March 30th, 2012

Forever

Evolution of the Neanderthal

I’ve been on holiday this week, and it’s been a chance to tinker with stuff that I struggle to make time for at the weekends. One of those things is a peg sculpture of a Neanderthal head (pegs à la forensic reconstruction, that is). I found it being remaindered in a toy shop last year when I was looking for a present for my godson.  I figured it was a bit old for him, but something that I would love to play with… (He did get something else, don’t worry!)

I had a choice between this and a gorilla, and according to the advertising material inside there were also a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Julius Caesar and a horse in the range, but I think this is the one I would have chosen anyway – the T-Rex obviously wouldn’t have been 1:1 scale, and a Neanderthal beats old Julius for interest any day.

There were some reasonably detailed instructions inside the kit for reconstructing the Neanderthal’s face, but one vital piece of information was missing – what is this stuff you’ve given me to build the face with, and is it going to set? It was referred to in some places as “clay”, and on the packets as “modelling material”, and it looked a lot like Plasticine.

Without a very definite idea of how the “modelling material” was going to behave, I wanted to have enough slack available to be able to just keep going if time proved to be an issue, so it became top of the list of things to do this week.

Here’s what I started off with; a skull (cream) with some moulded muscle (yellow) and fat (white) on top. Not quite sure why the fat was there, as ultimately it didn’t contribute much to the shape of the face, but I guess I was being informed as well as entertained:

The moulded skull, with muscle and fat attached.

The first thing to do was to cut the red pegs off their sprue and insert them into their matching numbered holes.

Moulded skull with depth pegs now attached

Then the first of the “modelling material” was applied, to bulk up the cheeks. The “modelling material” turned out to behave awfully like Plasticine, as well as looking like it, and I think from now on we’ll assume that that’s what it is. Here the aim was to build the cheeks up until only the small pips on the end of each peg were still visible – the little dots you can see in the picture. I moved to paper towels here as I realised the newsprint was leaving marks on the back of the skull:

Building up depth in the cheek

Next, apply eyes and former for nose, and suffer accusing glare. Eyes and nose were cast in white plastic, with water-slide transfers for iris and pupils:

Nose former and eyes applied

Roll out a sheet of Plasticine to 3mm (roller and depth-graded tray provided) and apply from brow to back of skull:

Skin attached over top of head

Do likewise with a couple more sheets to cover the sides of the skull:

Skin attached to sides of head

Then apply another sheet from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and form tightly around the mouth and nose:

Neanderthal 021

Apply another sheet from just below each eye down to under the jaw line. This builds up the cheek, and gives it a nice smooth surface, unlike the slightly rough surface built up by hand before:

Skin applied over mouth and nose

Apply eyelids. Ned now looks bored rather than accusatory. This stage was a bit tricky, and the waterslide transfers suffered a bit here, although not enough to be a disaster:

Eyelids applied

Build up the nostrils (compare with previous picture):

Nostrils built up

Form the lips and filtrum (groove beneath the nose):

Mouth built up

Build ears around white plastic formers, remove the place-holder pegs that have been in their place up until now, and stick on head. The ears I made are pretty rubbish and I have a whole newfound respect for anyone who can get ears right, whether drawn or sculpted. The ear doesn’t look too bad in this photo, but I could easily have picked a less flattering angle:

Ears applied

Add final detail to the face; lines around mouth and nose and under the eyes, and dots for pores/bristles. Apparently there was a hair pack for the Neanderthal sold separately, but I couldn’t locate one to buy and decided to go ahead without it. Having found a picture online, I think perhaps I wasn’t missing much:

Final detailing; lines and pores

I lent him my glasses for this picture, to counter Neanderthals’ image of being lacking in intellect. This Neanderthal looks down his nose at me because I neither know nor care what the semiotic thickness of a performed text is.

"Tell me, what do you think of the assertion that the semiotic thickness of a performed text varies according to the redundancy of auxiliary performance codes?" 

So now I have a creepy Neanderthal head to keep about the house and gather dust. Every home should have one! It’s a shame that it does appear to be Plasticine and therefore not as permanent as it might be; so at some point in the future I suspect it will be reduced to its component parts and/or discarded. However, for now, it’s kind of satisfying to have the result of a (very long!) day’s work to look back on.

Forever

sugru

Apparently this has been around for a while, but I only came across it last week: sugru is a silicone rubber putty that comes in little sachets like a largish wad of chewing gum, and overnight it cures into, well, silicone rubber with the strength and flexibility that you might expect. Having seen the interesting examples of its usage on the web site, I thought I’d buy a pack of 12 assorted colours and see what it was like.

The pack that arrived was smaller than I expected – about A5 size – and it was a surprise to discover that sugru had a “best before” date, giving it a shelf-life of about six or seven months. That was a bit disappointing, and although it was prominent on the packaging I hadn’t seen any mention of it on the web site. Black mark!

The other drawback that I noticed fairly quickly, which doesn’t bother me but might be a show-stopper for others, is that sugru is not food-grade – so shouldn’t be used to make anything that will come directly in contact with food. Again, disappointing for a silicone rubber.

However, since I didn’t have any immediate application in mind, I didn’t need a large quantity, and in light of the best-before-date I was doubly glad I hadn’t gone overboard.

I was expecting to have to try to think of a use for it, then when I was working on the Neanderthal head a need suddenly rose. I used some Micro Set to make a water-slide transfer adhere better, but when putting the lid back on to the bottle I burst it! The plastic snapped around the top of the lid, as I tried to tighten it up too much.

It wouldn’t have been my first choice for what to apply an interesting silicone rubber fix to, but it did seem like a good candidate, and timely, so I gave the sugru a go, and applied it as a new grip around the top of the bottle cap, covering the split.

It seems pretty sound, it’s gripped the plastic of the bottle cap well, feels firm to the touch with a very slight give, and is quite grippy. Most importantly, it’s sealed the disastrous split so that none of the precious fluids can escape. For this simple task, it’s done the job well.

It’s not the most thrilling application, but this stuff has a lot of potential, so I thought it was worth a) mentioning, b) sharing my experience and c) pointing out the couple of disappointments I discovered with it, so that people are informed.