Friday, August 19, 2016

How To Human, Episode One: Contacting A Vendor & Doing It Right

OR - A Brief Guide to Not Being A Total Jerk In An Online Conversation With A Commission Based Artisan / How To Get What You Want From Someone You Don't Know.

Team Rocket Don't Like Jerks.

Executive Summary:
If you want to buy something from someone online, be polite when you communicate with them. Say hello. Say something nice. Ask them your question. Be brief. Say thank you. If you can't afford it, say thank you again and move on.

To summarize, I'm an executive

Introduction & Reasons to Follow These Guidelines:
You may be thinking to yourself "Why would I want to go to all the effort of reading this blog post and following its advice, when I already know how to communicate with people and really don't need any help... ya jerk!" and you may be right. Here is a brief list of tangible reasons to follow the guidelines of communication outlined in this post:

  1. You are more likely to get what you want.

Yup, that's about the long and the short of it. I will even expand upon this to say you are WAY more likely to get what you want. Like, 50 times more likely. Being polite not only serves your needs, but it also brings a little happiness into the life of the seller.

I REALLY want a better musket!

Getting what you want can take many forms. It might mean, at a high level, that the seller provides you with the service you are interested in. It could also mean they get it to you faster than anticipated, because they enjoy working with you. It could mean they give it to you cheaper. It could mean they give you discounts on future purchases. It could mean they pay extra attention to ensuring quality in the piece they are making for you. It could mean they provide you with more frequent updates. Now I am not accusing a seller of avoiding these activities when encountering a rude customer, only that your chances of receiving them increase drastically when you take the time to not be a jerk.


Who Benefits Most From These Guidelines?
The target audience of this post are people who communicate via vendors with emails that fall into one of the following categories:

Rude - There's a huge chasm between being what you might consider "to the point" and coming across as a total rude jerk. Remember, email doesn't have any context to it, or history. You may be totally fine speaking to your friends of 20 years in a certain way, but that won't fly when approaching a vendor. If your email simply says "How much for foam armor" you will probably not get a favorable result. Remember, you're setting the stage for your relationship with a vendor in your first email. If you come across as rude, that's a harbinger of bad tidings.

How much for foam armor???

Disrespectful - Remember, a vendor doesn't owe you anything. Even when you give them money, this does not mean they are your servant. It only means that you have entered into a transaction where you have agreed to pay an amount of money for an item or service. It does not grant you the freedom to be disrespectful, demanding, or unruly in your dealings with them.

Bad Grammar - You may think commerce transcends grammar, or that it should, but at the end of the day it doesn't. Remember that the person on the other end is a real person, trying to run a business, and would probably much rather be in the workshop building stuff rather than slogging through unanswered emails. One way to make that experience infinitely more pleasurable is to use proper grammar. Don't email using the same shorthand you might use in a text. Avoid emojis. Write in full sentences. Use spell check.

It will be with elated glee that I dispense funds upon you Tuesday,
for the opportunity to acquire a succulent feast of grilled ground
beef twixt a sesame seed bun on this very day.

Not Getting Desired Results - Tired of emailing vendors and never hearing back? Tired of hitting your head against a brick wall and getting the same results?? Maybe the problem, dear reader, is you. Switching things up and following a format that typically gets good results might be just what you need. I can say from personal experience that in general, when I get an email that is rude, I simply ignore it. Even if they are asking for an item that I know has a good profit margin, it's worth it to me to not have to deal with someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to deal with me in a respectful manner on our initial communication. I mean, come on. Come. On.

How To Initiate Contact With An Artisan, Craftsman, Vendor, or Seller. With Examples.
Based on my decades of experience as both a vendor and a buyer, I recommend the following guidelines for your initial communication with a vendor:

  • Be polite
  • Be brief
  • Use proper grammar
  • Say nice things
  • Introduce yourself
  • Try to form some kind of connection with the seller
  • Ask your questions clearly
  • Be polite
  • Above all else, be polite
To make things simple, as people tend to have different perspectives on what it means to be polite, I will provide you with a formal structure to use on your introductory inquiry to any vendor. I feel very confident that following this simple structure will position you to have the most success possible with the vendor. And remember, the benefit to following this formula is that you get what you want. Here's the format:

[Salutation] [Name of vendor],
[introduce yourself]
[Brief detail of how you found vendor]
[Praise of vendors work]
[Description of item you are interested in]
[Specifics of inquiry, as needed]
[Thank vendor for their time and attention]
Sincerely,[your name]

That's it!! It really doesn't take too much effort to put an email like this together, and I PROMISE you it will maximize your results. Let me give you a few practical examples:

Greetings Punished Props,
My name is Matt and I am a rabid Overwatch enthusiast. I was scanning through my facebook feed the other day and a picture of you came up holding what looked like a battle axe from Skyrim. Truly impressive work! It looked like it came straight out of the game! I am interested in seeing if you make the pistols that Tracer uses in Overwatch? If not is it something you might consider taking on as a commission? If so, please let me know what the price would be and when you might be able to fit it into your schedule.

