Newbie looking for advice and perspective on first prop


New Member
Hi, I want to introduce myself before I get to my question.

I'm new here and new to prop making in general. I was inspired by volpinprops and eventually found my way here. I am currently a 3rd semester (out of 10) industrial design student and I am on the final leg of my model making class. I have 5 weeks to produce a final model and I would very much like to do a prop of some kind. I talked to the professor, who is a professional model maker but for products, and he gave me the ok.

Now its just a matter of picking a subject that I can do in 5 weeks. Since this is my first prop, I'm going to try to avoid anything complex or difficult by nature (helmets). Since I am graded heavily on the quality of the finish, I want to keep it small enough to give every square surface the detail it deserves. Maybe something with the volume of a shoebox I'm guessing. But past that, I'm not really sure how to pick something that is going to be both cool and challenging, but not more than I can chew in the given time. I have some model making and shop experience, so I'm not completely starting from scratch, but I will likely have to learn the majority of the things. Here are the skills and tools at my disposal:

- Experience working with polystyerne foam (and a convenient supply of it)
- Some experience with priming, painting, and clearing using a spray gun, but no experience with imitating "wear" or other materials besides plastic/metal.
- Experience with most typical shop tool, though limited experience with a mill.
- Limited experience with soldering and electrical work.
- Experience working with blueprints, autocad, profile views, etc
- One time experience with casting a mold.

- At least 10-15 hours of weekly access to a shop which also has a mill.
- Laser Cutter
- Possible rapid-prototype machine (3D printer)
- Dremel, though I just borrowed it from my friend and actually never used it.
- Autobody polyprimer, spray gun, some paints and clear
- A really experienced model maker (of products, not props)

I have my own car, a fair amount of discretionary income, and I live within driving distance to stores like lowes and hobby people. I should be able to spend about 20-30 hours a week to work on this and still get by in my other classes.

So thats basically me in a nutshell as far as prop-making goes. Sorry if its a bit long winded. I doubt anyone can quantify these things and measure it to an equally arbitrary difficulty number on a project, but I figure it gives you guys a better idea of where I'm coming from.

As for what I've been thinking about doing, I'm a big halo and I love the design of the gravity hammer. I would not be ashamed to have this hanging over my fireplace.

Would this be harder than it appears? Its hard for me to judge because everything in product is usually so simple that not much time has to be put into creating the form, and most of the time goes into the finish. With props, it seems like just as much time goes into planning, constructing, and assembling the form as it does applying the final finish.

Thanks for all your help.
Thanks. I found some on 405th's forum as well for guidance.

Though I was reading volpin's N7 article, and at one point he decided to cast a mold of it.

N7 Rifle, Mass Effect 3 | Volpin Props

Why did he do that? He was clearly on a short deadline with only 14 days to complete it, and the casting seemed to add an additional layer of process to what looked like a perfectly fine wood base. Was it so that he didn't have a 20lb gun in the end? Or that he would be able to easily replicate more in the future?
Why did he do that? He was clearly on a short deadline with only 14 days to complete it, and the casting seemed to add an additional layer of process to what looked like a perfectly fine wood base. Was it so that he didn't have a 20lb gun in the end? Or that he would be able to easily replicate more in the future?

Yes, the weight is a issue but also by having a hollow resin version makes it easier to add light, sound and such other cool stuff. If volpin would have wanted that with a wood version he would have needed to plan for the wiring before he started. I also believe that the other times the game company's paid him to do a prop they later came back and asked him to do another so that they could auction them out for charity. Now he would not need to remake the whole thing from scratch.

and also he might wanna sell some casting for himself to fund future cool projects.
Do you want to specifically stick to Halo props ? If not, then your choices are only limited by your imagination :)

Whatever you choose to do, rest assured that you will get all the help, feedback and advice that you need from the board :thumbsup

You sure have come to the right place for that :) :thumbsup :thumbsup
Why did he do that? He was clearly on a short deadline with only 14 days to complete it, and the casting seemed to add an additional layer of process to what looked like a perfectly fine wood base.

When BioWare commissioned that project, it was communicated that there would eventually be more rifles made for them. To date I've made three completed versions, but there are orders for an additional eight replicas. Time was short, yes, but its a lot easier to ditch sleep for a couple days than have to scratchbuild another master!
Wow thanks so much! You guys are awesome!

Re Alan:
I'm not restricted to halo, but I have 5 weeks and the clock is ticking, so I just went with the first knee jerk "hey, that would look pimp over my fireplace" reaction. I havn't started anything officially yet, aside from getting as many detailed shots of the hammer as I can find for dimensioning and planning. But when I think about the big sci fi universes that have had an impact on my life, for some reason halo tops the list. I've read most of the books, cured many nights of insomnia reading the wiki, and played the campaign of the first one many times over. Star wars would the runner up, but I feel like that's a bit over-done, especially given how much lucus merchandises the franchise.

