I don't know what possessed me to start this project, but during my Christmas holiday I found myself with the overwhelming urge to try and build a taxidermy style bust of a Chort or Fiend from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I think a Fiend would have been more memorable and striking, but I wanted it to be full size and I actually prefer the design of the Chort. I think the design is excellent and it strikes me as being closer to nature, like something you could actually find in our world.
The project ended up taking about 4 months on and off, and cost me a fair amount in clay alone (30kg/66lbs in wet clay!) but ultimately I'm very happy with the result.
While I'm sure not many people will want to try and replicate this project specifically, I've tried to lay out the instructable in such a way that you can take bits away from it that could apply to any project. For instance the section about sculpting goes into detail about how you can make DAS clay work for you despite its drawbacks, and the section about how the base was made could be applied to any object you have a 3D model of.
Obviously this project is large-scale and time consuming, but it'd be great to see busts of smaller creatures made in the same way, perhaps the Crones?
I've made an accompanying YouTube video to explain some parts that need a more visual explanation, I'm trying to grow my YouTube channel too so any subscriptions are appreciated - sometimes its quick and easy to upload a video of something I'm in the process of making etc.
I hope you will find something useful in this instructable, even if you don't attempt this project specifically.
- 30kg of DAS clay
- Polymer clay (3 small packs)
- Polyurethane 2-part mixture - not strictly necessary
- 140mm polystyrene ball
- Acrylic paints
- Crystal resin
- Polystyrene sheet
- Threaded rod with bolts and large washers
- Wood board
- Duct tape
- Expanding foam
- Thick Single-core wire
- Papier mâché
- Sculpting tools
- Culinary spherical mould
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Step 1: Making the Base
In order to make things easier concerning getting the right form, I decided that I would extract the 3D model from the game files and use it to make a guide.
Extracting the model proved a lot harder than I thought, I tried using a variety of programs and I had to transfer files between different versions of windows on different computers to finally get the file I needed. Since this was so awkward (and I can't actually remember how I did it!) I will post a link to the 3D models I extracted for your convenience.
This next part will require some experience with Blender, I have posted an image of the guide I used but I would recommend that you learn from my mistakes and try to do the next step with a higher resolution (as I will explain).
Using the free program Blender, I cut away the body and aligned the head and neck with a flat plane (representing the wall it would be mounted on). Using the "loop cut and slice" tool, I made a series of cross-sectional slices through the geometry, and arranged these on a rectangle which had the exact dimensions of the material I would be using. I drew a grid with each square representing 100mmx100mm and directly transferred the pattern to some polystyrene sheet. The sections could then be easily cut out with a knife heated by a blowtorch, I'd recommend using a cheap knife though because it will ruin the heat treatment and cover it in nasty slime. Do this outside as I'm not sure what kind of fumes are released but it smells harmful.
If I were to do this part again I'd use as many slices as possible and as narrow sheet as possible because with such thick divisions as I used most of the detail was lost and I ended up having to sculpt it manually for the most part. Using very thin slices would allow you to get very close to the final form with minimal effort. I'd also include the horns in the base, the only reason I didn't was because I knew that it wouldn't work with such thick slices but I see no reason why it wouldn't work if the slices were thinner.
I glued the sections with spray-adhesive and tape. Of course this is a very weak way to hold the parts together, but I knew that they would be encased in several layers of clay and other materials so I wasn't worried about them de-laminating. I cut a hole in the back and glued in a wooden board, which was bolted all the way through the sculpture with long threaded rod and bolted though all three eyes and the mouth with as big washers as I could find. It was then quite easy to attach a handle so that the entire head could be held in a bicylce work-stand.
Another interesting way to approach this could be to use pepakura to make a giant card-stock structure at a low resolution, and perhaps fill the cavity with expanding foam. As always there are several alternatives.
Step 2: Bulking Up
This step is largely unnecessary if you take my advice and use much thinner slices, but because my form was so far from the final form I had in mind, I needed to cheaply build up the shape from the base. I wanted to use papier mâché, and fully recommend that you do, but because I had to do this project in an often sub-zero and always humid environment, the paste was unable to dry.