Thank you so much for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely, Matt

Does this pose objectify me?

Here's another one, with a request for alternate vendors:

Hello Volpin Props!

It's a pleasure to be writing to you, as I must confess I am a huge fan of your work. I have followed your blog and facebook page for ages now, and have learned so much. Thank you so much for sharing all of your prop build walkthroughs. I even saw you speak at PAX one year, which was really great and informative. I am writing today to inquire about a helmet from my favorite anime, "Appleseed." I'm interested in commissioning you to build a Briarios helmet as seen in the first feature film. I am working on a limited budget, so any flexibility you might have in time frame or materials would be greatly appreciated. If you don't have the time or interest in this project, might you be able to point me in the direction of someone you know who can help?

Thank you in advance for taking the time to reply to my email.


And here's one where I'm just looking to buy a catalog item that they sell, though it's needed by a certain date:

Dear Miss Sarley,
As a fellow PokemonGo enthusiast I was absolutely thrilled to stumble across your website where you are offering team themed clothing. Your designs are absolutely amazing, and I can't believe stuff like yours isn't already in stores! So great!! I would love to get my hands on one of your Team Mystic hoodies. If you can please let me know what the total plus shipping to area code 92625 will be, and how I can best arrange for payment, I will get it sent to you immediately. I am hosting a PG party at the end of the month, and am hoping that leaves enough time for us to complete this transaction.
Thanks so much for making these available. You rock!

Team Mystic? Really??

Please feel free to cut and paste this text and customize it to fit your particular needs. And if you have success with them, please drop me a line or write a comment below telling me how it worked out for you. If you have your own suggestions, or ways this format can be improved, please do the same. It's really not that hard, requires only a few minutes of effort, and will yield incredible results.

What To Do If They Don't Respond?
Sometimes vendors get busy. In fact, that's typically an ideal case for an artisan who earns a living based on commission work. They might have a giant queue of emails in their in box, or perhaps they have a certain block of time set aside during the week that they take away from the work of actually producing items for answering emails. Don't let your enthusiasm (or lack of patience) dictate how long a vendor has to respond to your email. I think one week is a very reasonable time frame for a vendor to reply to your inquiry. If a week goes by, I believe you have two possible courses of action.

  1. Email them a second time, but do it in a polite, tactful way. For example: "Greetings Vendor Joe, I wrote to you last week to inquire about your but did not hear back from you. Knowing how busy you must be, and how spam filters have a knack for sometimes routing important emails to a spam folder, I thought I would take a moment to write again to confirm that you received my original email. I am very eager to do business with you, and look forward to your reply. Thank you again for your time."
  2. Take your business elsewhere. Perhaps this seller just isn't good at communicating, and I can promise you from experience that is never a good trait upon which to build a commerce based relationship. If they don't have the business sense to answer your inquiry within a week, or the business model/availability that supports it, do the smart thing and don't do business with them.

What To Do If You Cannot Afford The Price They Are Asking?
Sometimes, the item you are interested in is simply not within your price range. Don't take this as a personal insult, and more importantly don't take this as an opportunity to inform the seller that their price is too high... for you. (I've written a separate blog post about this very topic. Check it out here) As a rule of thumb, artisans work long and hard on the items they are offering for sale, and to be frank it's deeply insulting when someone tells them that they feel their price is too high. If it is indeed too high for the market to bear, the market will tell them that pretty quickly. They don't need you and your limited understanding of their financial goals or value of their skills to inform them of it. Just let it go. (elsa) If the price of the item you want is too high, I believe you have two options to chose from. In sticking with the guideline of "be polite" in this article, you should execute one of the following:

  • Tell the seller thank you for responding to you, but you are unable to afford the item at this time.
  • Ask the seller (Politely) if they are firm on their price. Sometimes sellers add in a little "wiggle room" to their pricing so that they can offer discounts to a customer who perhaps is ordering more than one item. Or maybe they have an inventory they are interested in liquidating, and would consider knocking a few bucks off to make it more attractive. Wording here is important. If you are polite, a vendor just might be willing to work with you on price. Then there's a whole list of things NOT to do when you don't like the price. Though this list is not by any means exhaustive, here are some things that you should NOT do under any circumstances.
  • Tell the seller that he is price gouging
  • Tell the seller that they are an idiot for expecting that much money for something as simple as the thing you are trying to buy.
  • Tell the seller that for that price, you could just make your own.
  • Tell the seller that you are poor and deserve a lower price than what they are asking.
  • Tell the seller that they would make a lot more money and have a much better business if they would just sell the item to you at a price that works for you.
  • Tell the seller pretty much anything other than one of the two options I listed above.
  • Promise the seller further purchases in the future if they can just cut you a good deal on this item today. (please see "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" for further insight)
  • Tell the seller that they would make a fortune if they would cut their price in half, as they would sell twice as many.
  • Tell the seller that you know how much materials for the build would cost, and it's WAY less than what they're charging!
  • Tell the seller that it's for charity
And worst of all , for the love of god, no matter what you do, under no circumstances should you ever say the following thing to a vendor, in any form:
  • It will be great exposure for you, so giving it to me for free or at a deep discount is the smart thing to do.