I do love the art design of district 9 however, and I have the art book on hand. I thought about a prop from D9, but most were too complex. The gas project does seem do-able though.

My only reservation is that from looking at models of people actually holding it, it seems like the stance from the grip to the trigger is rather significant, and my don't think my little girly hands will be able to reach that far. But i'm not taking it off the table. I would like to make up my mind and begin construction by Thursday though.

I'm also considering the boost machine gun from vanquish:

I like the design, and it seems do-able with my time and skill, and it would be more unique in the replica community. But I'm having a hard time finding images of it for the backside.

Re Volpin:

How much additional work is the casting/resin process? Since this is my first prop, and I'm combing through tons of knowledge as it is, maybe I should just skip it for now and revisit it in the future? I want to revisit this in the future and install some old speakers into the business end, and have it play the smashing sound. The three holes on the front look like ideal speaker openings.

And if I was able to buy one table top tool, would the scroll saw be the most versatile?
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I just received an additional piece of information from my teacher today:

It has to be an original design, lol.

So I'm currently collaborating with a friend who is a concept artist to design a district 9 based prop.

I've also been doing more research on techniques, as well as ordered some apoxie sculpt as well as wonderflex. Reynolds advanced materials is within driving distance, so if I decide to cast it, I can always pick up the materials for that locally.

How do people print the blueprint to scale though? Kinkos?
You can hit up a large format print shop ot you can use a program on your home computer to print it on standard paper and tape them together.

Might I make a suggestion with this being your first design an build, keep it small, keep it simple. Think of something hand held with lights and an LCD screen that can play images or video. Simple led lighting is very easy to assemble, cannibalize from an exiting item or build from an off the shelf kit. If your designing a tracking type device, the LCD screen can be a cheap and basic picture viewer that has GIF or JPG playback. You could design basic graphics in photoshop. If the picture viewer has an adjustable playback rotation (most have a 5 second minimum rotation but some have 1 or 2 second) you will get the effect of a walking pace during the rotation.
Just keep the design functional in both size, shape and lighting. You need not mold or cast anything. Make it out of sheet styrene or ABS using plant on greeblies for added detail.

I dont know why but led lighting seems to wow people.

Ive had to design and fabricate exactly what I mentioned above in one night. Its very basic and simple when you have a plan laid out.
I just received an additional piece of information from my teacher today:

It has to be an original design, lol.

I would use a Nerf rifle as a base and then scratch build it to make it more BADASS....
A good paintjob can hide a lot of ugly things on builds. Weathering make things look real aswell.
I have actually scratch built the assault rifle from D9 in 4 weeks so if you decide to go with a gun similar to that it's doable and like the previous poster said you can print it out on computer paper if you use photoshop and just stitch it.

One additional thing to keep in mind is you probably dont want to build the gun as just one long piece so you need to take into account where you want to break the model up into pieces. When coming up with you design I would also suggest avoiding subtle curves or rounded geometry as in my opinion getting that to be symetrical can be time consuming especially if you have not done it before. But the District 9 art style has rigid geometry in general so that should work well.

I also concur that smaller would be better as it will give you more time to perfect the piece and I could see a District 9 style pistol with gas canisters all over being really impressive.
Thanks for the tips, I'll post up our design when we finalize.

Where do I get ABS? Isn't that the hard plastic most airsoft guns are made out of? How does that work as a material?

Also, since I don't have unlimited access to the shop, there might be some lull time at home over a weekend or something where I have nothing else I can work on. Should I wait until everything is finished and assembled before I start the priming and painting process, or can I paint/prime in pieces?

And are there any good threads of D9 weapon builds? I find alot that are just displaying the WETA replicas.
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Cant help you on the plastic as I do all my builds out of paper and foam core.

As far as the painting can do some painting as you go but I would make sure you have whole sections built. When I did mine I had 4 sections. The Rear stock and grip, the Front barrel/front grip, the large gas canister, and the barrel tubes. I would not paint something that does not have all details as it can make it difficult to attach the other pieces. Also definately wait till the whole thing is assembled to do weahtering. If you mix any custom paint colors also make sure to make plenty of extra so you dont have to try to color match later.

I dont have any build pics of my district 9 gun but the basic principle is break the model into sections. First build the basic underlying shape and the add details on top of that, layering up. I have some build pics of my Mal's Pistol from Firefly which show what I'm talking about with layering. The same principles would apply to just about any build.

Firebrand Creations
Thanks for all the help guys. Sorry for taking so long, but I wanted to have some progress to show before I bumped this. I did find some local suppliers of plastic that I will visit next week. I'm in long beach, Socal, so luckily there were plenty to chose from.

Anyways, here is what we have so far.

We wanted a gun that would act as something between a medical device and an enforcement device. We knew the prawns were a insect like race with a caste based society, and that they were miners. So we decided to go with a gun that fired some kind of "stim pack" into the flesh of other prawns to either get them to fall in line or work harder. So we wanted something that blurred the line between medical device and firearm.

