Molten gold-covered Smaug may be the most gorgeous piece of CG animation I've seen in years. I was playing around with some origami ornament ideas and realized I had some fiber optic filament lying around when inspiration struck. The following steps will guide you through making your very own fire breathing (LED) golden Smaug holiday ornament to adorn your wonderfully geeky tree!
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Step 1: Materials
This is truly a multi media project, so we're going to use stuff from a bunch of different shelves in the craft closet!
Origami paper (legit origami paper is needed for something with this many folds. Don't try using a square of regular paper because its just too thick).
Folding bone-not needed, but highly recommended. It'll make your folds nice and crisp so they collapse properly and precisely.
LED light. This can be a string on your tree or an individual LED bulb.
Clear drying resin, like Bondo fiber glass resin
Gold spray paint
gold craft acrylic paint
paint brushes (crappier the better)
Gold glitter (optional)
Fiber optic filament
clear drying adhesive like E-6000
eye pin (jewelry supply)
string or ribbon
Step 2: Origami Dragon
Armed with your origami paper and folding bone, watch the following easy dragon tutorial. I couldn't possibly do a better job of walking you through than this video author already did --drop a thanks in his comments if you think to! I deviated from his head design just a little. I decided to make my snout a little shorter and angle the horns up instead of straight back.
I recommend using standard size squares of origami paper, which is readily available at places like Michael's Crafts (sometimes in the kids section). I love tiny objects and experimented with going smaller, but there are so many folds involved that things just got chunky and ...well,...unfold-able.
A folding bone is your best friend for a piece like this! If you don't have one, trying using the edge of a small plastic ruler. Your edges will be so much crisper than hand folding alone can do, which will help your squash folds (second image) collapse effortlessly.
Step 3: LED Harness
When your dragon is complete, cut a small rectangle from a clean sheet of origami paper.
Using a clear drying adhesive on each end of your rectangle, attach this piece of paper at the base of Smaug's throat, forming a "U" shape.
Later on, this harness will help hold your LED light source where it needs to be in order to ignite your fiber optic filaments most effectively.
Step 4: Resin--Making It Last
Origami is beautiful, but very delicate. To preserve and protect Smaug from tearing and bending, we're going to apply a few light coats of clear resin. I used Bondo fiberglass resin, which requires a hardener and has a limited working time.
Prepare your work space. A ventilated area is best because resins are stinky. Since we lack a proper workshop, I protected my table top with wax paper.
Mix your resin. Since the usual recipe for Bondo is 3 TBSP + 10 drops hardener, I made a smaller batch with 1 TBSP + 4 drops hardener. Stir well, using a stick you don't care about.
Use a cheap crappy paintbrush you don't need because there is NO way to rinse off resin. Once this brush has been used, its dead. Begin applying your resin in thin coats. Laying it on too thick will result in drips and pooling in tight areas. You don't want to lose the beautiful folds of your paper. Make sure to get inside corners and interior folds as best you can.
When your resin starts to clump, you're almost out of time. It'll start forming a skin on top, like Jell-O does when it begins to solidify, and clumps of "skin" will make your application lumpy. My batch lasted about 20 minutes before I started to see skin and had to wrap up.
This stage may merit 2-3 coats of resin. Drying time really depends on the temperature of your drying environment. Outside in the sun it may dry quickly and you can do another coat in few hours. Indoors during winter I had to wait overnight before doing my second coat. A heat gun or hair dryer can help speed the process, but we wary since your light paper object may blow over!
Step 5: Spray Paint
*NOTE: Allow adequate drying time before you paint. If your object remains tacky to the touch, use a hair dryer to activate the hardener and finish it off. Your origami will remain pretty flexible after the resin is applied. Don't expect it to be a rock hard object. We're protecting it from everyday handling damage, but if you step on, run over, or elbow drop Smaug, he will be done for just like any other xmas ornament.
Now that you have a more resilient dragon, its time for paint. Spray paint is the best for our overall coverage phase.
Use spray paint in a well ventilated area. If you don't have a workshop area, you can improvise a spray booth. I used an old styrofoam cooler from Omaha Steaks. It was about the depth of a sock drawer. The rim prevented the wind from blowing over Smaug and helped contain the over spray. Using this on my balcony made for a mess-free experience.
Make sure to get the underside, front, back, and top. The lip of the cooler also allowed me to stand the figure up so odd angles, like under the chin or behind the wings, could be accessed.
Take care to spray in light coats until covered. Do not spray too heavy or too close to avoid paint drips and pooling.
Step 6: Touch Ups
There will be a few little places that spray paint is just not going to reach. Use some cheap gold craft acrylic and a small brush to get in there and touch up any bare areas that bother you.
Step 7: Glam It Up (optional)
My gold spray paint turned out a little brassier than I wanted. I like a strong yellow gold look and felt that a touch of glitter could help get me there without being gaudy. Plus, you could think of the glimmers as his scales.
Mix a clear acrylic medium with fine grain glitter. I like Martha Stewart brand, because that woman makes some damn fine glitter products. I just mix them on some scrap paper.
Apply to the dragon in long, smooth strokes. Allow adequate dry time. If you touch it too soon you could leave finger prints in the acrylic medium.
Step 8: Fiber Optic Filament
While Smaug dries, you can prepare his "fire".
Take a few strands of fiber optic filament. This can be found in rolls on ebay or in some craft stores.
Cut pieces of varying lengths, no longer and 5-6 inches. Gather them like you would a bunch of flowers, making sure that the ends on one side are all flush. Use a small piece of scotch tape to bind the bunch together at this base.
Now take a dab of your clear drying adhesive, like E-6000, and apply it to the base where all the strands are joined. Try to ensure all fiber ends are caught in this glue. After it has dried, very carefully remove the tape. You may lose one of two strands that didn't sink into the glue, but overall you should end up with an intact cluster of fiber optic filaments.
Step 9: Install the Fire
When you are certain that both components are dry, you can join them.
Apply a dab of your clear drying adhesive in the crevice under the head. Let's think of this as the mouth. Now press the cluster of filaments into the adhesive. Angle it slightly downward, not just straight out. Hold in place until reasonably dry.
Step 10: Hanger
Dab some adhesive on the length of an eye pin. I used one of the shorter ones from this multi-pack and it fit perfectly. Press the eye pin into the crevice between Smaug's shoulder blades (second photo). I couldn't find gold eye pins anywhere and had to buy silver toned ones. If you have the same problem and it bugs you, use a thin coat of your gold acrylic to tint your eye pin to match.
When your glue is dry, use string or ribbon to make a hanger loop, running it through the eye pin and knotting at the top. I used silver string from my grandmother's craft box for a near invisible look when hung on a tree.
Step 11: Lighting the Fire
NOTE: This project is for use with LED light ONLY! Regular christmas lights can become hot over time, which may melt into your paint/ resin and potentially be a fire hazard. LED lights do not produce enough heat to be problematic.
Where you hang your ornament is up to you. I found mine worked well in my mini x-mas tree and in a wreath, both strung with LED lights. Make sure there is a bulb situated near the location you hang the ornament, you're going to insert the bulb into that chest harness we made earlier. This will hold the tip of the light against the cluster of filaments, sending light through them. The LED glow will be strongest near the chest/ mouth, emulating the way movie Smaug's throat glows before breathing fire.
Step 12: Finished!
Now you have a Golden Smaug ornament that looks amazing with the lights on or off! Experiment with different colors of light. I found that green and white LEDs actually travelled down the fibers with more vibrance than red or blue, which mostly just light up the tips. Red still looks pretty good as faux fire, and reminds me of real fire embers. Make one for your favorite LOTR fan today!