There is a whole movement on the internet discussing the fallacy of "exposure bucks" and I highly encourage any person interested in offering exposure as a form of compensation to research it. Perhaps you will learn a thing or two about commerce and the artisan. Wil Wheaton has done some excellent thought leadership on the topic and I highly recommend his blog.

Future Dialogs With The Vendor
Let's say your initial email gets a fairly quick response from the vendor, with pricing information that works with your budget, and everything seems to be doing smoothly. My advice for future communications with the vendor is this: maintain your politeness, and let the vendor dictate communication styles. If the vendor starts using emoji and txt-like abbreviations, take that as a cue to change your communication style. If the vendor skips a formal greeting like or sign off, that means you can do the same. Adapt to THEIR style of communication, but always be polite.

What About When The Deal Is Done?

Was I supposed to fold? Or was it hold?

As with things in real life, maintaining a relationship with a vendor can be a wonderful thing. They might have stuff in the future that you want to buy! Maybe they are a really cool person and you want to be friends! Who knows! When you finally receive the item you paid for, you should put a bow in the entire affair by sending them a thank you email. It doesn't have to be long, or even full of praise. Just write them a quick note that says "I received the battle axe today and it's great. Thanks so much for all of the hard work you put into it." or something like that. It can even be shorter if you want, but it REALLY SHOULD BE something. Leaving the vendor hanging after they send off something that they probably put their heart and soul into is dismissive and insulting. If you're happy with your purchase, take five seconds out of your day to let them know. A tiny bit of effort from you could very well be the difference between them having a great day, or having a crappy one. After all, sifting through all of the emails from people who HAVEN'T read this article has got to be heartbreaking.

Thank you for reading this! If you have had an experience that supports (or doesn't!!) what's written in this article please post in the comments below. If there's anything you think should be added, that would help too!

Thank you Bill Doran for your feedback on this article.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Multipass Video Tutorial Is Coming

Just a quick pic of a build up I am in the middle of. It's going together really quickly, so I decided it was finally time to do a video tutorial. As soon as I'm done with this build I will start. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Investing - A Simple Strategy That Just Might Work.

From time to time, I get asked for insight on investing in the stock market. I always have the same, fairly short answers, so I thought it would be smart to simply write my whole investing philosophy down and commit it to my blog.

I'll provide the executive summary here, rather than at the end. Be sure to read the entire post to make sense of each of these points.

  • Assume that America will survive, will grow, and will prosper.
  • Plan to build wealth over time, not get rich quick.
  • Start today.
  • Manage your own money.
  • Open an account at a brokerage house.
  • Your goal is to follow the market, not beat it.
  • Follow a Buy and Hold strategy.
  • Buy an S&P 500 index fund.
  • Invest a fixed amount every month, more if you are able
  • Roll your dividends and profits back into your investment account.

Now let's dig into each of those points a little deeper, and give a better explanation of the reasoning behind them.

My entire strategy hinges on one key assumption: that America will continue. That the USA will continue to grow, to exist, and to prosper. If you do not share this assumption, then my investment strategy is not for you. If you DO believe this, then I have some very simple advice to offer you. The strategy I believe in will not get you rich quick. It will make you money over time, assuming our key assumption plays out. It will net you a lot more money than just putting it into a savings account, and in my opinion is one of the best investment strategies around. It's simple, it's safe, it's affordable, and best of all as America grows, so does your net worth.

If you haven't seen the movie "Wolf of Wall Street" yet, I highly recommend it. There's a great little scene in there were Matthew McCaunahey's character is explaining the fundamentals of the investment business to newcomer what's his name.

Your first assignment is to watch this entire video.

The crux of it is this: the people trying to "help" you invest your money and increase your net worth are actually just trying to make money for themselves. SURPRISE! Go figure, right? Turns out, this is entirely true.

Almost universally, financial advice, management or leadership comes with a stiff price tag, be it implied or actual. Every time your investment manager convinces you to do a trade to better position yourself to outpace the market, he gets a commission. Every time you buy a product from them, they get a commission. There's an old joke about money managers: they will continue to manage your money until they've managed it all into their pockets. The other oddity about money managers is that almost universally, they don't know more than you do. They don't have access to any more information than you do, or that which is publically available. What they have is an infrastructure, one which is created to craft the illusion that they can help you beat the stock market, and turn your dollars into millions. The truth is far less appealing. Where do you think they get the money to pay for the big offices, the commercials that run during prime time tv, the bonuses that they pay for their best sellers? They get it from you, the investor. So this begs the question, why give your money to them when it can be put to work for you?

