A hybrid Headpiece to the Staff of Ra.

Dan Efran

Active Member
So I was looking over my "want to build" props list, and one of the few things that wasn't already in progress (in some form) was the classic MacGuffin, Marion's Medallion, the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra. From a little film I call Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As many of us know, there are two different props used in the film to represent the same artifact. They look the same at a glance, but the details differ.

It's kind of frustrating. Which one do you replicate? One version has the cool inscription they discuss, that's crucial to the plot. The other appears in other, equally pivotal and iconic scenes. They're both cool. It's a bit of a mess, but when are props ever simple?

Anyway, I finally decided that what I really want is a best-of-both-worlds replica: an idealized hybrid version with the memorable inscription, but resembling the "Raven Bar" version in overall design. Since I was already planning to sculpt my own replica from scratch, it's just as easy to do a hybrid design.

I stopped by the art store tonight, and they had the rhinestones I wanted, so this is happening.

headpiece gems.JPG

Dan Efran

Active Member
...Now, to be honest, the rhinestones I bought for this project aren't the best match imaginable.
They're the right size; they were available very locally, and they were dirt cheap. But --

They are not precisely the right gem cut...which I don't care about. I'll nab some of the 8-sided too if I see any about, but these look fine.
They're cheap plastic, which is fine with me. This isn't going to be a jewelry-grade replica. (Spoiler: It'll probably be a resin casting.)
And they have a mirrored backing. Yeah, about that...
gem modification.JPG
I haven't decided whether to use red or amber rhinestones, but...I don't have amber in this assortment! I have yellow.
Yellow looks way too bright with the mirrored backing (on the right).
But removing the "foil" leaves a much more satisfying gem (left). Of course this will also allow revealing beams of sunlight to pass through.

For the red ones, I'll probably do the same thing...but they look better as-is than the yellow ones did, so I'll leave them alone for now.
I might just stick with the yellow ones. I'll choose the gem color at the last minute, when everything else is done.
But the gems are ready first. It's a relief to have that crucial detail handled so early, but --

That was the easy part.

Dan Efran

Active Member
I decided I didn't really have enough clay-sculpting tools for this project.
So I made some out of chopsticks, wire, and scraps from other projects.

clay tools.JPG

Have you seen the prices they charge for this kind of stuff in art stores? These tools aren't as nice but they cost me $0.
tool tips.JPG
Though honestly, the tool I end up using most is one I already had, a metal spike with a wooden dowel handle.
I think it's a dissection probe. Like these:

Those are very handy little tools, and very cheap. Recommended!

Anyway, I put together a quick rough draft of the headpiece, as a warm-up and as a shrinkage test.
Indeed, I included little registration marks so I can see exactly how much it shrinks as it dries, if at all.

prototype one - shrink test.JPG

This is "Activa Plus" air-drying clay, in black. I'm trying it out for the first time here. We'll see how it behaves.

This prototype is single-sided and crude - the inscription reads THIS IS A TEST, THIS IS ONLY A TEST.
Since most of my prop replica projects are Star Wars gadgets cobbled together from placemats and bottlecaps, this business of sculpting and casting costume jewelry is a bit outside my usual workflow.
In fact, I think it's been about two decades since I last did a sculpt-and-cast project.
I'll be using different materials this time. So I'm starting slowly, with prototypes and experiments.

This cautious approach makes me feel impatient - I prefer to make a plan, then pretty much start building the final piece - but it makes sense because the sculpture itself will be so much work.

Sculpting this crude one-sided sketch took me about three hours. So I can't sculpt a nice, final quality, double-sided version in much less than about 10 hours. More likely it'll take longer - 20 hours? 30? So I'd better have the materials science all figured out by then.

Dan Efran

Active Member
I included little registration marks so I can see exactly how much it shrinks as it dries
After about 24 hours, my test medallion has shrunk from 105mm wide to 100mm. (And my 70mm shrinkage scale now spans about 67mm.)
So that's around 4.5% shrinkage. (Which is kind of a lot, I guess? Maybe? Whatever.) And I suspect the clay isn't done drying yet.

Dan Efran

Active Member
Okay, I found a new (to me) source of reference images, apparently authentic, quite detailed. Check it out:

wing writing.jpg right wing.jpg various views.jpg

Those are details of screencaps from this video:


Apparently a production-made medallion.
There are several good angles, seen close-up and in focus (if only briefly).
This is really helpful!

Dan Efran

Active Member
Dug through my beads and stuff. I may opt for something more accurate later, but it looks like I can whip up a "close enough" chain with parts I have on hand.
chain parts.jpg


Active Member
This is a fantastic idea. Are you still working on it? I've been thinking lately about trying to sculpt my own too, though I'm probably going with the Marion/bar version since I'm working on Marion's costume from that scene too.

Dan Efran

Active Member
This is a fantastic idea. Are you still working on it?
Glad you like it! This project is on hold for a little while. A sculptor friend advised me to try a very different type of clay: Chavant NSP Hard. It doesn't seem to be sold in my area. Once I get my hands on some of that, I'll start sculpting again. I'm looking forward to finishing this piece eventually, but I'm really not in any hurry.