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It's only after de-gaussing that you really get to see if the bronze reproduction is successful. It's not uncommon for the reproduction to be deformed or have large voids or air-bubbles in it. If it is too badly damaged and unsalvageable, then the whole process of making a new wax shell thru molding and casting had to be reproduced.
Very often the bronze shells have errors in them requiring clean-up and fettling, "fettling" being the process by which each piece was hand repaired by a technician with a fine metal cutting/polishing dremel.
It took months for us to have ALL the pieces of the sculpt de-molded and intact.
As momentum built and we started getting more and more pieces produced off the casting line, we slowly started welding the jigsaw of small bronze shells together to form the skin of the finished statue.
To further facilitate this process, earlier in parallel with the ceramic molding, we'd had a small team make a fiberglass reproduction of the whole sculpt from the same silicon molds and then assemble it as full sized 3D proportional reference.
Once the pieces were welded together the whole form starts to take shape but has an odd patchwork, Frankenstein-scarred appearance due to the large weld lines running across the surface where one shell component meets another.
These weld lines were attacked by our fettling team once again and when they had finished and cut the detail back into the weld you could no longer see these welded joins.
The surface of the whole statue was then sandblasted to clean it right back to bare metal.
While the metal was still bright and clean, the patina was then applied. This is the dark "stain-color" people usually associate with bronze sculpture. The sculpture is heated with a large propane torch by one technician and them another follows behind spraying the heated metal surface with a combination of metal salts.
You can see this part of the process in this video clip.
The metal salts react with the metal surface staining it (in this case) brownish-black, something akin to staining a piece of timber.
The surface is buffed back to reveal the bright metal highlights and then the process is repeated to ensure the patina is shot well into the surface of the metal providing a rich lustrous gradient once the final buffing takes place.
The final buffing is a very important step as it accentuates the highlights of the sculpt, a badly applied final patina buff can ruin the look of an otherwise finely crafted bronze work.
The very last step in the process was applying the protective clear coating.
Usually a wax this ensures the buffed metal highlights do not react with rainwater, or air, otherwise the metal salts and bronze surface would continue oxidizing and gradually losing the visual contrast of highlight versus shadow.
Our sculpture had to be shipped from our large-scale manufacturing wing in China to our client Blizzard in the States.
The 2+ ton finished bronze was secured onto a custom built heavy steel dolly that could be rolled in and out of a conventional shipping container.
To facilitate our 4metre tall artwork fitting inside a 2.3 metre tall shipping container, the sculpture had to break thru the waist and be easily re-assembled onsite as a permanent installation.
Our onsite manufacturing supervisor at the China wing devised a mechanical connection where the statue could separate into two pieces around the hips of the Orc then once onsite, slot together and fasten without needing to be welded.
Welding onsite would have then required fettling, re-application of patina, buffing and sealing, not something we wanted to have to address on location if it could be avoided.
The halves socketed and fastened together in such a way that the join was invisible but also very permanent.
So, in March 2009, just over a year from the date that the project first began, the two weighty components of the huge statue were craned into place on their stone plinth, outside the Blizzard headquarters in California and in front of an on-looking crowd of Blizzard staff, amazed at the fine, subtle details incorporated into their new colossal mascot.
A savage Orc, dual-wielding a huge axe and a sword mounted astride a snarling feral war wolf emblazoned with tribal piercing and riding livery. Oh, and did we mention it needs to be 12 foot tall and cast in bronze?"
We gets some fantastic briefs.
Our good friends at Blizzard Entertainment wanted one of their most iconic creatures from World of Warcraft to welcome visitors to their headquarters in California. And we were absolutely thrilled to accept the challenge.
So we rolled up our sleeves and went to work on this massive undertaking and a year later, in March 2009, what is now the largest monumental bronze in North America was unveiled to a crowd of excited Blizzard staff.
Our first engagement with Blizzard Entertainment was in 2007 when we took an order to make thousands of fantasy statuettes as staff appreciation gifts.
The subject matter was one of their characters from their wildly successful online fantasy roleplaying game "World of Warcraft", it was a savage Orc dual-weilding a huge axe and sword, mounted aside a snarling feral war wolf emblazoned with tribal piercing and riding livery.
The original sculpt from the Weta sculptors was cast in a hard resin compound and then this mold master was sent out to the manufacturing wing in China to be silicon molded and reproduced as some 3000 statues all 12-15 inches tall.
After the statue run was complete and delivered the Blizzard guys started thinking big, ... what if they had a full sized 12 foot tall bronze mascot outside their studio headquarters in California? Was it even possible?
Could it be done?
After some discussion back at the Weta ‘mothership' we decided it could.
The first step was the enlargement of the 12-15 inch tall statuettes we'd already made, to the 12 foot tall up-scaled monster.
At Weta the original sculpt was digitally scanned and then increased within the computer to its 12 foot tall glory.
The virtual 3d-model files were then sent across the net to the China manufacturing arm.
Here we output the scaled files on the large digital mill, recreating the now scaled sculpt in polystyrene, which we were then able to assemble.
The benefit was that it gave us EXACTLY the correct proportions of the smaller sculpt. On the other hand it presented us with a whole new set of challenges in correctly transferring the detail. And after discussions with Blizzard, even add more detail than was possible in the smaller sculpts, making the final result more in keeping with film work than traditional bronze sculpture.
We flew out one of our senior sculptors from Weta to China for two weeks, bringing with him a full effects kit of silicon texture swatches and equipment in order to apply prosthetic-level special effects detail to the wolf and its rider.
Richard Taylor of Weta also paid a visit during this time as he was eager to see how the WETA film-quality reputation was being reflected in this highly detailed product.
The final sculpt was broken down into chunk sized pieces that could be realistically managed for molding and casting in both wax, ceramic and eventually bronze.
The sculpted surfaces of these puzzle pieces were then molded in silicon rubber skins then covered again with rigid fiberglass jackets.
Waxes were then taken out of each mold, reproducing every sculpted surface of the statue as a wax shell. These wax shells were then checked and any surface imperfections painstakingly repaired by wax sculptors.
Ceramic molding was next and each wax was coated in several layers of ceramic slurry and varying grades of aggregate, built up to form a porcelain mold around each wax. The wax was later evacuated, being melted out in a hot water bath leaving the hollow porcelain molds.
Just as porcelain or clayware crockery is kiln fired, so was every single (now hollow) ceramic mold creating a mold shell that whilst being incredibly fragile could withstand a vast extreme of heat.
We were using a high-copper bronze that the client had specified. The higher copper bronzes are most often stipulated in municipal codes for public art sculptures and have a very pleasing salmon-pink coloration to the raw metal.
The metals that formed the bronze alloy were mixed in the crucible prior to pouring. At the same time the ceramic molds were pre-heated in a furnace.
The metal would be poured into the red-hot glowing ceramic molds.
If the ceramics were not heated sufficiently then introducing the hot molten bronze would have blown them apart and shattered them in the same way as happens when pouring boiling hot water into a very thin walled wineglass.
Once the full molds and metal contents had cooled they could be "de-gaussed", this is the process of removing the ceramic mold still encasing the bronze reproduction, this was achieved via a combination of waterblasting and hard yakka with a mallet and dull-edged chisel.
This is an amazing piece, congratulations to all at Weta for ... Read more.
This is an amazing piece, congratulations to all at Weta for creating this, and as a real bronze not a fake foam and rubber bronze. You must be very proud and it will certainly become an art attraction to be visited by many people. Very beautifully ugly and classy. Hide.
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