The highest earning sales guys (and that's exactly what they are, sales guys) will tell you that on your own, you don't stand a chance of outpacing the market, and that with them, they can leverage their giant network and access to help make that happen. This is nothing but a sales ploy, in order to get their hands on your money so they can fee you into oblivion.

I say all of this to set up the first pillar of my investing strategy: Manage your own money. Open an account with a brokerage house like Fidelity, and make your own decisions. Don't give your money to some money manager who is free to move it around as he sees fit, and charge you fees with every change. Shop around for a place that you like. There are plenty of them out there. Find a place where you can put your money, manage your trades yourself. Typically there's a transaction fee for each trade, and they will vary. There are lots of great discount brokerages that offer very low transaction fees, and great service. Find the place that works best for you. There are loads of online resources for finding a good place to keep your money. I use Fidelity.

Let's go back to that primary assumption I spoke about earlier. The belief that America will continue to survive and prosper. A brief look at the stock market will show that in general, over time, it has shown improvements and has continued to grow. Just like America. I remember in the late 90's when the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 10,000 and we were all stunned. Since then it has almost doubled. So since the DJIA began being calculated in 1896, up until the late 90's we go to 10,000, and then less than 20 years later we've almost doubled. THAT is incredible growth. For some reason investors are obsessed with beating the market, when simply FOLLOWING the market will show significant returns over time. FAR superior returns to many other investing vehicles that are available.

This leads to my second pillar: The plan is to follow the market, not beat it. By simply following the market, working under the assumption that America will survive, you stand to make a lot of money over time. Pull up a chart that shows the growth of the S&P 500 over the past 20 years. If those seem like acceptable gains to you, then we are on the same track here. The problem with trying to beat the market is that you need one of two things: critical information on which companies are going to grow unexpectedly over time, or a bunch of money, time AND BLIND LUCK to constantly shift your money into higher earning stocks. Remember, nobody knows which stocks are about to explode. Anyone who tells you that they know is trying to sell you something. And by that, I mean "part you from your money". Remember that moving money around in the stock market costs money. The fees are what will whittle down your nest egg, and rob you of any gains that you make over time. Nobody can predict the stock market. If they could, they would literally own all the money in the world. Even just a slight advantage over time would lead to someone with extra-market knowledge to a position where they would literally own everything. So put aside the fantasy that you can outthink the market, or that you know someone who can do it for you. That's a fantasy. Which leads us conveniently to the next point:

Follow a buy and hold strategy. Shifting money costs money. For every story you hear about a savvy investor who moves his money around frequently and has gotten rich, there are thousands of stories of people who lost tons of money following the same strategy. For many investors, investing in stocks is akin to gambling. They get a good feeling about a company, or a friend gives them a tip about a company THEY have a good feeling about, so they throw a bunch of money at it and cross their fingers. And they lose. Just like gambling at a casino. And honestly, gambling at a casino is more fun because you get free drinks and just might get a free room. Recall that the strategy you are following here is to build wealth over decades, so that when you are ready to retire, you are sitting on a giant pile of cash. If your goal is to get rich quick by identifying companies that are about to blow up, I can assure you that your time, money, and efforts are better spent at the race track or casino, where at least you will have fun losing your money. Once you buy a stock, don't sell it. Don't let the ups and downs of the market force you into thinking that you need to sell. That is the path to the poor house. The sad thing is, this is what many investors do. When they see a drop in the stock price, they sell out of fear that the stock is about to crash. What happens is they lose a chunk of their original investment, and then move onto another stock... where the cycle repeats. Folks, here's how the market works: it goes up and down. it fluctuates. There will be days when you see the value of your investment go down. There will be days when the value of your investment goes up. But over the course of decades, if you believe that America will survive and it continues to do so, you will see your investment grow into something huge. Buy a stock, and hold onto it. Don't sell until you are in your retirement.

And now we really hit the biggest question of all. Which stocks do I buy? The answer is really simple. I recommend you buy an index fund, one that tracks the S&P 500. The S&P 500 is a broad index that covers a large part of the market, and in my opinion, is a good metric of how America is doing. While the Dow Jones is a more well known index, it follows large companies that are more industry leaders than representative of how America is doing. That's just my opinion. Research this if you are curious. There are all kinds of indices as out there, and all kinds of funds that follow them. I like the S&P 500 because it's broad, it's general... it's America. Once you sign up with a brokerage, find which funds or spiders they have that track the S&P 500, and start buying. Look for a no-load fund. That means there are no extra fees on the front when you are buying, and none on the back when you are selling.