My solution was to use aluminium foil, sculpted by hand and then secured with duct tape. Not a great solution by any means but it did get the job done. As part of this step I also made the ears, simply by roughly angling two chopsticks and connecting them with duct tape to make a frame. The ears are quite intricately shaped so I knew that most of the detail would need to be sculpted in clay.
Step 3: Eyes
I wanted to use as realistic eyes as possible, and funnily enough I couldnt find taxidermists' eyes 70mm in diameter, so I made some myself. Using a much larger polystyrene ball (roughly 140mm), I cut a slice off such that I would have a dome of 70mm diameter, with a flat edge and critically the profile would not be a full semi-circle but rather a shallow arc. I smoothed it out as best I could with good old body-filler, and made a quick silicone mold by squirting some silicone caulk into a 2L bottle bottom, mixing it with a small amount of acrylic paint (the moisture from the acrylic cures the silicone evenly) and pushing the eye form into it. I then cast polyurethane resin into the mould, mainly because I had some spare from a previous project but also because I know it cures to a very slightly off-white, perfect for the white of a beast's eye.
Of course, this isn't necessary and you could just as well make each eye from the larger foam ball, but I knew that this method would be quickest for me with the materials I happened to have around me.
I found that the polyurethane was a really good base to paint on to, no primer required. I also used a rotary tool to carve a small hole where the pupils are. This meant that when the resin is cast over the eye, the hole will give the illusion of depth as you would see in a real eye. I used pictures of goat's eyes for reference, and found that the iris pattern is more subtle than a humans so it was actually quite difficult to paint realistically. In any case, I think I've done a good job!
Finally, I used an aluminium spherical bakery mould to cast a crystal resin dome over the eye, and this vastly increases the realism because of the way light hits it, replicating the cornea.
Step 4: Horns
This is another step that shouldn't be necessary if you take my advice on how to improve the base.
Using more threaded rod, I bolted through from the jaw at both sides, at a diagonal through the head so that the rod would protrude at the same angle that the horns should come out of the head. I used the rod as a base on which I attached a guide wire, this was bent to the shape of the horns very carefully using the reference images constantly, but I realised that the wire I was using was far too thin. I'd recommend using as thick wire as you can find (single core of course) to provide a more sturdy base. I also supported the wire with string that hooked on to the ceiling.
In order to quickly bulk up the horns I used expanding foam. This is really horrible stuff - it ruins clothes, is carcinogenic and never comes out of the nozzle properly, but I can't say it didn't work well. Just make sure that if you're going this route you wear your old clothes and put a sheet down to protect the floor (an old shower curtain worked nicely). My video demonstrates well the technique I used to apply the foam, so it may be easier to refer to it. Essentially I put it on in loops (or wherever it needed it to keep them even on both sides) and then used the same nasty knife as I used earlier to trim it off when it had dried.
Finally, while not strictly necessary, I made a few layers of fibreglass around the weakest parts of the horns to add strength, although I think that given the money I'd have liked to fibreglass the entire thing.
Step 5: Teeth
To make the teeth I mixed "fimo effect" translucent and vanilla with "super sculpey" original pinkish in a 1:1:1 ratio. If you've ever worked with these polymer clays before you'll know they can be very brittle, but what was interesting is that mixing these together made an extraordinarily strong material. While polishing the teeth I let go of one (what looked like a particularly weak shaped tooth too), it fired out at high speed, hitting the concrete floor and rebounding to hit the ceiling and it didn't have a scratch on it, I fully expected that it would shatter into a million pieces.
Using this polymer adamantium I had discovered, I sculpted each tooth and baked them in the oven. Using a polishing mop on a bench grinder I gave the teeth a subtle polish, if I'd have wanted a full gloss shine I'd have used a lacquer but I thought that more of a satin finish would have been better suited. The mixture of rouge and Tripoli (green and red) polishing compounds made a dirty looking residue in the cracks of the teeth, which I decided to keep in because it actually looked like a realistic weathering effect.
Step 6: Sculpting
The most important step!
