Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tips for dealing with a prop maker or any other independent artist

It must take a deranged person to sit down one day to drop what they're doing and decide "Hey, I'm going to be an artist in this sloppy-seconds of an economy." Well, we're crazy, but we're still people too. Here's a few things you can do to make your encounter smoother, and in some cases, can make or break the possibility of a conversation get started at all.

All of the quotations henceforth are actual ones I have received, good or bad. If I lumped all the quotes I've heard other makers say they've gotten, this posting would be too.....colorful...

Numbr 1: put some efort into ur request

If you start your message with something like: " can u make me dis.....", then your chances of hearing back from an artist (Or any professional, really) diminish a bit. The biggest reason is attitude. If a sender isn't willing to put in some effort to make their message sound professional, it probably means they aren't going to pay for (Or appreciate the details that go into) professional work. Chances are, these messages aren't being sent out in a hurry on the way to work, so try and put in that little extra effort to come across in a better light.

2: Provide details and expectations up front

"I have a project I'd like you to do. Please email me at"

Unless you're Bioware or a big/awesome company that requires an NDA to be signed before any details are disclosed, chances are that any busy artist isn't going to chase you down for a project they know nothing about. Alternatively, not everyone prefers Facebook as their primary communicator, so if someone simply asks for an email address I oblige and continue the conversation there, where they usually provide details up front.

Take your car for example. If there's something wrong with your car, its your job to get it to the mechanic and give some information so they can diagnose it and give you a quote. If you can muster the strength to ask a mechanic to come to your house and peruse you for a quote, you're probably in for some pretty blank stares.

The kind of things you'll want to provide are....well, as much as you can. Commission work isn't typically an overly formal process. However, most people can agree that the information you provide before the work is started is the standard that expectations will be measured against when the project is completed. The main two things are scale factor and reference material. A scale factor can simply be a length of the object in question, or the height of the client as a basis to compare and scale specific  references to. By not specifying these things, you are trusting the artist's judgement and won't have much room to complain if the final product isn't sized to your liking.

Good reference.
The images you provide should be high resolution and provide as many angles as possible. This leaves less open to interpretation and saves a TON of time. The images should also be consistent. If you're requesting an anime object, the piece in question will vary scene to scene greatly. Unless a blueprint is provided, it will be up to the artist to interpret those frames into an object. Some sellers make blueprints and factor them into their commission cost before starting. Some like myself use full sized screenshots. If you're unsure about this aspect, simply ask before things get started.

3: Don't de-value the artist's work.

"I myself have two other resin kits and those did not cost nearly as much."

"Yikes. Is that your usual pricing?"

"My friend made this out of 6 PVC pipes and some cardboard. Why is yours so expensive?"

I'm not trying to sound like an elitist, but not all work is equal. If you message a certain artist to inquire about their work, chances are you hold that art to a higher standard than the products/artists you currently have available or you would not have messaged them in the first place. If you're just getting a feel for prices from multiple artists, or you're simply messaging one for the first time try and be respectful about it. I won't get off topic here, but if an artist puts 200 hours sculpting something and a few hundred in materials to make/mold it, and they end up charging you a few hundred for a cast copy of their work, its a steal. (unless you value your time at about $1-2/hour trying to attempt it yourself if you can build it to a similar standard)

Unfortunately we can't explain everything to everyone in regards to how prices are what they are, but rest assured no one is making pile of money here. Until you're tried it yourself, avoid sensitive remarks in regards to an artist's pricing. A simple "Thanks for the quote" or "I'll consider your offer while I get my finances in order" is a great alternative, which brings me to my next point.

4: Thank the artist/close the conversation

Sometimes an artist will go well out of their way to help someone with an inquiry. Answering questions about paint/materials, general prop making, or where to get a certain thing. I could have made a few novels if I clumped together all of the responses I've given over the years. Even if I don't expect a sale or I'm referring someone to another artist who has a mold of something (and can therefore do it cheaper), I treat the person the same. I think this goes for most artists who are trying to help others and just generally be a decent human being. More times than not though, I'll answer several emails helping someone out and they take the suggestion and drop you like a rock. No acknowledging your advice, no "thank you" of any sort. Its probably a result of bad parenting, but in any case don't be that guy. We understand that things come up and sometimes messages are delayed or missed entirely, (It happens on both ends) but it still happens way more than it should.

Hopefully I can help turn the population into clear communicators, one late-night blog post at a time!

In the meanwhile, you can harass me on Facebook, or at the site.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Festive Force A' Nature (V1.5)

I had a revisit with my old Force A' Nature when my client sent it back for a repaint after taking it to a few conventions. This was a huge opportunity, because I was able to mold the parts I needed while it was disassembled and sanded before the repaint. This was also one of my first props ever made, and is still one of my favorites.

I molded the more accurate parts, (The barrels, receiver, foregrip, lever) and decided to re-make the stock and trigger guard. The trigger guard on the previous version was too thick. (Even for a TF2 prop) The grip on the stock was too thin, as it was designed this way for the client who had smaller hands. The previous stock was also a bit more bulky on the corners and the overall shape was too slim/elegant for a TF2 prop.

The changes would be ever so slight to a "normal" person, so I decided to christen the new parts with something more.........well, you decide.

I got started on the new stock asap, as I needed to get this thing molded and cast too (So that I could not only make reproductions, but also have a hollow stock for weight and electronics)  I shaped it relative to the cast of the receiver I made based off of the previous gun.

 The stock was rounded out quite a bit more, and came out quite nicely.

 Last time, I did this insert completely by hand with a Dremel. No idea how I did that, so I made a plastic insert, Dremeled it out, and sanded/filled it flush afterwards.

I got the finished stock and trigger guard (No pictures, rushed build. Sorry!) under silicone and focused on the front end. I did the magnet thing blatantly stolen from Volpin Props, just like last time. Getting these perfectly aligned before drilling the holes can be a bit tricky.

I popped a stock cast out of the new mold, and very very carefully sawed off the buttplate. I glued this switch/battery back to it, so it can slide in and out of the hollow stock. (The buttplate is held on by tiny drops of glue) You can also see here, I cut out the button switch assembly and integrated it into the buttplate. I secured everything with hot glue. I got this portable LED strand from Home Depot for around 10 bucks. I shortened it by about 4 LEDs and it works perfectly.

(Like everything) I cut the button space out with a scroll saw and filled the voids with styrene and suerglue.

Got the rear end all painted and good to go! I strung the rest of the lights around the prop and stapled the last LED in under the receiver. There are two tiny brass pins that keep the wiring on high spots where the wires want to slide out of place. Here it is before that, where I'm just happy to have lights on a TF2 thingie.

The front end paint job was just simple painting with the white red of the barrels painted first, then the white. This enabled me to just mask the two winding strips on each side, paint, and un-mask. The foregrip is a green color with a carefully sharpied panel line. (This is supposed to represent green wrapping paper on the models) The tape is scotch tape over packing tape. Doing just one or the other was too glossy and less pronounced, or too flat and too bright. This balanced the two. I take my tape details pretty seriously.

Special thanks to Impact Props for the great photos!

More props at the Facebook page, here.

Want one of your own or something similar? Here is a good place to start.