How much should you buy? As much as you can afford, and as often as you can. Do not let market fluctuations thwart you. If the market is up one week and the spider you want to buy is more expensive than it was last week, DO NOT try to wait it out and see if the price drops. It might be MORE expensive next week. Trying to outthink the market is NOT the game you want to be in. You want to be the slow and steady investor who is completely unemotional. I recommend you set aside a part of each paycheck that you dedicate to investing. If you can afford 100 dollars, do that. If you can afford more, do that. If you can afford less, do that. There are a number of investment strategies out there that dictate how much to buy each period. For example, if the stock happens to be low when your paycheck arrives, you buy a little more. If it happens to have gone up, you buy the fixed amount you typically buy. This helps reduce the peril of emotional purchases, but also helps you hit it a little harder on the downside. Personally, I think a simple strategy is the best one, where you just buy what you can each month. Set a minimum that you are comfortable with, and stick with that NO MATTER WHAT. If you can afford to buy more on a particular month, do that. The key here is that you are consistent. Don't sit out the month of December because you need that extra money to buy gifts. Budget your money so that you have money available, but are still able to buy your monthly stock.

When should you start investing? Right away. Today. Yesterday would have been better, but today is just as good. Remember, trying to outthink the market is a fool's errand, and anyone who tells you they can is trying to sell you something, or to steal your money. Don't sit on your money hoping that the market will be softer next week. It might not. And whatever you heard on CNBC to suggest that it will could be utter nonsense.

One of my favorite parables about investing is this one: Even the blind squirrel finds the occasional acorn. I bring this up because the investing industry is full of these blind squirrels. People are screaming at the top of their lungs that they saw the housing crash coming, that they knew the fed was going to lower rates, that they saw such and such coming from a mile away, etc. It's all ex post facto posturing. And while the squirrel may have indeed correctly predicted a certain event coming or transpiring, that in no way means they are aware of the next one. I have been reading financial news, articles and blogs on and off for 25 years now, and honestly they have all been saying the same thing over and over and over. And remember, they're ALL trying to sell you something. Whether it's tuning into their show so you are forced to watch the commercials, paying for the latest issue of their online paper, or flat out buying their investing product, the whole money making industry is geared around taking your money from you, not making money for you. My point here is that you shouldn't listen to any "expert" whose ultimate goal is to sell you something.

My last piece of strategic advice is to roll your dividends and profits straight back into your account. If any of the companies in your index pay out dividends, don't take that out as cash, but instead be sure to invest that money straight back into your nest egg. Many places offer to do this automatically, which is an option you should definitely take. It's basically compound interest, which is where great gains can be made over time.

I think the only rebuttal to my strategy is really this question: But what about Birkshire Hathaway? Warren Buffet is probably the single most successful and popular investor on the planet. He makes piles of money investing, and typically outpaces the market. He is really the golden egg laying goose. The man and his company really know what they are doing, and I respect them tremendously. I personally would recommend them as an alternative investing strategy, because they have consistently shown themselves to be profitable. I think the only caveat is that their run could just as easily end tomorrow. Buffet could die, and the new guy that takes over could be a total schmuck. Remember that the first question I asked you was about America surviving. If you believe that and it turns out to be true, then the strategy I have outlined will be successful. You do not have the same level of certainty with BH. I actually really like Birkshire Hathaway, but I prefer to be in control of my own money, so I follow my own strategy.

And that's it! That's all you need to know. Remember, the real key to my strategy is that money managers are really just self serving, and don't have any true insight into the market or mastery of money making. If they did, they sure as heck wouldn't share it with us! By managing your own money, you save a fortune on fees, and will ride along with the market as American continues to grow. Good luck!

Monday, August 24, 2015

MattMobile Steering Wheel and Vac Form Table

Another great few days of productivity and much as been accomplished! Let us start off with a little show and tell.

Here is my recently acquired steering wheel for the MattMobile:

To my eye, it is perfect! I can't wait to get it installed.

While kicking around ideas for the Wonder Woman Dawn of Justice shield, which I am also blogging about, I decided it would be in my best interest to build my own vac forming table. It's something I've wanted for a long time, but never really had a great reason to build. But with this project upon me, the timing was right. I watched a few youtube videos on how they are made, and to get a good machine up and running seems surprisingly simple. I already have a shop vac, so most of the expense is already done.

I started with a piece of plywood that I had lying around the shop. I believe this is left over wood from the Tardis build. I cut a couple 26" x 26" squares. I then measured off a grid of 1"x1" squares.

The fun really began when I had to drill out all of those holes. Tedious, but really no way around it.

I then cut out the walls and glued them into place on the top piece.

A few wood screws later and it was time to attach the base.

And no, I didn't drop it.

I then used a hole boring drill bit and a set of metal files to carve out the hole for the hose. Fits like a glove!

And after a couple short hours of work, the table was complete. The next thing I need to do is build a frame for holding the plastic, and a chimney to channel the heat from the heating source. Honestly I think the hardest part of this project will be finding a good heat source. I already have a few things in mind, but the bummer is heaters are out of season right now.

Anyhow, that's it for now! I'll post again once I have some more progress.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Superman Returns Cape Progress and Breakthrough

Much is afoot with the Superman Returns cape recently. The other day I reviewed a bunch of my old blog posts on the topic, and was reminded of a lot of things I had forgotten.

