the progress. I will post pictures of the legs and lid edges and railings after I have them made, right now my budget only allowed me to hire the CAD consultant to do the modeling, and when the pieces are done I will then explore and search for an affordable option having them CNC'ed in either wood or acrylic for the silicone molds to be made from. If all goes well, I may be able to figure out if I can offer these detail parts for others, but from there on, the rest will be up to the builder (as well as what reflective finish process to use.)
A note on the final metalized finish... I think there are three ways to go:
2. Professionally applied chrome painting process used for automobile applications like bumpers and hubcaps
3. Leaf gilding
It's my guess that the original ark prop was leaf gilded, with the cherubs and railings being possibly the only pieces vacuum metalized. This is just a guess but from pictures I've seen of the original ark prop in storage and on display, it looks like the surface had been peeling off, which proves it was never metal plated.
This is the process I'm going to go with when my ark is finished, #2. Professionally applied chrome painting for auto applications. I think it will provide me with the most affordable way to do an "idealized" replica, without worrying about a leaf gilding peeling off later with age. Here is a vendor who does this process:
And some samples of how nice it can look when finished:
Here's the skinny so far, I will share more as I progress with this active project.
For the box body:
All @ 1 1/2 inch thickness
Sides - 4 pieces = 15 x 4
2 pieces = 24 1/2 x 2 3/4
2 pieces = 24 1/4 x 4
Ends - 4 pieces = 15 x 5
2 pieces = 9 x 2 3/4
2 pieces = 9 x 4
For the bottom of the box body:
1 piece -35" x 19" @ 1/4 inch thick
For the lid top:
1 piece =35 1/2" x 20 1/2", 1/4 inch thick
For the cherub pedestals:
2 pieces = 8" x 6" @ 1/4 inch thick
Bottom frame moldings will be determined, I am probably going to find some wood molding that matches the design and cast it in resin.
The acrylic pieces: Now THIS is an ark kit!
How they will go together. I am going to use epoxy, as well as drill holes in the sides of the acrylic blocks to install attachment pegs for alignment and reinforcement. Same with how I attach the bottom plate which will then rest on the legs for support and weight bearing:
The box parts laid out (without the top edges above the relief insets). You could just as easily do this in wood instead of acrylic, but remember the goal having something that can be finished with a reflective shine. Although the acrylic is gonna make this replica weigh as much as the real thing!
And with the lid piece on top with the only parts I will be using from the kit I bought:
How the lid edges I am going to have fabricated will be engineered to fit the box:
And how the legs will attach after they are mastered and cast (sorry for the crude thumbnail):
In closing, this is my advice to build your own ark in a sturdy way that will facilitate a reflective finish.
Do it in fiberglass and acrylic! Get precut panels made as illustrated to the measurements above.
Plan on outsourcing the cherubs and top leaf reliefs from a second party, it's possible that the maker of the ark kit might make them available but you'd have to contact him to see.
Check back with me at the end of this project to see if I can make legs, railings, relief insets and lid edges available to you! Then you can integrate them into your builds without the expense of hiring a CAD designer and taking them through development to CNC prototype and moldmaking.
Decide what type of finish you want to go with and budget for it... I think it might end up being the most expensive part of the process.
I'll continue to post pictures as this progresses and also show how it gets assembled, for now though, I hope this gives everyone an idea on how to create your own replica without the hassles of sculpting huge detail pieces and symmetrically matching them or relying on a second party to create the entire thing!
P.S. How many people here would be interested in leg, lid edge, relief inset and top railing pieces to pre-order if I figured out a fair price to help the R&D efforts getting them made? Is there anyone with shop resources who wants to take part in the development when I have the CAD models finished this week?
"Abner did the first serious work on Tanis, collected some of it's relics. It was his obsession really..."