Set Design: Progress

About a month ago, James suggested spending two weeks prototyping one miniature apartment for the story app in both Maya and as a physical set design. I had been agonising for weeks over whether to do it in a 3d programme. Before confirmation, I’d been experimenting with Daz 3d but I knew this wasn’t customisable enough for the final product. After only two days looking at Maya again, I knew it wasn’t the right medium for me. So I started looking at how to create a realistic set design.

To make the structure of the apartment, I’d contemplated paddle pop sticks, wood, acrylic sheets, the high impact polystyrene plastic sheets that bread clips are made from. An architectural friend suggested I tried corrugated cardboard. In the end, I decided to use foam core board after seeing some instructive Youtube videos on how to mock up an architectural plan from foamcore.

This involved an investment in some proper cutting tools from Foamwerks as the humble Stanley knife wasn’t designed to cut into foamcore without tearing the edges. It cost around $100 for a straight and bevelled edge cutter but definitely worth it!

I started collecting images from the early 1980s as well as speaking to people who remembered the vibe of this time. My friend Louise remembers hoarding hay for her horse because she was convinced she was going to die from a nuclear disaster. I listened to songs from this era such as Russians by Sting and Winds of Change by Scorpion. I also started collecting a Pinterest board of early 1980 designs.


The decorating book by Mary Gilliatt, published in 1981 is also an interior decorating bible for me at the moment. I decided to start on my sleazy 1980 bachelor’s pad. The first thing to do was to re-visit mouldmaking because I wouldn’t be limited to re-purposing found objects if I was able to create plaster moulds of my furniture pieces and cast in whatever material I want (probably a resin).

I started with plaster moulds because this is the technique I was taught back when I worked in ceramics.

lego wallThis was the original set up for my curved 1980’s bar. Thank you to my nephew for donating Duplo blocks for my plaster retaining wall. It didn’t work (the plaster leaked through the cracks) but it was a great exercise in sharing. 

lego wall 2plaster mouldThis is the plaster mould of the 1980 bar.

plaster mould twoThis is the first part of a three-piece plaster mould for my 1980 sexy chair. It’s meant to be like a female butt. I’m going to cast it in resin and put in red cushions.

plaster mould 3This is the bar top with the ‘neck’ built in readied for plaster pouring.

easycastStupidly, I realised too late I should have tested only one of the plaster moulds instead of spending all day making three moulds. I was casting it using Easycast – a plastic resin recommended to make miniature furniture. The resin took about six minutes to set but once hardened, it was impossible to remove it from the plaster mould as it was completely inflexible. This meant I had no choice but to explore silicone moulds – which is standard practice these days but I’d been taught the plaster mould method and loathed to learn new techniques.








Professional casting and moulding silicone turned out to be very expensive – about $40 for 500g. So I started experimenting making my own moulding silicone using caulk silicone ($5 a tube) from Bunnings. The recipe is just an adaptation from this super home-made produce called Oogoo (see link below). Thank you!

Depending on what you are using the Oogoo for, you need to vary the ratio of ingredients. For my moulds, I am currently using this recipe:

1 part caulk silicone (from Bunnings): 1 part (equal volume) odourless turpentine: a tiny ‘dab’ of oil paint any colour

Mix until the paint is evenly distributed throughout and the mixture is at the consistency you are after (depending on how you intend to apply it – pouring will require it to be thin, painting it on will require a little thicker or dabbing it will require thick slabs)

When ready, mix 1 part thinned down silicone: 0.3 part sifted cornflour.

The cornflour will make it cure. I found that this ratio will take about 24 hours to cure enough to remove it from the mould, but it will continue to harden within the next 72 hours. I’m actually not very happy with this so will probably up the cornflour to a 1:1 mixture.

Here is the first batch of my results…

pink mould1pink mould 2









The resin needs to be mixed up quickly as it sets in about 6 minutes. The reaction to set takes about 10 seconds (it feels warms and then quickly turns from clear to milky white) As you can see, I got caught mid-pour. I was using Vaseline as a releasing agent but with silicone and resin, it releases by itself so no agent is actually needed.



rough house

rough house 2

Rough prototype of the bar with glass mirrors stuck on it. I think at the moment, it’s super important to make the model precise and neat. With some stop motion films, the set design can get away with having a ‘hand made’ feel especially in terms of the furniture being disproportionate.

These miniature sets from artist Michael Paul Smith inspired me to pursue as photo-realistic a finish as possible.

michael paul smith

michael paul smith 2

Smith’s explanation of his works can be seen here:

The next step is to create my master models from Sculpey instead of clay. Initially I used clay because being a ceramicist, I had tonnes of it at home plus it is super cheap. However, I can’t get the glossy finish once I cast with resin because I don’t fire the clay but mould it as soon as it hardens to greenware. With Sculpey, I can quickly bake it in the oven and coat it with cheap gloss paint from Bunnings to keep the gloss effect in the casting process.



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