I am once again revisiting the fabric. I'm sad to say that if you snooze, you lose. This proved to be true recently in my case. A year or so ago, I found some great fabric in the fashion district which was 65" wide. I purchased enough for a couple of capes. I went back the other day to buy more, and they are all sold out. Should have gotten the whole bolt.

I still have other options. One is a VERY nicely colored heavy weight jersey knit. I currently have enough for two capes. In my older blog posts, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't seem to get the center crease out of it. I even took it to the dry cleaner to have them press it out. I don't know why I didn't think of it then, but all it needed was a good wash in the washing machine. I did this just today with this length, and voila, the crease is gone. In this pic, the fabric is draped across my dinner table drying.

But I digress. Let's get back to the workshop and talk about the cape mold. As you will recall, I am using a latex from the Motion Picture FX company to do my cape layups.

The other night, after reading some stuff online, I decided to experiment with my spray gun, to see if the latex I am using can be sprayed, and better yet if it will stick to the mold properly. I figured this would save me a ton of time and hassle if it works.

Sure enough, my spray gun is indeed able to spray the stuff. It's not perfect, and I will probably purchase a cup gun shortly, but the idea is sound. Next step was to see how it would work on a silicone mold.

As you can see below, it worked AMAZINGLY!

The latex went on nice and thin, extremely smooth, evenly, AND it didn't pull up from the silicone at all. I was thrilled!

I put the fan on it and let it dry for a few minutes. I peeled up the corner to see how it looked. Absolutely perfect.

Here's a close up. The punchline is that it captured every tiny detail. No bubbles. Zero bubbles. It feels like it's christmas time!

Also, for reference, please note the color difference between the wet latex and how it looks after it's dry. When it's wet, it looks bright pink. When dry, it's dark red. And that is MADDENING! It's essentially impossible to mix the color of latex on sight, as it changes so drastically once it dries. This has proven to be a pain in my rear for many years now. But read on, dear reader, for there is good news ahead.

And now I had a new purpose in life. I was also out of latex, so it was time to get more. I made my way to the Motion Picture FX Company up in the valley. They have a really great store! If you're ever in the area, be sure to check them out.

While I was there, I picked up some more urethane pigments that I'm going to experiment. I'm certain you'll be able to find the results on this blog eventually.

Meanwhile, back at the shop, I started to do some experimentation with attaching fabric to the cape. Sadly, it didn't go too well, but it gave me an excuse and an opportunity to experiment with different techniques and materials.

Here you can see the two different fabrics that DIDN'T go down too well, along with a few scraps that I was using to test different spray adhesives.

After this round of tests, I have completely abandoned the spray adhesive approach. Though it could be made to work, it is highly error prone. Long story short, if you get a little drop of spray onto the cape, it ruins the latex. And it's impossible to not get drops. So that's out.

I also did another pour up of the chest emblem. I was once again experimenting with pigments, and also with a different shore hardness. This time I used PMC-770, which ultimately proved to be to soft. I definitely think PMC-780 is the right material to use on the chest emblem and the belt.

The last topic for this post is regarding pigment for the latex. You may recall from my last blog post that I was revisiting some paint I acquired while in Ohio a few years ago. Montpelier Velvet Red. I walked to Home Depot only to learn that they cannot match the paint, which meant it was off to Lowes. A super friendly dude in the paint department was able to grant my wishes, which was for not only a pint of the red, but also a pint of JUST the pigments that they use to turn the white Valspar primer into the Velvet Red. Thank you, anonymous stranger at Lowes. You are the man.

I took the paints back to the workshop and mixed up a little batch, just taking a guess at the percentages of paint to pigment to latex. I did a tiny layup in a mold and OH MY GOD the color is beautiful!!!!!! I do believe I have solved the problem of getting the color I want for the cape's outer shell, and I am extremely happy. I have to give a quick shout out to David at UD Replicas, who originally provided me with the idea of mixing latex paints directly into the latex rubber. It took a while to get it right, and a bit of ingenuity of my own, but I really think I've finally got that part locked down.

So yes, it's bean a very productive week, with a lot of great breakthroughs. The main problem I have right now is that I don't have a fool proof method for attaching a giant sheet of fabric to the back of the outer shell of the cape. I'm trying to come up with some kind of rig that will help me do it, and I have a few ideas. I think one of the next things on my plate is dying the cape fabric with the correct ombre that I'm looking for. More on that soon.

As always, thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoy witnessing my progress as much as I do making it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Superman Returns Costume - Belt and Cape

As always, work on the Superman Returns costume continues, though as of late, at a brisk pace.

Recently I sat down with my trusty Dremel tool with a sanding drum attachment and cleaned up the two belts I had cast up the other week. (Also, for reference, "Casted" is not a real word. Don't use that word when talking about molding and casting things. It makes you sound like an idiot. Just saying.)

I cleaned up the flash from behind the "S" symbol, and also along the edges. These turned out great.