I started by covering my entire sculpture in duct tape, because for some reason I found that DAS clay stuck really well to it. I chose to use DAS clay because it was cheap and readily available, and chose it over similar clays because it is very strong having vegetable binders that are almost like the glass fibres in fibreglass - a flexible fibrous material that reduces brittleness of the resin (or clay in this case). The binders do mean that it can be a little difficult to work with, but with some adjustments to the way you work with the clay I think that DAS can be made to work well for you.
First of all, I like to wet the clay with a lot of water and massage it in, squeezing the clay out into a long sausage and rolling it up. This hydrates that clay and breaks up the structure of the binders, I assume that when it's made in factories it just gets extruded out of a nozzle and all of the fibres end up facing in a similar direction, so by breaking it up you make the clay more malleable. Keep working the clay and you will find that it becomes a lot more plastic, usually the issue with DAS is coaxing it into the shape you want it in, and if the binders are holding the clay in a particular way it can be very difficult to smooth the surface out (hence why you should massage it as described).
The other pointer for using DAS clay is to pay very close attention to the hydration of the clay. You may notice that some packets of DAS come out of the packet more hydrated and malleable than others, so its very important that you keep spare DAS in an airtight environment and always have a bowl of water nearby to hydrate it. Also, it's not always best to just have it as moist as possible, often you will find that different operations work best at different levels of moisture. For instance, making a rough form is best done as moist as possible, but you may want to wait before adding wrinkles to let the clay dry out slightly. This is because, when moist, it may have more of a tendency to tear up the fibres making a jagged surface whereas when it is more dry the fibres may be more likely to flow with the direction of cut you are making. When adding pores as a final touch, or very fine wrinkles, I found it was best to wait until the clay was 50%-70% fully dried, because at this stage you can just press a tool into the surface and the surface will react around the tool. For instance if you push a point into the surface to represent a pore, instead of just making a hole it will make a dimple - this is very useful knowledge for sculpting fine textures.
As a final note, craking is not something that is normally a big issue with DAS again because of the vegetable binders, but if cracking is an issue I found that putting a plastic bag over the surface stopped cracking. This is because it causes the core to dry out faster than the surface, so if any microcracks start in the core they will not be able to propagate through to the surface because it is still wet. This technique often works with other clays too, or really any water-drying material prone to cracking.
As for specifically how to sculpt, that's not something I can easily explain in this short instructable. You should have the initial form down just from your base, so the trick is really just texturing. You can watch my video to get an idea of the way I achieve this, but my favourite video on how to sculpt skin textures is this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAc2hDCHlQ
Step 7: Painting
Unfortunately I lost all the footage of the painting process - a real shame as I think a time-lapse would have looked excellent.
I started by masking the eyes and applying a standard grey primer, I would advise that you use acrylics because DAS is water based and any moisture still left in it after drying shouldn't be much of an issue for acrylics. I then used an airbrush - a newly bought Sparmax Arism (which I would thoroughly recommend, a wonderfully build little tool for an extremely modest price), and build up the colour using lots of different coats in various colours, utilising reds, yellows and other shades to build up a realistic skin tone. It took a lot of trial and error to get to a tone I was happy with, but with airbrushing you can just keep adding more coats until you are satisfied with the colour and you'll find that the older coats give nice underlying texture. Never paint in straight flat coats after the base layer, instead use a narrow beam and move the tool in a random fashion to imitate the natural variation of real skin.
One interesting thing to note is how I assumed that the dark patches of skin would just be a brownish colour looking at the reference images, but through trial and error I found that the colour I had in mind is actually much closer to pale blue, but interestingly in the context of the surrounding skin tones it sort of presents itself as what you might think of as black. I definitely learned that colour is much more complex than I initially thought. Stick at it and don't be afraid to experiment, you can always add more coats.
Step 8: Lessons Learned
Lessons learned in this project:
- The base should have been made with a much finer resolution as this would have probably halved the amount of time I spent on this project
- Mixing two parts fimo to one part super sculpey makes the toughest material known to man (slight exaggeration but this knowledge is very useful for when you need something made of polymer clay that is also durable).
- I tried to make a beard with mohair but I found that, in order to look realistic, I would need a much more sparse wool which had thicker strands, something I was unable to find.
- A lot of skill was built over the course of the project, in fact I think that if I were to start from scratch I would be able to make it even better.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found something useful!