Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Apostle Altar--Tutorial

The Apostle Altar

The Apostle Altar Tutorial

The design of our production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead required an Apostle Altar with a fast trap set in it.  This production was set in a ruined parish church.

I designed the altar to be 6'-0" x 3'-0" x 2'-6".  The walls and top of the altar, as well as the pilasters, trim and arcade were built by the scene shop.  I was responsible for the "carvings".  I wanted each panel to have a single Apostle of the original 12 Apostles in it.  The names of each Apostle would appear under his figure.

Step #1--Bearding
I chose to "carve" the apostles out of G.I. Joe and Ken dolls or other eleven inch male action figures.  The first step in the process was to give the usually non-bearded action figures a beard.  The beards were sculpted out of hot glue.  I bearded all of the Apostles except for John the Beloved because he is usually depicted without a beard in Medieval paintings.

A few of the Ken dolls had fiber hair rather than molded plastic hair.  For these, I matted some of it down with hot glue.

Growing a beard on Peter

The hot glue, naked, bearded, G.I. Joe Apostles

Step #2--Sawing Usunder
In order to get the relief of the altar to appear as if it were carved from a single piece of stone, the action figures needed to be flat on the back.  This was done on a band saw.  I found that I only needed to shave off the back of the head the neck, the back and the buttocks of the action figures to achieve this look.

When using a band saw, be sure to use the blade guard, safety goggles and ear protection.  Also make sure your fingers are well away from the blade. 

The first cut is the cruelest

Shaving the buttocks

What the inside of a naked eleven inch action figure looks like

Step #3--Placement
There is a little artistry involved in placing the action figure Apostles.  Which Apostle goes where, how are they posed, etc...  Since Peter is traditionally the leader of the Apostles, I placed him in the front, flanked by James and John the Beloved.  On the end of the altar, as far to the left of Peter as possible, I placed Judas and cut him so his head would be turned away from all the other Apostles.  I also left off the halo on Judas.  The action figure I chose for Judas was one from one of the "Boy Bands" because I consider them to be a sin against Rock and Roll.  On the far right of Peter, I placed Doubting Thomas.

The figures are placed and fixed with hot glue.  When I did another project with action figures, I tried several different adhesives, including five minute epoxy and E-6000, but none of them worked as well or as fast as hot glue.  We glued the cut edges of the back of the figures and placed them, then posed their arms and hot glued them in place.

Gluing the cut edges of the action figures

Gluing the joints to freeze the figures in a pose

Front.  Peter is third from the left

Side on Peter's right

Side on Peter's left

Step #4--Dressing the Apostles
I got a scrap of wool tweed from the costume shop because I thought it would replicate stone in scale fairly well.  I think it did the job.

The wool is first cut in a trapezoid with the top being between three and four inches across.  The next step is to cut a V-shape where the neck of the garment would be.  After that, the garment is shaped around the arms and shoulders so it looks like a tunic.

Folds, creases and draping are then hot glued in place and the garment is fitted on the action figure.  At this point, you can determine how long the tunic needs to be, and if G.I. Joe's feet are going to show.

Once it is cut and glued to the correct shape, the garment is fixed in place with... Hot Glue!

For some of the action figures, I added a strip of cloth around the waist for a belt, others I added sleeves to and almost all of them got a head covering of some biblical sort.  These were all made with scraps of the original wool tweed

The shape of the tunic

With the V-neck

Engineering the folds with hot glue

The folds

Placing the tunic on Peter

Gluing the tunic on Peter

Peter with sleeves added

Adding the headwrap


The main side of the Apostle's Altar

Step #5--Mastic
Like many other prop projects, I like to paint a mastic over them.  I do this for several different reasons.  On the Apostle Altar, I used the mastic to stiffen the fabric so it could be painted to look like stone.  I also used mastic to give a uniform painting surface to the piece.  On the Apostle Altar I have several different surfaces.  I have blue polystyrene foam, luan, painted wood moulding, MDF, PVC, fabric and the plastic the G.I. Joes are made of.  These different surfaces needed to be primed with a common substrate so they would accept paint the same way.  That is why I use mastic.

We used Childers CP-10 Vi-Cryl mastic.

For the fabric, we thinned the mastic with water in order to get it to spread easier without moving the fabric too much.


Applying the mastic

The Apostles with mastic

Step #6--Bad Latin
I wanted the names of each of the Apostles to be inscribed in Latin below them.  I went to a free translation site on the internet and typed in each of the Apostle's names.  I got some of the Apostles names in latin and some in English.  I didn't check other sites, I just went with the first one.  I regretted that because it isn't consistent.  I'm one of very few people who will notice this fact during the play, but it will still bug me that I wasn't more thorough. 

I cut the bad Latin under each apostle with a soldering iron.  If you attempt to cut polystyrene foam with heat, be aware that anytime there is heat transfer of polystyrene you release Hydrogen Cyanide gas into the atmosphere.  Make sure you have proper ventilation when cutting foam in this way.  If you can smell it, you are being poisoned by it.

Inscribing the bad Latin

Step #7--The Paint Job
After the altar was primed, the scenic artists painted a base scumble with several different colors of paint.  It looked particoloured.  Then they painted a workup with Burnt Umber paint in a natural sea sponge.

At this point, I was bad and added another element.  I added halos to eleven of the twelve Apostles.  I used plastic shower curtain rings that I flattened on the belt sander and hot glued them into place.  I didn't put a halo on Judas for obvious reasons.

The painters went in and put mastic on the halos and based them and gave them a workup like the rest.  After that, several thin washes of Raw Umber were applied until the particolour was obscured but not lost.

The particoloured altar with workup

The altar with shower ring halos and the first washes of Raw Umber

Another view of the Apostle Altar.

This was a fun project to craft.  It was the work of many people.  The carpenters, the scenic artists, a few tech students and me.  I enjoy repurposing action figures to make something special like this.  I will craft with them again.