On the screen used belts, there would be a little segment of fabric behind the buckle, and behind that a piece of velcro. The fabric is the same stuff that the briefs were made of. Yay costume trivia!

I am once again back on the experimentation train with the cape. I keep coming up with new ideas that I want to try, based on old ideas that I had previously messed around with. The other thing on my mind right now is the ultimate fragility of the silicone mold I made of the cape. That cape mold is about seven years old right now, and frankly, silicone doesn't last forever. The last pour I did of urethane ended up doing a TINY bit of damage to the mold, as mentioned in a previous post. It happened when I was doing some color tests, and the damage was done to the edge of the mold, where there wasn't even a diamond pattern. But the fact is, the mold is getting old and I fear that my next coat of urethane on it could end up doing some damage.

What I'm in the process of doing now, in conjunction with some color and process experimentation, is doing a preservation pull of the cape. I want to get a top quality pull out of the mold, so that if for some reason it dies, I have a copy of it available for making another mold. I know this may sound like overkill, but honestly if that mold gives out in the middle of a pull now, the project is pretty much cancelled.

Here's where the mold stands as of the last round of applications.

I really should have reviewed some older blog posts before taking on this task, as I had to re-learn my process for applying the latex to the mold. It's not as easy as you might think, and there is some mystery to the technique necessary to get a good surface out of this. Though the color in this photo is not at all representative of the actual color, you get the general idea. This is three coats of latex.

For reference, this is the color I am using. If you took this color and painted it on a white wall, it would be exactly the color I want my cape outer shell to be. However, when this paint is mixed with the latex that I am using, the stuff from Motion Picture FX Company, it lightens it up a little. Heck for all I know the only reason it appears lighter is because it's still pretty thin. Maybe I just need to add more paint to the latex.

At this point, it's still just an assumption that this process of mixing off the shelf paint with latex rubber is even going to work. It might not. The paint may very well not bond properly with the latex rubber. Who knows. Hence the experiment.

Kind of funny that this is paint I purchased when I was living in Ohio. Sheesh, that was like four years ago. What a wreck.

Here's the stuff.

I think the plan is to mix up one more serving of this latex, apply it to the cape, and then apply a fabric backing to it. Honestly, I don't even think this will be a usable cape, as the first layer of latex was a real mess, due to me forgetting my application technique. But as with every time I do anything on this project, it's a learning experience.

I don't remember if I posted this before, but it seems relevant given that my post began with the belt. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Superman Returns Costume - R&D Update

I've discovered that it's important to start a blog post out with an attention grabbing photo, as that is the one that will be displayed if this post is linked to a social media site or something, so I will begin with this picture:

What you are looking at of course is the chest emblem and belt from the Superman Returns costume, in this case these are straight out of the molds. Off to the right is a piece of cape fabric. It's like all the magic is happening in one place!

Let's dig into the meat and bones of this post, which is an update on some R&D work I've done lately on the cape.

For reference, this is the new product I got from Sil-Pak that I am experimenting with. It's called RU-420.

It's VERY soft, with a 20 shore hardness BUT it's an opaque, light amber color, which is very interesting to me.

No surprisingly, when I mix Sil-Pak pigments with it, I get very predictable and nice results.

To demonstrate to you, dear reader, how well the pigments work with it, allow me to wow you with this photo. What you are looking at is a test pour I did of RU-420 into a scrap mold, surrounded by all of the pigment tests that I did a few days earlier, using VytaFlex40. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure much of the problem is me, but what this picture clearly reveals is that I was able to mix together a very respectable red using the RU-420 as a base, whereas I was unable to achieve good results using VytaFlex. Take away from that whatever you will.

As I don't really have a mental guage of how shore duromteres evaluate to real world hardness, I thought it was a good time to do a test pour of the new stuff into the Superman Returns chest emblem. With the color looking as good as it did, I thought it might make for a nice new display piece, along with teaching me what 20 shore hardness feels like.

I had a bit extra in the pour, and that's what is sitting all over the top of the mold.

In a separate brain storm that led to a test, I wanted to try my hand at getting a solid color match across multiple pours of urethane. The secret, of course, is to mix up one batch of Part A with pigment, and then split that into two parts when mixing it with part B. So lets say your mold requires 200 grams of urethane. And your urethane mixes at a 1:1 by weight ratio. You would pour up 100 grams of part A, and then pigment that to your desired color. THEN pour 50g of that into a cup, and mix it with 50g of part B. Then pour that into the mold. Once that has cured, mix up the remaining 50g of part A with another 50g of part B, THEN pour that into the mold.

Here is my mold for the belt, half filled with pigmented PMC-780 Dry.

And here's the mixing cup, still loaded with a bit of pigmented part A.

Now what the loyal reader SHOULD be asking themselves is this: why would you want to do multiple pours of urethane into a belt mold. Why not just do it all at once?