I chose #4 because I thought it filled that concept, and looked simple enough to complete. I think one way it could work is that the leader prawn would harvest some kinda chemical from a plant/animal/something that is native to their homeworld. They would stab the needle into the object, then pull the upper handle like a syringe plunger to extract the substance into the canister. They will then fire this substance at other prawns like a super spitball that will corrode through their carapace and enter their bloodstream, giving them a surge of adrenaline to work harder or fall in line.

I'm going to wait until he gives me a more detailed picture before I start modeling it in solidworks. But from the looks of it, there will be 4 main components. The gun will probably be 2 pieces, breaking horizontally at the middle. The plunger will be made separately, and attached to the top with a stainless steel rod, as well as likely sliding on a "rail". The canister will be lathed from a wooden block, and the needle will probably be lathed too, similar to Volpin's Little Sister Syringe.

I want to stick some LEDs on it, but I'm not sure where. None of the guns in the movie had lights.
11/20/11 (25 Days Left)

Here is a brief status update:

My friend drew up some basic orthos, and I converted the profile to an autocad drawing. I plan to convert the drawing to a 1:1 scale PDF and print it at school for transfer. The thickness of the gun isn't very fleshed out yet, and that is something I will need to figure out over the coming days, so I didn't draft those. I'm currently reading up on basic electronics on how to hook up the LED and CCFL in the meantime. I have made some general plans for constructing this thing. The red is just notes for myself on concerns.

My next update will probably come wednesday, which is when we leave school for thanksgiving holiday.

Question: What advantages does sintra have over MDF? I know it can be bent if heated, but I don't see it used in that way alot. I know its much more expensive.
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If it was me i would not bother with lathing the canister from a wooden block.
I would look for bucket or other premade canister.. Maybe a piece of plastic drain pipe that you make two disk to fill the two ends with. That way you get a hollow inside that you can add led into.
MDF and sintra are completely different materials. Will you be doing bondo and seam work on the finished master? If so, you want to stick with MDF.

For the "needle" I wouldnt make that out of a wood dowel. You will be better off using plastic or even rubber/dense foam to sculpt or form it as one piece. Reason is the wood will have texture and stand a good chance of breaking.

Other parts that are listed to be lathed, the containers, unless you have the machinery and materials on hand, just use off the shelf items. Its a great way to come up with the final thickness of the thing as a whole. If you base them off PVC pipe, the sizes become apparent. The front top is 1/2", the rear 3/4" or 1" and the front bottom is 2"... If you go into this without those sizes finalized odds are anything you machine for those parts will be redone.

The battery compartment can be near anywhere.

To keep things basic and on a single power supply you may want to reconsider the CCFL lighting and swap it for a super bright LED configuration. If you take a hollow acrylic/plastic tube and place a hazed surface acrylic rod inside and point the LED's both front and back of it, it will light the hazed solid rod up brightly.

Once all your sizes are finalized, get a full scale print up in front of you and trace it over the MDF and start cutting. You may find it easier to cut 1/4" or 1/2" sheets of MDF than a single 1" but again, much comes down to the thickness of the final parts design.

One last thing in regards to the design, 9 of 10 people will think that rear upper section is a handle. Make sure its strong enough to handle the weight of the entire thing. If thats not possible I would suggest making that piece half size.
Thanks. I will reconsider using LEDs for all the lighting after I spend thanksgiving break tinkering with electronics. I ordered a 6" blue CCFL for 7$ just in case. The reason i didnt initially go with the tube/led at first was cause I didn't understand what Volpin was doing here with the PCB:

I think I will use pvc for the tubing instead, though I'm not sure how to get that beveled edge without using some kind of lathe.
Maybe a router?

And thx for warning me about the top, I will try my best to reinforce it.


As for progress, I actually did trace the blueprint today and began cutting the body with a bandsaw. So far so good, and I would have pictures if my stupid phone saved them properly.

One frustrating thing that happened was that I was hoping to use the lacquer thinner technique for transfering it, but whatever paper/ink combo they used at the school print lab was apparently too high grade to fall for that. I know the paper is bond, but the ink just looked like normal ink, albiet in 6 different colors on a massive printer. To top it off, I had to pay 35$ for 2 prints of just black outlines, which is barely any ink. I can buy an entire marker pad or a color ink refill for the price of one of these. Where do you guys print this stuff usually? I went to the school print lab because I heard kinkos was suppose to be even more expensive!

irregardless, THIS STUFF IS AWESOME!
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Where do you guys print this stuff usually? I went to the school print lab because I heard kinkos was suppose to be even more expensive!

irregardless, THIS STUFF IS AWESOME!

I don't have printer place around where i live so i print the blueprint out on a regular computer printer. Loads of A4 pages that i then tape together.
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