The answer in this instance is two-fold. First, I want to embed in this casting some yellow belt webbing that will be used to close the belt up at the back. Once the first pour cures, I lay the webbing in place, and then pour the next layer on top of it. That way, the webbing is totally encased in urethane. Because the two pours of urethane are going to bond with each other VERY strongly, the webbing will therefore be suspended in the middle of. You may be asking yourself, why not just dip the webbing into the urethane as it pours, and just do it all at once? The answer is that you cannot guarantee the positioning of the webbing in that scenario. I've done that method before, and sometimes the webbing sinks to the bottom of the mold, and ends up being visible in the pull once you de-mold. So by pouring in a layer first, you guarantee that your belt will be pretty from the front, and that the webbing will not be visible. This is also much stronger than say gluing the webbing to the back of the belt.

The second reason for doing this is really just as a test. I wanted to see how the colors would turn out, how the bond would be, etc. When I finally get around to doing a cape layup, I doubt I will be able to do it all in one pour, so by testing this I am able to see if I will be able to do the cape in multiple pours. Which I now believe I will be.

Which brings me nicely to this next picture, in which you can see the belt with the webbing embedded in it.

Nice, Right??

On the right in the above picture is the back side of the chest emblem mold. There are two molds necessary to build a chest emblem. One is for the yellow back plate, and another is for the main "S". What you are looking at is a pull of the back plate sitting on top of the back side of the "S" plate.

Which brings us full circle, and back to the picture that I started this blog post with.

The big take-away here is that 20 durometer urethane is WAY too soft fo the chest emblem. It's extremely soft and delicate, and kind of barely holds it's shape. While this test was extremely valuable in terms of coloring, it did not produce a useable chest emblem.

This is a closeup of the SECOND belt I poured. Why did I pour a second one? Because in my rush to do the multi-pour pigment test, I forgot to powder the mold. As a result, I had a few little air bubbles in the thing. And for those of you who are familiar with my work, I don't do air bubbles.

It also gave me an opportunity to perfect my pigment mixture for the belt.

The belt on the top is my second pour. You can see the difference between the two. The first one took on a bit of an avocado tint, which is not cool.

With those test behind me, and me hot on the trail of some new discoveries, I did a text mix of PMC-720 and tried mixing up a good, deep red using the new assortment of pigments I had purchased from Sil-Pak just the other day.

To skip to the punchline, the red I got was AMAZING!!! EVEN BETTER than the red I achieved with RU-420, which I was already completely pleased with. If you look at the picture below, you can see where I poured this new red mixture on top of the mold so that I could see the difference between my new red and the one I had mixed previously.

The reason this is important is because it re-invigorates my interests in the PMC line of urethanes for the cape. While I originally dismissed PMC780 as a choice for the cape based on the fact that it cures to a translucent dark amber AND I was unable to mix a satisfactory shade of red AND I was unable to brush it into the mold, my recent discoveries of mixing in cabosil/Thixo-HP and the new batch of pigments I've acquired from Sil-Pak have me revisiting this material. In fact, I dare say that as of this moment, I think one of the PMC urethanes will ultimately prove to be the one I use for the cape shell.

For reference, this is the latex that I use on my cape mold, WHEN I'm doing latex tests.

Let us now turn our attention back to the cape, where more experimentation has taken place.

Sadly, I ran out of Douglas and Sturgess "Thixo HP", which is the cabosil replacement I have been using for a while now. Really fantastic stuff. I turned to a batch of stuff I got from Smooth-On, and I'm sad to say it just wasn't the same. It didn't mix in half as well as the Thixo HP, and there were clumps. Not fatal, but I am definitely going to back to Thixo HP right away. I ordered a bunch more from the D&S website just the other day. If you're curious, give them a visit.

Sadly, their URL and website are from 1998, but hey what they lack in internet pizazz, they make up for with great products and really knowledgeable folks!!!

It was time to experiment with the RU-420 on the cape. I mixed up a small batch and threw in some of the Smooth-On thixo, and decided to mix it up with a little blue this time instead of red. Aside from the clumpiness I mentioned earlier, and the fact that the mix ratio is different than the Thixo HP, I think the first tests went fairly well. Here's the first attack:

As you can see from the close up, the first layer is not totally opaque, which is to be expected. You can see the edge of the differently colored mold through the layer of blue urethane.

And that's where we leave things for this update on the Superman Returns suit. Lots of stuff learned, and I cranked out a chest emblem and a couple belts. All good.

In other news, my Man of Steel suit from UD Replicas is here. It's absolutely stunning, by the way. Please check out UD Replicas and my good pal David at their website:

Also in the pipeline now are a couple of pieces from the new Supergirl TV show. I very much like the new costume, and I'm working on the chest emblem right now. I have artwork all drawn up, and am sending it off to the laser cutter shortly. Once I have the laser cut pieces, those will be molded and urethane pieces will be produced.

That wraps it up for this update. That's what's going on at the workshop right now! I expect this next week to be a very busy and productive one, and hope to have more cool stuff to show off. I really want to get a cape out of the mold soon!